See the stunning and surreal on New Zealand's South Island

  • Clouds sailing over Lake Wakatipu

    The South Island of New Zealand lives up to its reputation as an outdoor-lover's wonderland. The road to Glenorchy from Queenstown is just one of a myriad of highlights, taking in windswept Lake Wakatipu and a fabulous mountain paradise behind it.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Wild lenticulars over Tasman Lake

    The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, "the land of the long white cloud," quite fitting given some of the amazing weather that comes roaring in from Antarctica and the Cook Strait. UFO-like lenticular clouds seen here over Tasman Lake near Mount Cook foretell of a coming storm over the Southern Alps.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Sheep farms dot the idyllic central hills of the South Island

    New Zealand does get stereotyped for its pastoral landscapes with rolling hills and plenty of dairy and sheep farms, and yes, the center of the South Island does feature plenty of them, but there is much, much more.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Camping under Mount Earnslaw

    Many visitors now come to explore famous spots that have been featured in the various Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, with New Zealand standing in for J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. One of the most magical locations in The Hobbit was filmed at an endless array of waterfalls set under mighty Mount Earnslaw. You can now reach this point via helicopter tours, or else do it the harder and more rewarding way, by hiking in on the tough Earnslaw Burn Track, and having a slice of Middle-earth all to yourself.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Admiring the view at Lake Tekapo

    Lakes feature prominently in the South Island landscape. Lake Tekapo is one of the most beautiful, with emerald water and its iconic Church of the Good Shepherd set up above the lake

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Milky Way and star trails over the Church of the Good Shepherd

    Visitors don't just come to Tekapo for the day views though, as the area is renowned for being one of the premier places in the world for stargazing, as it's completely free of light pollution. Known as an International Dark Sky Reserve, there's an observatory here that offers night tours, and it's a great place for seeing the Milky Way.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Camping under the galaxy

    It's not just Lake Tekapo that offers nighttime brilliance, and there are plenty of other spots to look for constellations and enjoy a night under the stars. Moke Lake near Queenstown is another great choice, with a wonderful Department of Conservation campsite set next to a beautiful lake ringed by mountains. The best scenery starts after sunset though.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Mount Cook rises above Lake Pukaki

    Lake Pukaki is another gem, a large alpine lake in the Mackenzie Basin that sits right in front of Mount Cook. Also known as Aoraki, it's the highest peak in New Zealand at 3,724 meters. The mountain gets hammered by storms from the Tasman Sea throughout the year and getting to the summit requires proficient mountaineering experience.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Lake Hawea from Isthmus Peak

    Alpine lakes and mountains figure prominently throughout the South Island, and some of the best are found in the region around Wanaka. Lake Hawea is a 392-meter-deep gorgeous, turquoise gem that is best admired from various lookouts on the road that runs alongside it, or even better, from high vantage points found when climbing up the Isthmus Peak Track.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Lake Wanaka from Roys Peak

    Lake Wanaka is also extremely scenic, and one of the country's most popular hikes, the famed Roys Peak Track, gives trekkers a bird's-eye view of the surroundings. You'll be able to see all the way to Mount Aspiring and take in all of the alpine vistas.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Moody time at Lake Wanaka

    Wanaka's biggest claim to fame is its lone willow tree that sits in the water just off the shore. After a New Zealand photographer's shot was named New Zealand Geographic's photo of the year, hordes of photographers began to descend on the willow, and today it's world-famous. The tree even has its own hashtag and Facebook page.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Beautiful, sweeping Tautuku Bay

    Besides mountains and lakes, the South Island is also blessed with some fantastic coastline. The Catlins, an area in the far south, sees few visitors and is a best-kept secret, with spots like Tautuku Bay offering miles of deserted sand and sea.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Bent trees at Slope Point

    Antarctic winds have nothing to stop them between Antarctica and Slope Point, the most southern spot of the South Island. Known as The Roaring Forties (for being at 40 degrees in latitude), the winds here flatten everything in their path, hence the trees being surreally bent.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Water magic at McLean Falls

    The Catlins are also home to lots of waterfalls, with a constant mix of cascades and lush landscape found everywhere. McLean Falls on the Tautuku River are one of the best, easily accessed by a short hike up from the car park.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Sea lions enjoying some play

    Along the coast in the Catlins is where you'll find plenty of marine wildlife. Rare yellow-eyed penguins can be spotted, fur seals, and colonies of sea lions come into many of the bays and beaches along the coast. While seals and sea lions can become aggressive if you come too close, you really don't have to worry in New Zealand about dangerous wildlife, as there are almost no poisonous or menacing large mammals that you'd find elsewhere in the wilderness. You do have to put up with pesky sandflies though, which come out in droves after rain.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Kea in the forest

    You also might spot a kea while traveling here, the world's only alpine parrot. Once an abundant pest (kea are noted for stealing shiny things in camps, attacking the rubber on windshield wipers and other such annoyances), they are now endangered and protected under a wildlife act.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Milford Sound from Gertrude Saddle

    Perhaps the best scenery is found in Fiordland, set in the wet southwest, where the mountains fall into the sea. The world-famous Milford Sound is found at the end of a stunning drive along the Milford Road, which offers abundant possibilities to stop and hike. One of the best views of the Milford Sound is seen from high above on the Gertrude Saddle Track.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Walking under Mount Christina, Mount Crosscut and Mount Lyttle

    You'll also find access here to the Key Summit and Routeburn Track, known as one of the country's Great Walks. Stunning alpine vistas can be had on all sides, and the tracks are easy to navigate, with plenty of novice hikers getting some great taste of the high country without too much effort.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Sunrise at Moeraki Boulders

    Heading back towards Christchurch along the Otago coast, most visitors will want to stop at the Moeraki Boulders, a group of large boulders that lie in a line along Koekohe Beach. The unique rocks are said to have taken over 4 million years to form, and Maori legend says that they are the remains of a wrecked sailing canoe. They are particularly atmospheric at high tide, reflecting on the water.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Christchurch's Cardboard Cathedral

    You'll undoubtedly start and finish your South Island journey in Christchurch, which is home to wonderful galleries, restaurants and cafes, along with a novel earthquake-art reconstruction scene. After the disastrous 2011 earthquake, which damaged much of the city center, many projects were launched as memorials or bright symbols of rebuilding. One of the more iconic ones is the Cardboard Cathedral, designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who is known as a "disaster architect." Made of cardboard tubes and shipping containers, the church was a temporary replacement for the damaged St. John's the Baptist Church, but has remained ever since.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Punting on the Avon

    You can also enjoy Christchurch's plentiful green spaces, relaxing with an age-old tradition of punting on the Avon River. The river flows through several parks through the city, offering a leisurely way to tour the town. One of the largest is Hagley Park where you'll find the Botanic Gardens, as well as the Canterbury Museum, located in a historic heritage building and full of informative displays on the past, present and future of Christchurch and Canterbury.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • A classy finish to a great trip at The George

    Located just off of Hagley Park and a short walk from all the top sights in town, why not treat yourself to a fitting ending to your South Island sojourn by checking in at The George? A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, they've been New Zealand's leading boutique hotel for many years in a row. The hotel features elegant suites, snazzy fine dining and impeccable service, allowing you to relax and reflect on a marvelous journey.

    Photo courtesy of The George Hotel


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