New Zealand has 2 main islands, North island and South island. In this opportunity, I decided to visit the New Zealand South island, because of my interest in nature which this island can offer. The easiest way to start your journey in this island is by flying to one of the main city Christchurch. I start my journey by renting a car at the airport, and since this is summer time, it would be advisable to make the booking couple of months in advance, so that you can get the car type that fit you.
I decided to stay at the motel close to downtown (Centrepoint on Colombo Motel), this is useful to fix my jet-lag by minimizing the driving time during the first day here and can save energy to prepare the long drive the next day. To start the journey I visited this new mall/shopping center Re:START mall, this mall is basically consist of colorful shipping container which they arrange it in a way and make it a shopping store. The concept is basically born after the devastating earthquake in February 2011. This is a great place to start because of the many offering from local food stall, groceries and many local brand for clothes or accessories and even gift shop for local products.
Not enough with the view yet? I made a side trip to one of the coolest cafe and also one which located at the highest elevation cafe called ‘Astro Cafe’. The road up there is a bit steep with narrow winding road, so be careful while you drive. But, it was a very rewarding visit, you can order your drink from coffee, tea or even their famous ice cream and sit outside. While sipping your tasty coffee you can feel the breezy air touching your face and looking down to the panoramic view of Lake Tekapo, truly amazing experience. If you like astronomy thing and clear weather, you can approach Mt. John observatory staff and have a look at one of their telescope. I have a chance to look at the sun with many sun storm/flares occurring at that moment which normally causing Aurora at night.
The second beautiful lake before reaching Mt. Cook is Lake Pukaki, the famous thing here is of course the view another thing is the fresh salmon (Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon). It was one of the freshest salmon one can get, because of the clean and non-polluting glacial lake water where this salmon was being farmed. Try their sashimi/raw salmon pair with the soy sauce and wasabi, you can taste the firm, flexible, moist and rich in nutrition salmon flesh.
There are many lookout along the way from Lake Pukaki to Mt. Cook national park which you should stop and look at the view though, one stand out is Peters Lookout. Here is your chance to get a postcard photo of Mt. Cook with its snow capped peak.
After I arrived at the National Park and then check in to the hotel. Since there are not many options to choose from I decided to stay at The Hermitage but the motel section so that you can be close to the nature. But, if you are city person, make sure you book their hotel side, because at night there will be many bugs or sandfly that might get inside the motel room. The view here is definitely magnificent, you are very close to the tall mountain with snow capped, it will be a once in a lifetime experience to everyone who stay here. Because of the remote area and very little light pollution, this can be a perfect place to do star gazing at night.
From Mt. Cook, I head South to Queenstown. It took around 3-4 hours without stopping. This is basically another tourist city and a great place to do some shopping eat at nice restaurant and do several activities like cruising the Lake Wakatipu. Make sure to visit one of the famous cookies in New Zealand ‘Cookie Time’ which can be a great snack and also gift for you to bring back home.
From Queenstown you can visit another great tourist town Wanaka, which located 1 hour drive. The town located just right around Lake Wanaka, so you will have great view of the lake from any corner of the town. There are many different vantage point for everyone to rest and enjoying many great landscape view along the road.
One of the Highlight from the trip will be visiting town of Te Anau. This is a very laid back town but with many offering. This town is the only gateway to the famous natural wonders Milford Sound. From Te Anau to the Milford Sound Visitor center, took around 2-3 hours, but please make sure to drive carefully since there might be many one-lane bridge, narrow road and also going through Homer tunnel. Make sure you are fit and concentrate throughout the drive. Even though the drive is difficult, but the view along the road is magnificent, so keep in mind to stop at the safe spot in order to avoid any accident or blocking other car view or way. I took one of the cruise boat tour which circling around the Milford Sound and also getting close to one of the permanent waterfalls ‘Stirling Falls’ and experience the water splash up close. Don’t missed out the ‘mirror lake’ where the water is very clear and create mirror illusion of their surrounding. As a reminder, make sure you put bug repellent or wear covered clothes, because the sandfly at Milford Sound area is very bad.
New Zealand South island is truly the place for everyone who loves nature. From this trip even though I have a chance to visit many places, but I think everyone who wants to visit needs to spare more time to explore each and every town and cities and also take it slowly. So that you can really explore everything without spending too much time wasted in driving.