Lay of the Land
“The long expanses of farmland in the Canterbury area evoke visions of the best of Tuscany and Provence, with large poplar trees lining the roads and expansive rolling fields.”
New Zealand’s South Island is the larger but less populated of the country’s two main islands. It is ridiculously scenic – in fact, when you picture New Zealand, chances are you are envision the South Island with its rugged alpine peaks, vast plains and glorious coastline. It’s framed by the Tasman Sea to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east, and the snow-capped Southern Alps run through it all, rising to more than 12,000 feet at Mount Cook (locally known as Aoraki).
The main towns of the South Island are Christchurch, Nelson and Queenstown, but most travelers come here for the countryside: there are ten national parks, eight of New Zealand’s largest lakes and most of the country’s most spectacular glaciers. In sum, if you love the great outdoors, you will be in heaven on South Island.
Here are the areas to know:
Christchurch / Canterbury
The long expanses of farmland in the Canterbury area evoke visions of the best of Tuscany and Provence, with large poplar trees lining the roads and expansive rolling fields. Driving from Christchurch to the Banks Peninsula, for example, is one of the country’s best road trips. The Annandale is located near the small seaside town of Akaroa, which can be overrun when cruise ships are docked nearby but otherwise is a sleepy enclave in a stunning setting.
The drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura takes about four hours, but the last two are so spectacular that time flies by. Crossing from the rolling hills and farmland of Canterbury to the coastal region of Kaikoura is magnificent – the road snakes through the mountains before spilling down the Pacific Coast. (The drive should be broken up with a long lunch at beautiful Pegasus Winery.)
Marlborough Wine Region & Sounds
On a beautiful road snaking along the coast, the drive from Kaikoura to the heart of New Zealand’s Marlborough wine region takes about 1.5-2 hours. The central town of Blenheim is not impressive, so head straight to some wineries to sample predominantly Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Another thirty minutes further north, the seaside town of Picton serves as the gateway to the Marlborough Sounds, home of the Bay of Many Coves resort.
Nelson & Tasman
The South Island’s northern coast runs from the spectacular Abel Tasman National Park—which should figure on everyone’s itinerary east towards Picton—with the seaside town of Nelson located in the middle. A good spot for a break is the Boat Shed Café with beautiful views. The Tasman region is where you want to be based to explore this part of the northern coast. There are several national parks, including Abel Tasman, and many outdoorsy activities can be organized.