Our next destination was Aotearoa! Aotearoa is the Maori (native) word for New Zealand, meaning 'long, white cloud.' Mom, Dad, Jeff and I all flew from Melbourne into Christchurch New Zealand together. Jeff and I had the afternoon in town before we rented a car and toured NZ for 2 weeks, and Mom and Dad were meeting up with a tour group for the same amount of time. Cyclone Debbie had followed us from Australia, so we had a pretty wet start in Christchurch. We were able to walk around town a little bit, and we were so surprised to see all of the lasting earthquake damage. Most of the city was still in ruin from the 2011 earthquake. Afterwards, we grabbed dinner at an Asian-fusion place called, ‘The King of Snakes’ and said our goodbyes until we would meet up again in Auckland.
In the pouring rain, Jeff and I hopped in our rental car and drove from Christchurch to Queenstown. The roads in New Zealand are pretty decent, and way bigger than the roads in England, so we were pretty comfortable driving. We’ve gotten really good at this whole driving on the left thing! It just takes forever to get anywhere in this country because the roads are so windy and you are constantly going over mountains or through valleys. We had reserved our rental car and reserved all of our hostel accommodation a few months ago. I found it surprising that we saw a ton of backpackers hitchhiking all over the country. There were a lot of campervans. I had originally looked into booking a campervan to drive for two weeks, but the nicer ones ended up being pretty pricey. In retrospect, I’m really glad we just booked hostels (private room, shared bath for around $55 each night). All of the hostels in NZ were way better than any we stayed at in Europe. We stopped in many ‘campsites’ while driving around, and they were pretty much all backcountry camping. Many didn’t even have toilets. Especially with how wet our weather was, we definitely made the right decision.
We made it to Queenstown in time for dinner, so we walked a few blocks to Fergburger. I’m undecided if it lived up to the hype. Was it good? Yes- it was delicious! The quality of meat in New Zealand is incredible, you can taste the difference. We ordered one burger with the works- avocado, hashbrown, tomato, bacon, onion. The other was full of giant slices of pork belly and a delicious mustard sauce. Definitely mouthwatering, but it would be a close call if this burger had to go up against a 50/50 burger (half ground bacon, half ground beef) from home.
The next morning, we were up early and in the car again. We left our hostel before 7am to make the 5-6 hour drive to Milford Sound. We weren’t too optimistic about the weather since it was cloudy and rained a lot during our drive. We made multiple stops during the drive.
We were incredibly lucky because by the time we arrived to Milford sound around 12:30pm the weather was gorgeous! It was easily the best picnic spot we have found on the planet.
Unless you are doing the Milford Trek (multiple day backpacking hike), there isn’t really anything to do at Milford Sound besides take a cruise or helicopter ride. Unfortunately, helicopter rides aren’t in our budget. We took a 3-hour boat cruise through the Sound- which is actually misnamed since it is a fjord. (Geology lesson: a fjord is formed by glacial carving, where a sound is formed due to river carving.) Our captain kept telling us how lucky we were with the weather and that it is usually rainy in the Sound. We just laughed it off, but realized this is true when we got foggy photos from my parents who visited just a few days behind us. I don’t really think that you can capture it in photos- but this is high on my list of the most beautiful places on Earth.
By the time we made the long drive back to Queenstown, it was about 10pm. Totally worth the long day in the car! The next morning Jeff and I split up to explore different cafes. I ended up having the most amazing breakfast at a Bespoke Kitchen, right at the bottom of the Queenstown gondola.
We met back up to ride the gondola and do a few luge rides before leaving Queenstown.
Our next city was Wanaka, and on the way we stopped at Wooing Tree Winery, recommended to us by a bartender in Melbourne. That area of NZ is known for Pinot Nior grapes. As I am not a fan of red, I really liked their rose, but Jeff really liked the pinot nior. It was a great pit stop on our short 2 hour ride.
We arrived to Wanaka in the early evening, and Jeff took me on a hot date! We went to see Beauty and the Beast at a really cute theatre in town. It looked like you were walking into someone’s house. We ordered lamb nachos to share at the intermission. They stopped the movie in the middle, and you went out to your assigned table to find hot food! The theatre was small and cozy- they had a bunch of random chairs and couches to sit in. A great movie experience!
The next day we hiked up to Roy’s Peak. Well, we walked almost to the top. After a few hours, we made it to the famous scenic lookout.
We liked Wanaka much more than we liked Queenstown. We found Queenstown much more touristy, and it had a ski-resort feel. Wanaka was extremely laid back and just as beautiful. New Zealand is quickly moving to the top of our favorites list!
Map of our stops on the south island: