The vast majority of New Zealand is made up of the North Island and the South Island. Today I'll be talking about my experience in the South Island, the larger of the two.
I had made peace beforehand that, no matter how hard I tried, I wouldn't be able to see everything within a three week time frame. So I booked my flight to Queenstown, bought a bus pass (essential for bus travel through New Zealand), booked a hostel, and set off. In the past 20 days, I made my way from Queenstown to Picton. Along the way, I also visited Arrowtown, Te Anau (and Milford Sound), Wanaka, Franz Josef, Hokitika, and Nelson. It was glorious.
After ten months stuck working in Wellington, and having the country hyped up for ever for me, I had a feeling that maybe, just maybe, I would be underwhelmed with New Zealand. Sure, it would be beautiful. But I've been to plenty of beautiful countries, and everyone seems to think the one they are currently in to be the prettiest. Within 24 hours of beginning my trip, however, I realized how truly misguided my concerns were.
New Zealand really is one of those drop-dead gorgeous countries, the kind where simply looking out the window of a bus can take your breath away. From the first hike I did in Queenstown (where at the peak I was treated to a stunning mountain view of the city), I realized this was going to be a memorable experience.
It was the first bus ride I took, however, where things kicked in full force. We were headed to the South Island's southernmost region, Southland. It was probably the most picturesque drive I've ever been on, with mountains, rolling green hills, and flocks upon flocks of sheep. The experience didn't end there, however. The very next day I took a cruise to Milford Sound, a fjord with countless waterfalls, cliffs, and wildlife. I was very lucky to have great weather during those days; even though I was traveling off-season, I got to see blue skies and crystal clear views.
The South Island is a hiker's paradise. I don't think a week went by without me going on at least two hikes. Some highlights: visiting Franz Josef glacier (which sadly, due to climate change has receded quite a bit in recent years), tracking glowworms at night in a forest, and visiting the famous Pancake Rocks during a bus stop through Punakaiki. There were also scenic lakes in Wanaka and Te Anau, as well as a teal-colored gorge near Hokitika.
There were also some added benefits of traveling off-season. New Zealand tourism can get very busy starting around December time, but I never had trouble booking a bus or finding a bed in a hostel. Prices were a bit lower at this time of year (September), and the dorms were rarely crowded or noisy. A couple of the hostels even served free homemade soup at night! This gave the few of us travelers an opportunity to hang out and be social. Nothing brings people together like free food.
In the next couple weeks I'll be exploring a bit of the smaller, more densely populated North Island. This is the island that has active volcanoes, so that should be fun!
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write music and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.