In April 2019, my parents made the trek across the world to come visit me in New Zealand. The excitement I felt when I made my way to their hotel lobby to have a tearful reunion was immense.
After they spent some time on the North Island, we met back up to fly down to Christchurch and start a 10-day adventure on the South Island.
The flight to Christchurch from Auckland was just over an hour and I was amazed by how flat the landscape was around Christchurch as we landed. This area of the country is also known as the Canturbury plains and has very few hills or elevation. This made for a very dramatic landscape difference over the span of the 10 days.
We stayed in a sweet air bnb in Christchurch which was only a short walk away from the main city area. As we approached autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, the change was more apparent on the South Island with beautiful turning trees and a clear temperature difference! I was freezing with only a light coat on me. My first task was therefore to find a suitable coat to last me the next few days. I found this quickly on Regents Street, which had several boutique shops and restaurants.
The city is compact and had a British feel to the numerous parks. Of course Christchurch suffered earthquakes in 2011 and the damage is still evident to see. Many buildings have external damage and some are even held up by storage containers. The Christchurch Cathedral has a lot of damage and is a clear reminder for the city of what happened nearly a decade ago.
We made a visit to Quake City, Christchurch’s museum all things earthquakes. The museum had some great scientific info and demonstrations of how earthquakes happen and are formed but the main takeaway for me from this experience was the staffs real life experiences. Every one of the staff had a story to share and it made the facts and information that much more real.
For a day trip out of the city, we decided to spent the day in Akaroa, a small community which is located in the crater of an ancient volcano. Much of the crater is filled with water with the town sitting on the shores of this dramatic scenery. The town has French colonial history and therefore had a lot of French inspired shops and restaurants.
We didn’t have the best weather when we went so chose to not head out onto the water in search of dolphins. Instead we walked up the lighthouse and a waterfall near the town centre. This was a nice day out but the weather was a shame as it limited what we could enjoy in this area.
After three nights in Christchurch we continued our journey south. Orignally our plan was to drive to Greymouth on the west coast of the south island. Here we would have continued down to Fox Glacier and then onward to Queenstown. However, a few days before our trip, a bridge near Fox Glacier collapsed. This bridge was crucial in allowing us to continue driving south and without it meant retracing our steps in a drive over 10 hours long.
This didn’t sound too appealing and we decided to change our plans and instead stay in Wanaka for three nights before going onto Queenstown. This meant we had the chance to visit Mt Cook and the famous Hooker Valley Track. Driving out of Christchurch we noticed mountains start to appear on our right with the ocean on our left. As we turned into the Southern Alps and made our way towards Mt Cook we came across Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. These lakes are supplied with glacier water and are the most incredible colour. We drove all the way along Lake Pukaki to the head of the Hooker Valley Track. Along the way I was desperate to stop off and take in the view of this amazing lake.
Once at the Mt Cook car park, we realised that the Hooker Valley track was sadly only partially open due to maintenance work on the three bridges on the trail. With no other alternative tracks we chose to walk what we could of the route and enjoyed a slightly closer view of Mt Cook and the glacier lakes.
We also drove a little further on to a viewpoint of the glacier. Since it was only just autumn, the glacier had melted slightly into a lake and photos showed how the ice had reduced in the past few decades. Although this sobered the view a little knowing that one day it wouldn’t exist, we still enjoyed getting as close as we could to the highest peak in New Zealand.
After our quick journey to Mt Cook, we drove onto our second stay at Wanaka. This town is on the shores of Lake Wanaka and is a real beauty spot. Our last minute accommodation here was lovely and was a house close to the lake and town.
During our time here, we went to the famous ‘That Wanaka Tree’ which is a natural phenomenom of a tree which sits in the middle of lake looking very picturesque. We also hired bikes to explore the lake side, and a few of the other towns around the area. Hiring bikes was a great way to explore and I loved cycling along the river which was flanked by beautiful autumnal trees. We cycled to Albert Town where we had the BEST donuts of my life at a local bakery called Pembroke Patisserie.
Our last big outing in Wanaka was to hike Mt Iron, a small mountain on the outskirts of the town. This was the best compromise to hiking the formidable Roy’s Peak Lookout which was at least a day long and was known for being an extreme hike. Although it has amazing views which I’d seen all over social media, my parents weren't as keen to try it so this was the next best option.
The hike was gentle but gave us good views of Wanaka and the lake. We also took a walk through the Highstreet after this hike. The Highstreet is small but I was able to find some good hiking books for any treks I would be doing in New Zealand and beyond.
Wanaka was our favourite collective destination and there was a lot to do here over our three day stay. On a rainy day, the Puzzling World of Wanaka is a popular tourist stop. In the winter there is also the famous Treble Cone ski resort. We drove past this and were amazed at how out of the town it is but Wanaka is the best base to visit this resort.
Our final destination was Queenstown. This is where I was most looking forward to visiting before our trip. The town is a backpackers paradise with many high adrenaline activities on offer as well as a thriving pub and bar scene. Of course, it was a little more relaxed going with my parents but we still made sure to try out lots of things that were on offer.
The first thrilling experience we tried out was a speedboat experience on Lake Wakatipu. This was a freebie I managed to score from a coupon for our Milford Sound trip. The speedboat ride was short but a lot of fun and was a great and fun start to our time in Queenstown. It also gave my parents the adventurous bug and they were more open to other thrilling activities over the next few days. So much so that they signed us up for zip lining at AJ Hackett. Not quite the bungy jumping I tried to convince them to do nor the canyon swing I was hoping to do but it was something!
