New Zealand · Travel

South of the South 

We did a pretty stellar roadtrip down to the bottom of the South Island. There were so many things we got to see and do – we wrote down some of the highlights of our trip!

Lake Pukaki:

This was our first stop… We arrived at dark and were bummed that it was too cloudy to see the stars, which are supposed to be killer- but when we woke up the next day we got an awesome view of the lake. On our way out we saw an elaborate film crew setting up to shoot (they had even built their own dock for the scene) we still haven’t figured out what they were filming!

Mt. Cook Village:

The weather in Mt. Cook was mystic and cool, but a bit too rainy and cloudy for what we had planned to do. We decided to take a few shorter hikes instead of one big long one. We each only have one pair of shoes and didn’t want them to get too wet! At first we were pretty bummed, but at the tail end of our walk to the Tasman Glacier, we got to see a bit of blue skies. And it’s hard to complain when the view is so stunning.


Nestled beside a massive lake, Wanaka was a seriously neat township. We camped just outside of town and took a day to explore the downtown, spending some time by the lake and checking out the famous “Wanaka Tree”.

We also took a day detour to go the the Blue Pools. Where Alec impressed a group of fellow travelers by making the jump into the icy blue water.

The next morning we woke up incredibly early, (3:50am to be exact) set on seeing the sunrise from the top of Roy’s Peak. We had met a Canadian couple who were down to go with us, so we picked them up and started the trek up with our headlamps. Hiking in the dark isn’t too bad when you have a clear night and the Milky Way above you. Seriously though- the stars were unreal. Two and half hours later, with 5 steep miles behind us- we made it to the top. We then spent a long 40 minutes shivering while awaiting the arrival of the sun. The whole way down the mountain we were in awe of how incredible the view was. Totally worth the early start.


One of the big things we knew we wanted to do in Queenstown was the Nevis Swing. So much so in fact, that we had already bought and booked our tickets before we got there! We took a bus ride about 45 minutes out of town to the Shotover Canyon. The bungee and swing are both based off suspended cable cars. The Swing was a blast. There is a momentary free fall right at the start- Alec may have briefly thought they screwed something up and this was the end.

The rest of the day we spent wandering around the city center, thoroughly enjoying the constant stream of paraponters floating down from the sky. The sunset over the lake was probably even better from their viewpoint.

The next day was equally as exciting, because our friend Gaby flew down to join our roadtrip! We picked her up from the airport and headed for a drive around the Glenorchy area, where we had coffee and breakfast at the cafe. When we were all full we went for a bit of a hike and a swim at Moke Lake. It was beautiful, and also full of sandflies…. so we made a quick exit once we’d dried off.

We had dinner and drinks in town, and then spent the evening catching up with Gaby’s cousins.

The next day we loaded up on groceries and had a legendary New Zealand Fergburger. Tip: Call ahead! We only had to wait 20 minutes while the line to order was backed up to the street!  

Photo by the lovely Gaby Rutherford

Milford Sound:

Our day started early as we stayed two hours away in Te Anau. Shoutout to Audrey for letting us camp in her driveway!

We arrived in time for our 9am cruise…. excited to see Milford and excited for the free breakfast and unlimited coffee awaiting us on the boat (Alec took full advantage… with a final count of 5 cups).

We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we got there. For NZ$50 we thought we might end up on a fairly small boat, and were shocked to find out that the largest boat on the dock was ours. We actually did a double check at the front counter because we thought we must have gotten the number wrong. We got the full hour and forty-five minute cruise and the breakfast was fantastic.

Amenities aside, the cruise itself was unbelievable. We spent the majority of the time on the top deck, ogling at the massive rock cliffs on either side of us. It was cloudy and misty… but that only added to the unreal feeling of being amidst the fjord (Fun fact: A sound is created by water, but Milford was created by glaciers- which makes it a fjord). We even passed a pod of friendly dolphins who were eager to impress the crowd they attracted. We got up close and personal with a waterfall when our talented captain steered the boat right into the spray- he claimed that the mist gives you youth… we’re still waiting for the effects to kick in.

