• a slow road trip around // new zealand's south island

mt cook // mahabis journal photo: via bucketlistly

 

Continuing with our Slow Road Trip series, we are outlining the ultimate road trip around New Zealand’s lesser-populated South Island. Perfect for those who love the great outdoors, a route around the island offers dramatic scenery, towering mountains, icy glaciers, luscious rain forests, pristine beaches and an abundance of wildlife. Take at least three weeks to drive around the island, allowing plenty of time to relax and take things slowly.

 

The South Island

Although the South Island is significantly larger than the North Island, it is far less populated with just over 20% of New Zealand’s population living there. This allows for visitors to explore the island at their own pace, discovering quiet beaches and isolated mountain passes that they could have all to themselves.

Driving around the island, the focus is less on towns and settlements (which are seen more as bases for adventure sports) and more on the scenery and wildlife that you'll encounter en route. Skip public transport and hire your own car to tour the island. Bypass transport schedules, and take in the scenery at a more relaxed pace.  Park up and overlook beaches in the day, and take in the views at a dark sky reserve by night.

 

abel tasman // mahabis journal

photo: via bucketlistly

 

Christchurch - Kaikoura

Start your journey in Christchurch, the most convenient place to fly in and out of. The Garden City is still in recovery after 2011’s devastating earthquake, but a stroll around the Botanical Gardens is worthwhile, before heading north.

It takes just under two hours of leisurely driving to reach Hamner Springs, an alpine town that is renowned for its thermal hot pools. Spend a day here, indulging and unwinding in the natural rock pools, floating down the lazy river and experiencing luxury spa treatments. Although there are likely to be many visitors, it is possible to book private pools where you can lie back and relax in your own company.

 

 

abel tasman // mahabis journal

photo: via bucketlistly

 

If you would like to extend your stay in the area, the nearby Hamner Forest Park is ideal for short hikes through woodland, along streams and past waterfalls.

Head towards the coast to discover the picturesque peninsula of Kaikoura, nestled below dramatic mountain peaks. The main draw here is the ocean, it's worth taking a boat out into the open sea for an afternoon, and heading back at sunset. 

 

franz josef // mahabis journal

photo: via bucketlistly

 

Blenheim – Nelson

The north of the island is famed for its Sounds and its wines. Driving up the coast to Blenheim, you enter the Marlborough region and begin to spot an abundance of vineyards with dramatic views of the coast on one side and towering mountains on the other. Famed for its Sauvignon Blanc, this is an ideal place to stop for a few days and tour the local wineries in one of the sunniest regions of the country. There are over twenty wineries in the vicinity of the town that offer tours and that you can purchase wine from for the remainder of your trip.

Just half an hour detour off your main route takes you to Marlborough Sounds, an area of ancient sunken river valleys that offer sheltered waters, island sanctuaries to explore and isolated sandy beaches on which to relax. There are plenty of adventure sports on offer in the area, but if you’re seeking something a little more relaxing, take a kayak out onto the Sounds for a peaceful afternoon.

 

milford sound // mahabis journal

photo: via bucketlistly

 

Take time to enjoy the scenic drive to Nelson, which is the perfect base to rest for a couple of days exploring Abel Tasman National Park. As well as being in close proximity of yet more wineries, Nelson has a blossoming arts scene, with many stores and galleries to visit.

Just an hour North of Nelson, you can discover one of New Zealand’s most beloved national parks: Abel Tasman. Here, you will find serene golden beaches, sparkling ocean and vast rainforest. Water taxi companies offer day trips where you can experience boat trips, sea kayaking and trail walking, or you can spend longer exploring the area on your own.

 

new zealand // mahabis journal

photo: via bucketlistly

 

Punakaiki – Wanaka

It’s a long drive through luscious national parks to Punakaiki, where you can take a short stroll to view the infamous pancake rocks and spouting blowhole that channels bursts of sea water skyward. Continue your drive south along the coast, before swooping inland into the mountains to visit Hokitika Gorge.

Here you’ll find vivid turquoise water deep in a rocky gorge surrounded by green native bush. Walk through the forest to reach a viewing platform before crossing a swing bridge to experience the ravine in all its glory.

 

new zealand // mahabis journal

photo: via bucketlistly

 

The drive then climbs further into the mountains as you approach Franz Josef glacier. Spend a couple of days admiring the scenery and soaking in hot tubs in order to free up time to get up close and personal to the glacier. You can hike up and inside the glacier with a local guide, or if you fancy something a little more indulgent and much less strenuous, take a helicopter ride to admire the view from above before landing on the ice. End your day with a soak in the Glacier Hot Pools.

