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Friday, June 8, 2018

New Zealand 2-Week Self-Drive South Island Itinerary

Kia Ora! - I’m probably gonna start all my New Zealand blog post like this. So, we took one of the common destinations as part of our honeymoon (we did consider Turkey, just saying), and we spent a total of 4 days in the North Island and 13 days in the South Island. This country which was once inhabited by hobbits, elves and dwarves... and Maori, is a natural beauty with its gorgeous curves and peaks. It’s not difficult to understand why the Lord of the Rings trilogy was shot here.
So if you were like us who’s temporarily sick of the city life and wish to explore Mama Nature, read on for:
  1. Our full, actual itinerary (places of interests are marked in orange!)
  2. More travel tips to NZ
  3. Budget breakdown
If you know what you're in for, I'm still sure that you'll still need these essential tips (it saved our asses, and might save yours too!).

Day 1: 10-hour flight from Singapore to Auckland
After researching for the best and economical way to fly to both North and South Island, we chose Air New Zealand for its direct and affordable flights to Auckland, then Jetstar to Christchurch.

Air New Zealand Review
To be honest, the economy seats for Air New Zealand ain’t that comfortable, slightly squeezy, the seat incline was pretty bad for a long-haul flight, service was mediocre, but at least their safety video was the best we have seen so far. As of current, there are only two diect flights to New Zealand from Singapore - Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines. The latter is about $500 more expensive.

Getting from Auckland Airport to City
We booked the SkyBus prior to the trip for a slight discount ($32 for a one-pax return, compared to $34 if you buy it at the airport). SkyBus is great because it is 24/7, runs pretty frequently and stops at several points in Auckland City.
The icon.

Day 2-3: Auckland
Here’s what you need to know. Shops close as early as 5pm. Usually, most restaurants and supermarkets operate till late (by late, I mean 9-10pm), so save the shopping trips for the early afternoon and resting in the evening. The 3-km Queen Street is perfect for shopping, with countless restaurants, bars, cafes, souvenir shops and big brands, such as Prada, LV and Gucci.
Chuffed's coffee is one of the best.

For the first day, we took a 30-min bus to Takapuna, a town by the beach. There’s a really great restaurant called Takapuna Beach Cafe to meet your brunch needs before strolling along the beautiful coast.
Takapuna Beach Cafe - definitely a must-go

The first of many Western food to come (savour it while it last)

Day 4: Christchurch Airport > City (30 mins)
It’s only a 1.5-hour flight from Auckland to Christchurch. We collected our car near the airport before heading to the city. First impression of Christchurch? Deserted.

Years after the major earthquake, Christchurch is slowly rebuilding itself.

Shops here close even earlier at 3-4pm. There isn’t a lot of sightseeing to do at the city, so we explored the Transitional Church and a nearby park at Latimer Square before heading to Pak’nSAVE for some groceries shopping for the road trip. We stayed at a spacious and modern Airbnb, tucked away at Mount Pleasant.
Transitional church.

Pak'nSAVE is your BFF.

Day 5: Christchurch > Fernside (40 mins)
Before the short 40-minute drive to Fernside from Christchurch, we stopped by The Palms at Shirley, a shopping centre, as recommended by our Airbnb host. It’s probably the best place when you don’t know where to go (we went there thrice during the stay in Christchurch). Visiting a farm is one of the highlights of our trip, where we get to explore a real farm, witness a sheep shearing, step on loads of droppings while feeding sheeps and alpacas. We highly recommend to include a farm stay in your itinerary. Pete’s Farm Stay is a great one.

Tip: Top up full tank, fuel is gonna get expensive after Christchurch.
Fun times with Alpacas

Day 6: Fernside > Arthur’s Pass > Hokitika (2.5-3 hours)
To get to the west coast, you gotta go through the mountains, and what better way is there other than Arthur’s Pass where you drive through uh, mountains. Stop by Otira Viaduct Lookout for a view of the highway and perhaps walk the Devil Punchbowl trail to see some water fall (it was closed for renovation when we’re there, unfortunately). There is a small town in the middle where you can grab some food and fuel if needed. However, being the only place to get your resources, prices are all jacked up.
Otira, where a highway can be an attraction.

Hokitika is a small town, nothing much to explore. We stayed near the glow worm dell so we took our flashlights and umbrella in the middle of the night, yup, just to see the glow worms. It was quite a sight actually (albeit slightly creepy), just imagine pitch black darkness with thousands of blue stars. Just that they are glowing maggots.

Tip: Skip the glow worm caves and head to Glow Worm Dell for free sightings of glow worms.

