After a 3.5 hour ferry from Wellington, we finally arrived in the scenic South Island. At this point in the Kiwi Experience we had formed a hilarious, hodge-podge family that consisted of:
- Iris, 21, Dutch, “the (usually) responsible mom”;
- José, 23, Dutch, “rebellious daughter number 1”;
- Josine, 24, Dutch, “rebellious daughter number 2”;
- Max, 24, Dutch, “the pampered younger brother”; and
- Michael and Alie, 26, American, “the fun aunt and uncle”.
The family of once strangers (otherwise known as the “Dutchies and the Honeymooners”) spent significant time together from our daily adventures hiking and bus riding to wild nights playing Pictionary and celebrating the Jewish holidays, making our time in New Zealand infinitely more fun (and more Dutch).
During our second week on the Kiwi Experience, we explored:
- Abel Tasman, where (after our plans to spend a night in the park were scuttled when we arrived on the first day of off season) we spent the day hiking in the gorgeous, beach side park. We dipped in and out of the ocean as we made our way up to beautiful Anchorage Bay, then explored an opening on the beach that appears only during the 2-hourlong low tide.
- Westport & Lake Mahinapua, where, despite limited time, we explored the nearby ocean & lake vistas. In Lake Mahinapua we participated in a strange but amazing Kiwi Experience tradition of the “Pu Pub Fancy Dress Party” (aka costume party in NZ lingo).
- Franz Joseph, where, caught in a serious downpour, we decided to host a Passover Seder. After a day of scraping together matzoh ball soup, a Seder plate and charoset (in addition to a full meal of chicken, fish & vegetables), with the limited options available in the small-town supermarket, we recounted the story of Passover and said the prayers alongside our Dutch friends, who enjoyed their first ever Seder. The next day in picture perfect weather (God must have appreciated our Passover efforts) – Alie clipped on crampons and helicoptered out onto Franz Joseph Glacier and Michael and the rest of the family admired a perfect mirror reflection of Mount Cook on Lake Matheson.
- Wanaka, where we enjoyed what felt like perfect, crisp New York autumn days by summiting Mount Iron covered in yellow & red fall foliage and admiring fresh fruits and vegetables at Mrs. Jones Family Orchard.
After two weeks on the Kiwi Experience, we arrived in Queenstown and said goodbye to our busmates with one final night out in the beautiful lake-side city. Although sad to depart our Dutch family, we were ecstatic to pick up our campervan for a 10-day solo tour through the Southern Alps and Fjordland.
Things To Do:
- Abel Tasman is a must-see National Park. The park sits alongside miles and miles of coastline, with countless beaches, vistas and swimming spots to enjoy. During high season, it’s possible to spend several nights in the park in huts, campsites or a catamaran hostel in Anchorage Bay. We highly recommend multiples days in the Park, which will allow you to see & hike more.
- The stretch of west coast between Abel Tasman and Franz Joseph is beautiful, but we didn’t find it as jaw dropping as we had been led to believe (maybe the stunning beauty of Patagonia and Bolivia has made us numb). There are plenty of beach-side towns along the way that offer scenic pullout points (such as the Pancake Rocks), short hikes and activities (including surfing). The Cape Foulwind coastal walk outside of Westport was stunning.
- Franz Joseph itself is a small town with not much to offer, BUT a helicopter ride or skydive over the nearby glaciers are 100% worth the steep pricetag. Make sure to make a pitstop at Lake Matheson as you head farther south – the perfect mirror lake is quite the site to see.
- The lakes region between Franz Joseph and Queenstown has some stunning scenery, accompanied by what are supposed to be beautiful hikes. To us, this was the start of the beauty we had heard all about in New Zealand. Make sure to take time driving & stopping through this stretch near Wanaka to take it all in.
- If you’re in Queenstown on a Monday, Friday or Saturday night, The World Bar has an awesome vibe complete with a live band, a cozy fireplace and delicious smelling mulled wine.
Accommodations & Transportation: Same advice as found in our “New Zealand – North Island” post.
Days Stayed / Recommended: We will spend a total of about 3 weeks on the South Island, and that is not nearly enough. The Kiwi Experience offered us a brief overview of the Island thus far, and we’ve lost count of the number of places we would like to spend more time in. With limited time we would recommend a minimum of 3 days in Abel Tasman, 2 in Franz Joseph and 2 in Wanaka to even skim the surface (and that doesn’t include the rest of the South Island).
Local Food: We enjoyed a solid meal of fish and chips in Abel Tasman, this staple has been available throughout our time in NZ. If you are in Queenstown, we have one word for you: Fergburger. This famous burger joint certainly lived up to its reputation as we chowed down on a Big Al (not going to lie we went more than once in 12 hours…).