Dazzling Lake Wakatipu is New Zealand's longest lake. Shaped like an inverted "n" it is a highlight of a trip to Queenstown, which nestles against a curve near the middle of the lake. During the last ice age a huge glacier carved out the lake, which sinks to a depth of 1,300 feet (400 meters).The surrounding mountains that fed the glacier provide a dramatic backdrop to the crystal waters.
Atmospheric pressures cause the lake to rise and fall about 5 inches (12 centimeters) every 5 minutes. This gave rise to the Maori legend that the rise and fall of the water is the heartbeat of a giant who lies slumbering under the water.
The magnificent lake was the location for the Lothlorein scenes in The Lord of the Rings movie. If you’d like to get out on the water the most genteel way is to climb aboard the refurbished vintage steamship the TSS Earnslaw. Cruises across the lake will take you to Walter Peak where you can see a working high-country farm.
Set at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, the Marlborough Sounds amazingly comprise one fifth of New Zealand’s coastline. Not because the region is large, however, but simply because the serpentine coast weaves in and out of so many bays it massively adds to the mileage. Here the coastline is so stunningly rugged that mail is still delivered by boat to towns that are cut off from roads, and visitors can actually ride along with the boat that’s delivering mail. It’s a rural time capsule that hearkens back to life in the 1800s, where sheep still roam the forested hills and fishermen ply the waters for mussels and live off the bounty of the sea.
For an authentic experience in Marlborough Sounds, hop aboard a seafood cruise to sample the clams, mussels, and salmon the Marlborough area is known for. Or, to scour the shore on your own two feet, hike the famous Queen Charlotte Track that weaves through Queen Charlotte Sound.
Hop aboard a vintage tram for a leisurely tour of central Christchurch. It’s the most relaxing, fun way to get your bearings and see the city's attractions and landmarks.The trams leave from Cathedral Square in downtown Christchurch. The route then crosses Worcester Bridge over the River Avon, loops past the Botanic Gardens and travels along past the shops of Armagh Street. All trams have an informative on-board commentary. Why not combine sightseeing on wheels with your evening meal, and take an evening ride on the Restaurant Tram? The colonial-style tram has every comfort, and the menu features local lamb and seafood.
Christchurch is known as the garden city, an Anglophile settlement of well-tended gardens and tree-lined streets. Pride of place in this flower-loving town goes to the Botanic Gardens, attractively set within a loop of the winding Avon River. The gardens are planted with thousands of exotic and indigenous plants, with particular note going to its lime tree walkways, inviting lawns and seasonal flowers such as magnolias, azaleas and roses.
A number of conservatories protect a range of species, including desert plants, tropical blooms, begonias, alpine plants and orchids. The gardens are an ideal location for a picnic, or to find a relaxing spot for an hour or two, away from the bustle of the city.
Without a doubt, Hagley Park is the greenest, most relaxing, yet also most happening 1 sq. mile in Christchurch. On the relaxing side, this central park offers dozens of opportunities for leisurely moments in the city. Paddle the waters of the Avon River which borders the park on one side, or spend an hour sniffing through the botanical gardens which are completely surrounded by the park. Lay a blanket on the expanse of grass and enjoy a midsummer picnic, or photograph the wildflowers which famously bloom as the park comes alive in the spring.
For as mellow as Hagley Park can be, however, it can rapidly change into a pulsing gathering place during one of the numerous Christchurch festivals. At large events such as the World Buskers Festival or the Great Kiwi Beer Festival, tens of thousands of Christchurch locals can descend on the spacious grounds.
Experience everything you want to know about the icy continent of Antarctica at the International Antarctic Centre, from indoor ice storms to ATV rides and penguins.
Feeding time at the NZ Penguin encounter is hugely popular, as is the Penguin Backstage Pass tour for an up-close view of these cute creatures. Go for a rough and ready ride on the Hagglund all-terrain vehicle, watch snow being made and throw snowballs, chill out in an ice cave and see the aquarium displays of Antarctic wildlife. Don’t worry about keeping warm: chillproof jackets and overshoes are provided.
Pegasus Bay Winery is a family-owned and run winery and restaurant located in the Waipara Valley, north of Christchurch. Pegasus Bay wines are made with estate-grown fruit from the Donaldson family’s vineyards.
The Donaldsons have been growing grapes and making wine since the early 1970s. A husband, wife and three sons team, the family uses natural methods, and the winery produces a sauvignon, Reisling, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet. The winery is also known for half a dozen reserve wines.
Much like the fascinating Te Papa Museum in Wellington, the Canterbury Museum offers an in-depth look at the history and culture of Christchurch. Located in the Christchurch city center (and only sustaining minor damage in the 2011 earthquake), visitors can ogle over the Neo-Gothic architecture before even stepping foot in the door. Admission to the museum is technically free of charge (though donations are gladly accepted), and you can easily spend hours getting lost in the culture of Christchurch, Canterbury, and New Zealand.
