Top of the South Island
Bays & Coves – East to West
Scenic – but rugged mountain ranges run down the center of the South Island. There are only a handful of roads that connect east and west, so we plan your itinerary with that in mind. We have traveled these roads and know how long each drive takes, which are more scenic, and what to see and do enroute.
The top coast of the South Island is along Cook Straight, the passageway the Captain Cook noted in his journeys to New Zealand. Two of NZ’s top hiking tracks are here – the Abel Tasman and the more strenuous Queen Charlotte track.
Abel Tasman to the West Coast
We love a guided combo kayaking and hiking tour in the Abel Tasman. For example in a three day tour you will kayak across a turquoise bay, leave the kayak and hike over the headland. At the next beach another kayak awaits, and you paddle across that bay, and so forth. The vegetation along the tracks is lush, and every turn of the trail rewards you with scenic vistas. Accommodation and meals are provided. You can also do an extended tour, or simply kayak or hike on your own. Because this part of the South Island enjoys moderate weather all year around, it is a very popular destination for Kiwi’s.
From here you can fly to your next spot, but the drive southwest to the Tasman is rewarding. Deep canyons, swing bridges, old gold mining country take you to the Tasman Sea. Here you can do some caving or see the famous blowholes at Punakaki.
Queen Charlotte to the East Coast
Queen Charlotte Sound has dozens of small islands. Accommodation varies from simple resort to luxury lodges, and most have boats that pick you up at the Picton ferry or Blenheim airport. Whether you want a serious hike or just a couple of days of relaxation while sipping your morning coffee or afternoon wine, you can have it your way.
From here you can fly to your next spot, or drive to the Pacific coast. Your first stop here is Blenheim, home to perhaps New Zealand’s most well-known wine region, the Marlborough. This area produces by far the largest amount of New Zealand wine. In wine shops in the USA you will see a lot of wine from this area, but it is sometimes called the Brancot area.
A drive or train ride south from Blenheim takes you to Kaikoura – the Maori word for crayfish. NZ’s crayfish are about the size of lobsters in the US – and have been sold here as “New Zealand lobster.” There is a huge drop in the ocean floor just offshore, and whales come in to feed – closely followed by dolphins, including the rare Hector’s dolphin. You are guaranteed to see a whale on a boat excursion here (operated by local maori people) or your money back! And if you are lucky, you will see whales and a dolphin feeding frenzy at the same time! This is one of a few places in the South Island where the local Maori offer land tours to describe their culture and explain it differs from that of the Maori on the North Island. Due to the recent Earthquake in November 2016, Kaikoura is closed for business until further notice. We will update this information at it comes in.