Stayed: 1 Night | Recommend: A night's stay or less if it's just a car pick up point
Christchurch was chosen for the car pick up location as it's a big city and the distance from the airport to town area is quite near with about 16 mins drive. The car rental company Hitch provided free shuttle to and fro the airport. Stock up your groceries and snacks here at Pak'nSave before hitting the highway. There was little time spent at Christchurch as the trip was more focused on the other parts of the South Island.
Hostel: Urbanz; Quite good. Shared bathrooms were rather cold during Winter. Recommend to use individual shower rooms to keep you warm. [Link]
Attractions: Cathedral Junction, Christchurch Cathedral, 185 Empty White Chairs, Christchurch Transitional Cathedral
Stayed: 1 Night | Recommend: Min. 2 Nights (1 at Tekapo, 1 at Mount Cook Village)
The drive from Christchurch to Fairlie takes about 2.5 hours nonstop and another 30 mins to Tekapo. Lake Tekapo is commonly visited both day and night - to view the lake in the day and the Milky Way at night. Do consider staying at Ashwick Flat as accommodations are much cheaper here compared to Tekapo and you can view the Milky Way right outside your doorstep. It's a 10 min drive to Fairlie and 35 min to Tekapo.
There's so much more to see than just the Milky Way. Right after Lake Tekapo lies Lake Pukaki with State Highway 80, a scenic route that leads to Mount Cook Village. There are many scenic attractions near the village, such as Kea Point, Tasman Glacier Lake and Mt. Cook itself, the highest mountain in New Zealand. There are 3 glaciers flowing towards the village - Mueller Glacier, Hooker Glacier and Tasman Glacier.
Airbnb: Lake Opuha Lodge by Karyn > Clare; Superb accommodation, beautifully furnished with a hot tub and pool table. The entire apartment is rented out for Airbnb use and there are 5 rooms; 2 of them are en-suite. The only issue is that the remaining 6 people have to share 1 bathroom. Imagine the queue in the morning. Yikes! [Link]
Attractions: Lake Tekapo, Church of the Good Shepherd, Mt John Observatory, Lake Pukaki, Mount Cook Village, Kea Point Track, Kea Point, Sealy Tarns Track, Hooker Track, Hooker Lake, Tasman Lake Track, Tasman Glacier Lake, Mt. Cook Range, Mt. Cook, Lake Opuha
Most highways do not have street lights and this is how it looks like at night - complete darkness with side reflectors.
The drive from Fairlie to Tekapo was rather interesting as we drove on top of hills filled with clouds, resembling Silent Hill.
Stayed: 2 Nights | Recommend: 2 Nights, 3 if you're planning to hike Kepler Track.
Driving from AshWick Flat to Te Anau was one of the longest drive in the trip, taking about 7.5 hours including stopping by various attractions along the way such as Tekapo-Twizel Scenic Road, Lake Pukaki, Lindis Pass Viewpoint, Roaring Meg Falls and Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge. The route after Frankton on State Highway 6 has a scenic view on the right, decked with a long stretch of water body and mountain range in the background. One interesting observation about Te Anau is that they have a town centre street that is dedicated for tourist activities. Te Anau is all about lakes, Fjords, Kepler Track and Milford Sound.
It was raining heavily throughout the night and our Milford Sound Cruise got cancelled the following morning due to road closure and high risk of avalanches starting from the Hollyford Track junction on State Highway 94. If you do not wish to miss the cruise or the scenic route to Milford Sound, check the weather forecast before deciding the dates to visit Milford Sound. You can also check State Highway 94's current road condition to Milford Sound here.
Airbnb: Based in Te Anau, listing is now unavailable. Cost: SGD57/night
Attractions: Habit Food, Rainbow Reach, Waiau River, Kepler Track, Mt. Luxmore, Glowworm Cave Cruise
There are many scenic spots along the way to Milford Sound. A nonstop round trip to Pop's View Lookout (3/5 of the route to Milford Sound) would had taken around 2 hours but since it was raining and there were many pit stops, it took 5.5 hours instead. Henry Creek Campsite has a nice panoramic view of a fjord surrounded by 2 mountain ranges. The Eglinton Valley and Knobs Flat are a great spot to take a picture of the surrounding mountain range. Mirror Lakes was literally a blur lake due to the appearance of fogs on the mountains and it was barely reflecting anything. If you need to go to the bathroom, there are many campsites with toilet cubicles along the way.
As the weather cleared up the following morning, we decided to delay our departure to Queenstown and give it another go at Milford Sound since the road was reopened. The route from Falls Creek Waterfall onwards to Milford Sound is one of the best scenic road in the trip - driving in the valley between 2 snow covered mountain ranges. The drive to reach Milford Sound took about 2 hours and the route to Queenstown was at least 4.5 hours.
