Two week trip of both North and South Island which included backpacking Fjordland National Park.
Highs & Lows
Impromptu helicopter ride through S.Islands mountains with a glacier landing.
The nauseous hours long winding drive on the S. Island to the ferry terminal in Picton
Our first night was really just to get some rest and re-pack for our 3 day hike. Queenstown and our hotel is a short easy ride from the airport.
The South Island has some of the most dramatic and beautiful mountain ranges. We spent three days on a guided hike through Fiordland and Mt. Aspiring National Parks. Each day we hiked about 7 miles and each night we stayed at private lodges that were only accessible by foot or helicopter. The lodges served full meals, wine and pretty much anything a hotel would have---except you are in remote wilderness. The three days were beyond our expectation. It was one of the highlights of our trip.
The center of Queenstown can be walked easily in one day. It's charming, with good restaurants. The real draw however is the scenery around Queenstown.
We took a tour bus out to Milford Sound to then sail along the fjords. It's a long, 4 to 5 hour drive to the sound but it's worth it. We had dolphins swim alongside our boat and the views are incredible. We planned to fly back to Queenstown, however, there was fog. As an alternative, we were given the option to take a helicopter back. Wow is all I can say to describe our short flight. We flew over rugged mountains and landed briefly on a glacier. It was a bit nerve-wracking flying through jagged peaks, but I would do again in a heartbeat.
The weather was a bit warmer than further south so we spent the day kayaking and hiking in Abel Tasman National Park which has incredibly clear waters, sandy beaches and easy hiking trails with views of the region.
The next day, we planned to take the ferry from the South Island (Picton, near Nelson) over to the North Island (Wellington). There are apparently a few ways to travel to Picton. We took a beautiful, country drive that turned into the most nauseous 2 hour ride of my life. The route we took is the Queen Charlotte drive -- Be prepared for incredible scenery, but at a cost of your passengers getting nauseous.
Wellington is considered New Zealand's craft brew capital and several in our group are big beer fans so much of the day was spent touring and tasting the local beers.
Hawke's Bay is a picturesque wine region. Our accommodation at the Black Barn winery was a real highlight. We had a lovely cottage with stunning views of the valley and each night we made a fire and enjoyed the sunset. The surrounding area is rural with wineries in all directions. Definitely recommend a visit to this area.
I also visited the stunning spa at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers. This lodge is located on a 6,000 acre working farm located high up in the hills overlooking the ocean. It would be a real treat (and splurge) to stay here.
Q & A
What would you have changed?I would have reduced the time spent in Nelson and possibly skip Wellington and add in more time in Auckland and visit the Bay of Islands on the North Island. Our friends said sailing the Bay of Islands was a real highlight.
Tips you would give a friend?Definitely splurge on taking a guided hike where you stay at lodges only accessible by foot or helicopter. The South Island mountains are stunning and it's nice to have a warm bed at night in comfortable accommodations. Also, the Hawke's Bay region has incredible wineries located in a very pretty region.
Transportation Tips?We rented a car and it was easy to get around. New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road (opposite of the USA) compared to the USA, and the steering wheel is on the right side of the car.
Packing tips?The weather was mild in March/April but could be unpredictable so bring layers. Most places were fairly casual so leave designer clothes at home!
Any surprises?Auckland was very charming and would have liked to spent more time there.
Booking details?Guided hike which I highly recommend: Ultimate Hikes (we did the Routeburn Track) Milford Sound Cruise: Real Journeys