While we wouldn’t usually be the type to hop on a cruise – we couldn’t be happier with it as our way to experience Milford.

We made a few stops on our way out, for some short walks to pretty sights. And just before we left through the tunnel, a few Kia were kind enough to say hello.

The Catlins:

We weren’t sure what to expect in the Catlins. It was highly suggested by a few friends, so we put it on the list of important stops.

Probably one of the coolest places we went was Slope Point. The sign speaks for itself.

We drove through rolling green hills with herds of sheep grazing. It seemed that every hill we topped gave view to another stunning bay, with rocky shorelines and crashing waves.

We camped for two days, both of which were quite wet.

We made it a point to visit a few waterfalls on the way through- because we’re suckers for a good waterfall. McClean was poetic and a bit more remote, while Purakaunui was impressive- if quite crowded with tourists.

McClean Falls
Purakaunui Falls

Our last stop on our way up to Dunedin was Nugget Point and Lighthouse. It sits on a rock outcropping- at the end of a path that winds its way atop a sloping hillside. The lighthouse was unfortunately gated off, but there was a perfectly placed lookout that gave view to the rocks below and the coastline behind.  Warning: There is a likely chance that after seeing this sight, you will have a strong craving for chicken nuggets. 


When we got to Dunedin we headed straight for the Peninsula. We stopped Sandfly Bay and thought we’d go see New Zealand’s only castle. But when we got to the gate we decided it wasn’t quite worth the $15 entry fee. So off we went to the worlds steepest residential street. Yes, this beats out Lombard street!

Before we even got out of the car we witnessed the most impressive feat of driving we had ever seen. A tour bus driver manager to turn around his bus, as well as attached trailer, all without even taking out the power pole! We did notice a small love tap from the trailer when the bus passed by…. whoops!

Baldwin street is steep- can confirm.

After that we decided to visit Cadbury World- Molly was particularly stoked about this stop. We got a tour of New Zealand’s only Cadbury factory, the sole producer of Pineapple Lumps and Jaffas. The factory is set to close later this year, much to the disappointment of pretty much the entire country. We left with an enlightened knowledge of chocolate, and tummy’s full of it as well.

Our final stop of the day was Tunnel Beach. We mistakenly assumed that it was named for the large rock tunnel. In fact we nearly missed the true namesake- a small tunnel stairway dug into the cliffside- taking you down to the waterfront. I guess someone really wanted to get down to the water. We had the beach to ourselves and a dusky sunset to go with it. We were tiny dots on a landscape of massive rocks.

We stayed with Gaby’s friend Kate, (thanks Kate!) and spent the evening chatting over a fast food dinner.

The next morning we had coffee in the octagon, before spending two hours wandering the museum. We also attended a 3D showing in the planetarium. All of us agreed that it was probably the best we’ve seen. Exhausted from all of our learning, we grabbed another coffee before meeting up with Kate for a delicious Italian dinner- curtesy of Gaby’s dad, Mark (thanks Mark!).

After dinner Kate took us to the Dunedin secret that is the Rob Roy Dairy. Where we got massive ice cream cones for a whopping $2.20. That’s cheap for New Zealand by the way.

Dunedin is mostly known for being a college town, but it has a lot of culture as well. There is a youthful atmosphere, alongside a rich history. Stunning cathedrals sit next to trendy cafes, and it gives a unique feel to the town. Alec and I both agreed that we would love to spend more time in Dunedin, next time we’re in New Zealand.

The last stop we made on our way back to Christchurch was to see the Moeraki Boulders. They’re widely known because they’re round. But like… really round.

All together our roadtrip took 10 days, loads of petrol and lots of laughing. We were so glad Gaby was able to come along as well.

If you ever make it to the South Island, don’t forget to visit the bottom part. It may be a journey to get there, but it’s well worth the time.


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