The other day one of my friends messaged me about an upcoming trip to NZ’s south island. She and her son are doing a whirlwind 10-day tour focusing on the southern half of the south island. Her request for suggestions got me thinking, what would I recommend to someone who had two weeks in New Zealand? So, here’s a tentative itinerary for the BEST way to see the south island in two weeks during winter.
A few notes:
- Winter (late May – late October) = shorter days + colder temps + less people + higher chance of precipitation (rain and snow) + lower prices
- Buy Scott Cook’s NZ Frenzy book; I’ll reference a few of the gems in its pages like this (A4)
Day 1: Fly into Christchurch via Auckland – spend the afternoon securing your rental car or van, renting a mountain bike for the trip (you’ll see why), and taking a nap on the beach
Day 2: Drive to Kaikoura – stop to do a wine tasting in Waipara along Hwy 1; Walk along the train tracks 20 km south of Kaikoura near the Oaru Railroad (B6); Camp at the free Kiwa Rd campsites north of town, where you can watch the crazy surfers brave the frigid water from the comfort of your campsite
Day 3: Drive to Marfells Beach (B1) – stop to check out the seal pups frolicking under a waterfall at Ohau Point (B4); watch the sunset from your tent and shake off the last dregs of jet lag
Day 4: Drive to Marlborough Sounds – stop at Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve (A18) for a hike through old growth forest; Camp at Elaine Bay, and make sure that you drive or bike out to French Pass (A19); to cut out some biking distance park at the picnic table after the Point Ligar turnoff to French Pass and ride the remaining stretch which winds along a mountain ridge with jawdropping scenery for about 12kms
Day 5: Hang out in Nelson, the sunniest, greenest, happiest city on the island – bike or jog the Dun Mountain track; grab a pint at one of the craft breweries; eat at Mango, an Indian/Malaysian restaurant in downtown; If you’re up for it, go watch a show at the Boathouse Bar, right on the water
Day 6-9: Explore Golden Bay and Abel Tasman – I can’t hype this area enough. Wharariki Beach’s (A3) sea arches, caves, sand dunes, and seals boosted it to the venerable top of my NZ Beach List. When Tyler upgraded to Windows 10 guess what image was on the auto screensaver? That’s right – Wharariki. A short drive away is Farewell Spit (A1), the northernmost tip of the island, which extends for about 26km in a semicircular fashion and can be seen as far away as Marlborough Sounds. Stop for a pint and snack at Mussel Inn, a quirky tavern with home brewed beers and ciders on tap, and occasionally live music. Check out Wainui Falls (A11), Abel Tasman’s only waterfall, and day hike the empty northern end of the famous track from Totaranui to Wainui (A13). Go to The Grove (A10) to see beautiful dense jungle minus the heat, humidity, and prevalence of deadly creatures that usually accompany them. For extra credit go back at night and find some glowworms. And, if you need yet another push to visit, do the hour-long hike to Rawhiti Cave (A9), a massive limestone cavern that you’ll probably have to yourself.
Day 10: Drive to Greymouth – keep your fingers crossed that the sun is shining; Take an extended pit stop at Lyell Campground for a 45 minute loop past a historic cemetery and over some cool bridges; If you’re super keen to see Punakaiki rocks and some rad see arches, take Hwy 6 and follow the coast down from Westport (this adds another 1.5 in the car).
Day 13: drive back to Christchurch – return car, go out to dinner and upload photos to facebook
Day 14: Fly home and begin planning your next trip to see the other half (stay posted for the next blog)
Honorable Mentions (if you have another week): Wanaka, Franz Joseph Glacier, Tekapo/Mt. Cook, Karamea