Spent the last week touring the south island with Wild Kiwi in a minibus with 13 other people.....and it was incredible! The group was an even mix of men and women aged 20-35 from NZ, Australia, America the UK and Thailand and everyone got on like a house on fire. The tour guide Mark was great fun and knew lots of "hidden gems" as we drove between our various destinations ticking off the South Island higlights along the way and our "hostel" accommodation was comfy and sociable.
We started the trip in Christchurch and I spent the night before in a Jucy Pod, which was like something out of star trek, as did several others on the tour so we all met at the bus the early the next morning.
Our first two night's were in a hostel at Franz Josef Glacier, a 5-6 hour drive from Christchurch. Enroute we stopped for a short walk at Castle Hill on Arthur's pass whilst we decided what activities we wanted to sign up for at Franz Josef. I opted for a sky dive after much deliberation, something i've always wanted to do but hadn't thought to consider out here. The sky dive at Fox Glacier has been rated the 2nd best in the world after jumping over Everest because of the views of glacier, mountains, coastline and rain forest. We were lucky to get a beautiful morning and I saw all on the way down (although didn't sleep the night before whilst I worried about the parachute not opening). It was an incredible once in a lifetime experience and I am so glad I went through with it. After jumping out of a plane at 13,500 ft I decided on a more sedate afternoon and joined some of the others on a walk to the base of Franz Josef glacier before we met the rest of the group for dinner.
From Franz Josef we drove to Queenstown, stopping at the "Blue Pools" an amazing glacier fed river which is a beautiful aqua colour. Some of the group jumped from a bridge into the river and I went for a very brief swim to "cool off" in the freezing waters. We arrived in Queenstown around dinner time and I fell in love with it instantly. Locals apparently don't like it cause it's too touristy but to me it was a busy, picturesque town with great shops, great bars, a beautiful lake with lakeside gardens and an awesome gondola ride that offered incredible views across the whole town. The accommodation was great and in a fantastic location on the water front and the weather was fantastic for the whole time so I soaked up the sun by the lake whenever I had free time. One of our days in Queenstown was taken driving to Milford Sound and back (5 hours each way) and doing an amazing cruise whilst there, which left us with 1 full day in the town itself. I spent it watching some of the others do a bungee jump at the place where bungee jumping was invented, walking around the lakeside gardens and riding the Gondola. Whilst at the top I had a long island iced tea and soaked up the views before joining the others for some food and drinks in town. I was sad to leave Queenstown the next morning but had a lovely final breakfast on sand by the lake with ducklings climbing all over me : )
From Queenstown we drove to Mount Cook national park for the final night of the trip staying in a hostel in the shadow of Mount Cook. Most of the group decided to do the Hooker Valley walk to the base of the mountain which took most of the afternoon and then, once it was dark, we went out into the park, which is a dark sky reserve, to do some star gazing. The sky was incredible and totally unpolluted by artificial light so I could even see the milky way! A lovely way to spend our final evening.
Te last day was spent driving back to Christchurch, via The Church of the Good Shepherd on Lake Tekapo and a few other "hidden gems". Most of us were staying our final night back at the Jucy snooze in Christchurch so Mark dropped some of us in town to have a look at the "city centre" much of which is still devastated from the earthquake, and we had a final dinner together at a quirky restaurant where your dinner is delivered through a tube and the toilets are hidden behind a movable book case before we all said our gooodbyes and retired to our "pods".
The tour was a fantastic way to see the South Island highlights in a short amount of time and I was awe struck by beauty at each place we stopped, i'll definitely be recommending it to people!