Exploring the South Island of New Zealand (Part 2)
We’re so glad you’re joining us for another blog entry about exploring the South Island of New Zealand. If you have not already, make sure to check out Part 1 of this series. This post will cover the second part of our time on the South Island. It will begin with Milford Sound and end on a ferry to the North Island. We saw Amazing views, rode in a helicopter, walked on a glacier, and photographed “the most photographed tree in the world”!
Te Anau and Milford Sound
We spent 2 nights in Te Anau at the Te Anau Top 10 Holiday Park and it was Wonderful. After a great nights sleep, we had an early start to our day. We booked a small tour with Trip’ n’ Tramps: Milford Sound Coach, Cruise and Walk. And we were departing at 7:45 am. This was a great tour! There were only 14 of us plus our guide, Steven. And he was great. We enjoy adding small group tours to our travel plans. While we love driving, hiking and exploring- We also find pleasure in the shared experience of seeing sights in small groups. It gives you a chance to talk to other people and share ideas. It makes it a more community-based experience. Plus since Al does most of the driving, he could sit back and let someone else drive!
Let me tell you, the the drive to Milford Sound was gorgeous. We saw all kinds of mountain ranges and glaciers with small waterfalls. And we even got to see sea lions chilling on the rocks. There was not a bad view no matter where you looked. Here we met the most Americans on the whole trip. Three other American couples took this tour and then we ran into a few more on the Cruise in Milford Sound. Funny enough, one couple was from Philadelphia and knew friends of ours. Small world, right! Otherwise, we only met a few other Americans the whole trip.
Milford Sound’s so beautiful. And the boat wasn’t very crowded at all. Steven told us that we visited at the perfect time. First of all, we were coming in earlier than those who ride in the big tour buses from Christchurch. And given the time of year, it just isn’t as crowded. That was really what we experienced everywhere we went in New Zealand. (Except Hobbiton lol!!) So April is the perfect time for New Zealand travel folks!
As our tour continued we had a couple options of what the to do next. Al and I had the opportunity to film from a helicopter ride with Milford Sound Helicopters over the glaciers and then walking on it. And we couldn’t resist! Seriously, the best experience ever. I can’t even express how beautiful it was. The glacier lakes were the most incredible colors ranging from blue to greenish. I could’ve spent all day there. And then we got to walk on a glacier too- super cool. You may have read our Iceland blog post about the snow mobile ride we did. For that there was total white out conditions and we couldn’t see anything. Here, we had the most incredible blue sky with fantastic sunbursts. Total opposite experiences!
After the helicopter ride, we met up with the rest of our tour and did a small walk in the rain forest areas. When we got back to the Holiday Park we had booked a private hot tub with a view of the lake. We finished up cooking in the community kitchen and relaxed. It was a Perfect day!
We drove 3 ½ hours to our next destination, Wanaka. Wanaka is known for a single tree that appears to be growing out of the water. It Is considered the “most photographed tree in the world”. Of course, when we were there the tides were out and there was no water surrounding the tree. It was still really beautiful. A anyone who knows my style knows I love a great reflection. I was pretty happy to concentrate on getting imagery that is rarely seen from that perspective. In Wanaka, we stay at the Lake Outlet Holiday Park. This is probably my favorite Holiday Park. It sat on this awesome lake where we got up the next morning and watched the sunrise.
There were a lot of great areas to hike around the lake too. After about two hours, we went into town to eat at Francesca’s. This Italian Kitchen was recommended to us all along the way. We’re glad we followed the advice of getting reservation online the day before because the place was packed. If we didn’t have a reservation we wouldn’t get a table. We had fantastic homemade ricotta and bread. I had a wood fired pizza and Al had a pasta dish with duck in it. Yum! And we had plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day!
Leaving Wanaka we headed to Lake Matheson and Franz Josef Glacier. We took a leisurely drive getting there and enjoying the views and doing a couple small hikes. Lake Matheson is AMAZING! We walked through the rain forest and stopped at various spots to get glimpses of the lake and it fantastic reflections. And if you know anything about me- you KNOW how I love reflections, especially in nature.
We just sat and enjoyed this incredible view, feeling so blessed. The trees were just starting to turn a bit for Fall (they don’t get a lot of leaf changes) and it was just so pretty. The trail was basically empty, we ran into maybe 3 other couples. We just couldn’t believe how uncrowded everything was. It was just a 45-minute drive to our holiday park in Franz Josef, Rainforest Retreat. And what an awesome holiday park! We got some groceries to cook in the community kitchen, did laundry, and took long hot showers! It was the perfect spot for the night.
We got up early the next morning because we had a 6-hour drive to the Nelson Lakes, where we would spend the night. From there we were catching the ferry in Picton to the North Island. The road was super curvy and had lots of road construction so it was pretty slow going in some spots. We took time to explore the spectacular coastline in a few spots. And we stopped at Punakaiki and did the path around the famous Pancake Rocks and the Blowholes. Though we weren’t there at the right time to catch the huge spray. But that’s ok, we would have gotten all our equipment wet!
The rocks beating against the Tasman Sea was incredible. We stopped for some time in Hokitika, walked the beach and picked up stones. We also found the perfect bracelets for our upcoming Vow renewal. The whole trip, we were hunting for the right thing. And we found the right ones in an artist collective space. When we do our renewal in June, we will exchange these to wear. We don’t always wear our wedding rings because our fingers swell when we shoot. So we have worn different matching bracelets over the years. We also have bought special ones one on previous trips in South Africa and China.
This was really the only day it was really cloudy and raining on and off. Because of the rain, slow roads, and construction it was already dark when we pulled into our camp spot at Lake Rotoiti. However we still woke up early to make sure to get in a great hike around the lake. It was so peaceful and blue! And there were eels in the water by the dock. After our hike and having a great breakfast, we hit the road for Picton where we were catching the InterIslander ferry across to Wellington.
We should have known what “due to rough weather” meant when the ferry would be leaving an hour later. We took this time and walked around Picton, a small coastal town. When it was time, we drove the camper van onto the ferry and headed to the top deck to enjoy the views. They informed us at some point this deck would be closed as we were expecting 7 meter waves! We took our Dramamine before we boarded so we felt we would be ok. The view was GORGOUS! The 3 hour journey across Cook Strait that connects New Zealand’s North and South Island is truly astounding. This is one of the most scenic in the world they say. For a third of the crossing you’re traveling through the incredible Marlboro Sound. But once we hit the open water it was a WHOLE other story!!
We had moved inside by this point but made the mistake of sitting in the front thinking we could look out. The boat went airborne several times due to the waves. And this is a BIG BOAT!!!! Well that was all our stomachs needed- nope!! Enough!! Al found it useful to keep walking around the boat, not stopping too long in one place. I on the other hand, couldn’t find a place that didn’t make me sick. And I grew up on boats but this was crazy. I eventually joined a small group of others not feeling well on the floor in the middle of the boat. Not the most attractive site but definitely the best for my stomach. Another passenger took pity on me and brought me a wet paper towel and some ice chips. Needless to say I was more than ready to get off that boat!
The other unfortunate part of the boat being so late and then not feeling so great was it was already really dark when we got into Wellington. We still needed to find our site so we didn’t get to go explore the town and all. I was very disappointed as I was looking forward do it because I heard it had some unique aspects. But nonetheless we checked in to the Nelson holiday park, made some dinner and went to sleep.
Stay tuned for our Adventures on the North Island of New Zealand where we will explore glow worm caves and visited Hobbiton!