Attractions: Henry Creek Campsite, Lake Mistletoe, Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes, Kiosk Creek, Lake Gunn, Windy Point Creek, Pop's View Lookout, Hollyford Valley Lookout, Hollyford Track, Falls Creek Waterfall, Monkey Creek, Gertrude Valley Lookout, Homer Tunnel, The Chasm, Tutoko Bridge, Milford Sound, Milford Discover Centre > Underwater Observatory
Stayed: 2 Nights | Recommend: 2 Nights, 3 if you're planning to do some activities
Queenstown is known as an adventure sports town and they have a variety of activities to keep your adrenaline pumping. If you are on a budget like me, all these rides would be a no-go. Instead, time would be spent walking around, chilling and exploring the town. You can park your car near the town area free for a limited time (some are paid, read the signs carefully) or Park Street that offers free parking albeit a distance's walk to the town area. The town area is also a convenient location to grab souvenirs for friends and family as they have many souvenir and sweet shops lying around the vicinity. To get a panoramic view of Queenstown, you can ride a Cable Car at Skyline Queenstown for a price of NZD39. Alternatively, you can drive along Belfast Terrace Road to view Queenstown for free at a much lower altitude. Refill your petrol here as Wanaka and Lake Hawea is more expensive. Half the day was spent exploring Queenstown while the other half was in Arrowtown.
Arrowtown is a 20 mins drive away from Queenstown. There are 2 routes to get there, one through Arthurs Point and the other through Frankton. I would recommend using different routes when going to and fro, so that you won't see the same scenery twice. Arrowtown is a historic town known for gold mining and they have many well preserved old buildings.
Airbnb: Along Mackinnon Terrace, listing is now unavailable. Cost: SGD57/night
Activities: Fear Factory, Thrill Zone, Via Ferrata, Ziptrek, GForce Paragliding, Nevis Bungy, Ledge Bungy, Sunrise Hot Air Balloon, NZone Skydive, SITE Trampoline, Canyoning, Jet Ski, Jet Boat, Hydro Attack, River Boarding, Whitewater Rafting, River Rafting, Cruises > Trips to Milford Sound
Attractions: Mrs Ferg Gelateria, Fergburger, The Remarkables Sweet Shop, Lake Wakatipu, Ben Lomond Summit, The Remarkables Ski Area
It was our first time with snow chains on and we were driving at 10km/h uphill on a snowy road. We had cold feet later and turned back.
We spotted a dent on our car's left bumper on the day of checking out. There goes NZD2,000 for car damage...
Stayed: 1 Night | Recommend: 2-3 Nights for hikes
The route to Wanaka through Crown Range Road is another scenic route in the trip, taking about an hour to arrive. The highlight of Wanaka is the lake itself and Roys Peak, a mountain with a view overlooking Wanaka and surrounding mountains. Further into Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Road would lead you to the other bays of Lake Wanaka with different mountain backdrops, Diamond Lake and Treble Cone Ski Area. At the end of the road lies Mount Aspiring National Park. Wanaka has a visitor map online here.
Hostel: Lake Hawea Hostel; fairly good. The counter provides a visitor map of Wanaka. The shared bathroom is detached from the building so during Winter you have to step out in the cold. Bathroom isn't well heated. [Link]
Attractions: Roys Bay, Roys Peak, Glendhu Bay, Parkins Bay, Diamond Lake. Rocky Mountain Track, Minaret Burn Track, Treble Cone Ski Area, Rob Roy Glacier Track, West Matukituki Track, Mount Aspiring, Lake Hawea Dam, Lake Hawea
Stayed: 2 Nights | Recommend: 2 Nights
On the way to the West Coast region, you will pass by The Neck, a point that meets Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Up ahead on the left is a panoramic view of several mountain ridges and valleys across Lake Wanaka. After days of driving the inner parts of South Island, driving along the West Coast highway may feel different - the region is more sunny and filled with lush greenery. The drive to Franz Josef Glacier takes about 5 hours, including pit stops to Haast River, Ship Creek Doc Walk and Chalet Lookout Track. Franz Josef Glacier is much like a resort town that focuses on activities related to the Franz Josef Glacier. They have hiking tracks that can view the glacier from afar, paid guides and helicopter rides that bring you closer into contact with the glacier with prices staring from NZD429. Check out the visitor map online here.
Hostel: Chateau Backpacker > Motels; Quite good. Showers are in individual rooms so they are not cold during Winter. Breakfast is included and there is free soup every evening. The communal kitchen might get quite crowded during Dinner. [Link]
Activities: Glacier Valley Eco Walk, Glacier Heli Hike, Heli Ice Climb, Helicopter Snow Landing, Sky Dive, Quad Bikes, Horse Trek
Attractions: Franz Josef Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools, West Coast Wildlife Centre, Terrace Walk, Canavan's Knob Walk, Alex Knob Trail, Douglas Walk, Peters Pool Walk, Sentinel Rock Walk, Rope Creek Bridge, Roberts Point Track, Franz Valley Track, Tatare Tunnels Track, Callery Gorge Walk
If you're planning to hike the whole day, consider a 1.5 hour return Franz Valley Track at the base of the glacier, followed by a 5 hours return Roberts Point Peak or an 8 hours return Alex Knob Peak at the height of 605 and 1303 metres, and end the day with an hours return Tatare Tunnels Walk or Callery Gorge Walk. Check out a detailed guide of these tracks here.
