“Once you’ve been to New Zealand you are spoilt forever – nothing will ever be as beautiful.” Those were the wise word of my friend, who had already visited the North Island, right before we arrived in New Zealand, Christchurch, to be exact. I could hardly imagine those words to be true; we had just come back from an amazing trip around Bali (Indonesia) and before that I had experienced the wonders of the east coast of Australia. Surely it couldn’t get better than that?
Boy was I wrong. New Zealand may be relatively small compared to its over-sea neighbour Australia, nonetheless there is an incredible amount of diversity when it comes to nature. That’s right, nature. Do not visit New Zealand solely for its cities; the fact that this country only has 4.5 million inhabitants already indicates the amount of buzz and liveliness in the cities – there isn’t much of it. Don’t be afraid, its nature and adventure possibilities make up for it a 100 times!
There are many things to see, activities to do and locations to visit on the South Island. I will split up our roadtrip in two parts; this part, Part 1, will explore the north part of the southern peninsula (sorry for this unfortunate phrasing).
Kaikoura – meet the seals!
Whilst predominantly famous for possibilities to spot whales and dolphins, Kaikoura has something else to offer: seals! Unlike the whales and dolphins, seals are extremely likely to be present (in the form of taking a nap on the lovely beaches) during your visit to Kaikoura. You can get very close to them and admire their mighty forms. Side note: please respect the animals and do not disturb them in any way. Make sure to take a walk around the coastline, as it provides stunning views (the infinite sea on the one side, the diverse landscapes on the other side). Breathing in the salty air, feeling the wind tousle your hair, watching the seals relax on the rocks and perhaps even spotting a dolphin or two will definitely make this stop worthwhile. Tip: it is possible to swim with dolphins in this area (in animal-friendly circumstances). Unfortunately, me and my friend were too late as it was fully booked – so make sure to book well in advance.
Abel Tasman National Park
Turquoise water, golden sand beaches and coastal hiking tracks – do I have your attention? Abel Tasman is the smallest national park in New Zealand, but definitely not one you should skip. Archaeological finds prove that there has been human activity as far back as 800 years ago! The Maori used the coastline for fishing and as a temporary home. In the 17th century Dutchman Abel Tasman, a seafarer and explorer, stumbled upon the coast by accident. Because of the frictions that occurred between Abel and his crew and the local people (because of a misunderstanding, 4 of his crewmen were killed hence the name “Murderers Bay” which still exists), he decided to leave. The French explorer Jules Dumont was the first to befriend the local inhabitants in the beginning of the 19th After this, for the following decades European settlements were built. In 1942 the government of New Zealand bought the whole area to turn it into a national park.
In Nelson and Kaiteriteri there are many companies where you can arrange a water taxi to the park, as you cannot reach the park by car/camper. These companies also provide kayak tours and specific walking tracks. Explore Abel Tasman by renting a kayak, relaxing on the golden beaches or go hiking, like we did. You can even camp in the park, but only when arranged by professional camping organisations.
Punakaiki – The Pancake Rocks
Next stop, a little town that has a very peculiar, unpronounceable name: Punakaiki. This is the town where the marvellous Pancake Rocks can be admired. This fantastic name was given to them due to the fact that the limestone rocks consist of many horizontal layers, making them appear as gigantic pancake stacks (appear… so don’t be tempted to take a bite even though pancakes are bloody fantastic). These layers came into existence by the increasing pressure on both hard and soft layers of plant sediments and marine species located on the rocks. The area also features several blowholes, which provide impressive spectacles of water violently splashing through the rocks.Being one of the South Islands main attractions, it hosts many tourists every day. So don’t expect to have a lovely wander by yourself, as there will be people from all over the world! Notwithstanding, the rocks are a very special sight and will make sure to look lovely on photos. Once you reach Punakaiki, signs will lead you to the rocks.
Franz Josef glacier / Fox glacier
Where else can you find massive glaciers only a 2-hour ride away from tropical golden beaches? New Zealand is the place! Both Franz Josef glacier and Fox glacier part of a UNESCO world heritage park and are very much worth the visit, as they are supposed to be one of the most easily accessible glaciers in the world. The most spectacular activity here is to book a helicopter trip, during which the helicopter will take you up the glacier and give you opportunity to explore the glacier up high. Due to unfortunate wind that day, me and my friend were not able to book a heli trip. No hard feelings though, as we had an amazing hike at the foot of the Franz Josef glacier and saved ourselves quite some money!
Longing for more? Make sure to check out part 2, in which we will talk about the icy blue pools in the Haast Pass, adventurous Queenstown and its surrounding area, Mt Cook and lake Punakaiki, Te Anou (Milford Sounds) and the Mouraki boulders.