It’s nothing I thought I would ever see in person, let alone walk on; a massive glacier, edged between mountains, rolling onto land. It was in Franz Josef New Zealand that I toured my first glacier.
Franz Josef Glacier is the world’s steepest and fastest flowing commercially-guided glacier. Located on the West Coast of the South Island, the town of Franz Josef is completely dedicated to the glacier. We visited in January and opted for a half day ice walk up the glacier with Franz Josef Glacier Guides.
Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
This photo, which was taken with my GoPro, is looking up at the glacier from close to the bottom of it.
The size of the glacier is what stunned me most. We walked up it from the ground, but people actually take a helicopter to the top of it to visit a more untouched piece of ice. When helicopters are involved to reach the top of something, it must be massive.
This was by far the most interesting tour I did in the South Island and it’s well-worth a stop on any visit to the country.
Vineyards, blue waters and even a snow-capped mountain, views don’t get much better than this.
The night before leaving Wellington for an epic South Island adventure, I thought what better way to cheers the voyage than with a glass of one of New Zealand’s finest wine with my dad at Ancestral.
The posh restaurant was running a Riesling-inspired campaign featuring vineyards from all around New Zealand. Since we were planning to visit Wanaka, we tried a glass of the white wine from one of the region’s best wineries, Rippon. I prefer reds, so to enjoy a glass of white that much, I had to visit the place.
So we did.
Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
I was expecting a great tasting, even to spend a bit of money on a few bottles of wine, but I wasn’t expecting the view. Located on Mount Aspiring Road, a dirt path guides cars uphill to the cellar door, passing line after line of grape vines along the way. At the top is a modern, stone cellar door with a few tables set up outside facing the spectacular view of Lake Wanaka, the Buchanan Mountain Range and vineyards seen here.
It’s not possible to take just a few photos in New Zealand’s South Island. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to take thousands.
Considering my track record with taking too many photos (600 in Angkor Wat, yikes), I thought maybe I would try recording my travels around the South Island on video instead of photos. That way I could get every view, every moment, every glorious mountain or lake on record.
This is really my first attempt at vlogging a trip, so be kind. I separated this series into four parts. Ric, my dad and I started our 10-day journey around the South Island from Wellington and ended in Queenstown. Our car Maximus was a reliable carrier. It was nice to have private transportation in this trip, because we could stop at as many waterfalls, gorges and lookouts as we wanted and trust me, we did.
We didn’t spend long in Picton, just enough time to have fish and chips along the water and spot a ray in the water. We traveled to Blenheim to visit a friend at Moa Brewery, then headed to Nelson where we set up our tents just off the beach at Tahuna Beach Holiday Park.
After only one night, we left early the next morning for Abel Tasman, stopping along the way for my dad’s first skydive. The start of the trip was a bit of a rush, so we spent two days relaxing, kayaking and eating burgers in Abel Tasman.
Part II: Abel Tasman to Hokitika Gorge
The next leg of our trip was more about the journey then the destination. We spent this day and a half mainly on the road, which you’ll find is a good thing when traveling New Zealand.
We had a picnic on the beach as soon as we hit the West Coast in Charleston. We played around at a sweet cave on the beach not too much further up the road. Of course we stopped in Punakaiki to see Pancake Rocks. Then we spent a night in Greymouth at Noah’s Ark, one of the very best hostels I’ve ever visited. Greymouth is home to Monteith’s Brewery. Naturally we sampled the beer.
The first half of the following day was all about hitting Hokitika Gorge on the way to Franz Josef. I’ve never seen water that color blue. Stunning.
Part III: Hokitika Gorge to Queenstown
Unlike the last part, this part was all about the destinations. We hit some of New Zealand’s most notables in these days. First was Franz Josef where we climbed a glacier. Next was Haast where we tried white bait. After there was Wanaka where we sampled wine at Rippon Vineyard.
Finally we reached Queenstown, where we gave up our tents for a sweet apartment. In the country’s ski capital we had an amazing meal at The Bunker, which has a mysterious James Bond vibe to it. A few days isn’t enough in Queenstown. Luckily, we’d be coming back.
Part IV: Queenstown to Milford Sound
There’s no better way to finish a trip to the South Island than with what is perhaps its most stunning scenery, Milford Sound.
While Queenstown and Milford Sound are not that far from each other on a map, the only road connecting these two destinations goes completely out of the way, so the drive takes about four hours. It’s a great dive though, as usual.
