New Zealand is one of those locations that either many people want to go to, or many people have been to. It has a thriving tourist industry and, after being there, it’s easy to see why. There's an enormous range of different environments and landscapes in very short distance of each other. Within just a few hours of driving you can go from tropical bush and beaches of golden sand, to raging icy rivers that descend from the melting glaciers above, before hitting wild and rugged cliffs, sea water battering against them, and black sand beaches that look as if they belong to a different world. This remote country really is a unique place.
Our trip began with a flight into the coastal city of Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island. Christchurch, unfortunately, made global headlines back in 2011 due to the devastating earthquake that struck the area, the effects of which are still evident as the place continues to recover. From there we took the picturesque rural Highway 1 (which, due to the remoteness of the country, is really more of a quiet road) north to the coast and Kaikoura. A famous whale-watching location thanks to the seabed that sinks dramatically just off the coast, Kaikoura's coastline brings in a wide diversity of ocean life but it also means the place is a renowned surf spot thanks to the great swells that are channeled into the bay from the South Pacific and Southern Oceans.
We then followed the coastal road north into Marlborough – wine country – before continuing west to the artistic city of Nelson and then to Tasman – both on the Tasman Bay. This area covers the northeast tip of the island, and it also receives the most annual sunshine in the whole country, making it a highly sought after place for people to live, work and farm. Not surprisingly, as we drove, the roadside was bordered by vineyards on either side.
Just to the north of Nelson is the Abel Tasman National Park which, like many locations in the country, is a dramatic, picture-postcard place. Clear, light blue waters lap against golden, sandy beaches which then lead into exotic, tropical bush. But despite the beauty, we followed the shoreline south, hugging the Westland coast. Notable locations here are the ‘pancake rocks’ of Punakaiki and the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers, which have diminished a shocking amount since my last trip here six years ago.
We then headed down to the rugged, wild coastline that spans the island’s western flank before cutting inland at Haast and through to the Mount Aspiring National Park. The epic cliffs and black sand beaches of the coast are soon replaced by even more breathtaking mountainscapes with lakes that sink into the valleys in-between. The main lakes of Hawea, Wanaka, and Wakatipu are located here and each has their own small, charming towns nestled into their shorelines, including the main bucket-list spots of Queenstown and Wanaka. The historic gold-mining settlement of Arrowtown is hidden just off Crown Range Road here and is well worth the small detour when road tripping through.
Nearing the southern tip of the South Island and in one of the remotest places on Earth is the world-famous Milford Sound. A series of fjords pepper this rugged, ocean-battered landscape but it’s here at Milford Sound that the iconic Rahotu/Mitre Peak, the most photographed mountain in New Zealand’s southern island, rises dramatically for over a mile into the sky straight from the sea.
We then began our trip back towards Christchurch, stopping off at lakes Tekapo and, before that, Pukaki. Pukaki may be the most distinctive lake I’ve ever seen: its waters are the most incredible deep-turquoise color and, as you cast your eyes north, New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook, looms majestically above. These last stops marked the end of yet another memorable trip to New Zealand, but it's a trip that certainly won’t be the last.