How to Road Trip through the South Island: Part 1

There are not many places in the world where you can visit reflective lakes, world-renowned observatories, desert landscape, rain forests, glaciers, waterfalls, fiords, golden sand beaches, and breath-taking mountain ranges in less than one week. But when visiting the South Island of New Zealand, all of that is possible plus more!

Starting with Christchurch as my base-point, it was a fairly straight and simple route to the first stop of the trip: Lake Tekapo.

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One of the first pictures I had ever really seen of New Zealand was of Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepard with an especially bright star-filled sky as the backdrop. So of course I was over the top ecstatic to finally get to see this place in person! After driving through the foggy and rainy Mackenzie Country for a good two hours, Lake Tekapo appeared out of nowhere.

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Unfortunately the weather was still extremely overcast  when we arrived so the famous mountain backdrop was not visible—but nevertheless it was still incredibly beautiful. Even on a dark and gloomy day the water was still bright blue and the whole area packed with tourists!

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The next morning the weather was much more cooperative, so I decided to go up to the Mt. John Observatory for a 360 degree view of Lake Tekapo and the surrounding Mackenzie Country.

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While there was unfortunately not enough time to stick around until evening and star gaze, the views of the early afternoon were beyond spectacular.

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After an hour of absorbing these remarkable views it was back on the road to hit the next landmark of the trip: Mt. Cook—the highest mountain in New Zealand. On the way out of Tekapo it was mostly the desert landscape of Mackenzie Country.

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Then,as seems to be the pattern when traveling through New Zealand, the scenery drastically changed after turning a corner and Lake Pukaki seemed to have popped out of nowhere!

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I was so taken aback and stunned by the beauty of this alpine lake that a quick pit stop was necessary to take some photos and absorb the beauty of my surroundings.

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Then, it was back in the car to continue the trek to Mt. Cook.  Like most of New Zealand, the drive was full of diverse landscapes.

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And then, just as had happened with Lake Pukaki, Mt. Cook came in to sight from under the layer of clouds. It was massive and it was amazing. With three summits and a glacier on either side, it is no wonder why it is one of the most popular spots for tourists and climbers.

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Wishing there was more time to actually climb Mt. Cook, it was back in the car for third stop of the day: Arrowtown. Once a booming gold mining settlement, this quaint town borders the Arrow River and has a current population of a little over 2,000 people. It is an absolutely charming town, with the Main Street not taking longer than four minutes to walk.

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Arrowtown has done a wonderful job of preserving the history of the town. During the gold rush, many Chinese immigrants came to Arrowtown in search of gold. However, they were shunned from the town and forced to take up camp on the outskirts. The small huts they used to live in are still preserved and it is a humbling experience to walk inside these former homes.

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It was then off to the final stop of the day: Queenstown! I couldn’t really imagine Queenstown surpassing any of the other natural beauties I had seen earlier that day, but when The Remarkables (the name for this mountain range is definitely fitting) came into sight, I actually had to hold back tears because it was so beautiful.

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I don’t think a more perfect setting could have been drawn up for this town, and I fully understood why it was one of the most popular places to visit in New Zealand.  With only 12,500 actual residents, Queenstown sees nearly two million visitors on an annual basis!

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Queenstown is not only popular for the stunning scenery, but also for the nearly 200 adventure activities it has accessible to tourists. One of the most popular, and longest standing activities, is bungee jumping. Opened by AJ Hacket in the 1980’s, Queenstown is home to the first permanent commercial bungee site at the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge.

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So it almost felt mandatory that I take a leap off this bridge. I have always had a fear of heights, but for some reason I jumped off the bridge without any hesitation (with some motivation being that the $190 fee was non-refundable, even if you don’t jump). However, I have never screamed so loud in my entire life. But the adrenaline rush and confidence boost was well worth it and I can honestly say doing that jump has been one of my proudest accomplishments in my life.

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On the way back from bungee jumping I stopped to see the Shotover River. This river is famous for the jet boat you can take up and down the river at full speed. Prince William and Princess Kate have even done it there! But with the rush I had just had from bungee jumping, I was fine sitting this one out.

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I ended the day in Queenstown with a sunset hike and a stunning view of Lake Wakatipu.

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I couldn’t imagine New Zealand getting any more spectacular. Little did I know that the next day would surpass all my expectations.