After a rocky three-hour ferry journey to the South Island and a few hours on the bus I arrived in the small town of Kaiteriteri. With two nights booked, I planned to visit the Abel Tasman National Park but because the weather was forecast to be awful the following day (thanks Cyclone Debbie) I didn’t set an alarm for the bus which takes you there. As a girl from Scotland I should have known not to trust the weatherman because as you guessed it, I opened the curtains and the sun was finally shining. Instead of going on a scenic hike I checked out the beach and somehow ended up taking a strangers dog for a walk so that was fun.
By the time I’d arrived in Westport we had to rush back onto the bus to catch the beautiful sunset by the beach. Although Westport is famous for surfing, I had no plans to go surfing in the dark so I spent my evening socialising over a bottle of wine…very exciting.
On the way to Lake Mahinapua we stopped to find a fancy dress costume for our ‘Under The Sea’ theme. We stayed at the Lake Mahinapua Hotel which is infamous for Kiwi Experience backpackers getting dressed up and pissed every night. If you ever visit you’ll find me in the photo album on April 8 2017 as a big submarine – I clearly didn’t get the memo about dressing sexy. Unfortunately with the paint not drying on time my costume spent most of its night drying next to the fireplace before I ruined anyone else’s costume. The hostel also has a jade carving workshop where you can pick a piece of stone and carve it yourself for $20. As you can see below, I created my very own Harry Potter necklace. To stay at the hostel it’s a whopping $55 NZD a night so you’ll be glad to hear the unlimited roast dinner and breakfast which they provide is pretty darn tasty! However, if you’re not on the Kiwi Experience bus I’d save money by just checking out the lake whilst on route to Franz Josef.
Only two hours down the road was Franz Josef where I stayed for three nights at the Franz Josef Rainforest Retreat. As Kiwi Experience describe it: “Franz Josef is the northern gateway to Te Wahipounamu, the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage area. The region includes Aoraki/Mount Cook, Westland Tai Poutini, Mount Aspiring, the Fiordland National Parks, and surrounding conservation lands”.
Seeing as I was in such a beautiful place I booked the Franz Josef Glacier Heli Hike with Kiwi Experience at a lovely discounted price of $370 instead of $460. Apparently 75% of the time the hike gets cancelled due to the weather-not because a little rain will hurt you (you get wet on the glacier)-but because if it’s too cloudy the pilot can’t see where they are flying. Thankfully the weather was nice and because I was the lightest of the group I was seated next to the pilot…best view in the house! In total you spend around 3 hours on the glacier with an informative guide. The package also includes all of your hiking gear (as you can see it wasn’t too big for me at all) and free access to the hot pools which is amazing after an icy morning!
Skydive Fox Glacier: If you have ever met me you’d know that skydiving is something that I’ve always said I’d love to do but would never actually do it. However, travelling is all about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and doing crazy scary things – fear is all in your head. Plus with Skydive Fox Glacier being rated as one of the most scenic places in the world to go skydiving I didn’t really have an excuse for not throwing myself out of a plane. I am not even going to lie, I was terrified beforehand (as you can see from this lovely picture) and began to question why I didn’t just stay on the bus! However, the staff were very reassuring and made everyone feel at ease about the whole process. The funniest thing about it all was when I was hanging out of the plane I didn’t feel scared any more, I just looked down and accepted that I was about to go flying oot! Free-falling is such a surreal and amazing experience, everything you were worrying about beforehand just goes out of your head, you’re flying and enjoying every second of it! well, 50 seconds of free-fall to be precise.
The only downside was that when the parachute went up my ears popped really badly and the pain lasted for a good few days but I survived the fall and got to glide the parachute so it’s okay. The total cost of skydiving at 13,000ft including the video, photos and a free t-shirt was $480…these skydiving companies sure know how to get rich quick!! I know it would have been more “cool” to have jumped at 16,000ft instead of 13,000ft but to free-fall for 65 seconds instead of 50 seconds would have cost an extra $100…gotta save money y’know! However, if you’re thinking about doing it, just do it! it’s such a sense of achievement.