Day 7: Hokitika > Franz Josef Glacier (3 hours)
Explore Hokitika Gorge (and unfortunately, it was closed when we’re there), Lake Ianthe and Okita (a town beside a black sand beach) before heading to Glacier Country, a stretch which consists of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. There are plenty of activities, such as heli rides to the glacier and hiking, but as you all may not know, Lady M is carrying our seed, so we had to cancel activities which are deemed more adventurous. We stayed the night at Scenic Hotel at Franz Josef.
Ianthe. Whatever that means.

Day 8: Franz Josef Glacier > Wanaka (3 hours)
Trust me, the journey to Wanaka is gonna be a pretty long and boring drive. Stop by Lake Matheson for a short 45-minute hike to witness a lake that supposedly reflects perfectly. Supposedly, because luck ain’t on our side, it was windy and drizzling. Wind + rain = ripples = no darn reflection. Towards Wanaka, there’s the Blue Pools Walk, Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea.
Where's my reflection at Matheson? Oh, it rhymes.

Wanaka is a beautiful town, we recommend stopping by Relishes Cafe for a brunch and take a few shots at the most Instagrammed tree, #thatwanakatree before heading to Queenstown the next day. Contrary to my beliefs, the tree is still alive and will bloom in Spring.
#thatwanakatree a.k.a. Lonely, Mr. Lonely.

Day 9-10: Wanaka > Arrowtown > Queenstown (1.5 hours)
On the way to Queenstown, you'll pass by an amazing of hundreds and thousands of bras hanging on a fence. Meet the Cardrona Bra Fence, where you can go commando and hang yours there too.
From AA to KK.

Go for a short detour to Arrowtown, a historic gold mining town. Although the gold's probably all mined, the small town definitely hasn't lost its charm. Just a heads up, this place is packed with tourists, and it's not hard to see why.

If you ask many, "what's your favourite place in New Zealand?" Chances are, they would say it's Queenstown. Probably the most exciting town in New Zealand, Queenstown is also known as the adrenaline capital because of its adventurous activities such as paragliding, skydiving, bungee jump, and swing and whatever. And obviously we can’t do these, but don’t worry, the town is an attraction by itself, that holds a beach, countless restaurants and bars (please do yourself a favour and get a Fergburger). 
On top of the world Queenstown

We got recommendations to head to Glenorchy, but it's too darn far, so we stopped by Moke Lake instead. It's quite a drive though. Slippery roads because of the snow, sheep, one-way roads, etc.
Moke Lake. The only lake that has the name before "lake".

Tip: Take a gondola and head up the Skycity just before the sun sets, you'll get to see Queenstown from a bird's eye view in both day and night.
Queenstown from the top.

Day 11: Queenstown > Te Anau (2.5 hours)
The drive to Te Anau is pretty boring, I suggest you take a brunch at Yonder, before heading to Te Anau - a really small town with nothing much to do. When you find the supermarket to be the most interesting place to visit, that's when you know the town is pretty boring. Still, brownie points for being surrounded by the mountains, at least you have a nice view while chilling.

Tip: On the way to Te Anau, you'll pass by Mossburn, the NPD self-service kiosk has one of the cheapest fuel around.
At one of the many flats (or plains, or whatever you call it)

Day 12: Te Anau > Milford Sound > Te Anau (4 hours)
Wake up early for this, people, because the 4-hour return drive doesn't include several stops you'll be taking along the most scenic route in New Zealand - wait for it, the Te Anau Milford Highway. How creative. But here's where we stopped during the drive, in order from Te Anau to Milford Sound: Te Anau Downs, Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lake, Knobs Flat, Lake Gunn. There are also several trails to hike if you're up.
Milford Sound.

Tip: Pre-book your tickets for a cruise to Milford Sound using Bookme (their version of Groupon/Fave with last minute deals). We booked it only one day before as the weather wasn't looking great. The cruise had to end early as they were closing the roads due to heavy snowfall. Thank God we got out (roads may close for several days).

Day 13: Te Anau > Dunedin (4 hours)
Get ready for another long drive today as you say Haere rā (ha-eh-reh rah - Goodbye) to the fjordlands. There won't be much for the first half of the drive as you pass by towns and more towns. We stopped by Gore to try the famous bluff oysters (chowder) at one of the eateries before heading to Kaka Point, and Nugget Point - a short 6-min hike to a beautiful lighthouse at the end of the Catlin coasts. The sceneries are crazily beautiful as you stare into the vast horizon.
(Mc)Nugget Point.

