The ultimate South Island Itinerary for outdoor lovers
26 Sep 2016
Set amongst some of the world’s most outstanding and pure natural landscapes, New Zealand’s South Island is the ultimate playground for those that love all things outdoors. In fact, we’ve got three of NZ’s ‘Great Walks’ within an hour of our backyard in Fiordland – isn’t that awesome? The challenge is fitting in the highlights of the South Island into an itinerary that works with your vacation time. We’ve put together what we think is the ultimate South Island itinerary for outdoor lovers – plus, it’s only a week long; easy to fit into any trip down under!
Day 1: Fly into Christchurch
Christchurch International Airport is the main hub for the South Island of New Zealand and a great spot to start your adventure. If you’re flying in from the north, choose a seat on the right-hand side of the plane for dazzling views over the Southern Alps. Once you arrive in Christchurch, we’d recommend taking it easy for a day to get over any jet lag. If you fancy some fresh air, head to the Port Hills that cradle the city – there are a number of short afternoon walks that will help you clear your head after all that flying!
Day 2 & 3: Head inland to our highest mountain - Aoraki, Mt Cook
Aoraki, Mt Cook National Park is a dramatic landscape of peaks and valleys where Mother Nature puts on a pretty awesome show. A mecca for climbers and hikers, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better destination to break in those new hiking boots. The Hooker Valley Track is a great place to start your adventure, with 1 to 4 hour hikes accessible from the Visitor Centre or White Horse Hill Campground. The full 4-hour return track to the glacier is the most spectacular in the region and sees you following the glacial river up the Hooker Valley before arriving at the striking terminal lake. Add half an hour to your journey for an unbeatable picnic here, with amazing views up the glacier towards Australasia’s highest mountain – Aoraki, Mt Cook.
In the evening take a quiet moment to enjoy the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve – the only dark sky reserve in the southern hemisphere, and only one of eight in the world. This is a designated area where “light pollution” is regulated, and it makes for matchless star-scapes. From April to September you may even be lucky enough to see the Southern Lights. Head to the Mount John Observatory for your best chance of spotting this spectacular natural light show.
Day 4 & 5: Spend two days in Queenstown or Wanaka
Queenstown has always been a magnet for entrepreneurs and adventurous souls and is well deserving of its famous title, “adventure capital”. It is the birthplace of bungy jumping and tandem paragliding (among other sports). Queenstown is also located right on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, and flanked by the Remarkables mountain range – scenic is an understatement! We’d recommend taking a walk up Queenstown Hill or hiking Mt Alfred for massive views across the lake.
Or if you would prefer a smaller, more relaxed town, head to Wanaka. With similar scenery to that of Queenstown, Wanaka is more down-to-earth and away from the hustle and bustle. Take a boat cruise to the remote and magical Mou Waho Island nature reserve – perched right in the middle of Lake Wanaka – and enjoy a guided walk to catch a glimpse of New Zealand’s many rare flightless birds. Keen to get out and explore on foot? The Rob Roy Glacier Hike is a half-day adventure where you’ll get face-to-face with active glaciers in Mount Aspiring National Park. The alpine scenery, sheer cliffs and snow-topped mountains are magic.
Day 6 & 7: The grand finale – Fiordland & Milford Sound, our backyard!
Milford Sound is an absolute NZ must-do! Here you can see the nation at her most rugged and raw, where steep mountains cloaked in dense native bush climb straight up out of the sea. This seriously is the stuff movies are made of (we mean that literally – a number of epic scenic shots from The Hobbit were filmed here!)
To experience all that Milford Sound has to offer, you can’t go past our Milford Coach, Cruise & Walk experience. Let someone else drive the Milford Road for you (the scenery is so epic, you’ll want to focus on looking out the window anyway) then take a boat cruise along the full length of Milford Sound. After, decide whether you would like to hike a handful of short walks with a nature guide, or hike up to Key Summit on the Routeburn Track. Or, has the famous Milford Track always captured your imagination? You don’t have to hike the full distance – take a guided day walk to Giant’s Gate Falls. It’s suitable for all abilities, and you’ll get to enjoy lush forest and native birds along the way.
We recommend two days in the Fiordland region, because it really is absolute paradise for nature lovers. Treat yourself to a guided heli-hike of Mount Luxmore, which is part of the renowned Kepler Track – one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Or, venture into the Mountain Divide with a guided walk to Lake Marian on a lesser-known Fiordland track. Te Anau makes the perfect base for two days in Fiordland – it’s incredibly picturesque with a charming ‘kiwi small town’ feel.
To catch a flight home, drive the two-hours back to Queenstown Airport. You may need to fly back to Christchurch or up to Auckland if you are flying long haul.