We arrived in Milford Sound, rain pouring and waterfalls gushing. The small town doesn’t have many places to stay, so Milford Sound Lodge was an easy pick. The lodge is warm and full of life. Its dining area is walled with windows, so we spent the night drinking wine and watching the rain come down on the mountains just next to the lodge.
While I loved being in Milford Sound in the stormy weather and seeing how powerful the place is, I didn’t really want to cruise Milford Sound in rain the next day. Luckily, the clouds separated and the sun came out giving us a gorgeous day at sea. Unfortunately we had to leave early that day to drive back to Queenstown where Ric and I said goodbye to my dad at the airport.
Pancake Rocks is a must-stop on any tour of New Zealand’s South Island.
Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
They were formed 30 million years ago from minute fragments of dead marine creatures and plants landed on the seabed about 2 km below the surface. Immense water pressure caused the fragments to solidify in hard and soft layers.-Department of Conservation
The natural roadside attraction is located on SH 6 in Punakaiki. It’s great to see at all times of day, but especially spectacular at high tide when blowholes in the rocks are bursting with water.
Calling Milford Sound the most spectacular sight in New Zealand is a pretty bold statement.
Have you seen New Zealand?
It’s quite possibly the most gorgeous country on earth. Everywhere you look is amazing.
But for me, Milford Sound was the climax of our two week scenic tour of the South Island.
Located in the mountainous Fiordland, Milford Sound is a fiord located 15-kilometers from the Tasman Sea. It’s jaw-dropping from land, but the best way to experience it is by boat.
Several cruise operators offer Milford Sound tours, including overnight, morning, and afternoon tours. Prices range, but I found Jucy Cruize to be the most affordable option.
Starting at $65, the 90-minute tours leads its passengers from the Milford Sound Visitor Center and Boat Harbour to Dale Point, which is where Milford Sound opens to the Tasman Sea, and back. Along the way a guide will point out some of the most well-known sights, including Stirling Falls, Seal Rock and Mt. Pembroke.
The cruise felt just right on all levels. Jucy’s boat is smaller than other boats docked in the harbor, but they don’t cram it with people, allowing passengers to move around freely. The length of the tour was enough so that passengers really saw Milford Sound, but could spend the rest of the day exploring the area on foot or driving to their next destination. Most important, the price is unbeatable for backpackers.
Further, the staff was really friendly and they offer free tea, coffee and hot chocolate. We spent a night in Milford Sound staying at Milford Lodge, but for people who can only visit for one day, Jucy sells a cruise trip and return coach journey from Queenstown package starting at $159 for adults. Altogether, Jucy Cruize was a really informative and affordable way to see Milford Sound. Here are some highlights from our trip.
A classic Milford Sound shot with Mitre Peak in the background. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
The white-tipped mountain in the back is Mt. Pembroke, the tallest mountain to look down on the fiord. It’s glacier is over one million years old. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Stirling Falls from a distance, the magnificent waterfall drops 146 meters. This photo was taken at about 10 a.m., so the waterfall is shadowed by surrounding mountains. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Clouds surround the mountains in Milford Sound. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Speckled with forestry, rocky mountains surround the fiord are quite steep. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Fairy Falls drops straight into the fiord. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
The view from Dale Point on the way back on our cruise. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
When the black waters in this fiord are still, they mirror the mountains above. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
New Zealand fur seals scattered all over Seal Rock. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Our cruise backed right up to Stirling Falls. Everyone with nice cameras were running for cover. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Thanks to Jucy Cruize for sponsoring my ten day South Island adventure. As always, all opinions are my own.
Those traveling all of New Zealand, not just the North or South Island will have to cross the Cook Strait either by plane or boat. Facing the added expense of both options can be a bit concerning for travelers on a budget.
Luckily, Interislander makes the crossing more than just a mode of transportation, but also a great activity to add to the agenda. Passengers can expect jaw dropping views through the Marlborough Sounds, onboard food and entertainment, maybe even a few dolphins swimming beside the ship.
While on a recent ferry crossing with Interislander from Wellington to Picton, I said a few times, “Now this is how to travel.”
Interislander is set up similar to a cruise ship. It offers a few eateries, a bar, a movie theater, several lounges and viewing platforms, a children’s play area, a travel information center with a real live person on site to help book trips, VIP sections, even a lounge for truck drivers.
I boarded early in the morning and headed straight to the cafeteria for breakfast. At $12, the big breakfast was extremely reasonable considering how much airlines and ferries usually charge people for food these days. Expect your standard cafeteria food. Visit the cafe for better meals.
