November 02, 2015

New Zealand: South Island itineraries

Wither Hills Farm Park, Blenheim

As I said in my North vs. South island post, I only had the chance to visit the South Island, but I think I made a really good job, so here I'm sharing you an overview of what I did, what were the itineraries and how much time I needed to do them.

In order to make everything easier, I'm going to briefly explain my trip to NZ, so you can understand what happened there. I went to NZ to take a course at Lincoln University and I used the opportunity to visit the country. So, I went there and travelled a bit before the course (13 days), I did the 2-week course that took place in the Canterbury area (in Lincoln), and then I travelled a bit more (9 days) after the course, before leaving for Barcelona (stopping in Brisbane, Australia). So my NZ adventure was divided into two parts, and here I'm going to explain them.

Tourist information research

First, I wanted to have all the possible information together in order to have a nice overview of the island's possibilities, so I looked for travel information in different resources and websites. I was interested in visiting the island and seeing the most stunning places and landscapes, but also I wanted to have time to feel the place and learn a little bit about the culture and, of course, if I even had time to visit some LOTR filming locations... that would be perfection. So, I searched for the recommended or "must see" locations in the New Zealand Lonely Planet guide (this is the specific guide I used), as well as in other travel websites/blogs. I also talked with people I knew they had visited New Zealand to have some personal recommendations. Likewise, I also noted the LOTR filming locations that I found in the 100% Pure New Zealand website and in the DOC department website. There's also a Wikia page about this and a Google map made by someone, with a lot of details.

And, with all of this, I created a map that, even though it was not perfect, it helped me see what I could do in every place and which were the awesomeness hotspots. Below you have it, with all the locations of the South Island (and some in the North Island). You can see three colors in there:
  • Red: recommended locations
  • Blue: locations I ended up visiting
  • Yellow: the Lord of the Ring filming locations

Having in mind my trip structure (two halves) and the time of my trip (the first half in the beginning of August and the second at the end of the month - remember, it was WINTER), I decided that I would go to the north part of the South Island first and to the south part at the end. In the south, there are the Southern Alps and snow and cold, and sometimes roads are impossible to drive, so I wanted to reduce these problems to a minimum by going there almost in spring season.

Itinerary in the north part of the South Island

I was arriving in NZ on the 31st of July and the course was starting on the 12th of August, so I had 13 days available, but only 11 real days of travelling, since the first and the last day are always useless. I thought about flying at some point, so I could travel to Wellington and come back to Christchurch in less time, or even going further north in the North Island, so I could see more stuff. But that meant extra flight tickets, renting a car with different pick-up and drop-off locations (it's more expensive), missing some places in the South Island and, in general, being more stressed because of time constraints. So, after a lot of thought, I decided that I would stay in the South Island and visit as much as I could.

As I was arriving in Christchurch, this was going to be my first and last stop in the trip. Then, after looking at all the information I gathered, I decided that my main stops on the way (where I would sleep, basically) would be Greymouth, Westport, Nelson Lakes National Park, Takaka, Nelson, Blenheim, Picton, and Kaikoura. And Christchurch, of course. When I was planning where to stop, I decided that I wanted to try to drive less than 2-3h per day so, even though this is a lot already, it would not be insufferable and exhausting. I think we, more or less, managed to achieve that, although it was a small bit too much, maybe. Anyway, here you have a map of the itinerary!

In detail, and according to what I could do in every stop (or in its surroundings), my trip ended up looking like this (according to the letter code in the map):

10-day trip from CHC to CHC 
Brief summary with arrival date, total of nights stayed and drive time (by car) from departure to arrival, without considering detours, stops or any other visits:
Colin Monteath