After Franz Josef I spent four nights in Wanaka where I’d planned to do lots of hiking but instead I spent most of my days in bed, eating lots of chocolate and feeling sorry for myself because I’d finally caught the Kiwi Experience flu which was going around. Oh and I still had sore ears, yay.
On the 15th of April I finally arrived in the adventure and party capital of New Zealand, Queenstown where I’d booked to stay for over a week at Nomads and Base hostel. Queenstown is a tiny little town but it has a lot to offer and it’s so beautiful. As I’ve never been ski-ing before it would have been nice if I’d visited during ski-season (June-October) but I guess it’s always an excuse to come back. However, if you’re looking for some good hikes with scenic views then Queenstown is the place to be! I only climbed up to the Skyline Gondola and the Queenstown Hill but both were very beautiful. Another “tourist attraction” which is worth a visit is Fergburger, a tasty burger bar that serves big ass burgers and tasty fries. I liked it but you need to make sure you visit at a good time or you could be queuing for over an hour. Yes I tried Devil’s Burger too (where the locals go) but I actually prefered Fergburger.
Whilst I was staying in Queenstown I took a 12 hour day trip to Milford Sound which is apparently referred to as The Eighth Wonder of the World. Perhaps it’s because I get seasick easily but I actually thought the route to Milford Sound was more scenic; crazy beautiful roads with glaciers, mountains and lakes, just beautiful. In Winter the route is very dangerous due to avalanches so it’s easy to imagine why you cannot stop at a lot of points and need to drive with chains. Thankfully because I was visiting in Autumn we stopped to take some nice pictures along the way.
After Queenstown I spent a night stargazing in Lake Tekapo which is situated in an International Dark Sky Reserve. One day I’ll have to come back to do the Earth & Sky tour because it would be interesting to learn more about the southern night sky and see the stars more closely. I missed out because I was trying to save money. On the plus side, if you stay at the Lake Tekapo Motel and Holiday Park you’ll get to meet crazy looking Hannibal, a stray cat which the staff now look after.
I only spent one night in Christchurch because to be honest I didn’t feel like there was much to do there. The city is only halfway through rebuilding from the 2011 earthquake so when you’re walking around the city it kind of makes you feel a little sad.
My last stop on the South Island was Nelson where I stayed at The Bug Backpackers for two nights and one night at the Paradiso hostel. As the weather was nice I spent my days cycling around the small town and checking out Tahunanui Beach. Although Nelson was my last stop on the South Island, I spent a further night in Wellington and Taupo on the way back up to Auckland.
On another note, whilst you are on route to a new destination, Kiwi Experience stop for photo opportunities which I’ve not really included in my blog posts as they’ll take forever to write-up. However, two of my favourite stops were Lake Pukaki and Lake Rotoiti. If you want to take a photogenic picture of a duck in Lake Rotoiti then all you need is food, just try not let the ducks steal your sandwich like this one did.
Overall, New Zealand has been one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited (the pictures taken on my smashed up phone do not do it justice) and I’ve loved every second of it…well maybe not the sand flies. If you like outdoorsy stuff then I cannot recommend it enough! Definitely my favourite country so far on my travels. Although, travelling here has reminded me of Scotland quite a lot so perhaps that’s why I loved it so much? all I know is that its made me want to travel my own country so I might just start heading back that way soon…
Although the minimum time for the Super Funky route is 28 days I ended up spending 42 days travelling with Kiwi Experience. I also spent a week in Auckland before booking my trip and four nights afterwards which isn’t included in my total. I met a lot of people who did minimum time and I honestly couldn’t imagine it being as enjoyable because most days you’re on the bus for a long time, the weather can affect a lot of activities and sometimes you arrive too late in certain destinations to do anything, then you’re off again the next day! My personal opinion, give yourself some time to relax and the ability to change your itinerary! Travelling everyday can get exhausting.