Mt. Cook is a Beauty

This is a post about shockingly blue water next to snow-capped mountains.

Let me summarize Mt. Cook: great day hikes and stunning morning views.  The nearby Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo facilitate lovely mountain photo shoots.  And if you have extra time or an empty stomach, you can pull over at Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon for the best sashimi ever.


Deep South

When I first saw the phrase “Deep South” on signs and stores, I thought the Kiwis were just making a joke about America.  It turns out that the southernmost part of New Zealand is also the Deep South, minus the accents and plus a lot of birds.

I took the ferry from Invercargill to Stewart Island.  Stewart Island is New Zealand’s third largest island and has a bustling population of 400 people.  Visit the island for great rain forest walks and interesting bird life.  I didn’t stay long enough to do the three day hike, but I did shop in the grocery store that lists upcoming birthdays in the community.

Coming back up from Stewart Island, I stopped at Milford Sound.  A cruise on Milford Sound is a requirement for every tourist for a good reason – it’s really beautiful.  I floated along the fjord (it’s not really a sound) and stared at waterfalls, mountains, and seals.  The cruise takes you out to the ocean before turning back for more photo opportunities.

Other highlights of Milford Sound include the stunning drive through the park and the plentiful ground parrots.

The Adventure Capital

Queenstown!  Home to mountains called, I kid you not, The Remarkables.  Land of delicious pinot noir, giant burgers, and top-notch ice cream.  The adventure capital of New Zealand.

Queenstown is a resort town nestled next to a gorgeous lake and mountain ranges.  After traveling down the west coast, I was shocked to encounter so many restaurants and bars.  Civilization!  But also the most foreign accents I had heard in New Zealand and the most constant parties.  A lot of backpackers stop here to work during the busy season.

It’s hard to decide what to do in Queenstown because there are a lot of exciting options.  I started with a wine tour.  The central Otago region is known for pinot noir and there are a bunch of good wineries close to town. Driving yourself is a better budget option, but the tours do take you to good places and drive you home.

As for the adventure – well, you can really do anything.  Rafting and skydiving are solid options, but Queenstown is the home of bungy jumping. The first commercial bungy site EVER is just a short drive out of town.  Allow me to demonstrate the newer, taller bungy site:

So fun!  Soooo fun!  With that rush, I’ll have fond memories of Queenstown for a little bit longer than 8.5 seconds.

The Wild West Coast

After a refreshing three days at Abel Tasman, it was time to head down the West Coast.  The West Coast has very few people and very wild weather.  This leads many to conclude that the people who live here are a little bit nuts.  I won’t argue for one side or the other, but I will strongly suggest you visit the Bushman’s Centre.  You can’t watch a 20 minute video of men jumping out of helicopters to catch deer anywhere else.

Of course, the West Coast is also beautiful.  On the 3.5 days a year that it doesn’t rain, the coastal roads offer great views.  I enjoyed the short walk at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks (the middle picture above).  You can see a few blowholes and a lot of rocks that look like stacks of pancakes.

The craziest feature of the West Coast might be the glaciers.  It’s still difficult for me to understand what the Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers are doing on the south island, but they’re definitely real!  Here are some pictures from my full day hike on Franz Joseph:

This hike definitely makes my highlight reel.  It was super fun to put on crampons, walk on the ice, and check out features like caves and crevasses.

Glamping in Abel Tasman

If you read my posts about the north island, you might have realized that I am minorly obsessed with New Zealand.  Warning: I will only get more enthusiastic from this point onward.  Dear readers, welcome to Abel Tasman National Park!

I am majorly obsesed with Abel Tasman.  It’s difficult to imagine anything more relaxing than glamping on the edge of a park featuring shocking blue water and pristine beaches.  I would not have left my luxury tent at The Barn (real beds! cheaper than a dorm!), but after four nights I remembered that I had booked a flight to Australia.  For shame.

Hiking is a great way to see the park – one of New Zealand’s Great Walks winds along the coast.  I’d also strongly recommend getting out on the water. From a catamaran, I got a completely different and equally lovely view of the park.  You can also kayak or take a water taxi.  And, as you can see from the collage above, you can ride a horse on the beach!  Hooray!

Just outside the entrance to the park, there’s a funky art gallery to explore and a few food options.  My fellow backpackers and I strongly recommend The Fat Tui, a truck that serves delicious burgers.  One of their burgers is the perfect reward after a long hike.  Let’s be real, though – it’s also the perfect reward after spending a strenous day tanning on the beach.