Alternatively, if you want to get up close to the glacier (literally touching and walking in between the crevasses) and don't mind splurging over NZD429, book a Heli Hike from The Helicopter Line or Franz Josef Glacier Guides. Both Heli Hikes are 3 hours long and includes a scenic return helicopter ride. The Franz Josef Glacier Guides' Heli Hike includes a free entry to the Hot Pools. In Winter, do not wear as thick as you usually do as the hike will make you feel hot and perspire a lot, so dress lightly. A small waist pack (usually worn slung across) will be provided to store your crampons on the way to the glacier, leaving some space for your water bottle and snacks. Do not bring your valuables along, you don't need them. Selfie sticks are not allowed but you can strap your camera across your neck. If your group is small (e.g. 4 pax) or fast pacing and complete the hike early with ample time left to spare, the guide may bring you to more crevasses.
My friend and I tried stepping on the frozen Diamond Lake for fun. Both of us almost fell in.
Do not wait until 1/3 tank is left because panic will set in when you realize there aren't any petrol stations in the next hour. Happened to us, may happen to you.
Stayed: 2 Nights | Recommend: 2 Nights, 3 if you're going to Abel Tasman National Park
The route from Franz Josef Glacier to Nelson is a long drive, taking about 7 hours with pit stops Lake Mapourika, Lake Wahapo, Hokitika Shipwreck Memorial, and Brunner Mine. Nelson has similar vibes to Christchurch and is packed with more town activities to do than scenic places to go. If you are seeking for nature, within Nelson there's a short hike up to a spot that marks the centre of New Zealand and Grampians, a 390 metre high hill with different track difficulties. Beyond Nelson lies the famous Abel Tasman National Park up the northwest of State Highway 60. Nelson has a visitor map online here.
Airbnb: Large Queen Room by Raeoni; Superb accommodation. Her apartment is very modern and she takes care of your needs. She is a chef and she can cook for you a delicious meal for a price of NZD20. Breakfast is provided. [Link]
Attractions: The Nelson Market, Nelson Provincial Museum, World of WearableArt > Classic Cars Museum, Centre of New Zealand, Grampians Reserve, Tahunanui Beach, Janie Seddon Shipwreck, Abel Tasman National Park
For some reason our right rear tyre had a sidewall puncture and the tyre went flat. We had to change it to a spare in the middle of nowhere and it was getting dark!
We drove slowly and arrived at Kaikoura in the late evening. Repair shops were closed by then. Our initial plan was a day trip to Kaikoura and 2 nights' stay in Hanmer Springs but it ended up 2 nights' stay in Kaikoura as there were no stocks for our tyre and so we had to wait the next day for new stocks. New accommodations and tyre change costed us NZD302.
Stayed: 2 Nights | Recommend: A Full Day Trip
When enroute to Kaikoura, you may face some traffic jam as safety improvements work along State Highway 1 is carried out till the end of 2019. Kaikoura is a coastal town known for its coastline features, fur seal colony and sperm whale watching. The aftermath of the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake exposed tilted and folded limestone layers along the coastline at the right of Wakatu Quay Road and shore platforms formed by sea level wave cuts in the Southeast side. Find fur seals lying on the timber decks at Point Kean Viewpoint and trek up the Peninsula Walkway for an overarching view of the coast and sea. If you're not tight on budget, consider booking a slot to sperm whale watching at the Whaleway Station for NZD150 (or through BookMe for discounts). Before the sun sets, head to the Kaikoura Lookout to catch a panoramic sunset view of Kaikoura.
Motel: Alpine Pacific Motels > Holiday Park; Great cabin experience. The cabins are compact, cute and comfortable. They smell like saunas when the heater is switched on, which is quite funny. Bathroom is a distance walk out in the opens if you don't mind freezing for awhile. The counter provides a visitor map of Kaikoura. You need to rent pots, pans and cutlery at a price of NZD2.50/person if you're planning to cook. They do not provide a scrub to wash your dishes. Wifi is limited. [Link]
Attractions: Whale Watch Kaikoura, Seal Swim Kaikoura, Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura, Right of Wakatu Quay Road, Point Kean Viewpoint, Peninsula Walkway, Kaikoura Lookout
After factoring in the driving hours and pit stops, allocating 2 days of sightseeing for a town may actually be a day and a half or less.
We did that just in case anything happens and are glad that we had an extra day. Otherwise, we would had missed our flight back to Melbourne > subsequent flight in the following day. What a chain reaction.
To avoid getting dents out of nowhere and punctured tyres.
To avoid facing a closed road and having to detour. Check road conditions here.