I’m a nature lover! Before I travel, I always research all about the nature sights in my destination. New Zealand’s North Island had a lot to offer and the South Island was no exception.
Below is a road map of my South Island adventure. There were some bumps on the way, so my actual road trip itinerary was just slightly different than I originally planned.
Read my previous posts about New Zealand:
DAY 8 ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK
From Nelson (point C) to Kaiteriteri (point E) and back to Mapua (point F): 97 km, driving time 1 hour 40 minutes
Yesterday a journey to the South Island started first with a ferry to Picton and then a drive from Picton (point A) to Nelson (point C). I decided to take the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive (between Picton and Havelock) instead of the road 1 and 6. The driving time was surprisingly the same as my original plan, because the Queen Charlotte road was so serpentine. You really had to work on that steering wheel and focus on the road. If you want to enjoy the great views, drive carefully and slowly, because there aren’t lots of parking opportunities.
Today it’s was time to hit the road from Nelson to the Abel Tasman National Park. It’s the smallest national park in New Zealand, but there’s a lot to see and do. The main attractions are native forests and wildlife. It’s also a popular place to kayak. I first drove to Kaiteriteri (point E) and parked the car, then booked water taxi tickets to Anchorage (about 70 NZD return ticket) and hit the nearest restaurant for lunch before my trip. Make sure to arrive here first thing in the morning so that you can spend as much time as possible at the Abel Tasman National Park. Water taxis operate only until afternoon. I had only 1 day to explore this amazing national park, and obviously it’s not enough.
On my way to Achorage, my water taxi driver made a few stops around the national park. I saw some cute baby seals with their parents swimming and sunbathing on the rocks. I was told that January was the perfect time to spot these little fellows. Lucky me! Our next stop was the famous Split Apple Rock or “Packman rock” as the driver humorously described. It’s a unique round rock formation made from granite which has been cut in half.
Finally we arrived to Anchorage’s beautiful golden sand beach. Wow what a place it was. There are several hiking opportunities and I was recommended to check out the Cleopatras’ Pool which is a natural rock pool with moss-lined waterslide. I had my towel and bikini in my backpack but the water was too cold for me to try it. It takes about 1 hour to hike through the beautiful forest to Cleopatra’s Pool. Make sure to have good shoes on and plenty of water. On this hike you will also see the Torrent River which was one of my favourite spots. Before I knew it, it was time to hike back to the beach and wait for my ride back to Kaiteriteri.
Click pictures below!
DAY 9 PUNAKAIKI
From Mapua (point F) to Punakaiki (point H): 295 km, driving time 4 hours
I woke up late this morning with an image of yesterday’s perfect day still on my mind. Today I was going to drive to Punakaiki. It’s a very long drive, so make sure to pack a lot of snacks & water and fill your gas tank. The drive was pretty boring, because there aren’t really any sights to mention except one. You have to make a short detour to find your way in to a fur seal colony in Tauranga Bay (point G). You can spot seals for free here all year round and it’s an easy 10 minute walk from the car park. The weather wasn’t very nice, rainy and windy, but the seals didn’t seem to mind. If you want some exercise, there’s a long walking track to Cape Foulwind lighthouse which might be a good option on a clear day.
After visiting the seals in Tauranga it was time to drive to my final destination. Punakaiki is known for its natural wonder, pancake rocks and blowholes. What are they you might ask?
“They were formed 30 million years ago from minute fragments of dead marine creatures and plants landed on the seabed about 2 km below the surface. Immense water pressure caused the fragments to solidify in hard and soft layers. Gradually seismic action lifted the limestone above the seabed. Mildly acidic rain, wind and seawater sculpted the bizarre shapes.”
Pancake was a good description for this sight, because it literally looked like stacked rock pancakes. This is a cool and easy place to visit. My hotel was right next to this sight, so it was time to eat some dinner and do some laundry before going to sleep.
Click pictures below!
DAY 10 WORST DAY EVER
The goal was to drive from Punakaiki (point H) to Hokitika Gorge (point I) and Fox Glacier (point J): 283km, driving time 4 hours
Last night was horrible. My room was right next to the beach and during the night there was a strong storm outside. It rained heavily, accompanied with strong wind and thunder. Waves were crashing hard on the shore. As you can imagine, I didn’t sleep very well. In the morning it was quite foggy and still raining a little. My goal today was to drive 4 hours to Fox Glacier and stop on my way to Hokitika town to see Hokitika Gorge (point I). Little did I know that actually I was going to spend the whole day in a car driving about 493 km for 6 hours 40 minutes.
I drove the road 6 almost to Greymouth and on my way there was already some serious road damage because of the storm last night. There were local authorities cleaning the road of the damage caused by a mudslide. I was anxious if my trip would continue because of the long wait, but luckily it did. Or that’s what I thought. When I almost reached the town of Greymouth, I only had to cross the Grey River- Mawheranui. To my surprise it was flooding and the road was closed for everyone who didn’t have heavy vehicles. I talked to the locals about what’s going on and would they open the road soon, but they said that it might take days and you should seek accommodation. Oh my! I had never been in this situation before. Other problem was that I didn’t have much gas in my car. So how did I solve the problem?
If you can’t cross it, go around it. I was extremely happy that I used Google and found alternative route to cross the river. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but I decided to try. I first drove all the way back to Westport (near point G) to grab some lunch and to fill my gas tank. After that I drove the road 69 to Reefton and continued the road 7 to Greymouth. This wasn’t easy. Several roads were closed near the river and I was listening to the radio that a lot of tourists were shocked and confused because of the flooding. By a miracle I finally made it and continued my journey to Hokitika.
Hokitika was a nice little town to stretch my legs. All the shops were closed when I finally arrived here and I didn’t have the energy to see the Gorge. I still had a long way to drive to my hotel in Fox Glacier, so I just went to see the nearby beach. I didn’t even have the time to stop at Franz Josef as I originally thought so I just kept driving. Sun was setting down and it was almost dark when I arrived exhausted to my hotel. What a day it was. At least I slept like a baby!
Click pictures below!
Stay tuned for post of the South Island part 2!