Te Waipounamo. No I didn’t sneeze. This is the official Māori name for New Zealand’s South Island; although much larger in size than North Island, only 32% of the entire country’s population live on the South Island. The South Island used to have more people, especially during the gold rush of 1860, but after the turn of the century, people slowly started to drift north and in 1911, the North Island had more people living there. That drift north still continues today, so we better get a move on before the South Island becomes a ghost island, so let’s take a look at all the best things to do in New Zealand, or more specifically, the South Island.
The further down below we go the longer we will travel, unless you are departing from Antarctica. According to Google the shortest flights will be connecting flights that take you around a day and a half and will cost you around £1500 or $1900 per person. I’m starting to think that it will cost less and save you a lot of time by tunnelling straight through the centre of the earth and poke your head out of the ground like groundhog, once you’ve reached the South Island. Maybe Elon Musk can come up with a concept tunnel, because his mind seems to have no limits.
Franz Josef Glacier
Situated within the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, Franz Josef is a small town with only 480 residents, one primary school and an awesome glacier, which is the main reason tourists visit the town. Although small, Franz Josef has everything that you will need to make the visit an unforgettable experience; enough room for 2,000 people to stay overnight and plenty to see and do. I mean, how often do you get the chance to visit an actual glacier? The closest I ever came was when I got locked in one of those big walk-in freezers when I was young, but that was kind of disgusting as it was used to store meat. Nothing dampers the mood like a bunch of animal carcasses. For somewhere to stay, you can choose between hotels, camp sites, backpacker rooms or holiday homes.
Rated 9.5 out of 10, Aspen Court in Franz Josef is the perfect place to stay during your visit. They have all the amenities, including free wi-fi and the views are just gorgeous. Just look at the picturesque snow-covered mountains poking out their heads in the picture above. Surrounded by native bushland and beautiful trees, this location would be hard to beat. Just a short 10-min drive from the glacier and literally a hop skip and a jump and you can soak your tired behind in the lovely glacier hot springs, less than a minute’s walk from there.
Costing around £75 or $105 per night for an executive studio room, it includes an en-suite and kitchennette. Some bathrooms even have spa baths and all rooms have underfloor heating. Please don’t blame me if you don’t want to leave again.
After a long day of exploring the glacier, you can either pop into one of the local restaurants for a bite to eat and something stronger than coffee to drink, or you can get some steaks and drinks and have a BBQ in the court yard. This is the perfect way to spend a day with your loved ones, or if you are married, your ball and chain.
For full details and prices for other rooms, please check here.
Glacier Hot Pools
63 Cron Street, Franz Josef Glacier 7886, New Zealand. Just punch in this address into your navigation system and it will direct you straight to a few hours of fun. Not that you will need the address; Franz Josef is quite small and the hot pools are big deal. I don’t think that you will have a problem finding it. First opened in 2008, they have had over 500,000 visitors since then. That’s half a million people, all sharing the same water in a small area. Just keep your eyes and mouth close in case a floater had found its way to you. A stranger’s brown, curly hair on my tongue will be enough to empty my stomach and then there will be more floaters to worry about.
Situated within a natural rain forest, these pools were built around roots and trees to preserve the natural habitat, creating a very unique and relaxing experience for any visitors. They have three private pools and three public pools, where the temperatures range between 36 – 40 degrees and you can even get a massage or something to eat and drink from the cafe.
Open daily from 12:00 – 20:30 and costing around £15 or $19 (NZ$29) per adult for a single entry in the public pools, it might sound a bit pricy, but you’ll be dipping in actual glacier water. Children will pay around £2 or $3 (NZ$4) less. Private pools will set you back around £50 or $80 (NZ$99), but they change the filters after every use, so no floaters to put you off your lunch.
For more pool options and prices, please check here.
Visiting the Glacier
We have slept, we have eaten, we have peed in the relaxing hot pools and now it’s time to make our way over to the actual reason we ventured this far southwest. Appropriately called, New Zealand’s most spectacular glacier, the scenery is… well spectacular and every bit worth the money. One of the steepest glaciers in the country, it also moves an unprecedented 50cm per day, creating some truly magnificent features. You can walk the same path for two days in a row and it will look completely different.
Just a short 10-min drive from Franz Josef, you can get to the glazier in two more ways, by hiking or flying with a helicopter. Going by helicopter will cost you around £250 or $320 (NZ$485) per person and children between the ages of 8 – 16 will cost slightly less. The tour lasts around three hours, with two of those hours spent on the ice. If you don’t like flying, like me, and prefer to walk, a guided tour will cost you around £45 or $70 (NZ$82) and will take you through the rain forest on your way.
Knowledgable tour guides will lead you there and back all the while yammering your heads off and explaining everything that you need to know about glaciers. Remember, that axe in your hand is to make sure that you find your way through the ice without slipping and not to shut up your guide. They also have glacier climbs and overnight stays tour packages available, so please check here for full prices and various packages.
