14 DAYS IN // South Island, New Zealand

Do you know anybody who has travelled around New Zealand and not enjoyed it? We hadn’t, and we met our two girls in Queenstown on the South Island for a family holiday around both of New Zealand’s principal islands. We travelled in late March when the days were mostly clear and the nights on the cool side.

This blog focuses on our travels around the South Island.

We had planned to see most of the main towns and cities in the South Island. Sadly, due to a bushfire, the Trans Alpine train was cancelled, so we drove the route instead (which in hindsight was a bonus). The earthquakes on the east coast meant a change of plans as our train from Christchurch to Picton was also cancelled. We could not, therefore, take the ferry between the South and North Islands. Instead we flew from Christchurch to Wellington on the North Island.

Our itinerary was as follows: Queenstown, with a 2-day excursion to Doubtful Sound; Wanaka; Franz Josef; Hoketika; Greymouth; Punakaiki; Lewis and Arthur’s Pass and Christchurch.

Magnificent 7 // South Island, New Zealand

1. Heli-Hike Franz Josef Glacier

2. Sail Doubtful Sound

3. Explore Queenstown environs

4. Marvel at Pancake Rocks/blow holes, Punakaiki

5. Visit Canterbury Museum, Christchurch

6. Drive from Greymouth to Christchurch via Lewis Pass and Arthur’s Pass

7. Take a break in Hokitika

Getting there –

It takes so long to get to New Zealand! We flew with Qantas. It took just over 6 hours to Dubai; after an hour or so for a refuelling stop, it was a further 14 hours to Sydney and finally a 2 and a half hour hop over to Queenstown. The flights were all good and on time.

Where we stayed –

Queenstown- Glebe Apartments, Beetham St. A well-appointed, two bedroomed apartment. Quiet, comfortable and centrally located. Recommended.

Franz Josef- 58 On Cron Motel. A small motel with one of the nicest people (Alex) at the front desk. Nothing was too much bother. Excellent customer service.

Runanga, Greymouth- Breakers Boutique. We had the two rooms away from the main house. Stunning views. Beautifully decorated.

Christchurch- Novotel city centre. Big, bland and impersonal.

To Eat and Drink –

Rather than list all the restaurants we went to, here are some of our favourites:

Queenstown; Fergburger is a trendy restaurant on Shotover Street serving burgers with names such as Little Lamby, Sweet Bambi, and The Codfather. We had to queue for 20 minutes to get into the restaurant and then wait another 15 minutes for the burgers to be cooked. There is very limited seating, however the burgers were excellent. How can you resist a falafel burger called Bun Laden?

Also in Queenstown is Cookie Time. If you like cookies you will love this shop. Half price cookies after 6pm and $1 coffees from 8 – 9 am. They also offer a service where you can buy a cookie for someone back home, fill out a postcard and they will post the cookie to them.

Franz Josef; Full of Beans. Looks can be deceiving; this coffee house on the main road through the town served really good food in the evenings. It normally closes at 8.30pm, however they stay open if customers are still there. Very enjoyable food.

Punakaiki; Pancake Rocks café. Directly opposite the Pancake Rocks walk, they served excellent pizzas with great service. Never had a whitebait pizza before.

Sheffield; Sheffield Pie Shop.   Stopped here on the road from Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch. I loved my meat pie. The vegetarians in our group were unimpressed with the veggie offerings (none left!).

Christchurch: Seasons Coffee House at the Junction Arcade near the tram stop served great breakfasts. Terrific service. Good prices.

To note –

  • Change of clothes – on long haul flights I take a change of clothes and if at all possible shower after a long leg. At Sydney airport it felt so good to shower, shave and change.
  • Sandflies – there are lots of them and they will bite you. Repeatedly.
  • Weather – it is likely to rain at some stage. Milford/Doubtful Sound is renowned for it. What are you going to do if it rains all day? This happened to us on the North Island at Napier. 36 hours solid of heavy rain.

