12 Days on New Zealand’s South Island


Last Updated on September 23, 2019 by Amy

The ferry was fantastic!  It’s basically a cruise ship – there are several restaurants, wifi and a movie theatre. The weather wasn’t too great, so we didn’t miss out too much by not having a view, but we scoped out the different areas so that in the way back up we can get a good spot.

The ferry arrives in Picton and we took off west. Our friends from Blue Raven have bought a home and settled in Nelson. They were kind enough to invite us to stay with them for two nights. Brian wasn’t there, but Nicole and the girls were fun to hang out with. We even got to see the girls have their first days of school!

Day 1:  Nelson

On our first whole day on the South Island, we wanted to drive west to — beach. The weather wasn’t cooperating, so we changed our plans. We did drive west but stopped at the Anatoki Salmon Farm to try our luck at catching salmon.

The day was a bit gray, but we toughed it out. It was not as quick as I had deluded myself into thinking – even fishing at a farm takes patience. About 15 minutes in I landed a smallish salmon. You dispatch of them yourself with a spike to the head. We wanted to bring home enough dinner for all five of us so we kept fishing. About 45 minutes later, David finally landed his – twice the size of mine!

My salmon.

We took our catch to get hot smoked while we looked around. There’s a place where you can feed wild eels. We walked along the river hoping to just see the eels. We got to the spot, didn’t see any and turned around. Halfway back to the farm we spotted one!  The eel even let me touch it.

We learned quite a bit about salmon has they have the breeding ponds open to the public. We had noticed that the salmon David landed was SUPER slimy, and it’s because these are fresh water salmon versus salt water – fresh water salmon need more slime as a protective barrier.

The hot smoked salmon was REALLY good. We are half of a small fillet right there. I thought it was neat to catch our own, but it did take a while. If you want something faster, you can simply pick up salmon caught by the farm themselves.


After forcing ourselves to save some salmon for later, we headed back into Nelson. We had received two recommendations for the World of Wearable Art Museum, which is a showcase of costumes that won awards at the World of Wearable Art Awards Show. Definitely not something I would have picked for us to do, but I was surprised how much we enjoyed it.  The best parts were the videos, because it’s great to see these artworks being worn and moving.  The show is put on with the collaboration of the Weta Workshop and Cirque du Soleil, and the models have excellent choreography.

Attached (and included in admission) is the Classic Car Museum.  It’s no surprise David enjoyed this part more, as we got to see the Shagmobile, a Maybach, and a Delorean!

David and a Ferrari.

Day 2:  Punakaiki

The next day we drove down to Punakaiki, where the big attraction is the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.  The Pancakes rocks are a rock formation where layers of rocks alternated, and time has worn down the soft layer, leaving behind a pancake look.

The lookout over the rocks.
My favorite part! Bull Kelp floats in the waves and looks like a sea creature.
Blow holes abound.
A close up of the pancakes.

We stayed the night at Punakaiki Beach Camp.

Day 3: Hokitika

We drove south down to Hokitika.  Just 30 km outside of town is the Hokitika Gorge, where the river runs a beautiful cloudy turquoise.

The color of the water is called “glacial milk”. It is a combination of glacial water, river water, and rock flour.
Enjoying the view!

The sky had cleared up a bit so we walked through the town and to the beach.  The beach was a dark black sand, with driftwood and lots of flat stones, perfect for skipping!

Hokitika Beach.
Skipping stones.
Hokitika beach sculpture.

Our campsite was Cloud 9 Lifestyle Park, which was one of the best ones we have stayed at.  The family lives onsite, and have a menagerie of animals.  At 7 pm they feed the eels in their pond, and then allow guests to come into their petting zoo with guinea pigs, rabbits, a goat (named Billy), a sheep, and ducks.

Snack time for the eels.
Those ears are so stinking cute!

My highlight had to wait until nighttime – glow worms!  We left our campsite at 10 pm, and spent about 20 minutes enjoying the glow worms and taking photos at the Hokitika Glow Worm Dell.  Unfortunately the dell was really crowded with tourists.  Normally we are in bed way before 10, but if you can stay up later, you’d probably be a lot better off.

The glow worm dell was AMAZING!

In the morning we went to the National Kiwi Centre for a chance to see a kiwi bird!  They are nocturnal, so we aren’t allowed to take photos and it was really hard to see them, but we made it for the feeding and were able to see both the male and female kiwi.

The other feeding was the eels!  They have many eels that are between 85 and 100 years old.  They are all female, and used to live in a pond next to a food factory, where they were fed the scraps.   There were other exhibits with a lot of different critters in them.

These eels were 85 – 100 years old!
Golden Axolotl.

Day 4:  Fox Glacier

We stayed at the Top 10 Fox Glacier campsite.  Saturday night was actually clear enough to get a sunset!

OMG! A sunset!

After clearing out of our campsite, we took the short drive over to the mountain viewpoint, where we could see the Southern Alps, including Fox Glacier and Mount Cook.  What a nice little place to sit for a bit!

Viewing Fox Glacier and Mount Cook.

Then we took the trail to the face of Fox Glacier.  Roundtrip was about an hour, and you can get 450 meters from the face.  This changes as the glacier recedes.  In fact, you used to be able to walk onto the glacier face, but now if you want to walk on the ice you have to hire a helicopter (at least $300 per person).

Walking to the glacier face.

Day 5: Drive Across Arthur’s Pass

Day 6: Okains Bay Waitangi Day

We wrapped up our time on the west coast and headed across Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch on Sunday, in time to celebrate Waitangi Day at Okains Bay. We were a bit disappointed though, perhaps it’s best to celebrate at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

Day 7: Christchurch

We spent a short 24 hours in Christchurch. It’s a lovely city and almost everything we did was free!

Day 8: Hamner

Then we needed to head north for our next scheduled event – the Marlborough Food and Wine Festival in Blenhiem.  Unfortunately, there was an earthquake last November north of Christchurch, and Route 1, from Christchurch to Picton, is closed just north of Kaikoura.  We really debated about driving up to Kaikoura anyway, even though it would add quite a bit of time to the route, but eventually, we decided not to.

Quite a long detour.

We stayed our first night in a very quiet campsite at Amberley Beach.  Then we drove to Hanmer Springs, where we checked into the Top 10 Campsite.  The rain kept us inside (thankfully they have a lounge).

Day 9: Maruia Falls

The next morning we walked through Hanmer, a cute little alpine town.  The weather was nice for our drive and we stopped at Maruia Falls.

Day 10-12: Blenheim

The plan was to stay the night at the West Bay DOC site in Nelson Lakes area.  We paid for our spot and started to put our tent up and were absolutely bombarded by sand flies.  These nasty buggers have been a problem almost everywhere but this was WAY worse than we had ever seen.  It didn’t take long for us to realize the spray wasn’t keeping them away and if we set up camp here, we’d spend the entire time in our tent not enjoying nature.  We quickly found a backup plan – our Airbnb in Blenheim was available a day early, so we packed up and took off!  Consider it our donation to the DOC.

When we abandoned the campsite, we found ourselves in one of our favorite Airbnbs. We stayed a few days in Blenheim for the Marlborough Wine Festival. It was a delightful town!

Ferry from South Island to North Island

Having taken the ferry once before, we now know the lay of the land, and therefore we were able to snag better seats this time.  We sat on the Deck 8 Atrium, which is patio-style seating with a view over the dock as we were leaving.  It really is a nice ferry, and we took turns walking around and enjoying the observation decks.

Watch the Video:  NZ Road Trip Part 4: The West Side of the South Island

Pin it!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.