It only takes about five seconds to realize that Fiordland is special. Squired away in the southwestern corner of the fantastically-scenic South Island—a place where the landscape is so magically surreal it was used to film the Lord of the Rings—Fiordland is a place of of unaltered beauty where nature trumps the impact of man. Jagged mountain peaks rise from grassy plains that are pockmarked with cobalt lakes, and patches of snow and misty fog help decorate the alpine peaks.
For the most part, when European settlers arrived in New Zealand, they started in the north near the Bay of Islands and gradually worked their way south. Dunedin, however, is a curious exception, and this blustery port town to the south of Christchurch was one of the nation’s first European settlements. In the 1820s, salt-crusted sealers would seek safety and shelter inside protected Otago harbor, and it wasn’t long before a Scottish settlement slowly took root on shore. The University of Otago—New Zealand’s oldest—was established in 1869, and the discovery of gold in the Otago plains meant the rush to Dunedin was on. There is more history in this South Island town than almost anywhere else in New Zealand, and the best Dunedin museums are ones that highlight this vibrant past.
For southern hemisphere snow enthusiasts, the city of Queenstown is the place to be during ski season at the bottom of the world. Not only is Queenstown a pulsing epicenter of international, adventurous youth, but it is ideally situated near four resorts with some of the best skiing in New Zealand. Add to the mix the richly-blue lakes which seem to reflect the color of the sky, as well as the dramatic peaks of the Southern Alps with their jagged ridges and spires, and Queenstown becomes an alpine playground that is as scenic as it is an adventure.
Most travelers visit the west coast of New Zealand to fly over or go walking on glaciers. While there is no doubting the surreal experience of trekking on ice above a rainforest, the west coast of the South Island still has many adventures which have nothing to do with glaciers at all. One of those places is Okarito Lagoon, a coastal hamlet about 25 minutes north of the town of Franz Josef Glacier. For travelers who are basing themselves on the wild west coast, taking a day trip to Okarito is a way to experience a part of the South Island that the majority of visitors will usually pass right by.
Everything about Kaikoura revolves around the sea. Even the name, “Kaikoura,” literally translates to “meal of crayfish” in the native Maori tongue, and all of the activities here — from surfing and scuba diving to swimming with dolphins — involve the blue Pacific Ocean that sits on the town’s front doorstep. Of all the town’s activities, […]