Day 1 - Christchurch
Christchurch is the South Island’s largest city and is the capital of Canterbury, the largest region on the South Island. It is one of New Zealand’s most pleasant for walking around. It is vibrant, yet tranquil. Old, yet still modern. You’ll know what I mean when you get there.
The centre of the city is Cathedral Square. This is the best place to start your tour of the city. The tourist office is located here which is an excellent place to go for tips on planning the rest of your journey. Also located here is Christ Church Cathedral which towers over the square. This is one of the city’s most popular attractions with visitors coming to admire the gothic architecture. For a small fee you can also climb the 133 steps to the top of the cathedral’s own lookout balconies located half way up the spire. The views over the city from here are arguably the best you will find in the city.
If the weather is good you may wish to visit the Botanical Gardens, situated on the banks of the Avon River. They have a distinct English feel to them and the rose gardens, conservatories and lush gardens collectively make for a very pleasant afternoon.
Apart from that, Christchurch isn’t the liveliest town in the world and one day is enough in New Zealand’s second largest city. If you do wish to let your hair down once darkness falls the area around Oxford Terrace near the city centre is where you will find the majority of the city’s best bars and clubs. But if you don’t want to go out drinking, the city has a wide range of top quality restaurants which will suit anybody’s taste.
Day 2 - A long journey but a very pleasant one
You must endure a seven hour drive to Queenstown. To break the long journey, 3-4 hours from Christchurch is Mt. Cook National Park, home to Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. Thankfully the drive there boasts some extremely beautiful scenery so you won’t notice the time go by.
Before you get to the national park you will reach Lake Tekapo. A visit to this lake is a must. With snow-capped Mount Cook sloping down to its turquoise water, it makes for a very idyllic location. And if you feel in touch with your religious side around Lake Tekapo you can visit the Church of the Good Shepard.
Just as the first four hours drive is extremely scenic, the 3-hour drive between the national park and Queenstown is just as beautiful. If you are with friends and decide to rent a car you are better off trying to get in the passenger seat so can appreciate the scenery in its fullest.
Upon reaching Queenstown after the long drive, with a one or two hour stop in between, the best thing to do is book into your accommodation, relax and recharge your batteries. This small town on the shores of Lake Wakatipu is full of activity so you will need as much energy as possible.
Day 3 - Adrenaline rush
Queenstown has one huge problem – there is too much to do here. Deciding what to spend your hard earned money can be a small issue. Some of the adrenaline sports you can do here include bungy jumping, skiing, and white-water rafting.
Given three days, skiing is best left alone as you a need a few days before you get your ‘ski-legs’. Instead go for the more difficult of the two remaining activities – bungy jumping. AJ Hackett are the flagship bungy company in Queenstown and run jumps from The Nevis Highwire Bungy. This structure, purposely made for bungy jumping, stands at 134 metres high – the same as the height of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. If you want to do a jump that is like nowhere else in the world this is definitely the place to do it.
After throwing yourself from a ‘jump pod’ as high as a small skyscraper with nothing but a big elastic band to save you from hitting the ground, you may feel the need to unwind a little. While Queenstown only has a population of 7,500 people, as it is the base for so many adventure sports it is always full of backpackers. This has resulted in loads of bars (usually with happy hours), along with some casinos.
Day 4 - Adrenaline rush #2
New Zealand has some of the fiercest rivers in the world, making them perfect for white-water rafting. The Kawaru and Shotgun Riverd are the closest to Queenstown. Both have grade 5 rapids. For those of you that don’t know much about white-water rafting, grade means ‘hold on tight’. There is no doubt that travelling down a river in a wetsuit with nothing but your grip stopping you from falling off is one of the most exhilarating experiences in the world.
Organised tours usually take half a day and leave both in the morning and afternoon. White-water rafting is that bit better than most other activities for a few reasons. Unlike bungy jumping and skydiving, it takes up half a day. While you are gripping to the raft in the hope of not being hurled into the river at different stages down the river, on the other parts of the river which is somewhat calm you get to enjoy the breathtaking scenery.
