South Island, New Zealand | Travel Guide

We spent the second half of our trip on the South Island of New Zealand (if you missed last week’s Auckland recap you can read it here). When I first visited New Zealand over 2 years go, I didn’t make it down to the South Island so I was glad we had time to make it down there. It was insanely beautiful and we loved our time there.

 Here’s what we did on the South Island:

1. Te Anau

Te Anau is about two hours from Queenstown and we stayed in a great Airbnb here so that we would be closer to Milford Sound. Te Anau is a cute little town right on a lake. Since we really only stayed here to be close to Milford Sound and make that drive a little easier, we didn’t expect much so we were pleasantly surprised. There’s a lot of cool new housing being built and it sits right on Lake Te Anau. It’s small but beautiful and we had a really nice, relaxing time here.  

2. Milford Sound

We got up crazy early and drove from Te Anau to Milford Sound. I posted about our experience on Instagram but basically, I thought it was a huge let down. A handful of people agreed that there is so much hype surrounding it and it doesn’t really live up to it. It took about two hours for us to drive there and once we were there I kept asking Josh where Milford Sound was because I couldn’t believe that what we were looking at was it. Even though it was a let down, we made the most of it and got coffee at Puipui Cafe before heading back. I think it’s probably a lot more impressive in the winter or spring when the mountains have snow and water flowing down them. I wouldn’t personally go back to Milford Sound but if you do choose to go it seems like you definitely need to do one of the tours to get the full experience. We didn’t know that so we didn’t book one. The drive itself is pretty though, and there are a ton of places to stop along the way. Here are some of the stops we did: Hobbit Movie Scene rest stop, Mirror Lakes, Cascade Creek/Lake Gun (45 min hike), Falls Creek Waterfall, Gertrid Valley Lookout, Chasm Viewing Bridge. If you’ve been to Milford Sound I would love to hear your thoughts on it! 

3. Queenstown

We flew in and out of Queenstown and absolutely loved it there. It surrounds Lake Wakatipu and there is a ton to do. The town itself is really cute with shops and restaurants and some cool new architecture being built. We even talked about buying a house when we were there because it’s all the things we like in a place – near the water, beautiful, good food, quiet but plenty to do. Our first day in Queenstown we booked this great Around the Basin Bike Tour but it was pouring so we had to cancel. It looked really fun though and it took you to a bunch of wineries so definitely check it out if you are heading there. We stayed right on the water so we walked along the lake and had some really nice relaxing mornings here. Our favorite places to eat were Big Fig and Bespoke Kitchen. Big Fig is probably one of our all-time favorite restaurants now. They serve a lot of healthy salads, slow cooked meat and vegan desserts. It’s Lebanon inspired and everything has so much flavor! We did the vegan plate when we went and everything they served us was amazing! 

4. Wanaka

We drove to Wanaka to see the Wanaka Tree which was really pretty. Then we checked out the Wanaka Lavender Farm and we both loved it! I thought we would stop in for 30 minutes or so but we ended up staying for several hours. It was so beautiful and peaceful - they have lavender fields, farm animals and a little café. There’s lots of fun lavender products to buy too, we got some lotions and bath oil and lavender honey and tea.   

We also found this really cool lookout on our way back to Queenstown which had an incredible view, it’s called Crown Range Road scenic lookout. 

5. Glenorchy

Our third day we drove to Glenorchy to ride horses at High Country Horses. They have a bunch of different trail options but we chose the trail to Isengard. If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan you’ll know what that is. If you’re like me, you’ll have no idea what’s going on. It was beautiful though! I didn’t take any pictures while riding because I just wanted to relax and enjoy it but our guide snapped a couple of us. If you follow me on Instagram you might have read about my hilarious experience with my horse, you can check it out in my highlights. After horseback riding we checked out Mrs. Wooly’s and the Wharf. 

We had such an amazing time in New Zealand. After a 6 month deployment and such a crazy year, it was so nice to have a few weeks of uninterrupted time together exploring a new place. We would definitely go back and may try to make it out there one more time before we leave Japan.