Our last week in New Zealand was yet another whirlwind of driving, new cities, and taking in the sights. Some highlights include wine tasting, hanging out in seal colonies in Kaikoura, taking a helicopter ride over the glaciers, and luging in Queenstown.
South Island Wine Country
Our South Island adventure started with a ferry ride to Picton and a drive to Nelson. We drove directly to a winery that Matt had picked out for its renowned Pinot noir, Brightwater — and the tasting was great (good wines and a cute puppy).
The next day we went to Blenheim to a couple more wineries. New Zealand is known for its Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noirs and they did not disappoint. I also fell in love with the Pinot Gris we tasted and ate the best chicken of my life. We also tasted a couple of low alcohol Rieslings that were surprisingly tasty. I couldn’t get over how cheap the wine tastings were — only $7 for tasting seven wines!
Post wine tasting we headed toward our accommodations on the eastern coast. One the way down, we stopped to check out the baby seals at the Ohau colony. The weather that day was pretty terrible so we didn’t do much once we got to our Airbnb, but we did visit the Airbnb’s farm with the cutest sheep and goats.
The next day we went to Kaikoura to enjoy the scenery and see the large seal colony on the peninsula. We hiked along the cliff sides and looked for baby seals, but there weren’t as many in the Kaikoura colonies. We got lucky that the clouds lifted and we could enjoy the mountains.
When we had to reroute the South Island road trip due to landslides on the west coast, it allowed us to spend time in Christchurch. We stayed in a centrally located airbnb and were able to walk to most places. Our full day in the city was spent wandering around the free museum and the botanical gardens. There is also a gondola that affords great views of the peninsula and the city itself. It was my first gondola experience and it was a windy day, but overall it was nice ride. We also had a delicious dinner at Strawberry Fare and we brought one of our nice bottles of wine from Nelson to enjoy (my first BYO experience!).
Lake country and Mt. Cook
On the way to Fjordlands, we had a few stops along the way: Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, Mt. Cook, and Wanaka. It is an absolutely gorgeous part of the country with snow dusted mountains and blue lakes aplenty. Lake Tekapo was the first stop and we were lucky enough to be there during peak lupin blooming. When we stopped the first day, the mountains were covered in clouds, but we we drove by the next day it was a beautiful clear day and we got to really soak in the blue waters. There is also a nice hot spring there that we had a soak in during the cooler, gloomy weather (these didn’t smell up our clothes so that was a win!).
Our second day in the area was our helicopter ride starting from Mt. Cook. Another consequence of the road closures was that we had to cancel our glacier hike in Franz Josef, but we were able to book a different flight that just toured the glaciers from the air. It was a 50 minute flight of Mt. Cook, Franz Josef glacier, Fox glacier, and a few other lakes in the area. Our flight was great and the weather could not have been any better — plus a snow landing!
After our helicopter flight, we headed to Wanaka for the night. We walked the lakeside trail into town from our Airbnb to grab some drinks before heading to a nice food truck corner for burritos(!). Really though, the burritos were super delicious and a nice reminder of home.
Fjordland National Park
Post our adventures in lake country, we drove to Te Anau — the gateway to Fjordlands. Our first evening was spent hiking the Kepler track to Brod Bay before having dinner in town. The next day was spent heading toward Milford Sound and enjoying the stops along the way. The only road to Milford sound is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever been on and it was another perfect weather day.
Along the way, we stopped to hike at Key Summit and look for keas, a rare parrot species native to New Zealand. If you haven’t figured it our by now, a lot of the activities we do involve me looking for birds. The hike was not the easiest, but the views were a good reward for our efforts. Unfortunately we saw no keas, but we did see a couple of kaka parrots enjoying the trees.
We then headed to the harbor to catch our boat for the two hour cruise around the sound. Our boat was much smaller than most and because of that we got to get up close and personal with the waterfalls. The views were great and there was a lot of wildlife — seals and seabirds. Even though the boat was smaller, we still had to kind of work around people to be able to get photos of everything we wanted, but overall it was a nice cruise.
Our last couple of days in New Zealand were spent in Queenstown. This corresponded with Christmas and we booked a nice dinner to celebrate. On Christmas we also went to the skyline gondola and luge for a few hours. Since it was my second gondola ride, it wasn’t as scary and we even saw some mountain goats rutting on the way back down! I was a bit nervous about the luge but it ended up being a huge highlight of the trip — I loved it! I would have wanted to ride it 10 more times but the lines were too long and we needed to get to dinner. Oh and I rode a chairlift for the first time and didn’t fall on my face, so overall the skyline area was a real win.
We also couldn’t go to Queenstown without eating at Fergburger. It is an institution in the city and known for its delicious hamburgers. We thought it was good but not life changing. In addition to the main restaurant, they also have a bakery where we got pastries the next day and those were quite good.
Overall the city itself was really nice with beautiful lake views, but it was one of the more crowded and touristy places we went to during our trip. Likely it was because of timing with the holidays, but I think that city is just much more busy than others on the South Island because of its vistas and adventure sports.
Our trip to New Zealand was a whirlwind of adventures and beautiful sights. I will have a post coming soon with trip summaries, numbers, and our favorites/least favorites of the three weeks we spent driving the entirety of New Zealand. Happy New Years!