Continue with us on our travels around New Zealand's South Island.
7. Akaroa & Banks Peninsula
The French settled in this little town early on and the French influence is strong. Even the street signs are in French.
The Banks Peninsula, named after the naturalist Joseph Banks who sailed with Captain Cook, is criss-crossed with hiking tracks and offers outstanding views of the harbors and bays below.
Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island. We were fortunate to visit before all the recent earthquakes. Residents there are resilient and working hard to recover their city. The cathedral which dominates the city center was severely damaged, but a “cardboard cathedral” has been constructed while reconstruction takes place. There's much to see and do there, but check before going to determine the current status of reconstruction.
9. Picton and the Marlborough Sounds
As you turn the corner of the South Island and head into the Cook Strait which separates the North from the South, the little town of Picton awaits you. It's a small town, but it's bustling with tourists and tours, little restaurants, and great access to miles and miles of hiking tracks. Check out the pedestrian bridge known as “the coat hanger”.
We hiked several miles on the beautiful Queen Victoria Track from our anchorage in Resolution Bay, but there's access from Picton and several other little towns along the Sound. We were particularly interested in this area because of its ties to Captain Cook. There's a monument to him in Resolution Bay worth checking out.
Another little town of interest on the north coast is Havelock, green-lipped mussel capital of the world. If you haven't tried green lips before this, now's the time.
Nelson is a jewel of a city at the end (or the beginning, depending on which way you're coming) of the infamous Cook Strait. For many sailors, it's a respite after dealing with the Strait crossing. It's the sunshine capital of the South Island. The public gardens are lovely and the downtown area offers museums, lots of shops and a funky looking cathedral.
From Nelson, there's a great drive along Golden Bay to Cape Farewell at the extreme northwest point of the island. Though access to Farewell Spit is limited, the beaches along the way are outstanding with sea lion colonies and bird life. Look for black swans in the small bays and marshes along your route.
In the same area, Abel Tasman National Park is small, but beautiful with lovely beaches and lots of coastal track to hike.
Kahurangi National Park is on the way also. Though wilderness hiking is a big draw here, there are several short tracks to give you a taste of the park and what it has to offer.
11. The Chatham Islands
About 500 nm east of Christchurch lie the Chatham Islands. Though territorially part of New Zealand, they are, like most remote island groups, unique unto themselves. Most Kiwis have never even visited them. You can fly here via Air Chatham. Description of the islands requires a blog post of its own in the near future.
A few notes and things to look for when you're on New Zealand's South Island …
Greenstone (nephrite jade) is called pounamu by the Maori. Though greenstone jewelry and accessories can be purchased most anywhere in New Zealand, greenstone itself is only found in specific rivers in the South Island and has significant cultural significance for the Maori. One important aspect of greenstone – Don't buy it for yourself. Tradition dictates that it must be a gift and will keep the wearer safe.
Paua is a native abalone that's not only good to eat, but the iridescent blue-purple shell when polished is beautiful and used in lots of jewelry pieces. The Maori used paua as the eyes for many of their carvings.
Kiwi something – We saw our very first kiwi bird on Stewart Island and it was a thrill. The kiwi is a national symbol of New Zealand and it would be hard not to find a souvenir with a kiwi on it. From tea towels to t-shirts, you can't leave New Zealand without something kiwi.
Crayfish and green-lipped mussels … I already mentioned them, but man, they're good. Don't forget to give them a try. Wash them down with a Tui Beer or a fine Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
We used Lonely Planet New Zealand as our guide and we considered it an essential.
For a more in depth look at our travels in New Zealand, check out our website.