What to do in New Zealand - South Island
Before taking the ferry to Wellington, capitol of New Zealand, we head for Cape Palliser. The area is home to thousands of seals. Today, it's not them we've come to see, but the Putangirua Pinnacle, the mountain of tortured stone columns where the heroes of The Lord of the Rings took the Paths of the Dead. What a memory!
A new world opens up when the ferry drops us off at the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island. More than just a region, an entire country opens up to us.
Traversing South Island
People often rent a motor home to visit South Island. It's very well-equipped for this, and the journey is 100% supervised. I'll tell you all about South Island in a motor home one of these days, starting with a visit to the must-see Abel Tasman National Park, which offers an exceptional five-day adventure in the middle of its unspoiled wilderness. But this time, I invite you to continue our journey... by train. Yes, that's right! ;)
The Coastal Pacific
This daily train links Christchurch to Picton in six hours and fifteen minutes (during the summer months of December to April only), crossing mountains and valleys through 22 tunnels and across 175 bridges. You won't leave your window during the entire trip due to the series of remarkable landscapes, including the Kaikoura Peninsula chain, the Pacific Ocean, where whales and sea lions swim, and the Canterbury Plains.
Several stops are scheduled, including one at Blenheim for a visit to the vineyards, as well as Seddon, Kaikoura, Mina, Waipara and Rangiora. It's an outstanding sensory experience.
With its lively shopping streets, strolls along the Avon River, parks, street art, old tramway and dozens of activities and attractions, Christchurch is an extremely charming town. But what we're interested in here is the train station where you can catch the TranzAlpine. It's the most popular line in New Zealand and perhaps the most beautiful one in the world.
It links Christchurch to Greymouth in five hours with a route through the Southern Alps. The route is truly extraordinary and includes the landscapes of Arthur's Pass National Park and a panoramic view from the top of the Staircase Viaduct, crossing the Waimakariri River. Upon arrival, you'll have earned a tasting of one of New Zealand's most iconic beers, the famous Monteith.
Before heading south to Dunedin, we'll visit Akaroa, the most French of New Zealand's villages with its street names and bakeries. Croissants in hand, we'll head for the seaside to try and spot a Hector's dolphin, the world's smallest and rarest. What a trip!
The Taieri Gorge
From Christchurch to Dunedin, no train, but a seven-hour journey on a magnificent road along the ocean. Almost the entire way, Mount Aoraki (aka Mount Cook), the island's highest peak at 3,724 meters, watches over us from the other side of South Island.
Before Palmerston, we'll stop at Koekohe Beach, where we'll find some amazing spherical rocks known as the Moeraki Boulders. Extra-terrestrial structures? They're actually eroded calcite deposits. Magnificent, at any rate.
In addition to the appeal of Dunedin, a city with a Scottish flavor, both in terms of its architecture and the warmth of its inhabitants, it's also the departure point for the third train of our trip. It's a panoramic train that takes you to the Taieri River Gorges, an excursion of approximately four hours. The Dunedin railway station is one of the most photographed buildings in the country. Before departing, we'll warm up our legs on Baldwin Street. Why here? It's the steepest street in the world!
The trip is a memorable parade of varied and spectacular landscapes. If you wish, you can get off at Pukerangi and take a bus to Queenstown, approximately 4 hours away. Coming here and not seeing the "Queen's City"? Unthinkable! Located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is a beautiful city that's renowned among hikers and sports enthusiasts of all kinds.
A cruise to finish it all off
After spending some time on the east coast with a visit to the Otago vineyards and their famous pinot noirs, our trip soon comes to an end with a cruise in the Milford Sound fjord, perhaps the most beautiful natural jewel that New Zealand has to offer.
We'll begin our ascent from the town of Queenstown via the West Coast Road, a must-see for admiring the region's glaciers, including the Fox (Te Moeka o Tuawe) and the Franz Joseph (Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere in Māori). Totally unexpected in the midst of a lush forest. Hiking tours and helicopter flights are also available. Captivating!
Our travels conclude. It's always with a heavy heart that we leave Aotearoa, its national parks and charming towns, South Island and North Island. Fortunately, Air Tahiti Nui regularly offers special deals. I won't let the next one pass me by, and I've already planned our next trips, including hikes to Lake Putaki and Lake Tekapo, a road trip (by bike and on a budget) in Abel Tasman National Park and the vineyards of the Marlborough region.