A day’s rafting through numerous rapids on one of the world’s ferocious rivers can take a lot out of you. One particular special way to while away an evening is to sit down at Lake Wakatipu and gaze at the aptly named Remarkables, a range of ‘remarkable’ mountains at the lake’s shore.
Day 5 - Take it easy for the day
As there is so much to do in Queenstown on the activity front, it is nice to just walk around this small, scenic town. If the view from ground level isn’t gobsmacking enough, take a trip on the Skyline Gondola. It climbs up to the top of a hill where, at the top, you can enjoy some of the most amazing views anywhere in the world.
There are many walks to be done in and around Queenstown. Two of the best include the walk along the shores of the lake which begins on Peninsula Street and the walk up to Queenstown Hill which boasts more overwhelming views over the town.
Day 6 - When Queenstown gets a bit too muh...
There is an abundance of activity in Queenstown. Only half an hour east of here is a town called Arrowtown. While it may be a bit sleepy, it is perfect for unwinding and doing nothing for a day before driving back to Christchurch.
This old mining town has some amazing scenery nearby and on particular street called Buckingham Street, a tree lined street which is particularly memorable. And if you wish to learn a bit more about the town visit the Lake District Museum.
Day 7 - Back to Christchurch
To get back to Christchurch you must bear that 7-hour drive again. Stopping somewhere on the way back, you may find yourself a bit peckish again once you get back. Or you may even feel like a drink to relax. The best place for both restaurants and bars is Oxford Terrace.
Day 8 - See what more Christchurch has to offer
Christchurch is always a pleasant city to reside in for a day en route to another destination (even for a second time). Its old streets have the sounds of rattling trams ringing through them, similar to Amsterdam and punts float up and down the river. Along with that the greens and parks are looked after with impeccable care and it is extremely clean.
If you enjoy studying wildlife, and leaning more about their lives, make a note to visit the Orana Park Wildlife Trust. Some of the animals you can see here include llamas and spider monkeys from the Americas, kangaroos and black swans from neighbouring country Australia, and rhino and giraffe from the ‘African Plains’. Naturally, there are many native animals there such as the Wood Pigeon and the Tutara, sometimes described as a living fossil.
Another of Christchurch’s attractions not previously mentioned in previous days, although it definitely warrants one, is the Canterbury Museum. Situated at the entrance to the Botanical Gardens, you are given a good insight into New Zealand fauna and the Maori culture.
Theatres are all over the city, as Christchurch is recognised as the performing arts capital of the south island. The main centres where you will find plays staged are the town hall, and Theatre Royal on Gloucester Street.
Day 9 - Kaikoura
Two hours drive north of Christchurch and you will reach the sleepy seaside town of Kaikoura, meaning ‘To Eat Crayfish’. No prizes for guessing that it is famous for its crayfish!
There are less than three thousand people there isn’t much to do there other than go on organised tours. All leave fairly early in the day so upon driving from Christchurch it will be too late to join any. Whatever you do, make sure and book in advance. In the summer months it is a good idea to book the dolphin swimming trips well in advance.
Kaikoura has many walking paths, two in particular. One is along the peninsula and the other is along the top of the cliffs, hence the latter is that little bit more spectacular. Both take around 3 hours and are well worth the time and energy.
When in this seaside resort you have to sample some of its famed crayfish. And you don’t have to splurging out in one of the restaurants – some of the takeaways sell it also.
Day 10 - Be at one with the dolphins
Make sure and book organised tours that bring you swimming with the dolphins in advance, especially in the summer months.
Dusky dolphins are the ones which occupy the waters around Kaikoura. They give you the chance to swim with huge pods of wild dolphins – something which can’t be done in too many places around the world. Swimming with them is a truly unforgettable experience.
Day 11 - Final stop before the North Island
A further hour and a half from Kaikoura and you will finally reach Picton, your final stop before catching the ferry to the North Island.
Ferries usually depart for Wellington, New Zealand's capital, very early in the morning. It is good to book the ferry well in advance.
If you find yourself looking for something to do during your stay in Picton, visit the Edwin Fox, a 157ft vessel which is basically a wreck but still afloat.
Otherwise just sit tight in your hostel with a good book and look forward to the second part of your adventure in New Zealand!