New Zealand's South Island - Pt. 2

  rounding southern cape new zealand


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.


akaroa lampost


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.


banks peninsula view


8. Christchurch

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.


christchurch cathredral in cardboard


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”.


picton scene


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.


captian cook monument


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.


havelock sign


10. Nelson

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.


nelson street and 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.


cape farewell


In the same area, Abel Tasman National Park is small, but beautiful with lovely beaches and lots of coastal track to hike.


nine of cups anchored at abel tasman


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.


kahurangi national park entrance maori carving


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.


greenstone necklace


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.


paua shell


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.


green lipped muscles


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.

New Zealand's South Island - Pt. 1

new zealand south island map  

New Zealand's islands are as different as can be. Kiwis are laid back as it is, but the South Islanders, perhaps because the island is more remote and less often visited, seem even more relaxed and easy-going. We sailed down the South Island's wild west coast of Fiordland, rounded one of the Great Southern Capes, caught a glimpse of our first kiwi bird on Stewart Island, traveled inland to Mount Cook (Aoraki) and anchored off the Cook Strait in the Marlborough Sounds. It was glorious.

It's hard to put together a short list of our favorite spots to visit on New Zealand's South Island. There's so much to see and do and as usual, we left feeling there was still so much more. Here's what we enjoyed the most.

1. Fiordland

The west coast of the South Island, known as Fiordland, is wild and remote. If you like hiking, this is the place to do it. With a boat you can access all the nooks and crannies, sounds and bays. The scenery and wildlife are incredibly beautiful. There are several cruises available from Milford Sound as well as from Queenstown and Te Anau. Be sure to try some Fiordland crayfish (lobster) while you're there. And don't forget to take plenty of insect repellent along. The sandflies are vicious and thrive on fresh tourist blood.


new zealand south island fiordland milford sound


2. Stewart Island

Stewart Island is nothing short of magic. Though we think seeing it via sailboat is the only way to go, you can take a ferry from Bluff.


nine of cups anchored


On the island where you'll find one town, Oban, with lodging, a few restaurants, a supermarket and access to hiking beyond compare. The tiny Rakira Museum in Oban is worth a visit. There's a blue penguin colony at the end of the ferry dock.


oban town sign


Chartered cruises leave from Golden Bay for touring more of the island and getting to Ulva Island, an open island sanctuary. Come to Stewart Island planning to rough it.


ulva island weka


3. Invercargill & the Catlins

This region at the southern end of the South Island mainland holds lots of interesting things to see and do. Henry, the 110-year old tuatara, a unique, 3-eyed lizard with a fossil history dating back 225 million years, lives at the Southland Museum.


henry the tiatara


You can view the World's Fastest Indian at Hammer Hardware in town.


worlds fastest indian motorcycle


Nearby in the Catlins region, sheep graze in pastures that stretch down to meet the ocean. The drive along the Catlins Coastal Trail offers a scenic lighthouse, lots of sea lions and penguins, the southern most point of the South Island and one of the world's finest fossil forests at Curio Bay.


catlins waipapa point light house


4.Otago Peninsula and Dunedin

The Otago Peninsula is stunning. There's a nature reserve for viewing fur seals, penguins and albatross. Trudging through the dunes at Sandfly Bay offers an opportunity to view yellow-eyed penguins.


otago penin sandfly bay


Dunedin, the second largest city on the South Island, is a vibrant university town and as such, there's lots going on all the time. The Otago Museum is a must with entrance admission by donation. Get to the attic for an interesting and very old exhibition of preserved animals including some extinct species.


otago museum attic


According to Guinness World Records, Baldwin Street is the steepest street in the world which means, of course, you need to walk up and down it or you're a slouch.


baldwin street steepest street in the world


The historic Taieri Gorge Railway is a fun train trip that gives you an interesting view of the area and its rugged terrain.


taieri gorge railway


5. Oamaru

This charming, small city on the east coast is north of Dunedin and extremely picturesque. The historic district offers well-preserved Neo-classic buildings of limestone quarried from nearby pits.


oamaru historic limestone buildings


There's both a blue penguin and a yellow-eyed penguin colony in the area and the 60-million year old Moeraki Boulders strewn across the beach are definitely fascinating.


moareaki boulders


6.Mount Cook - Aoraki National Park

In the heart of the Southern Alps, Mt Cook aka Aoraki rises majestically. The highest mountain in New Zealand can be viewed from several vantage points and if you're game and a professional, you can climb it as well. We were neither so we satisfied ourselves with hiking through the park and the outstanding scenery, fauna and flora. The Hilary Alpine Center named after Sir Edmund Hillary is an informative climbing museum plus you can have lunch there and pick up any hiking/climbing info.


aoraki national park mount cook


Okay...take a breather after all that mountain climbing and reflect on the South Island's beauty. There's more to come tomorrow. Stay tuned.