Exhibits at the museum run the gamut of history, from the early days of Maori discovery to the modern street art of Christchurch. The museum itself was established in 1867 by the explorer Julius Haast (for whom such places as the town of Haast got their name), and the Canterbury Museum has been deemed a historical site that you can visit during a day trip to Christchurch.
Built between 1873 and 1887, the Larnach Castle is the only castle in all of New Zealand. Sitting on a beautiful 35 acres, the castle grounds and interior are a wonderful way to spend a day. For an extended stay, you can stay at the 4-star Larnach Lodge, located on the castle grounds.
Constructed for an Australian banker and politician, the castle presents a combination of American, Venetian, and Gothic styles of decor and architecture, making it wholly elaborate and unique. In addition to its ornate interior and beautifully maintained garden, tourists and guests gather at Larnach for a supernatural experience: the castle is said to be haunted by multiple members of the Larnach family.
Be sure to take some tea or a light lunch in the ballroom, one of the most beautiful parts of the castle, as well as visiting the on-grounds plant nursery.
Even though a scant eight miles separate Sumner from the city center of Christchurch, this coastal suburb set right on the beach may as well be its own island. Sumner Beach is the de facto “beach town” that is associated with sprawling Christchurch, where bikini-clad sunbathers and wetsuit-clad surfers mingle on the golden shores. Sleepy in winter but pulsing in summer, Sumner is a hangout of sun-seekers and sportsmen who flock to the beach and the hills. Joggers and walkers stroll on the boardwalk which parallels the popular shore, and paragliders and mountain bikers play on the hills which rise just behind town.
A relaxing, slow-paced, agreeable outpost, when the large earthquake of 2011 triggered landslides in the surrounding hills, Sumner Beach and its associated community were almost completely cut off from the city. Though the road has been fixed and Sumner is accessible again, evidence of the earthquake is still evident in the massive rock piles by the coast.
The Arts Centre of Christchurch was long the creative hub of the city. Located in Gothic Revival buildings that were once home to the University of Canterbury, the center took a hit in 2011 when a major earthquake damaged 22 of the 23 buildings. The Arts Centre is currently closed to the public, but work is underway to reopen the Art Centre in stages.
The site’s origins date back to the late 1800s. Along with the University of Canterbury, the buildings housed a girls and boys high school. Both high schools moved off-site and by the mid-1950s a growing population forced the University to move to a larger campus. That’s when the Arts Centre was created.
Separating Christchurch from Lyttleton Harbor, the Port Hills are a playground for Christchurch outdoors-lovers who are looking to work up a sweat. Rising to height of nearly 1,800 feet, the Port Hills are located a short distance from downtown and are criss-crossed by multi-use trails. Hit the hillside on a rented mountain bike or go for a scenic hike, or watch as paragliders leap from the slopes overlooking the beach town of Sumner. Many of the trails were closed as a result of landslides in the 2011 earthquake, but most of the trails have since been reopened and are a refreshing getaway from the city.
In addition to the trails, the Port Hills are known for the native birds which make their homes on the hillsides. Catch a glimpse of a New Zealand wood-pigeon as it floats above the hills, or hear the call of a native bellbird as it rustles about the bush.
Located at the center of town in what many are deeming the “New Christchurch”, the Bridge of Remembrance is a historical monument that holds significance for numerous sets of people. Initially, this arcing bridge over the Avon River was erected as a public war memorial. Commemorating the soldiers who lost their lives in the battles of World War I, the bridge also remembers the brave soldiers who fought valiantly in ensuing wars. Located on Cashel Street, the bridge was turned into a pedestrian mall in 1976. Then, in February of 2011, the bridge endured a terrible beating during the earthquake that devastated Christchurch. Battered but not broken, the bridge managed to still stay standing amidst the piles of surrounding rubble. Though access to the bridge will once again be available in 2015 (with certain sections re-opening in 2014 for the 100th anniversary of the Great War), the fact it remains standing have made it a memorial for lives which were lost in the earthquake.
Mona Vale is a sanctuary of calm in the midst of bustling Christchurch. Gardens lined with rhododendrons and camellia sit next to a brilliant fernery, and a colorful rose garden provides the perfect moment for stopping to smell the flowers. The 13-acre gardens border the Avon River, and surround a homestead of Victorian architecture that is listed on the historic registry. Dating back to 1897, the elegant property has seen numerous owners make their own improvements to the grounds, and the exceptional gardens are a favorite location for wedding ceremonies in summer.
Unfortunately, the devastating earthquake of 2011 damaged many of the historic buildings, although the gardens remain open for strolling the grounds and drooling over the architecture from afar. In 2014, however, the city council approved the funds for the renovation of Mona Vale, and the famous buildings such as the Bath House and Homestead will be once again be open for visitors.