A. Christchurch (arrival 31/7, 1 night) - Arrival to NZ
Short visit to the city centre.
B. Greymouth (arrival 1/8, 1 night) - 1st DAY
Trip to Greymouth (~3-5h) through Arthur's pass and stops along the way.
C. Westport (arrival 2/8, 1 night) - 2nd DAY
Stop and visit to Punakaiki and Paparoa National Park before going to Westport in the afternoon (~1h30m).
D. Saint Arnaud, in Nelson Lakes National Park (3/8, 1 night) - 3rd DAY
Drive to St. Arnaud (~2h) and stops on the way, plus hiking in the afternoon.
E. Pohara, close to Takaka (arrival 4/8, 1 night) - 4th DAY
Drive to Pohara (~2h30m) with stops in Motueka, Kaiteriteri, Marahau, and Takaka. Visit to the Golden Bay in the afternoon.
F. Nelson (arrival 5/8, 1 night) - 5th DAY
Sightseeing and hiking around the Golden Bay and Abel Tasman National Park before going to Nelson (~2h) in the afternoon.
Colin Monteath
G. Blenheim (arrival 6/8, 1 night) - 6th DAY
Sightseeing and hiking around Nelson (Centre of NZ) before going to Blenheim (~1h30m) in the afternoon.
H. Picton (arrival 7/8, 2 nights) - 7th DAY
Hiking around the Marlborough region before going to Picton (~30m) in the afternoon. On the second day, visit and hike through the Queen Charlotte Track around the Kenepuru Sound.
I. Kaikoura (arrival 9/8, 1 night) - 9th DAY
Drive to Kaikoura (~2h) with stops along the way and hiking around the area for the rest of the day.
J. Christchurch (arrival 10/8, 2 nights) - 10th DAY
Hiking and wildlife watching around Kaikoura and drive to Christchurch (~2h30m) in the afternoon.

1-day trip from CHC to Akaroa and back (brief summary)

From Christchurch, where we arrived on the 10/8 and stayed 2 nights, we went to Akaroa for a day visit, on the 11/8, and came back to Christchurch for the night (~2h45m total). In the map you can see it with the codes A, B, C. We left Christchurch on August 12.

Stops in the central part of the South Island

The Cockayne Nature Walk
As I mentioned, I spent 2 weeks taking a course in Canterbury, so I had the chance to visit other places in the area, which they are also pinned in the "visited locations" of the first map. These places included:

Such locations are not "recommended" and do not have a "touristic" charm, but in order to go there you end up crossing different landscapes, so it's also interesting. Furthermore, these places are important in terms of biodiversity conservation and ecological restoration projects, mainly implemented by the Department of Conservation (DOC), so it's another way of visiting the country and getting to know which ecological issues they are facing.

Itinerary in the south part of the South Island

Well, in this case, the trip started on August 25th and had to finish on the 2nd of September. Again, the total number of days was 10, but only 8 real days of travelling. In addition, this trip was also divided into two parts, since we had a rented car for the first days but, after that, we had to travel by bus, which is more limiting and slower. Since we had lesser days and were a bit more limited, this part of the trip had to be more structured and did not allow room for improvisation.

The stops ended up being Wanaka, Te Anau, Queenstown, Dunedin, and back to Christchurch, and here you have the route map. In this case, drive time was not a constraint due to time limitations, larger distances, more nights in each place and the use of public transport.

8-day trip from CHC to CHC
Brief summary with arrival date, total of nights stayed and drive time from departure to arrival, without considering detours, stops or any other visits:

Stirling Falls, Milford Sound
A. Christchurch (departure 25/8)
Drive in the afternoon to stop in Lake Tekapo (~3h)
B. Lake Tekapo (arrival 25/8, stop)
Stop to sightsee Lake Tekapo.
C. Wanaka (arrival 25/8, 1 night)
Drive from Lake Tekapo to arrive in Wanaka in the evening (~2h50m).
D. Te Anau (arrival 26/8, 2 nights)
Sightseeing and hiking around Wanaka and drive (~3h) to arrive in Te Anau in the afternoon and hike a bit more.
E. Milford Sound (arrival 27/8, stop)
Day trip to Milford Sound and hiking around the area before going back to Te Anau (~4h total).
F. Te Anau (27/8, night)
G. Queenstown (arrival 28/8, 2 nights)
Walking around Te Anau and bus ride to Queenstown (~2h). On the second day, hiking around Queenstown and city sightseeing.
H. Dunedin (arrival 30/8, 2 nights)
Bus ride to Dunedin (~4h) and city sightseeing. On the second day, day trip to the Otago Peninsula and wildlife watching.
I. Christchurch (arrival 1/9, 1 night)
Dunedin city sightseeing and bus ride to Christchurch (~6h), to rest and departure to Brisbane next day.

And here you have my "itineraries". Later on I'll post about the trip in more detail, so you can read what I did exactly in each place. I hope this is useful for the reader! Furthermore, if you are planning a trip and are wondering how to move around or what to know about the country... in this post you may find some tips! :)

Do you have any comments, or doubts, or suggestions, or anything? Then write a comment! :)