Drive on through mountain passes until you reach Wanaka, nestled at the tip of the eponymous lake. Here, Eco Wanaka Adventures offer lake cruises and nature walks, or you can simply sit on the shore and admire the scenery.

 

dunedin // mahabis journal

photo: via  bucketlistly

 

Queenstown – Christchurch

After making the journey from Wanaka to Queenstown (perhaps stopping on route to watch bungee jumpers at the site of the world’s first bungee, AJ Hackett Bungy), head to Arthur’s Point, overlooking the city for a relaxing alternative to the area’s adventure sports. Onsen Hot Pools offer massages and soaks in an outdoor hot tub whilst admiring the views of the valley below.

From Queenstown, drive south before swooping north-west towards Te Anau, the gateway to the fjords. Here, you take the picturesque Southern Scenic Route through a sparsely populated area that is rife in waterfalls, lakes, rainforest and rugged coastlines. Milford Sound is the destination of most visitors to the Fjordland National Park, offering the opportunity to take a boat trip down the fjords past towering mountains on either side.

If you’re looking for a more isolated location, it is possible to take a boat from Manapouri then travel by bus over Wilmot Pass to reach Doubtful Sound, which is a larger fjord that is less visited due to its remoteness.  

 

mt cook // mahabis journal

photo: cartuun jewvutthipong

 

The road to Dunedin is long, stretching across the width of the south of the island, but is one of the most scenic stretches of the entire journey. Once you arrive at the small city, you are perfectly positioned to explore the nearby Otago Peninsula, home to colonies of Yellow-Eyed Penguins and the Royal Albatross.

Before heading back to Christchurch to complete the loop around the island, take a short detour inland to spend a night at Lake Tekapo. On the route through the Southern Alps, you will catch a glimpse of the island’s largest peak, Mt Cook towering in the distance. Upon arrival at Tekapo, the turquoise lake is a beautiful spot for an al fresco supper, but it is at night that you'll truly get to appreciate the wonder of this location. Lake Tekapo is the world's largest International Dark Sky Reserve. Distanced from the lights and bustling noise of New Zeland's towns and cities, the vast flat plains offer unparalleled clear skies. Throughout the year, aurorae, zodiac constellations and meteor showers grace the skies, and thousands flock to watch with an uninhibited gaze. 

 

 

a slow road trip around // new zealand's south island

mt cook // mahabis journal photo: via bucketlistly

 

Continuing with our Slow Road Trip series, we are outlining the ultimate road trip around New Zealand’s lesser-populated South Island. Perfect for those who love the great outdoors, a route around the island offers dramatic scenery, towering mountains, icy glaciers, luscious rain forests, pristine beaches and an abundance of wildlife. Take at least three weeks to drive around the island, allowing plenty of time to relax and take things slowly.

 

The South Island

Although the South Island is significantly larger than the North Island, it is far less populated with just over 20% of New Zealand’s population living there. This allows for visitors to explore the island at their own pace, discovering quiet beaches and isolated mountain passes that they could have all to themselves.

Driving around the island, the focus is less on towns and settlements (which are seen more as bases for adventure sports) and more on the scenery and wildlife that you'll encounter en route. Skip public transport and hire your own car to tour the island. Bypass transport schedules, and take in the scenery at a more relaxed pace.  Park up and overlook beaches in the day, and take in the views at a dark sky reserve by night.

 

abel tasman // mahabis journal

photo: via bucketlistly

 

Christchurch - Kaikoura

Start your journey in Christchurch, the most convenient place to fly in and out of. The Garden City is still in recovery after 2011’s devastating earthquake, but a stroll around the Botanical Gardens is worthwhile, before heading north.

It takes just under two hours of leisurely driving to reach Hamner Springs, an alpine town that is renowned for its thermal hot pools. Spend a day here, indulging and unwinding in the natural rock pools, floating down the lazy river and experiencing luxury spa treatments. Although there are likely to be many visitors, it is possible to book private pools where you can lie back and relax in your own company.

 

 

abel tasman // mahabis journal

photo: via bucketlistly

 

If you would like to extend your stay in the area, the nearby Hamner Forest Park is ideal for short hikes through woodland, along streams and past waterfalls.

Head towards the coast to discover the picturesque peninsula of Kaikoura, nestled below dramatic mountain peaks. The main draw here is the ocean, it's worth taking a boat out into the open sea for an afternoon, and heading back at sunset. 