This was still great with them and it was nice that we could do it all together at the same time. We took the time to watch some bungy jumps and despite my encouragement, neither of the parents were sold on the idea.
One thing I had signed up to do whilst in Queenstown was a skydive. Each morning I anxiously headed to the skydiving shop wondering if today would be the day I would jump out of a plane. Since skydiving requires exact conditions, I couldn’t jump unless there were few clouds and little wind. This took three mornings to make happen and by the time I could finally do it I was a nervous mess!
I jumped in Glenorchy, the town over from Queenstown and connected by a stunning drive. Once at the small runway, we were shown the safety video and waited our turn to jump. I chose to jump from 15,000ft and was told I may need to take oxygen at the top altitude since in reality you are more like 16,000ft in the air due to not being at sea level. This is one of the hidhest skydives you can commercially do in the world and didn’t help with my nerves!
Luckily I shared my experience with a lovely fellow backpacker and we were able to hype each other up as we waited. Both Mum and Dad came to watch and even Mum was tempted to give the 9,000ft jump a go!
It finally came time for me to go up. My skydiving instructior started an introductory video and we were then seated in the small plane. I really got 2 in 1 with this experience as the plane ride was incredibe. It was a true scenic flight and my instructor pointed out various peaks, even Mt Cook out the window. Taking oxygen at the top wasn’t as scary as I thought and next thing I knew I was on the edge of a plane ready to jump.
I have done a bungy jump and now a skydive and can say a skydive is a lot easier. Whilst with a bungy you have to jump yourself, with a skydive you don’t have to do anything. My bungy jump was a real physiological challenge as you have to go against all natural instincts and jump. With the skydive I let the instructor tell me what to do and had no say as to when we left the plane. Before you know it, you’re in the sky and experiencing amazing G Force. I free-fell for around 60 seconds and loved every second.
My worry of the parachute not opening was unfounded as it all happened without a hitch. The time in the sky with a parachute is arguably the most relaxing part. Being in the air and just floating is so relaxing and allows you to really take in the amazing scenery. My instructor allowed me to try steering us and doing a turn is the most intense but fun thing to try. I was elated as I touched solid ground once again and was so happy I had done it and was still standing!
I think my parents were equally relieved and thankful they didn’t have to worry about it anymore!
After an eventful morning, we chose to stay in Glenorchy and try out some of the local walks in the area. We found one which ended at a lake with the path going through the forest. After getting slightly lost in the forest we found the hidden lake and reflected on where we were in the world and how stunning and varied this part of the world was.
Heading back to Queenstown, other notable activities we did during our time were visiting the Kiwi Birdlife Park close to the cable car. This was my first time seeing Kiwis and it was great to see how well they were looked after. They were part of a breeding programme and we could view them in a special ultra-red room. They are bigger than I thought they would be and a given activity to do whilst in New Zealand.
After our speedboar trip in the lake, we then tried out the Shotover Jet, which jets you over a river which winds through a tight canyon. It’s thrilling and amazing how well the drivers of these vehicles can control their movements.
Our final big activity in Queenstown was a trip to Milford Sound. This is a long day out as the journey to the Sound is an eight hour round trip. As we got on the coach for the day though, I soon realised this wouldn’t be so bad as our driver and guide was well versed in how to entertain a bus load of people for eight hours.
She first started by telling us some more of the history of Queenstown and the Milford Sound area. This included Moari tales of the landscape and the human history of the land. Midway through, we stopped at Te Anau for a coffee and break and then continued on where we were treated to some amazing scenery through impressive mountains. This even consisted of an epic tunnel which came out at the crest of a mountain, the view of untouched forest and mountains was spectacular. On our way to the sound, our bus also stopped off at Mirror Lakes and a few other points of interest.
Finally at the sounds themselves, we settled onto our cruise where we had a light lunch before we headed out to the mouth of this famous area. Milford Sounds is a beautiful location with mountains on either side. Waterfalls adorn these cliffs and are particularly prevalent after a heavy rainfall. The cruise takes you along the large estuary to the mouth of the sound which opens to the Tasman sea. At this point the cruise turns around and allows you to enjoy the pristine scenery for a little longer.
On the way back from the sounds, our guide put on a Kiwi movie and allowed us to take a little nap and relax. A trip to Milford Sound or Doubtfall Sounds is a must-do on any trip to Queenstown and although may sound like a daunting long day, is surprisingly enjoyable and very well planned.
Finally, we made sure to check out Queesntowns expansive high street and the various shops. There is of course a lot of tourist shops as well as traditional clothing stores, many activity stores and some great food options. One of these is Fergbuger which is a cult classic in Queenstown. The queue was large as it always is but was well worth it as the burgers were indeed very good.
On our final day, Easter Sunday, we had a nice breakfast, complete with a little kiwi Easter egg and took the flight back to Auckland. The weather was clear the whole way ansd made for an amazing view of Fox Glacier and Southern Alps. I was very glad I got the window seat!
Our trip of the South Island was really memorable and was made better in that I was able to experience it with my parents. This route is a very popular one and allows you to explore a variety of landscape and many activites.
Of course, the South Island, being the larger of the two islands, has so much more to explore than what can be done in 10 days so there is definitely unfinished business.