Most visitors to the South Island of New Zealand know Te Anau from looking out a window. That, after all, is the extent that visitors will see of the town while on a Milford Sound day trip from Queenstown. While the long, winding day trip from Queenstown makes sense for very tight schedules, Te Anau is arguably a better base than Queenstown for experiencing the beauty of Fiordland. Not only is Te Anau closer than Queenstown (by nearly two and a half hours), but the lakeshore town has its own sights that are well worth the time to explore.
If visiting the South Island with your own transportation—or are looking for a day trip from Christchurch—the South Canterbury Food and Wine Trail captures this small town tranquility. Often referred to as the “food bowl” of the South Island, the rolling plains and boutique vineyards give rise to bushels of locally-grown produce and exceptionally fresh cuisine. It’s the type of place that New Zealand locals might go for a long weekend holiday, and somewhere the majority of international visitors erroneously choose to skip.
There is an age-old argument between surfers and boogie boarders about which is the purest sport. Surfers will claim they harness more of the wave’s energy by successfully standing and riding it, whereas boogie boards claim it’s a purer thrill since they’re closer to the surface of the wave.
The same can be said for the Queenstown sports of whitewater rafting and sledging. One of the goals in white water rafting is to not fall out of the boat, whereas the goal of sledging is to eliminate the raft and swim the length of the river. Rather than bouncing on top of the rapids and avoiding a dip in the drink, sledging literally takes the rapids and shoves them right in your face.
New Zealand was one of the last places on Earth to be discovered by human beings. Native Maori didn’t arrive on these shores until the middle of the 13th Century, and Western explorers didn’t “find” the islands until 1642. New Zealand sat “empty” for thousands of years, and while the rest of the world was embroiled in conflict—the Roman Empire comes to mind—rugged mountains and golden beaches were just waiting to be discovered.
A lot has changed in the last century, however, as New Zealand’s landscape has become world-renowned for its reality-altering beauty. When traveling in New Zealand—and particularly when hiking—there comes a point when you seriously question how this beauty could possibly be real. Aside from the jaw-dropping natural scenery, there are many other reasons why New Zealand is one of the world’s best destinations for hikers. Sure, everyone knows the nation is beautiful—but the following reasons are what catapult the country from “excellent” to the “absolute best.”
Queenstown today is largely known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, but this lakeside city was originally founded when early prospectors struck gold. Nowhere is this history more evident than in the small community of Arrowtown, located 20 minutes from the modern bustle of tourism-fueled Queenstown.
In 1894, when a trio of mountaineers became the first humans to successfully summit Mt. Cook, they witnessed a view that no other eyes had ever had placed before them. In every direction, as far they could see, the white spires of the Southern Alps lay silently beneath their feet, and the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean could be seen on the distant horizon. When visiting New Zealand today, however, it doesn’t take days of frigid mountaineering in order to get the same view. In fact, one of the best ways to see Mount Cook from above is simply to drive to a field or airstrip and let a pilot take over from there.