South Island is “heaven on earth” - a compact place with something for everyone. The beauty of the place can never be put into words. Here are some of the main ‘touristy’ spots in South Island.
Nelson & Marlborough
Nelson and Marlborough, the northern tip of South Island, offer a wondrous place for rest and relaxation. It is also a haven for wildlife. Well-known for its great climate, the population of Nelson City would normally double from its 36,000 during Christmas and New Year.
Nelson and Marlborough are accessible by flying Air New Zealand Link or Ansett via Nelson or Blenheim airports. Other alternatives include driving there or catching the ferry from Wellington across Cook Strait. Cook Strait could be rather unpleasant on a rough day as it is a natural wind funnel. However, once entering Marlborough Sounds through Tory Channel, a different world awaits. It is a world with innumerable inlets and bays with hills plunging steeply into the sea.
The town of Picton is the hub of all activities in the Sound, which is a narrow passage of water that joins two larger areas of water or straits.
Located at one of the bays near the head of Queen Charlotte Sound, Picton is the head (or tail) of the South Island section of Highway One and the main trunk railway. It is also the terminal for the Cook Strait ferries and the base for the assorted launches, water taxis and charter boats on which locals and visitors rely on for transport. A ‘float plane’ provides scenic flights and transportation to the adjacent Kenepuru Sound. The 10-minute flight to Kenepuru Sound is a much shorter route compared to the 2 hours drive or two days by boat trip.
Kaikoura in Maori literally means “to eat crayfish”. And indeed, this is what you do at Kaikoura. Crayfish or rock lobsters found on this rocky coast are sold fresh from roadside stalls.
It is also famous for whale watching, which is a huge boost to the economy and existence of Kaikoura. Whale watching trips are conducted by either sea or air and it is definitely worth going for. Also, try not to miss the seal colony.
At the inland from Kaikoura, there are two parallel mountain ranges whose summits reach Tapuaenuku at a height of 2,885 meters (9,465 ft) above sea level. Beyond that is the Awatere Valley and Molesworth, which is the largest sheep and cattle station in New Zealand.
Fox Glacier & Franz Josef
The main attraction on the west coast of South Island would be Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier, both of which are located 120 km (75 miles) north of Haast. These glaciers began their ‘journey’ in 1982 when Franz Josef Glacier ‘traveled’ faster than Fox Glacier. However, the latter had moved 600 meters (1,969 feet) further down the valley than its previous position two decades ago.
Both glaciers are located about 25 km (15 miles) apart in Westland National Park among 88,000 hectares (217,000 acres) of alpine peaks, snowfields, forests, lakes, and rivers. A main highway, which passes both glaciers, crosses the park’s western edge. Use the narrow bush-clad roads provided for a good viewing spot of Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. Guided walks are also available for those who fear getting lost. For a different type of view, experience helicopter and ski plane flights over both glaciers. The view is remarkable with greenish-blue tints and infinite crevasses.
There are two small townships that cater to the needs of visitors to the glaciers. They offer a range of accommodation and some food outlets. The Department of Conservation Offices has more information on the numerous walks available. One of the walks includes the difficult but rewarding climb over Copland Pass in the Main Divide to the Hermitage at Mount Cook. The park provides about 110 km (68 miles) of walking tracks. It passes a sanctuary of varied native forest and bird life with each dominated by the peaks of Cook, Tasman and La Perouse. Furthermore, Lake Matheson (one of the park’s three calm lakes formed by the glacial dramas of 10,000 years ago) beautifully mirrors the three peaks.
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