Wrapping up our adventures in the north island of New Zealand, we set off to Wellington, the spot where you cross by ferry to the south island. There, we parted ways with a big group of our newly-made friends. We were a little sad and a little excited; most long-term travelers get used to parting ways with new friends, who you’re likely to never see again, by hugging and smiling as you appreciate the special time and memories you shared.
These were our favorite stops in the south island:
Abel Tasman Coast Track
First major stop after crossing to the south island was Abel Tasman. One of the 9 Great Walks of New Zealand, the Abel Tasman coastal walk was one of our highlights for all of New Zealand!
With beautiful beach views, hanging bridges in the jungle, fresh water pools and plenty of seals, this hike is amazing on a sunny day. We spent almost a whole day hiking a big portion of the 60 km track on our sandals. Starting on Marahau, we took a boat to Bark Bay, about 25 km away from our starting point and then hiked back.
Recommendation: If you have time, we definitely recommend doing the full Able Tasman walk over the span of a few days. There are many camping spots along the way that you can stop at. With fresh water to drink and cook, bathrooms, firewood and swimming spots, this hike has some of the nicest camping grounds we’ve seen so far. We already want to go back and do this ourselves. We’d also like to kayak on the coast, as we’ve heard great things about it. Check out their site.
Franz Josef Glacier
Another highlight of the south island, this is the first glacier we’ve visited that is located right next to a rainforest. Although the weather and views weren’t great for us, it’s definitely worth a visit as you drive by. After visiting Perito Moreno in Patagonia, Argentina, our bar was very high for glaciers and Franz Josef didn’t stand a chance. On the other hand, we heard from our friends who skydived that from the air, they had the most amazing views of the whole place.
In Franz Josef, there aren’t too many hotels, but we had a great stay at the Rainforest Retreat. There is something for everyone – hostels for backpackers, little private cabins, a hotel and camper van sites.
Luckily we had booked a private cabin for our two-night stay because a little side adventure almost cut our south island trip short. During dinner on our second night, I took my first bite of an awesome homemade steak to realize it didn’t actually go through my esophagus as it should. Luckily, my breathing wasn’t affected and I, therefore, didn’t choke, but the piece was stuck so hard that I couldn’t even swallow my own saliva!! The whole experience lasted from 8 pm to 4:45 am and involved 2 movies, ambulances and New Zealand doctors (who were amazing), as well as a lot of effort to finally manage to push the piece down hours before our bus was leaving town. What a relief!
After almost 20 days of non-stop adventures with Stray, we arrived in Queenstown. Here, we had plans to get off the bus and spend 4 days on our own exploring the many adventures this lively town has to offer. Also, our plan was to spend Christmas night in town, hopefully with a friend of two that we would have met along the way.
As it turns out, we met a TON of people along the way!! With a bit of planning and coordination, and taking advantage of the many public facilities that Kiwis are known for, we managed to organize an awesome barbecue dinner for 21 people on Christmas night! It was a special night for everyone there, sharing a very special day with a bunch of people from different cultures from all over the world that weeks before, none of us knew.
During our visit to Queenstown, we also had little bar crawl led by the world renowned Pacman, our Stray tour guide. We spent the day at the Queenstown Skyline, racing on luge carts and finally, we traveled to AJ Hackett’s adults playground so I could do the famous Nevis Bungy — 143 meters tall. The jump was so scary and intense that all I could do as soon as they pulled me back up was to do it a second time! It was by far the most exhilarating experience I’ve ever had and I am already looking forward to doing it again in the future.
Other Stops Along the Way
A few other things we saw along the way between these destinations include many of the Nelson lakes, which are beautiful, calm and surrounded by mountains; the pancake rocks, where we stopped for a walk and had coffee with, you guessed it, pancakes; and a fun group bonfire in Westport. Another great stop worth highlighting was the Mount Cook National Park (or Aoraki, as the natives named it), where we did a fun hike and a little bit of a glacier swim.
New Zealand is an amazing country and we can’t WAIT to go back!