    Magnificent 7

1. Heli-Hike Franz Josef Glacier

Wow. This was one of those trips that will last in the memory for a long, long time. It is relatively expensive, however well worth the money. It was touch and go whether the trip would happen as the weather changes quickly, however after being suited and booted we were weighed (to balance the weight on the helicopter) and made our way to the pick-up site. The attention to detail was excellent – to the extent of having the helicopter ID number on our wristbands, with an ‘F’ for the front seat passengers. The helicopter flight was short, around ten minutes, however for the next 3 hours we were led by an extremely competent guide – Rachel – in and around the Franz Josef Glacier. Rachel was aware of those who were nervous on the ice and paid special attention to them. It was great fun and informative. This glacier will probably not exist in 80 years time and it was a privilege to be able to take this trip.   Oh, a visit to hot pools after the trip was also included. BlissIMG_0193IMG_1607IMG_1580

2. Sail Doubtful Sound

We had planned on visiting Milford Sound; however this was fully booked, so we went to Doubtful Sound instead. This was an overnight excursion from Queenstown with Real Journeys. We all loved this trip. Certain things we expected; stunning scenery, good food and good service. What surprised me, and I am not sure why I was surprised, was the focus on conservation. The love they have for this part of the world and the flora and fauna within it shone through. A nice touch was a nature guide who not only gave a talk/slideshow, he (Nick) was on deck for a lot of the time providing commentary.   All the crew had a good sense of humour. Getting there involved two coaches and a boat, taking around 3 hours.IMG_0135img_1468.jpg

3. Explore Queenstown environs

There is so much to do in Queenstown. It depends on your level of thrill-seeking. We loved the Jet boat, but we could have chosen paragliding, hang gliding, bungy jumping, riverboarding, windsurfing or luge, to name just a few activities that you can see advertised on the main streets of Queenstown.

More sedate pursuits such as the gondola (chair lifts) provide the most spectacular views over Lake Wakatipu –it’s where they take the pictures for all the postcards. There is also an abundance of cycle and hiking tracks as well as the ubiquitous Segways (why?). For a separate blog of Queenstown 4 DAYS IN // Queenstown, New Zealand IMG_0167

4. Marvel at the Pancake Rocks/blow holes, Punakaiki

Situated north of Greymouth at Punakaiki, these geological wonders are shown off with a 20-minute walk along a set path. If the sun is shining you will get stunning photographs of the rocks. If it is raining and windy the blowholes will be at their best. Either way, it is a terrific thing to do whether you are taking Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch or the West Coast road to the top of the Island.IMG_1673

5. Visit Canterbury Museum, Christchurch

As museums go, this is a relatively small museum. Situated in the city centre, the museum undertook a 10-year earthquake-strengthening project that was finalised in 1995. Consequentially the Museum only lost 3% of its collections during the earthquakes. Why we rated this museum so highly was Anthony, the museum guide on the 3pm tour, who led us through the museum, stopping at various exhibits. In an hour we received a condensed history of both New Zealand and Christchurch as well as some of the more unusual exhibits. An added bonus was the Air New Zealand exhibition (much more interesting than it sounds!) that charted the rise of the airline, had examples of cabins from the past as well as a virtual reality demonstration of what flight could be like in the future. Terrific. A separate blog of Christchurch can be found here 2 DAYS IN // Christchurch, New Zealand


6. Drive from Greymouth to Christchurch via Lewis Pass and Arthur’s Pass

Greymouth is not a pretty town. I would recommend staying out of town and filling up with fuel on the way through. We were advised by a local to take the Lewis Pass and then join up with Arthur’s Pass. On this breathtaking drive there are three “must do” stops.

  • Lake Brunner. You can drive down to the shore where there is a large carpark. Photographs hardly do this lake justice. Phenomenal vista.
  • After you cross the viaduct there is a sharp left turn to the Viaduct Lookout (Death’s Corner). This is NZ’s greatest engineering feat and offers great views back down the valley.
  • Just before Arthur’s Pass township – by the 50km speed sign – there is a ten-minute walk to Devil’s Punchbowl Falls. It takes over 300 steps to get to them and is a nice view as well as a welcome break and exercise after the hairpin turns on Arthur’s Pass. There are other, longer walks if you want a more strenuous workout.

We stopped for coffee just along the road on the right and again in Sheffield.IMG_0275Lake BrunnerIMG_0281Viaduct Lookout (Death’s Corner)

7. Take a break in Hokitika

This is a pretty town on the west coast. One of the brochures we picked up enthused about Sock World, however we did not set foot in the exhibition. We did visit the beach and walked along to the picnic area situated in a boat. Very novel. We also visited the glassblowing shop and simply walked along the main streets.


Lessons Learnt!

1.) Airplane seats – On long haul flights you really do not want to be near the toilets. The light from the door as it opens and the clicking of the lock is not the most soothing when you are trying to get some sleep.

2.) It gets cold at night in Queenstown as there is so much water surrounding the city.

3.) Doubtful Sound can have changeable weather. Our cabin had a generous amount of room (for a boat) to enable us to take changes of clothes. Dress in layers!

4.) Did I mention the sandflies? Pesky little things that had a nibble at all of us – and came back for more! Pack, and use, insect repellent.

Fun fact: There are no land snakes in New Zealand.


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