Something New: South Island
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Queenstown rests on the shores of Lake Wakatipu amidst the massive peaks of the Southern Alps in what is considered one of the most scenic settings in the world. Known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, Queenstown also offers a variety of adrenaline-pumping activities yet also presents a wonderful haven in which to relax. Many visitors also wisely choose Queenstown as a gateway to the magnificent Fiordland National Park.
Akin to Auckland, Queenstown serves as the urban refuge of the South Island. Although quite small with only 15,000 residents, the resort town teems with exciting opportunities. Surrounded by mountains, positioned on the edge of a lake, this adventure hub thrums with adrenaline. Bungy jumping was invented at the Kawarau Bridge – a hair-raising bucket-list item to check off. Even if you’re not a thrill-seeker, a gondola ride to Bob’s Peak offers a breathtaking view. Another crowd-pleasing option is a jetboat excursion on the Dart River, or horse riding through the rolling alpine countryside.
For those wanting to get active in Queenstown, the best neighborhoods to stay in are Fernhill and Arthur’s Point. Both are home to many hotels, as well as outfitters that can arrange adventure tours on land and sea. From a home base in these neighborhoods, you can set up opportunities to go hot air ballooning, bungy jumping, sky diving, parapenting, heli-surfing, river surfing, rock climbing, white-water rafting – or even tour sites where The Lord of the Rings was once filmed. Queenstown makes a truly magical spot from which
FIORDLAND NATIONAL PARK & MILFORD SOUND
This dramatic park never fails to enthrall visitors with powerful waterfalls, snow-capped peaks and stunning fiords. Ancient rainforest clings impossibly to the mountains while shimmering lakes and granite peaks look the same today as they did a thousand years ago. On all sides of the fourteen fiords, spectacular waterfalls are fed by the region’s plentiful rainfall finds. The variety of habitats in Fiordland support plants and animals that are completely unique to the area.
The two most popular destinations within the park are Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. Described by Rudyard Kipling as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” Milford Sound is always spectacular – daily scenic flights and cruises reveal its beauty to visitors. At 1,300 feet, Doubtful Sound is the deepest of New Zealand’s fiords. It’s a haven for nature-lovers and divers, with resident bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and penguins. Of the more famous fiords, Milford Sound is the only one that can be accessed by road.
The majority of Fiordland is covered by Virgin Beech forest, mountain peaks, alpine lakes and moss-covered valleys. The best way to explore the terrain in Fiordland is via the water. Many fiords can be explored by sea kayak, but for more luxurious sightseeing opt for a scenic cruise or scenic flight.
ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK
Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s smallest National Park but remains popular because it is easily accessible. The coastal paradise can be explored from land, on the water, or in the air, with tour operators aplenty offering cruises, water taxi services, kayaking options, heli-tours and sailing catamarans. The stretch of sea and land is still largely undeveloped and unspoiled, making it the perfect destination to experience the best of New Zealand.
Inviting sandy beaches fill the spaces between trees and tide line. Crystal-clear streams tumble down mossy valleys to join the ocean. Granite and marble formations fringe the headlands, which are cloaked in regenerating native forest. Wildlife remains an essential part of the scenery; songbirds fill the forests, little blue penguins dive for their dinner; fur seals lounge on the rocks. For an unforgettable view and hike, head to Te Puketea Bay, a perfect crescent of golden sand, where a walking track leads up Pitt Head to an ancient Māori pa (fort) site.
December through March gives visitors the best weather for hiking and exploring, but the park remains popular year-round and locals often say the best time to go is just before and after peak season. When it comes to activities, the park is most popular for kayaking, long walks across the coast track, canyoning, scuba diving and skydiving.
One last reason the park remains popular is that it serves as an ideal base to explore the country’s Sauvignon Blanc wine region, found on the northern tip of the South Island.
FOX GLACIER AND FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER
The ice age is still underway at Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. Still flowing out almost to sea level, these glaciers are among the easiest to access in the world. A walk is available to the foot of Franz Josef Glacier along the river valley, and Fox Glacier can be viewed from Cook Flat Road. While most would assume glaciers are reserved for only the hardiest travelers, these glaciers can be enjoyed in many ways.
Fox Glacier describes both the glacier and the nearby village. Like its twin, Franz Josef, the glacier descends from the Southern Alps down into temperate rainforest just 1,000 feet above sea level. You can arrange an ice-hiking adventure or book a scenic flight. There are glow worm caves just a short walk from the town center, which also offers a good choice of cafés and restaurants. Also close to Fox Glacier is beautiful Lake Matheson, one of the most photographed lakes in New Zealand.
The Franz Josef Glacier is served by a hospitable town of the same name, but the glacier itself proves a bit more difficult to reach on foot. If you want to actually make contact with the glacier, take a heli-hike or a guided ice walk. Aerial sightseeing is another option. There’s a range of natural attractions in close proximity to Franz Josef Glacier Village, like rainforests, waterfalls, and lakes.
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