So next in my Top 5 series reflecting on our amazing 5 week holiday around the South island of New Zealand is ‘Top 5 trips/activities’. As with my Top 5 places post I found this incredibly difficult to choose only 5 as we did such great things. I have cheated a little and included those that just missed out at the bottom
Top 5 things to do:
1. Mount Cook: Glacier Explorers boat trip
A must-do activity for anyone visiting the Mount Cook area is the Glacier Explorers lagoon boat trip. Having also been to Iceland’s famous and striking Jokulsarlon lagoon we weren’t sure how this would measure up but it was a really fantastic experience! The surrounding landscape of the Tasman Glacier is striking, with amazing views of Mount Cook itself whilst out on the lagoon. The photo opportunities are endless and we really loved our trip we took back in October. We were also very lucky with having such perfect weather for the trip. The weather at Mount Cook is very temperamental and changeable, and so we had to postone our trip from the day before but it was certainly worth it! The whole package provided by Glacier Explorers involves a short coach ride of about 15 minutes along a windy gravel road, followed by a brisk walk along a flat path through beautiful terrain. This brings you to the Tasman Glacier Lake. The really great thing about this trip is the size of boats (ours held about 10 people) and that you can get really close to the icebergs. We spent about 45 mins to an hour out on the lake and travelled around the lake exploring, as well as getting as close to the Tasman glacier as was safe to. We were also able to hold parts of the icebergs as well as having time to take in the stunning scenery.
Cost: NZD $145 pp.
Times: Up to 7 trips daily (seasonal)
Total activity time: 2 hours 30 (1 hour on the lake)
2. Marlborough Sounds boat trip
This was a truly memorable experience for us, as we had booked this trip to coincide with my husband’s celebration of his 30th birthday and it certainly was a birthday never to forget! Certainly not a cheap activity, but for a special occasion it is really worth its value. There are lots of boat trip options leaving from the Picton area around the sounds, but on this special day we didn’t want to be on board a big board full of tourists, we wanted to chose where we went and what we experienced on board our own privately chartered boat - the Stormdancer. After much research we chose Queen Charlotte Boat Cruises and was in email contact with Sybil (who along with her husband Ian, own the company). Communication was very easy and we set up the arrangements for the trip. As the day arrived we were greeted by Sybil and welcomed into their home while Ian fuelled the boat ready for our trip. We boarded the boat and were briefed on safety procedures and soon set off on our half day cruise. The trip was really fantastic and we enjoyed travelling all around the sounds. Ian and Sybil had the perfect balance of chatting to us at times and giving us info about the area, but also leaving us to enjoy the time together, just us. We explored the sounds, stopping at little private coves and stopped at one for tea and delicious birthday cake (baked by Sybil!). We also saw different wildlife along the journey including a seal and the real highlight came when a pod of dolphins appeared and started following the boat. They jumped out of the waves behind the boat as we drove around and it really was an amazing sight to see them. All in all, it was a truly perfect trip and comes highly recommended.
Cost: NZD $450 for half day private charter of boat and you can choose your departure time.
Total activity time: Approx 3 hours.
3. Hanmer Springs thermal pools
Visiting the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools was the first main place we visited upon arrival in New Zealand back in September. We really enjoyed the time we spent relaxing here and the facilities are fantastic! There are so many different pools – twelve! – to choose from including adult only aqua therapy ones (with lovely relaxing massage jets), rock pools (with minerals) and super hot (and smelly!) sulphur ones. The thermal pools are set amongst the beautiful backdrop of the mountains and are a wonderful place to relax.
Details: Price: NZD$18 for single entry or $30 for 2 day pass, plus locker and towel hire.
Times: The pools are open from 10am to 9pm and you can spend as long as you like there!
4. Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony
Read more about our incredible expereince visiting the Oamaru Blue Pengiun Colony. Whether you feel you are a lover of penguins or not you will be by the end of this – believe me! This visit allows you to see the world’s smallest penguins, the blue penguins – only 40 cms high in their natural environment, coming in on shore and heading to nest. When we visited we were incredibly lucky to see a total of about 200 penguins come ashore. We also took a short walk just outside of the main area and saw some penguins crossing the road that had just come ashore. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t able to take photos (the above is copyright of the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony) and just seeing them is amazing! Set up with a strong conservation focus this company are helping to save and breed these lovely little creatures and it is a must-do trip if you find yourselves in the Dunedin/Oamaru area.
Details: Price: NZD$12/$18 day tour (unguided/guided); $25/$35 for evening tour (general/premium seating).
Times: 17.30-21.00 (depending on season).
5. Whale Watching in Kaikoura
We took a boat trip with Whale Watch back in September and had a great time out on the boat. We were lucky to see two sperm whales on our trip and had perfect weather conditions. Seeing these beautiful creatures in the water and spending time alongside them in the boat is a truly unforgettable experience Some reviews of the trip refer to sea sickness being a problem but we took our tablets and had no issues, so it isn’t something to be worried about.
Details: Price: NZD$145 pp.
Times: Up to 7 trips a day (seasonal)
Total activity time: 3 hours 30 (2 hours 30 out on the boat)
Trips that nearly made the list were:
- Glenorchy Journeys Half Day LOTR 4WD tour - an amazing guide and great fun! You explore Glenorchy’s stunning scenery and set the film locations from LOTR and The Hobbit. Read about our experience here. Cost = NZD$145 per person for 2+ people.
- The Kiwi birdlife park in Queenstown – your entrance fee helps towards conservation here and it is a fantastic place to visit, with well-cared-for kiwis, many other native birds and plants, and an excellently run live conservation show. Cost = NZD$38 per person.
- Heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier - this was only left off the list because we did this back in 2006 and it was so memorable (and a little pricey!) we did not replicate it on our 2012. Involving an amazing helicopter ride up on the glacier and short hike, this is a real all-time highlight of our various trips to NZ. Cost = NZD$395 per person.