 

franz josef // mahabis journal

photo: via bucketlistly

 

Blenheim – Nelson

The north of the island is famed for its Sounds and its wines. Driving up the coast to Blenheim, you enter the Marlborough region and begin to spot an abundance of vineyards with dramatic views of the coast on one side and towering mountains on the other. Famed for its Sauvignon Blanc, this is an ideal place to stop for a few days and tour the local wineries in one of the sunniest regions of the country. There are over twenty wineries in the vicinity of the town that offer tours and that you can purchase wine from for the remainder of your trip.

Just half an hour detour off your main route takes you to Marlborough Sounds, an area of ancient sunken river valleys that offer sheltered waters, island sanctuaries to explore and isolated sandy beaches on which to relax. There are plenty of adventure sports on offer in the area, but if you’re seeking something a little more relaxing, take a kayak out onto the Sounds for a peaceful afternoon.

 

milford sound // mahabis journal

photo: via bucketlistly

 

Take time to enjoy the scenic drive to Nelson, which is the perfect base to rest for a couple of days exploring Abel Tasman National Park. As well as being in close proximity of yet more wineries, Nelson has a blossoming arts scene, with many stores and galleries to visit.

Just an hour North of Nelson, you can discover one of New Zealand’s most beloved national parks: Abel Tasman. Here, you will find serene golden beaches, sparkling ocean and vast rainforest. Water taxi companies offer day trips where you can experience boat trips, sea kayaking and trail walking, or you can spend longer exploring the area on your own.

 

new zealand // mahabis journal

photo: via bucketlistly

 

Punakaiki – Wanaka

It’s a long drive through luscious national parks to Punakaiki, where you can take a short stroll to view the infamous pancake rocks and spouting blowhole that channels bursts of sea water skyward. Continue your drive south along the coast, before swooping inland into the mountains to visit Hokitika Gorge.

Here you’ll find vivid turquoise water deep in a rocky gorge surrounded by green native bush. Walk through the forest to reach a viewing platform before crossing a swing bridge to experience the ravine in all its glory.

 

new zealand // mahabis journal

photo: via bucketlistly

 

The drive then climbs further into the mountains as you approach Franz Josef glacier. Spend a couple of days admiring the scenery and soaking in hot tubs in order to free up time to get up close and personal to the glacier. You can hike up and inside the glacier with a local guide, or if you fancy something a little more indulgent and much less strenuous, take a helicopter ride to admire the view from above before landing on the ice. End your day with a soak in the Glacier Hot Pools.

Drive on through mountain passes until you reach Wanaka, nestled at the tip of the eponymous lake. Here, Eco Wanaka Adventures offer lake cruises and nature walks, or you can simply sit on the shore and admire the scenery.

 

dunedin // mahabis journal

photo: via  bucketlistly

 

Queenstown – Christchurch

After making the journey from Wanaka to Queenstown (perhaps stopping on route to watch bungee jumpers at the site of the world’s first bungee, AJ Hackett Bungy), head to Arthur’s Point, overlooking the city for a relaxing alternative to the area’s adventure sports. Onsen Hot Pools offer massages and soaks in an outdoor hot tub whilst admiring the views of the valley below.

From Queenstown, drive south before swooping north-west towards Te Anau, the gateway to the fjords. Here, you take the picturesque Southern Scenic Route through a sparsely populated area that is rife in waterfalls, lakes, rainforest and rugged coastlines. Milford Sound is the destination of most visitors to the Fjordland National Park, offering the opportunity to take a boat trip down the fjords past towering mountains on either side.

If you’re looking for a more isolated location, it is possible to take a boat from Manapouri then travel by bus over Wilmot Pass to reach Doubtful Sound, which is a larger fjord that is less visited due to its remoteness.  

 

mt cook // mahabis journal

photo: cartuun jewvutthipong

 

The road to Dunedin is long, stretching across the width of the south of the island, but is one of the most scenic stretches of the entire journey. Once you arrive at the small city, you are perfectly positioned to explore the nearby Otago Peninsula, home to colonies of Yellow-Eyed Penguins and the Royal Albatross.

Before heading back to Christchurch to complete the loop around the island, take a short detour inland to spend a night at Lake Tekapo. On the route through the Southern Alps, you will catch a glimpse of the island’s largest peak, Mt Cook towering in the distance. Upon arrival at Tekapo, the turquoise lake is a beautiful spot for an al fresco supper, but it is at night that you'll truly get to appreciate the wonder of this location. Lake Tekapo is the world's largest International Dark Sky Reserve. Distanced from the lights and bustling noise of New Zeland's towns and cities, the vast flat plains offer unparalleled clear skies. Throughout the year, aurorae, zodiac constellations and meteor showers grace the skies, and thousands flock to watch with an uninhibited gaze. 

 

 

  • Emma Lavelle
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