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Kiwi Experience South Island Tour: Otago & Canterbury

tall mountain in new zealand fjord

Moving away from the West Coast, I continued my Kiwi Experience South Island tour as we headed towards Wanaka, and onwards to Queenstown. There’s a lot of hype about this destination dubbed the backpacker capital. Let’s see how it lived up to expectations, and how we spent the rest of our time visiting “the 8th Wonder of the World” Milford Sound, Lake Tekapo, and ending up in the delightful city of Christchurch!

Kiwi Experience South Island

Day 1 – Queenstown

A beautiful drive through Haast Pass and towards the looming Remarkables, we arrived into Queenstown and wasted no time in getting out and about by way of a bar crawl and BBQ. Queenstown is the ultimate backpacker destination, so we were never short of a conversation with new and friendly people. Queenstown bars are lively, busy, and full of booze and boogie-ing. While it was a fun change of pace, it was about now that I had a few more serious considerations in my mind regarding future plans, travel finances, and the usual travel of a shoestring worries. We’ve all been there and it just means taking a time out for yourself and carefully thinking things through. You’ll figure it out with the support of other travellers giving their wise advice and comfort!

For me this meant a day of meditation by the lake in the sunshine, completing some much needed washing and running some errands (it’s so sad how excited we get over laundry), before walking around town and enjoying more glorious weather by the lake. It’s important to have a relaxing day when you get the chance, recharging your batteries will allow for more exciting adventures to come.

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Driving through Haast Pass

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Lake Wakatipu

Day 2 – Milford Sound

Milford is one of the activities everyone absolutely recommends you do, and no one fully explains why. The self proclaimed “8th wonder of the world” is indeed, ridiculous beautiful and awe-inspiring. Up early for a very long drive into Fiordland National Park, through Te Anau as our last proper stop for breakfast, we drove through the Homer Tunnel and into the Valley of 1000 Waterfalls, past mirror lakes and even more mountains than you could imagine. It was definitely not a drive you wanted to nap during! We were lucky enough to have our expert driver from the Kiwi Experience bus tour to take us the 600km round trip, and with his blend of humour and knowledge the time went by really fast.

Once we actually got to Milford, you see the towering Mitre Peak (named for how it looks like a bishop’s mitre), and suddenly see why it’s so recommended. We had the best of the weather too, enough rain in the morning to create all the natural waterfalls that look like veins on the body of the mountain, then with glorious sunshine as we took a 2 hour boat ride through the Sound.

It was incredible, and I am so glad I went, the views definitely made up for the high price of the trip! What amazed me most was that there was not a single person, farm or anything living in the land for almost the entire journey. Coming from a small country packed with people I found that so hard to comprehend, but I greatly admire the New Zealand locals for withholding their beautiful country and protecting it against humans. Bravo.

Mitre Peak & Milford Sound

Day 3 – Queenstown

Back to Queenstown and our last day was spent generally enjoying the atmosphere, weather, lake, and garden walks. We treated ourselves to the infamous Ferg Burger in the afternoon, these things are not kidding around it was so so tasty but also about the size of a small child. Talk about value for money though! For those foodie travellers out there, trying a Ferg Burger is a must!

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Ferg Burger

Day 4 – Lake Tekapo

Back on the bus to Lake Tekapo, where we stopped at Lake Pukaki for a chance to see the bluest water and most astonishing view of Mount Cook. I know I keep banging on about these views and stops, but seriously they are amazing and the photos do not do them justice. In fact there’s so many waterfalls, creeks, lakes and lagoons that are all so beautiful with the most irresistible clear waters, but sadly it’s just not possible to do and go to them all. As much as I’d like to! You’d need a lifetime to see them all, so I trust that the bus takes you to the highlights!

Lake Pukaki, overlooking Mount Cook:

Once at Lake Tekapo and enjoying the area, we took what we thought was an hour walk up Mount John to over look the lake ( I KNOW I’ll stop I promise!). The walk turned out to be way longer than an hour, so after reaching a suitable place for the sunset we turned back and headed for an early night.

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Lake Tekapo

Day 5 – Christchurch

A short drive in the morning took us into Christchurch, where the official end of the Kiwi Experience bus tour was upon us. I stayed a little out the centre in New Brighton, at the beach before meeting up with a family friend to stay with her a few days. Before enjoying my weekend away from the friends made on the bus we headed to the arts centre where they had an outdoor cinema showing Inside Out. It was brilliant but just the right amount of sad to make us feel all nostalgic of our trip!

After grabbing some food and last minute free WiFi, we said our last goodbyes (for now…). Those continuing on the bus tour up the east coast of the South Island towards Kaikoura, however I was deciding to stay longer on the South Island in Christchurch, Queenstown, and Franz Josef. It was of course sad to say goodbye to special friends made, going solo can be a tough life sometimes. Despite leaving an organised tour, I was looking forward to planning for myself and taking some time to appreciate this beautiful country. I just had to put up with my own company for a while. At least it’s a good chance to read, write, and plan!

Kiwi Experience South Island Summary

The South Island of New Zealand was the most magical place I’ve had the pleasure to visit. From the dramatic fjords of Milford Sound to the buzzing nightlife of Queenstown, and all the way to the serenity of Tekapo and the charms of Christchurch – the South Island is a joyful mix of everything a solo backpacker could wish for.

Enjoying the journey with Kiwi Experience makes a first-timer’s visit that more special and stress-free thanks to the ease of the service, and the awesome people in your company!

Visiting Queenstown is an essential stop-off for anyone in New Zealand. Many visitors hear such great things about this densely tourist-populated place, so it was hard to avoid high expectations. I have to say, it was a great place, the views and lakes are amazing, but you can tell it’s a bit of a tourism hotspot for extreme sports, partying and generally enjoying youthfulness. Having said that, I did very much enjoy my time there and could definitely stay again*!

*Edit – I have returned to Queenstown twice since! 

Have you done the Kiwi Experience? What was your favourite part? Let me know your Kiwi Experience South Island thoughts!

Text overlay of Lake Pukaki with Mount Cook in the background

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