"NEW ZEALAND SOUTH ISLAND" New Zealand Travelogue by apskip

New Zealand Travel Guide: 14,644 reviews and 37,474 photos

Circle Tour of South Island by Car

This trip goes back 30 years, so I may not have all details perfect. It started by leaving the North Island on the ferry to Picton on the South Island. A car was rented and off we went around the top of the South Island on a 5.5 day excursion. I do not recall stopping except briefly in Nelson and Greymouth. The first real sight was the Franz Josef Glacier. I remember it being tropical at the bottom and obviously alpine up above. You seldom see so many climate zones compressed into a small space.

What was particularly noteworthy was that at that time there was a dirt road up and over into Queenstown. However, it was very muddy as 2 weeks of rain had preceded our attempt to cross. There was a lot of slipping and sliding, but we did just make it. Then in the motel we stayed in there was a pint of milk (the kind with the cream risen to the top) for breakfast. It made a lasting impression that is still with me.

Queenstown was the tourist mecca of the South Island then and now. I don't think we actually stayed around to do any of them, as I was hell bent to reach Milford Sound. The road went through Te Anau and just after that is a long tunnel that runs each way for 25 minutes each hour, then 5 minutes to switch. On the other side is Milford Sound, one of the greatest scenic wonders on the globe. We took a boat out to circle the Sound. There were waterfalls visible in all directions and the 5000 feet cliffs are astonishing!

After Milford Sound, time demanded getting back to the north. However, there was a stop to go to the top of Mt. Cook. There was no time for Christchurch (and I haven't been able to get there yet but I will). We hugged the coast all the way back to Picton, returned the rental car and took a ferry back to Wellington.

  • Page Updated May 9, 2016
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