After blazing a fast trail through the north island, we arrived in Nelson. At the ferry docks, you can pick up a car for a one-way drive south to Queenstown. South Island is what everyone wants to see in NZ and the pictures could never do it justice. You just must see it with your own eyes. Every turn on the winding roads, we kept thinking, people live here-surrounded by all this beauty!
The mountains make the south island a bit more challenging to get anywhere fast. Two-lane roads are the standard and you'll want to stop at every turn for a photo.
Marlborough was our first stop on the South Island and we spent three days exploring the land of Sauvignon Blanc. We were pleasantly surprised by how many other varietals were available as well. We enjoyed just relaxing at the Vintner's Inn and taking in the gorgeous mountains surrounding the vineyards.
Abel Tasman is known for it's beautiful hikes along the water, but these hikes are only accessible by ferry. Hike or kayak along the beautiful beaches during the day. Relax with the locals at one of the few restaurants in town during the evening.
There are two glaciers to choose from within 30 minutes of each other: Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. Over the years, Fox has gotten the reputation for having better ice, but due to extreme melting of the ice, it's pretty much a wash. After a lot of research, we went with Franz Josef. There is only one company legally permitted to take people on the ice, so don't worry about finding a "deal" via another company. Go with the legal one and you'll be with a smaller group as well. Tip: there is also a 10% coupon in one of the many New Zealand magazines but only book close to your preferred date if you have plenty of flex time.
Franz Josef Guides takes you out to the glacier via helicopter. We chose the Ice Explorer, which takes you on a shorter flight in favor of more time on the ice. The ice is constantly shifting, so every day is a unique experience. We were lucky enough to experience hiking through a deep crevasse, newly opened on our afternoon hike. The ice is dirty from the rocks underneath.
Getting from Franz Josef to Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound is a long haul. You have to go around the mountains and through Queenstown. You can stop and spend a day or two in Wanaka, which is a beautiful and ritzy town on a lake, surrounded by The Remarkables Mountains. These mountains truly are remarkable and beautiful. We didn't spend a ton of time in Wanaka, but easily could have stopped for a night.
Te Anau & Milford
Te Anau is the jumping off point for Milford Sound. It's a sleepy town, but modern. There are no grocery stores in Milford, so you'll need to bring along whatever you want to eat. You can also eat at the main hostel until 9 pm.
Milford Sound is a breathtaking wonder, but it's usually rare for it to be clear. Hang out in the area for a night or two in hopes of getting the postcard weather. We got super lucky and the rain cleared the morning of our cruise. The views truly are spectacular when the weather is clear. If the forecast calls for clear skies, take the overnight cruise.
The drive between Milford Sound and Te Anau offers a great opportunity to stop and do the day hike of the Routeburn Track. This is one of the famous Great Walks and worth the super steep climb to the top
Set on a lake, like most other NZ towns, we really fell in love with the vibe of Queenstown. It reminded us a lot of Breckinridge with a little more glitz and glamour. Vineyards are a short drive out of the city and any adrenaline junkie can get their fix there.
After Karen and Ron headed back to the States, we finally sucked up the courage to bungee jump at the birthplace of the adventure sport. This was an incredible feeling, but it definitely took a huge amount of courage. We both would strongly recommend doing it once in your life. A few things about bungee most people don't know:
1. There are no refunds if you don't jump. You have only two chances to jump before they pull you off the platform.
2. Your ankles will be wrapped with a towel and then a self-tightening knot. There are at least three points of connections between you, the bungee and the bridge. The statistical chance of all of these cross checks failing at once is absurdly small and hasn't happened once in the history of bungee jumping.
3. Don't ever look down before your jump. Look straight out and jump before the countdown is completed.
4. Do not walk off the edge. With your ankles tied together, stepping off is working against the best flow of gravity. Trust us. Swan dive!
The feeling is truly different than anything else in the world. It's pure weightlessness. The best way to describe it is like saying the word, "Boing." There is no vicious snap back. You gently bounce.
We tried the famous Fergburger and then headed next door for the showstopper: Hokey Pokey gelato. If you are in Queenstown, you MUST have this gelato. It was mind-blowing. What is Hokey Pokey flavor you ask? Carmel-covered honeycomb pieces in a sweet cream gelato. Your life will be changed for. ev. er.
We spent our final few days in Queenstown doing a drive along the lake for stunning views and running around with an American couple (Hi Molly and Enser!) who were just starting their year abroad. It was fun to pay it forward a bit and dance all night to some awesome 90s music. Note: nearly every bar will ask for I.D. So bring your passport along. The legal limit is now .05 and random road blocks require you to blow without probable cause.
New Zealand offers so much and we would tell everyone to put it high on their bucket list. Everything you see is even better in person. The people are lovely and the scenery is incredible.
If you have three weeks to spend, you will be able to see nearly everything you want while moving at a moderate pace. We relished in our days of lounging in wine country mixed in among the intense outdoor activities.