When visiting New Zealand, it’s essential that you make time to visit the South Island. The North Island will give you Hobbiton-like scenery, beautiful beaches and great cityscapes, but for breath-taking, awe inspiring mountainous scenery, scenic hiking and iconic buildings, the South Island will deliver. Some of my best adventures were had on the South Island, and here I’ll tell you a bit more about four of those experiences.
1. Kayaking in the Abel Tasman
The north-western point of the South Island is where Abel Tasman stumbled upon New Zealand on his way back from Australia in the 1600s. The national park juts out just below Golden Bay and showcases some of the best scenery that New Zealand has to offer. We decided to travel the area by kayak. Along with a guide, and a few seals that occasionally joined us, we explored inlets of beach only accessible by the sea, and only available during low tide. This allowed us to regularly moor up and access completely isolated areas of the forest. I ventured just a little further into one section of trees and marvelled at the untouched forest before me. A glistening pool, a fallen tree, and an incredible large dewy spiders’ web hanging between the wood. I remember thinking that this spider had probably never encountered a human pulling his creation down in a single step before, and he wouldn’t on that day either. I often felt inspired when I travelled in New Zealand, this was one of those inspirational moments. I left the spider to his lunch and paddled off to another secluded beach, for a lovely hot cup of ‘Milo’ and a Tim Tam– the kiwi’s favourite!
2, Milford Sounds
If you’re considering visiting New Zealand, people will undoubtedly say that a visit Milford Sounds is not to be missed, but because of its remote location, many do. Found at the south-west point of the island, it can be difficult to access through the mountainous pass. When I visited, there was only one route to Milford Sounds through a tunnel under the mountain, or of course you could hike over (wow, this really is Lord of The Rings land!). I travelled with a group by this point, and many decided not to visit at all as it was just too far. Those that did, booked themselves onto a bus and ferry tour. But a few friends and I decided to hire a car, and take a more leisurely pace in our trip, and I am so glad that we did. It meant that instead of being carted from bus to boat to bus, we were able to take in the place at our own leisure. The memory of standing in awe, looking toward the sounds with peaking purple mountains either side, is a memory I can still recall at any moment. My eyes could hardly take it in, it was epic. The mountains so huge, the water so calm, the colours, the smell, the air. Of course, there was only one way to really experience this place – by kayak. We didn’t want to leave but our funds were low, so we made a deal with a nearby hostel that we would help build and clean new dorms in our evenings, in exchange for food and keep, allowing us to take our time kayaking the crystal clear waters by day. Truly one of the best experiences I’ve had on my travels.
3. Franz Josef Glacier walking
Walking the Franz Josef glacier is a popular tourist attraction for New Zealand visitors. Many tour companies take groups out to explore the cravases and peaks, using ice-picks and crampons. The views are spectacular, many people choose to fly in a helicopter over the glacier because it is so special. The reason this particular activity has made the list is because I unwittingly ended up joining a ‘hard-core’ group, they had to make up the numbers in the groups and I was picked to switch. My group hiked up, over, around and through ice shelves and cravases, until we reached a particular ravine that the instructor was gunning for. Stood in ice-cold water up to our waists (for me, up to my shoulders), we waited as each of us had to apply technique to the crampons and ice-picks to hoist yourself three metres vertically, through a hole at the top of the watery canyon. People got very scared, myself included, as the ice continued to melt around us and the footing turned into slush. It was eventually my turn and I found that the previous persons footing had almost totally crumbled any steps in the ice, so I had to use my legs and shoulders to shimmy my way up, up and through the hole at the top to daylight. It felt incredible to pop out the top! I must have had a premonition the night before, as unlike everyone else I had packed an extra pair of woolly socks, giving me a very pleasant journey home!
I visited Christchurch before the earthquake of 2010. The city has changed significantly since I visited, and from all accounts it is being rebuilt stronger, more vibrant, and just as beautiful as before. In my travels I had only up to that point encountered one other city I felt I could live in (San Francisco), but Christchurch did indeed feel like a home away from home. No two cities are the same, and Christchurch is as different to Wellington as it is to Auckland. The medieval style churches were a notable feature, really quite breath-taking and actually inspired me to buy some watercolours and attempt to paint one! The type of adventure I had in Christchurch was not about scenery and hiking and hidden caves, although if you venture only a few miles out to the Canterbury region all this is possible. The time I spent in Christchurch was more notable for the way I lived and adapted to the city. There was so much to do, I went to free galleries, I went to craft courses, I hung out in the city and went to the cinema in the evening. We found an arcade – not a seedy, smelly arcade but a friendly, fun-filled arcade where we got slightly addicted to the basketball machines and a coin tipping machine called El Dorado… in the evenings we found European style bars where we could sit outside with a beer and watch the world go by. We made friends very easily, and twice(!) we bumped into people we knew from around the world. My only regret in Christchurch is that I hadn’t pre-prepared to get a job once there. I didn’t have any sensible clothes, and my CV was not up together. Had I have considered a slightly longer term plan before I left, I would have worked in the city, and who knows what further adventures I could have had!
When I finally came back from travelling people asked me my favourite country, my favourite experience and my favourite day. All of the answers were New Zealand. I remember feeling that it was a place of growth, that things flourish there and that the country was full of opportunity. It certainly is a place where you could find an easy balance of work and travel. My advice to those thinking about travelling to New Zealand is to consider which visa you want to travel on, and definitely to think about working there. Talking to Migration Associates before you go will allow you to be flexible in your choices for the future – they will help get you a Working Holiday Visa and give you advise on how to improve your chances of residency, should you wish to stay a little longer.