Known as the Edinburgh of the south, the charming city of Dunedin is a wonderful vacation spot for visitors of all interests. Known primarily for its incredible wildlife attractions, the city itself is filled with interesting activities.
For food-lovers, take a tour of the Cadbury World, the chocolate factory that produces more than 75% of New Zealand's chocolate. If you don't have too much of a sweet tooth, check out Speights Brewery, a city landmark that offers daily tours and tastings for those over 18. The city center, known as the Octagon, is bustling with shops and restaurants, and is always a lively place to visit.
For nature lovers, the Royal Albatross Centre, Dunedin Botanical Gardens, Orokunui EcoSanctuary, and Penguin Place are must-sees. Also visit the Otago Peninsula for stunning sea views, as well as the beautiful Tunnel Beach.
Fiordland is picture postcard New Zealand: all soaring mountains, rugged landscapes and stunning lakes. Within Fiordland you will find some of New Zealand’s finest attractions like the fiord hewn sounds, including the popular and impressive Milford Sound and the less accessible, but breathtaking, Doubtful Sound.
This is some of the most dramatic landscape in New Zealand and since it is almost uninhabited by humans, the area is a haven for wildlife. The mountains house forest birds while the lakes and sounds are home to penguins, seals, sea lions, dolphins and the occasional whale. There are many great walks in the area; the best-known is the Milford Walk which takes you, over four days, from the head of Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound. Other walks include the Routeburn and Keplar tracks. Other activities include fishing, kayaking, diving and horse riding.
When it comes to the dreamlike landscape of Fiordland, the mountainous peaks might provide the drama, but it’s the shimmering lakes that provide the contour. In the case of Lake Te Anau, this massive, deep, glacially carved lake wraps its arms around Fiordland’s mountains in a geological embrace. This is the second largest lake in New Zealand—but the largest in total volume—and it forms the backdrop for the town of Te Anau and the road toward Milford Sound.
Of all of the activities to take part in on Lake Te Anau, touring the glowworm caves is undoubtedly the most popular. These luminescent critters inhabit the ceilings of dark caves on the shoreline, and the ride to the other side of the lake offers sweeping views of the surroundings. The lake also provides a stunning backdrop for hikers tackling the Kepler Track, and there are small beaches that dot the lake, perfect for a cold dip.
Set smack in the middle of Milford Sound, Mitre Peak is the undisputed star in an already impressive show. Craggy, lonely and often shrouded in mist, this iconic spire thrusts a mile upwards from the placid waters of the Sound. When you arrive in Milford Sound after the serpentine road through the mountains, Mitre Peak rises before you like a sentinel to congratulate you on making the journey. This is easily one of the most oft-photographed sites in New Zealand—and when you stare at its stoic profile against the water you can immediately understand why.
To get a closer view of Mitre Peak, crane your neck upwards at the 5,500-foot summit during a cruise of Milford Sound. Or, paddle beneath its alpine shadow as you kayak in search of marine life.
If you've ever seen a picture of Lake Pukaki, you can be forgiven for thinking there’s no way that this lake could possibly be real. After all, the color of the water—a shining, rich, deep shade of turquoise—has the same captivating and alluring effect as a pair of misty-blue eyes. The hue of the water seems to match the sky, and in addition to being surrounded by open plains, the towering spire of Aoraki/Mount Cook stands watch over most of the shoreline. Isolated, empty, and incomparably scenic, there are few places on the South Island of New Zealand which can inspire nearly as much awe.
Running north-to-south and glacially-fed, this narrow lake parallels the road which leads to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. It’s the glacial silt from the Southern Alps which gives the lake its trademark hue, and on the clearest of days when the turquoise waters are backed by snowcapped Mount Cook, it’s a panorama that easily has the ability to drain your entire camera battery.
If you’re a bungy enthusiast you’ll know that Kawarau River is the site of the world's first commercial bungy. It’s still possible to take a dive from the bridge that started it all. On your way down you’ll see the trademark sky-blue water and green cliffs of Kawarau River, you might even touch the water!
The river is extremely popular with thrill seekers who come for river surfing, riverboarding and jet boating. The white-water rafting is particularly excellent with rapids to suit beginners to experienced rafters and some calm stretches where you can rest and take in the spectacular scenery. More sedate history seekers come to check out the gold-miners huts and relics from the river’s gold-rush days.
Traveling from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean, Waimakariri is a Maori term meaning “cold water.” Known for its scenery, the Waimakariri River is also the hub for a number of popular water activities.
Jet boating offers a fun and fast way to explore the Waimakariri River's lower braided river system. Fishing is also a popular way for visitors to get their feet wet in the area. Walking, horseback riding and cycling along the river is a good choice for those who want more of a guarantee to stay dry. Full day high country explorer style tours offer a fun escape from Christchurch.