Chocked full of enchanted lakes and mountain ranges, New Zealand’s fairer southern isle is full of mind-blowing experiences. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to fit them all into a ten-day self-drive tour – the typical timeframe and mode of travel of a visit to New Zealand.
Here’s some of the highlights you might want to squeeze into your itinerary.
1. Milford Sound, Fiordland
The journey along the Milford Track, through jurassic fiords overflowing with streams, is central to the destination. Once you arrive, enjoy the majesty of the sound (technically a fiord) aboard a cruise, spotting waterfalls, seals and other wildlife. Explore the untouched wilderness more intimately on the area’s walks.
2. Alps 2 Ocean Trail
Combining cycling with one of the most beautiful parts of the country, the world famous Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail is a welcome reprieve from driving. In spring and early summer you’ll spot lupins along the foreshores, in autumn, the golds of the season shine. Choose part or all of the trail, which traverses 300 kilometres from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean.
3. Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Within the heavenly realms of Aoraki you’ll be spellbound by Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain, fairytale lakes and never-ending brown moors. Walk around Mount Cook. Check out the stars of the local dark sky reserve from Mount John Observatory.
4. Tasman Glacier
Located within the Mount Cook National Park, Tasman Glacier is the countries largest glacier. Opportunities to get up close include lakeside and helicopter tours. You can also view it from the Hooker Valley Track. Strewn with jewels of ice, the lake, created by glacial melt, is part of the attraction.
5. Southern Lakes district
Highlights here include the lakes – Wakatipu, Wanaka and Hawea, and mountains. Within Queenstown and Wanaka, take your pick from cycling and lake cruises to ice bars and snow sports. For an unusual accommodation experience, stay at the Oasis Yurts. If time permits, visit Mou Waho Island.
6. Glenorchie and Paradise
Famous as the location for Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Glenorchie, and the aptly named Paradise, exemplify the scenery the country is renowned for. Considered one of the best in the country, the drive takes you through blue, snow-capped mountains and pastural green valleys to the end of Lake Wakatipu and its tributaries, the Dart and Lees Rivers.
7. Onsen Hot Pools
While in Queenstown, pop into the Onsen Hot Pools, the alpine town’s equivalent of the Japanese onsen. Relaxing in bubbling hot water, sipping wine, juice or beer on your private balcony over the arctic blue Shotover River and mountains, beats bungee jumping.
8. Maruia Hot springs
Immerse yourself within nature amid the rugged scenery of the South Islands wild West Coast. Enjoy the additional health benefits of the sulfur-rich thermal mineral water – sourced from the earth’s core. Maruia Hot Springs was voted best Luxury Eco Spa for Australasia in 2018.
9. Dunedin wildlife albatross and little penguins tour
Help fund local wildlife conservation while enjoying the magical sight of the Little Penguins arriving to shore on the Otago Peninsula. The tour includes a conservation talk and the chance to peer at the latest chicks of the Northern Royal Albatross. Keep your eyes peeled for a seal or more.
10. Lake Matheson
Lake Matheson is located on the West Coast, five minutes from Fox Glacier (which you might want to check out too). The walk takes you through a hidden realm of ferns, moss, mushrooms, vines, streams and reeds, to platforms where you can view the mirror-like waters of the lake, and Fox Mountain in the distance.