My favourite town
If I got to choose a place to migrate in NZ, it's gonna be this bustling city of Dunedin (it's seriously huge) and has loads of restaurants, bars, heck, it has a university with over 20,000 students, all in one place. We highly recommend getting your Asian fix at The Jitsu. Trust me, you'll need it after days and days of burgers and sandwiches.
Dunedin Railway Station.

Explore the iconic Dunedin Railway Station before heading to Baldwin Street at the northern part of Dunedin. This street is also the steepest street. In the world. Check your bucket list by driving up and down the slope. Trust me, it's like a roller coaster ride and you have tourists cheering at the side.
Steep steep.

Tip: Same as Day 11, on your way out, take the chance to top up at NPD!

Day 14: Dunedin > Pukaki > Tekapo (4 hours)
Next up, head towards Moeraki Boulder Beach on the way to Pukaki. This beach is mysteriously littered with huge round boulders like some alien sci-fi crop circles, or maybe they are dinosaur eggs, who knows? There's even one which you can climb into:
This one looks like a bold boulder bowl (okay, my creative juice is running out).

Head pass Twizel into Lake Pukaki. It's a really beautiful lake with Mount Cook as its backdrop. Besides taking loads of photos there, try their Mount Alpine Salmon (closes at 5pm). The tastiest salmon you're gonna eat for a long time. It's fresh, it ain't that expensive and the sashimi melts in your mouth.

P.S. We actually drove from Tekapo back to Pukaki just for the salmon (and maybe the view) because it was closed the previous day. Didn't regret at all.

From Pukaki, it's a short 30-minute drive to Tekapo. Our Airbnb host had kindly reminded us not to drive over the 100km/h limit especially the roads leading to Tekapo as there are speed cams. Upon reaching Tekapo, you may want to head to the iconic Church of the Good Sheperd for a sunset view before grabbing dinner at the Reflections Cafe. It's a really, really small town (you can drive end to end within a minute) so take your time to explore and chill. If you have not, you can book a star-gazing tour.

Do you know? Lake Tekapo is an international dark sky reserve, meaning to say that it has one of the darkest skies, perfect to catch a glimpse of the galaxy, milky way and millions of stars. But guess what, the darn clouds had to be there, the darn moon had to shine so bright.

If you're lucky, you may be able to catch this scene (source)

Check out how to catch the stars (and other valuable tips) here!

Day 15: Tekapo > Christchurch (3 hours)
Before leaving Tekapo, why not drop by the church for a last glance before heading back to the city? It's the last leg of your road trip in South Island, so enjoy the sceneries while you can.
Good bye, my love.

Day 16: Christchurch > Auckland
We booked an evening flight back to Auckland, so we had a little bit of time to explore Christchurch. We had a brunch at the art gallery and proceed to the Canterbury Museum - okay, this is the most interesting place in Christchurch. Highly recommended, it brings you through the history of NZ, from the early men, Maori, European colonization, World War, and even a kids section that educates them about the sun and light. Best thing? It's free. Step aside, Artscience Museum.

Tip: Christchurch is really boring, to be awfully honest. We planned to watch Deadpool 2 at The Palms initially, but it was filled so we just grabbed popcorn and drinks and watch YouTube at the food court, before heading to the airport 3 hours early.

Day 17: Auckland > Singapore
Of course, we had to end the honeymoon with a bang. By bang, it means "bang", a hole in the wallet. Reserve a lunch appointment at their Orbit 360 restaurant for a free ride up Auckland's most iconic building - Sky Tower. Psst, you just have to make an appointment, head up for the view, and cancel the appointment. What an ass. Spend the rest of your time to do some shopping and get souvenirs at Queen Street.
This restaurant spins, until limbeh dizzy.

Budget Breakdown

NZ is not the cheapest place around (definitely cheaper than Iceland though), so it's best you plan a budget. Here's a rough gauge how much we spent during the trip (all prices below are shown for per pax):

Flights: $1208
Air New Zealand (Singapore to Auckland, return) = $1058
Jetstar (Auckland to Christchurch, return) = $150

Car Rental: $320 (13 days rental + full insurance)
Petrol: $300

Accommodation: $1200 for 16 days (Airbnbs & hotels)

SIM card: $40 (basic traveller's pack + 1GB data)

Food: $620
Groceries: $60

Attractions: $39 (for Gondola at Queenstown)

Total: $3,787 (excluding personnel expenses and souvenirs)

And, there you have it. 2 weeks of self-drive South Island, with a glimpse of the North. For more essential tips (trust me, you need it), visit 11 New Zealand Travel Tips You Wish You Knew, Seriously.

If you want more to add onto your itinerary, check out these 100 things to do.