Best of: New Zealand South Island Road Trip 2015

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I don’t think I’ll ever stop dreaming of the two weeks Tom and I spent touring New Zealand’s South Island. I knew enough about New Zealand prior to this trip to know that this would be a beautiful place – but there was no way to anticipate the scale of that beauty until I had my boots on the ground and could see it all for myself. No doubt there will be additional trips to this fantastical island nation in the future. But until then, I’m left daydreaming about this first otherworldly adventure…NZs

Places Visited

Christchurch, Fox Glacier, Hokitika, Kaikoura, Lake Tekapo, Milford Sound, Queenstown, and Sumner, New Zealand.

Best Place We Stayed

The view from Tom's backyard

Sunny Scarborough by the Sea

We stayed in Tom’s childhood home during our time in Sumner, and while I wouldn’t usually talk about staying with family on this blog, it just so happens that Tom’s parents rent out the room where we stayed through Airbnb when they don’t have company. The room is spacious and comfortable, but what really sets this stay apart are the views. The living area boasts a panoramic vista of the ocean and Banks peninsula and a real wood-burning stove. It would be hard to find a cozier place – especially for the price! Check out their listing on Airbnb to learn more.

Best Thing We Ate

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Pies Pies PIES

We ate well in New Zealand. I was lucky enough to try many kiwi specialties in Tom’s family’s kitchen – not to mention the feasts we enjoyed in Queenstown, Hokitika, and Kaikoura. But if there’s one food that defines this trip for me, it’s the pies. These savory pastries came in so many varieties of flakey meaty goodness. My favorite was the buttered chicken with poppy seeds, but I was just starting to get a taste for all the flavor possibilities!

Best Road Trip Stop

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Hokitika

Our big surprise! This seemingly sleepy little town had so much to offer: a stunning beach, a mind-bogglingly-blue gorge, a good, cheap fish and chips shop, and glow worms to boot! What more could you ask of a road trip rest?

Favorite National Park

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Fiordland National Park

Nearly 30% of New Zealand is designated National Park land, so it’s not hard to wander through one of these pristine places. On this trip, we made our way through Mount Aspiring, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Westland, and Arthur’s Pass National Parks, and while they were all stunning, it was Fiordland National Park that took my breath away. Our day hiking to waterfalls and boating Milford Sound was the highlight of the trip!

Biggest Challenge

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Low Funds

New Zealand is many things. Cheap is not one of them. We stuck to a tight budget and made it work, but there was so much I would have loved to try that was just out of reach of this poor graduate student’s bank account. We managed to do a lot with a little – but skiing, helicopter rides, vineyard tours, and whale watching will all have to wait for the next, hopefully better-funded trip.

Best Decision

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To come or not to come?

This trip came very close to not happening. I was worried my break between semesters would be too short to make the long flights worth it, and I wondered if it might be better to wait and see New Zealand during a southern summer instead of visiting in the dead of winter. But while I definitely would have loved time to see more, 2 weeks was well worth the 30 hours of flying each way, and cool temperatures did not do much to dampen the beauty of these spectacular islands.

What I’d Do Differently

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Hot Pools in Tekapo

When I look back on this trip, it’s hard to find a moment that wasn’t spectacular or a mistake that didn’t work out in our favor. The only second during the entire two weeks that I might look back on with a tinge of regret occurred upon our rainy arrival to Lake Tekapo. Assuming the hot pools would be open late, we decided to wait out the rain and go for a nighttime dip. As it turned out, the pools were closed for cleaning that night and we were unable to enjoy the warm baths after all. If we’d only sucked it up and gone for a dip in the rain that afternoon, we might not have missed out.

On the Next Trip…

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Getting into the Backcountry

There’s still so much left to see! This trip really just wet my appetite for more NZ scenery. Next time, I’ll come back in the summer so that I can get a little deeper into these stunning mountains and forests. I’ll be bringing my tent and pack for sure!

In Conclusion

My trusty driver and I as we prepared to head off!

Second Star to the Right

New Zealand to me was like a grown-up Never Never Land. The scenery was so stunning and the adventures so alluring (and Peter Pan and his gang totally flew for 30 hours to get there, right?). I was constantly overwhelmed by a feeling of breathlessness and a wish that time would stop. While there were no pirates or Indian skirmishes, there was a fascinating ancient culture of living in harmony with and respect for the earth. Yes, the Kiwi combination of mountains, ocean, wildlife, and wine made it the adult playground of my dreams. And I cannot wait to return to this fantasyland for my next New Zealand adventure.

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