what are some not to be missed sites on south island in new zealand

I recently checked off the one place in this world I’ve always wanted to visit…New Zealand. I’m not quite sure why, but I’ve had this notion that I simply had to see it AND go bungie jumping. I’ve even gone so far as to suggest my husband do a triathlon there. So, you know I was desperate to visit…

If you are fortunate enough to go to New Zealand for either an Ironman or Challenge Family race or for vacation, you’ll need to pick and choose where to concentrate your time. There’s so much to see and unless you have more than a few weeks, you can’t do it all. We flew into Aukland and spent a few days visiting friends. Then we flew into Blenheim in the northeast corner of the island, rented a car, and began our adventure. As we only had about 10 days at this point, we spent most of our time along the rugged west coast. Which, of course, means we have to go back.

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One thing we had on our side was great weather. We truly lucked out and were able to do every excursion we signed up for. Not everyone was this lucky and we know people whose outings were cancelled. So, while you do take your chances, trust me, it’s worth it…

If you haven’t heard, New Zealand is just perfect for triathletes and the whole country is very outdoors oriented. Although my husband has an early race this year and so he’s getting back into training season , he didn’t stress over getting training in. We did a lot of other activities like hiking and kayaking that his coach let be replacement workouts or he did no activities at all. He simply enjoyed the moment and the breathtaking scenery and seemed quite okay with that…

Here are places we visited that I would say without reservation are not to be missed and are perfect “activities” for triathletes.

Queen Charlotte Track

We had a Wilderness Guide tour set up in Picton one day to hike the Queen Charlotte Track. To get there we traveled by boat through the staggeringly beautiful Marlborough Sound (see the top image). While I was not prepared for the hike, it was a dream workout for my husband. I’m thinking a casual hike, but this was 11 miles of mostly uphill walking. I kept going, “Are you kidding me?” as each bend turned into another hill.

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My complaining aside, we learned all about the European and Maori history of the area including Captain Cook, along with details on native flora and fauna. For lunch, we sat high up in the hills and had a spectacular view while we ate. The hike finished with a cold, local beer. Many people make this a multi-day venture. They hike during the day and then stay in a resort on the islands at night.

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Marlborough Wine Region

While my husband enjoys an occasional glass of wine and mostly off season, Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region just happens to be my favorite wine. So, there was no way I was going to miss a visit. What my husband enjoys most is how people describe wines, so was happy to discover new descriptions like licking moss off the forest floor! We did a 6 hour private tour to the small boutique-type wineries in the area and had a lovely lunch at Hans Herzog, enjoying a plate of green lipped mussels and wine.

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If you don’t want to drive and want to get that bike training in, you can bike between the wineries. You can even sign up for a bike package where you ride the bike and someone follows behind you collecting the wine you bought and delivering your purchases to your hotel.

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Punakaiki and Paparoa National Park

This is the home of the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, one of New Zealand’s most visited sites. Not sure if you will see this anyplace else. We walked around 3 times as we were so amazed and never knew when you’d see a geyser. The Park itself offers tons of trails in a subtropical rainforest. You can even go caving if you’re so inclined.

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Franz Joseph Glacier

Amazing, stunning, scary, seriously not-to-be-missed…These are just a few of the words to describe Franz Joseph Glacier. We took a helicopter ride up to the Glacier and spent several hours walking around with our guide after getting an orientation and putting on our crampons. Once again, I found the endeavor to be a bit treacherous while my husband would have kept hiking all day.

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Sadly, it was so obvious that the glaciers are slowly melting and this was confirmed by our guides. If you don’t want to go to the top, you can hike the tons of trails that offer varying levels of difficulty. Robert Point Track takes about 5 hours and is difficult, but the view at the end should be worth the effort.

In the afternoon we decided to get out on the lake and kayak. It seemed a shame not to take advantage.

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Drive from Franz Joseph to Queenstown

Literally, one of the most scenic drives I have ever been on is the road between Franz Joseph and Queenstown. Just ask my husband, because I kept yelling to pull over and sadly, pull over spots are very limited on South Island’s 2 lane highways.

We did stop for lunch in Wanaka and drove around the lake getting there. While Lake Wanaka is what everyone said to see, we actually found Lake Hawea much more remarkable.

But it wasn’t the lake that caught my husband’s eye. It was signs all over town for the upcoming Challenge Family triathlon!

Our final destination was Queenstown where we would spend 3 nights. This is where you want to go bungie jumping if you’re so inclined. This has been something I’ve talked about doing forever. But, alas, I came to realize that this is something I should have done at least 10 years ago! They now have a Canyon Swing which even my husband was going to do with me. Sadly, they were fully booked on the days we could squeeze it in. Just another reason to have to go back…

Milford Sound and Fjordland National Park

Literally everyone told us we had to see Milford Sound, so it was a no brainer. It is a gorgeous combination of mountain peaks jutting to the sea with huge waterfalls and plenty of hiking trails. People were everywhere hiking, riding, and kayaking.

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We were fortunate enough to have a weather-perfect day AND our own Over the Top helicopter tour to visit this area. This was seriously a trip of a lifetime.

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While many people do the fly-boat-fly route, we did 4 helicopter landings to unique environments, one better then the next. We actually landed on top of glaciers and by lakes with no one else around.

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A fly by of Mount Cook, the tallest peak, was included. We even had a picnic at Lake Erskine with champagne.

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Dart River Wilderness Safari

We couldn’t leave New Zealand without getting in a jet boat ride and checking out the area of Lord of the Rings and Mission Impossible. On the Dart River Wilderness Safari you get to have tons of fun with a crazy guide getting wet as he spins the boat around in shallow water. Beautiful vistas surround you the whole time.

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Then you go for an hour hike through the Heritage Trail and can sit in the chair made famous from Lord of the Rings. Really cool experience…

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All I can say is if you haven’t been and can ever take the time and afford to go, DON’T HESITATE.

If anyone would like information on any of the activities or companies mentioned, shoot me an email. I’m happy to share.