Like all Kiwis, we love our backyard and reckon you will too. The New Zealand Southern Alps and surrounds offer an amazing natural environment that makes it so easy to get right into the heart of the outdoors and enjoy easygoing activity in that famous New Zealand scenery. Add to that a unique and colourful history, a burgeoning food culture and genuinely friendly people you've got all the ingredients for the trip of a lifetime.
Over the past 14 years, I have been planning and guiding outdoor experiences in the great New Zealand outdoors so have learnt a lot about what kind of experiences people enjoy and lots of local secrets that add so much to travel memories. The challenge for people visiting for a limited time is to find the best walks and build them into a travel itinerary that suits you. This list is the product of these years of guiding and listening to guest feedback, we are trying to bottle the best of the South Island and package them together in one active easy going fully guided itinerary. So here's our take on the best of New Zealand's South Island, all of which can be enjoyed in a leisurely 11 - 13 day itinerary of the South Island.
1. Arthur's Pass and Castle Hill, Canterbury.
Amazing high country only a 2 hour drive from the international airport, a real alpine national park with great hiking trails and a world renowned alpine train experience - there aren't too many places in the world that can say that. Some great characters in local history too.
2. The Nile River Caves in Paparoa National Park.
Surely one of the most natural glowworm caving experiences anywhere on the planet and you'd be hard pressed to find a more idyllic spot than nearby Punakaiki. We're not sure why but think it's got something to do with the native Nikau Palms and white sandy beaches!
3. Glacier Country, Westland.
South West New Zealand world heritage area - The native bird haven of Okarito lagoon followed by the ice world of Fox glacier makes for a pretty memorable 24 hours. The drive south and over the Haast Pass looks like a perfect place to shoot car commercials.
4. The Southern Lakes - Wanaka, Hawea, Wakatipu & Te Anau.
It's hard to imagine that these huge lakes were carved from the rock by a river of ice hundreds of metres thick, but that's what happened. To give you an idea of how impressive these lakes are, the longest is 80km (50 miles) from end to end! The roadside views alone will be worth sending home to the family but we really rate the high country of Mount Aspiring National Park and the Lake Wanaka district for some great walking with picture postcard photo opportunities around every corner.
5. The Routeburn Track, Mt Aspiring National Park.
One of New Zealand's great walks, the Routeburn offers what we think is the best one day walk anywhere in New Zealand, from Routeburn road end to Routeburn Falls. Don't be surprised if the views around the head of Lake Wakatipu make you feel every so slightly Hobbitish, this is real Lord of the Rings country!
6. Milford Track & Milford Sound.
We should also mention the Milford road, a journey you won't forget in a hurry - for all the right reasons. The added bonus of hiking Milford Track from the 'wrong' end is visiting Milford Sound before we hike - Milford Track and Milford Sound in the same day, we like the sound of that.
7. Martins Bay and the Hollyford Track.
Martins Bay, on the Tasman Sea at the end of the Hollyford Valley, is one of those special places on earth and somewhere we think you'll remember for a long time. Wildlife up close, a real 'Wild West' history and the untouched Hollyford valley make this real New Zealand and one place we think you must visit!
8. Mt Cook and Lake Tekapo.
The glaciers and peaks of Mount Cook National Park were the training ground for Sir Edmund Hillary and have a deserved spot right in the heart of New Zealand life. The perfect backdrop for great days hiking in Mount Cook, right at the foot of Aoraki, the cloud piercer. One hour away, is Tekapo, the home to Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve and a night sky the likes you have never seen before awaits.
In a country like ours, it's no easy task recommending where you should go when on your New Zealand vacation, but we are sure that if you are looking for real travel experiences, not just a whistle stop tour of famous landmarks, then you'll love these 'bucket list' hiking destinations.
For more information on New Zealand travel itineraries including these bucket list hiking areas, please contact us now, we'd love to hear from you. New Zealand Trails operates small group guided tour including some of New Zealand's best hiking trails, iconic Kiwi activities with all the comforts of home. For more information about our tours please visit us at: http://newzealandtrails.com/