Big breakfast served on board. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
One of the ship’s dining areas. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
The only other purchase I made was an hour or 40MB of internet at $7. I would only purchase it to do a few little things online, but I found the connection extremely good considering we were out to sea and in the middle of nowhere most of the time.
The majority of my time on board was spent either napping on the ferry’s big, comfy lounge chairs or on the top deck checking out the views.
The top deck was definitely the place to be on the clear summer day I traveled. Views are absolutely stunning sailing through the Sounds with massive mountains cascading into blue and green waters.
I was even lucky enough to watch a pod of dolphins swimming and jumping beside the boat. The captain who first spotted them, made sure to announce it to everyone on board.
A view of the Sounds from inside the ferry. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
It seems like wildlife spottings are pretty common through the Marlborough Sounds too. All three times I’ve taken the ferry, each captain announced seeing dolphins. In fact, I’ve actually been on dolphin sighting tours that cost more than my Interislander ferry trip and didn’t give me nearly as good an experience.
A great interaction with the staff started as soon as we drove onto the ship. One of the staff members directing Ric where to park the car, pretended to be pulling us in on a rope while giving a massive smile. For me, it’s little things like this that always make a trip that much better.
From then on every member of the staff was extremely kind, even fun. The duty manager waited by the exit door bidding everyone farewell at the end of the journey.
Expect three to four hours for this trip. Those traveling with a car must arrive before final check in, which is usually about an hour before departure, but don’t worry about arriving much earlier than that, as you’ll just have to wait in line.
Ric having a nap during our trip. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
People can book through their website, at a ticket counter or through an agent. A single adult ticket with no vehicle costs $NZ52-$NZ75. For two people traveling with a standard sized vehicle, the price is between $NZ215 and $NZ330 depending on what kind of ticket you purchase and time of travel. These prices seem to have stayed the same the few times I have checked.
The cheapest option is a web saver reservation and these are a lot cheaper so it’s beneficial to book as early as possible as only a limited number of these non-refundable reservations are available. Interislander also offers promotions which may be worth looking into.
Thanks to Interislander for sponsoring our ferry crossing to the South Island. As always, all opinions are my own.
While New Zealand may be known for its extreme sports, sheep and friendly people, it’s the country’s scenery that dominates anyone’s travels here. We spent ten days traveling the country’s South Island from Picton to Milford Sound constantly saying,”Look at that!” or “Wow that’s beautiful!”. Ric said after three days, “You really run out of superlatives for this place.”
He couldn’t have been more right.
Driving this great country is truly incredible. Every turn presents a new landscape and every bend a sight more breathtaking than the last. We traveled about 2,000 kilometers up, down and through mountains, beside vineyards and crystal clear lakes.
Our general route of the South Island on Google Maps.
No picture or video will ever do this country justice, but hopefully this montage of our drive across the South Island will help people realize why I can so easily declare that New Zealand is by far the most beautiful country I’ve ever traveled.
Thanks to Interislander and Jucy Cruize for sponsoring my ten day South Island adventure. As always, all opinions are my own.
Banner photo taken by Bobbi Lee Hitchon near Milford Sound.
The title of this campaign actually contains one of our facts.
What actually is a Sound?
In geography a sound or seaway is a large sea or ocean inlet larger than a bay, deeper than a bight and wider than a fjord; or it may be defined as a narrow sea or ocean channel between two bodies of land.-Wikipedia
Franz Josef Glacier is one of the most impressive sights to see on the South Island. People can actually climb, hike or visit the glacier by helicopter. There are alot of intersting facts about Franz Josef Glacier, here is one of them.
From its origins high in the Southern Alps, the Franz Josef Glacier descends deep into the lush rainforest of Westland’s National Park, from a height of 2700m above sea level to only 240m in as little as 11 km, making it the worlds steepest and fastest flowing commercially guided glacier.-Franz Josef Glacier Guides
Seeing a glacier isn’t a normal item on the agenda of most holidays abroad, which is why Franz Josef is such a special attraction on the South Island.
This fun fact actually comes from fellow travel bloggers Jade and James at Our Oyster. In a recent post, they wrote about Baldwin Street, the steepest residential street in the world, which is in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Baldwin street rises from a shocking 30 meters above sea level to 100 meters above sea level, rising at a gradient of about 1 : 5.-Jade Johnston
A fun little fact and a great stop on any road trip of the South Island.
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