Not-to-miss spots on NZs South Island

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Not-to-miss spots on NZ’s South Island

By Amy Marr

Question: In February, I’m heading to New Zealand’s South Island with a friend for three weeks. We have reservations to hike the Milford Track but want to know what other outdoor adventures we simply shouldn’t miss. We’d like to do some horseback riding, sea kayaking, maybe hit a glow worm cave. We’re also interested in hiking and will be camping and staying at hostels. Any specific advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Caryn Hoadley
San Francisco, California

Outdoor mecca of Queenstown and Lake Wanaka offers numerous activities
Adventure Adviser: It’s virtually impossible to vacation on the superlative South Island and leave disappointed. That said, in all honestly I think the Milford Track is overrated. Although undeniably spectacular, it is the track du jour for visitors and as such has become somewhat of a tramping thoroughfare. Don’t let me dissuade you, but do consider doing another less-populated track as well for a more personal look at the island’s pristine beauty. Though still popular, the Routeburn Track is less traveled and a fine choice. You’ll hike through mountain scenery and along river valleys, up over a saddle and down to two lakes. One of my favorites, the 24-mile track is easily doable in two long hiking days, with a night spent at MackKenzie Hut.

For sea-kayaking, don’t miss Abel Tasman. You and your friend can rent kayaks then follow this glistening coastline, pulling into one of the numerous sandy inlets to camp and check out the park’s glow worm caves. Or kayak half then throw on your hiking boots mid-way and jump onto the Coastal Track. There are four huts, about four hours apart, and you can do the whole track in two to four days depending on how much beach time you want to give yourself.

Definitely plan on spending a few days in the Remarkables and the outdoor meccas of Queenstown and nearby Lake Wanaka. Besides bungee jumping, there’s spelunking, white water sledging, jetboating, fishing, you name it. For something a bit lower-budget and earth-bound, how about renting a couple of mountain bikes and enjoying the surrounding stellar single-track? There’s also excellent horseback riding around Queenstown; check in with Moonlight Stables (03-442-1229) once you get to town.

Other spots worth seeing? Mt. Cook is pretty spectacular. Weather permitting, plan on taking a helicopter to the glaciers and on to the summit from the west coast. Just north of Christ Church is the somewhat touristy town of Kaikoura, well worth a stop for sealife lovers. Here you can see—and swim with—dolphins, seals and a melange of whales, including orcas, humpback and sperm. If you succumb to one true tourist activity during your trip, consider making it a whale watch and dolphin swim off of Kaikoura.

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