Christchurch. May 2011.
Our base to start off a road trip around South Island, New Zealand. We’ve rented a car and are driving around the city looking for a landmark, when we stop to check. “Oh, this is underground now”. Underground? We ask. You mean, we need to take a subway? “No” he says. “the building caved in”. Most of Christchurch is that way. The earthquake has left the city crippled in many ways. But Kiwi spirits are high. They love their country and want you to love it just as much.
We didn’t want to dismiss Christchurch just because of the recent seismic events. It’s a fantastic base to go ocean-side to Akaroa (French fishing village), Kaikoura (whale capital), or to explore the wine country and old wineries such as Mud House. Akaroa stole my heart with it’s quaintness and love for good food. We probably had the best mushroom risotto in the world at a charming restaurant there called the Little Bistro.
The real exploration of South Island only starts once you leave Christchurch, heading into a quadrangular drive – to Fox Glacier in the west and then down south to Wanaka, Queenstown, Mount Cook, and back all the way up to Christchurch via Dunedin.
Fox Glacier is probably one of the few glaciers in the world that sits inside a forest and you should make time to trek the glacier. And once done, spend a day at Wanaka – the lesser known cousin of popular Queenstown. Wanaka is just as beautiful as Queenstown with a lot to do and explore.
Queenstown really tops all of the experiences with its adventure capital status. The surrounding mountains give Queenstown the edge as compared to other alpine destinations around the world. The adventure street is something else – you can sign up for a bunch of options – from bungee jumping to the shotover jet, to whitewater rafting, skydiving and so on. “Oh, what’s a skydive anyway? Sign up already”, coaxed the indian foreign exchange student from behind the counter. Gladly.
I had no idea.
My moment of truth was when I was hanging off the plane in Queenstown, ready to jump 12000 feet. I could see mystical Milford Sound at a distance. And I thought to myself – what the hell am I doing? Next I hear my voice fade as I fall, deeper towards the gorges and valleys, and suddenly i’m free! Exhilarating!!
Once you leave Queenstown, you’re back to the panoramic driving experience, which is like sitting in a 4D theatre with no human being in sight. But you need to stop. Get out of that car. And feel the clean, pristine air in your face when you feel like yes, I’m in New Zealand.! And I never want to share this with anyone because I want this place all to myself!
Snow capped mountains, glass lakes, gushing streams, glaciers, forests, farmhouses, sheep. Repeat. This is the beauty that is New Zealand. No lake is like the one before; no bend in the road is expected. And no order of fish n’ chips is like anything you’ve eaten before 🙂
- Best time to travel: The summer months (Nov-Feb) are ideal. However, I find that the shoulder seasons are great as well – the costs are marginally lower and roads are less crowded making it ideal for a road trip.
- Travel Route: Fixing the right road route is important. I recommend landing in Christchurch (You have more flight options) and starting your journey from here.
- Drive west towards Fox Glacier (4 hrs). Stop in Fox Glacier for the night after the glacier walk.
- Resume your journey southwards the next morning towards Wanaka. This route is along the ocean so you can even break for a night here. In general, I do not recommend night driving in New Zealand – the roads are far too deserted and mobile signals weak in many areas.
- Wanaka is a good place to spend an afternoon.
- To get to Queenstown from here there are two roads – the shorter one that goes right up to the crown of the mountain – but you will have your heart in your mouth the entire time – this road is terrifying and needs a lot of skill. The other route is longer by an hour, take that if you like to play safe. Once in Queenstown, spend a few days making the most of all the adventure activities – Skydiving, Bungee jumping et al.
- Head back to Christchurch, stopping at Mt Cook enroute. You can also take a deviation into Dunedin to see the penguins if time permits. This is a day return, so again stop for a night if you think it’s too much.
- Places to stay:
- Ideal Duration:
- Must Do’s:
- Christchurch: MudHouse winery, Pegasus winery
- Fox Glacier walk
- Queenstown Adenture Activities (NZone Skydiving, AJ Hackett’s Bungee Jumping), Milford Sound
- Ideal Budget: My travel style is not backpacking. It’s mid-range and adventure based. For this style of travel, i recommend a budget of INR 2,00,000 per person.
, Mud House
, New Zealand
, South Island