If we have learned anything about New Zealand, it’s that the country is known for its scenery and landscapes and Milford Sound sits at the very top of that list. Voted in 2008 by Tripadviser as the world’s top travel destination, Milford Sound is also New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination with around a million people visiting each year. Rudyard Kipling once called it the eighth Wonder of the World and I can easily see why. Pictures unfortunately won’t do it justice. You would need to go there to see if what we are talking about is really true.
Situated around four hours or 180 mi from Queensland, you can either get on a tour bus or hire a car and drive to Milford Sound. I know, I know. You already flew 75 hours just to get to New Zealand and now I make you drive another four hours, but if you want to see the best, unfortunately this is the only way. Once you’ve reached the town, you can then visit the most famous of all New Zealand’s fiordlands in a few different ways:
Cruise through one of the most beautiful places on earth
The best way to experience the fiordland is by getting out on the water. That means getting on a boat, no matter what the cost. We have not travelled 212 hours just to view it from the sides. No, we are going straight through it; with snow-covered peaks around and icy black water below us, just make sure that you have the biggest memory stick known to mankind in your camera.
Cruises depart throughout the day, but most of them depart in the afternoons to give tourists travelling from Queensland a chance to make it. They are so thoughtful looking after the late sleepers. Choosing the right cruise can be a pain, especially if you are my wife that takes ages just choosing between two things, so it might be worth your while reading up on all the different cruises available, way before going there. Since you are visiting the best of the best, I would suggest doing more than one cruise.
Day cruises typically last around two to three hours and will travel the entire length of the fiord so that you don’t miss anything. The ships will get so close to the surrounding cliffs that you could count the nose hairs on any animals looking on, before turning around where the Tasman Sea is about to start and returning to the wharf. On the way, don’t be surprised if you see Bottlenose dolphins popping up and escorting you on your tour. Tours start from around £65 or $90 (NZ$129) per person, which I don’t think is too much, considering what you’ll be seeing.
Cruises typically follow the route in the picture above and past the following sites:
Lady Bowen Falls – At 531 ft, this waterfall is the tallest in Milford Sound and named after the wife of one of the first governors in the country. This waterfall also generates electricity for the town, which makes it not only beautiful to see, but also quite useful. Two birds.
Sinbad Gully – A valley in the shape of a ‘U’, formed by the surrounding peaks, is also where scientists discovered the kakapo bird in the 1970’s, previously thought extinct.
Mitre Peak – Created by five peaks all together, this is the most iconic site in Milford Sound and rises around 5,500 ft high. At its summit it looks like a bishop’s mitre or hat, giving it its name. I suppose that seeing these rock formations is kinda like lying on your back and looking at the clouds above. You need to use your imagination and if you don’t know what a bishop’s hat looks like, consult our old friend, Google.
Fairy Falls and bridal veil falls – More waterfalls. As some of natures most spectacular sites, you can never have enough waterfalls and I have never heard anyone saying that they have seen enough waterfalls.
And that’s not all
Stirling Falls – Ok, yet more waterfalls and now we might have seen enough. Would be good to see something else, Jaco said rolling his eyes. Just kidding as this waterfall drops an impressive 480 ft from a valley between two mountains.
Seal rock – As the name suggests, you will cruise past a rock full of New Zealand fur seals catching a few z’s in the sun. And yes, they can poop and you will smell it.
The Lion – Here the name will not suggest a rock full of real lions. Instead, this peak kinda looks like a lion. And no, it doesn’t poop and you won’t smell it.
The Tasman Sea – Our last stop before returning to the wharf. Sorry, but it’s all over.
Starting in the late afternoon after all other cruises have finished, you will cruise the same way, but will get to sit down for a buffet dinner, before getting to marvel at the stars above and then retiring to your own cabin for a peaceful sleep. In the morning you will be woken up by the smell of a delicious breakfast, before they take you back to the wharf and kick you to the kerb.
Other ways to see the fiordland
Hike – If you like walking and nature and know how to read a map, you can hike the fiordland.
Swimming – I’m not sure it is allowed, but if you want to try it, go for it.
Canoeing – You can hire a canoe or kayak and get real close and personal with the water and dolphins. But I need to caution you; these dolphins are not horses, so stay in your canoe!
Helicopter and coach-cruise flights – Coach-cruise flights take off from Queensland and fly to Milford sound and also the other way around, enabling you to view the fiordland in all its magnificent glory. Helicopter flights take off from Milford Sound and can include landing on glaciers.
For full details and prices for all available tours and cruises, please check here.
And that is it for the South Island. We have made it all the way across New Zealand and now it’s time to travel the 350 hours back to where you came from. Good luck with that and safe travels. And you know about sharing this page with everyone you know… it’s a good thing, for everyone. 🙂
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