New Zealand South Island: Lakes, Mountains and Fjords

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

New Zealand is well known for its pristine land, water and air. A popular way to experience it all is to do a self drive road trip so that you have the flexibility to stop wherever and do whatever your heart fancies. In February 2015, we flew into Queenstown, starting our eight day South Island self drive journey.

We stayed in Queenstown for two nights. Our first stop after picking up the car, believe it or not, was a burger joint - Ferg Burger - a hyper popular place that always has a long queue no matter what time the day is. It was mid afternoon when we got there and queue was about one hour long. Starving, still we faithfully waited. The huge burgers certainly satisfied the hungry monsters although I honestly don't understand about all the fuss. They probably did an awesome job in marketing.

With a full belly, we went for a stroll along Lake Wakatipu and the tranquil Queenstown Gardens in the town center. My first impression of Queenstown was how pure the air felt and how sharp everything looked through the crystal clear air, and how mesmerising those constant changing clouds were, floating over the blue lake and snow-capped mountains.

Queenstown, New Zealand

We spent the following day checking out more places around town and took a drive to the nearby town Glenorchy. One highlight in town is the Queenstown Hill hike, which should be on everyone's to-do list. It's a 2.5km trail to the top of Queenstown Hill where you have breathtaking panorama views. The trails were well maintained with some steep sections. It took us about an hour to casually reach the top and half an hour to get down.

View from Queenstown Hill, Queenstown, New Zealand

From Queenstown we headed to Milford Sound where we would do a cruise. But on the way, we stopped at Fiordland National Park near Te Anau and hiked part of the famous Kepler Track. With a quaint suspension bridge across turquoise water, thick spongy moss in the lush forest and a board walk over open meadows, we were immediately seduced and wished we could spend longer time in this beautiful Hobbit world.

Kepler Track Hike, New Zealand

The three hour out and back cruise on the Mildford Sound took us all the way to the end of the fjord, skirting the cliffs sometimes for us to see the native forest, sun-baking seals and cascading waterfalls up close. It was well worth the long drive.

We continued our journey to Lake Wanaka to see the famous"lone tree" - a lone willow tree standing in the lake symbolising hope and endurance. It was so serene around the lake that we decided to have a picnic lunch before heading off, feeling on top of the world!

Lone tree at Lake Wanaka, New Zealand

Our next stop was Mount Cook National Park, home of the highest mountains and longest glaciers in New Zealand. It helped Sir Edmund Hilary prepare his eventual climb of Mount Everest. We did the spectacular10km return Hooker Valley hike, along the Hooker River between mighty peaks, over three suspension bridges until reaching Hooker Glacial Lake with Mount Cook, New Zealand's tallest mountain as the backdrop. The hike felt like an ultimate symphony of ice, rock and water, wilderness at its purest form!

Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand

The milky blue coloured Lake Tekapo was our final stop before we headed to Christchurch where we flew back home. On the way to the airport, we were already yearning for a longer trip back in this pristine land.