Winter of 2017 – I had one of the most memorable vacations ever! I surprised my little sister by posting a video on her Facebook wall revealing that I bought a ticket to come visit her in New Zealand. Needles to say there was lots of planning involved right after, though my sister kept some of it as a surprise for me.
I highly recommend for anyone who flies to New Zealand to buy tickets through Air New Zealand https://www.airnewzealand.com/home? – best airlines I have ever flown on. Normally you will catch a little over 5 hours flight from Dulles International Airport to LAX and then you are on a direct flight to Auckland, New Zealand for about 13 hours. So obviously for such a long flight you want to feel as comfortable as you possibly can and Air New Zealand can provide that comfort.
During my flight I felt a little achy but didn’t pay to much attention because I just thought it was from being on a plane for so long. By the time I landed in Auckland I really felt sick – my back was achy, I felt hot and my chest was burning. I was so mad at myself after all that planning and preparing and excitement of finally have that girls vacation I got sick. The guilt feeling of ruining our plans was enormous. Thankfully I was able to catch some sleep the first day and my sister made sure to heavily medicate me every few hours with some herbal NZ drugs … I had no choice but kick that cold’s butt. The very next morning after my arrival I was surprised with a trip to South Island of New Zeland! We were catching a flight early in the morning flying to Queenstown.
I am going to break my New Zeland vacation in two parts (two separate blogs) as that’s how our vacation went down. First part of our 2 week vacation we spent in the South Island of New Zealand – we stayed in the most dreamy cute apartment overlooking the magical Lake Wakatipu.
I compare Queenstown to a heart of New Zealand where scenic landscape and thrilling sense of constant adventure collide in one. Queenstown is just magnificent, I think I took the most beautiful photos I have ever taken from the plane window while landing. Queenstown is a perfect base town in South Island for exploring surrounding vineyards, historic mining towns and also locations with the most adventurous sports activities in the world.
I can write so much about beauty of this place but instead I will put my suggestions of things to do while visiting Queenstown.
You absolutely have to take the Gondola ride to Bob’s Peak – enjoy the town’s most breathtaking views. Once you on the top there are two luge tracks and it’s so much fun to ride it, sort of like bobsled. We were racing each other downhill through tunnels and dippers while enjoying great views. You can purchase your tickets in advance but you don’t have to (we didn’t and the line wasn’t bad) https://www.skyline.co.nz/en
Visit vineyards in Gibbston Valley. Next time when I plan to visit I would love to explore this area by bike. I loved meeting winemakers and enjoyed tastings. The views from every angle is just amazing. We visited Chard Farm Vineyard and I loved their Pinot Gris, the outside reminded me Tuscany style building and grounds were so pretty. The drive to the vineyard was an experience itself – we were driving up the hill on a narrow gravel road and you could see Kawarau bungy bridge when you look down. http://www.chardfarm.co.nz/
Grab wine at Perky’s Bar https://www.facebook.com/perkysqueenstown/ its the only floating bar in NZ. We had great wine there before dinner and watched the sunset on the front of the boat. I really loved the rooftop outdoor garden area and interior was lovely. You can bring your own food just buy drinks inside of the boat.
Shotover Jet – this was also part of a surprise from my sister. Get ready for a Big Red Jet Boat shooting 55+miles/hr through tight canyons and so close to the rocks and add 360 spins to this, also prepare to get wet! This ride was absolutely crazy and thrilling but such an amazing experience. I was in awe from the driver’s skills.
Iconic Kawarau bridge bungy jump – as I mentioned before Queenstown is a home to a range of adventurous activities. The first world’s and the most popular and famous bungy jumps are Kawarau Bridge Bungy. My sister tried really hard to convince me to jump and I think she may have promised me lots of things that were super appealing but I just didn’t have guts to do it. So instead I surprised her with tickets to do side by side zip line. I highly recommend to do this – it was super fun. The girls that worked there were pretty funny and played a joke on us by pushing us backwards right after we finished with the ride (we honestly didn’t expect it and it added up so much more thrill to it) https://www.bungy.co.nz/queenstown/kawarau-bungy-centre/kawarau-zipride/
Visit Arrowtown which is situated on the banks of Arrow River. This town was established during the gold rush of the 1860s. Take a tour around the grounds and visit vibrant center filled with little shops, bars and restaurants. This town is only 20 minutes away from Queenstown. We enjoyed a French cuisine, restaurant, that has a nice outdoor seating area and pretty delicious food http://www.bonjour-arrowtown.com/
Milford Sound (I should probably write a separate blog about this place) – it was another surprise. The night before our trip the only information I received was to get ready for a boat ride. We left super early and drove for a little over 4 hours through some amazingly spectacular countryside. The ride itself felt like a unique journey as we were approaching into the heart of Fiordland National Park. Before we reached Milford Sound, we drove through Homer Tunnel which was opened in 1954 and consists of two very narrow lanes – be prepared to drive in complete darkness.
Finally we arrived to the settlements of Milford Sound. Once we parked our car and walked outside my sister received a surprise on her own – as I didn’t know what she meant by “be ready for a boat ride” I wore my ankle boots with heels (in my head we were taking lunch boat with entertainment). I remember stares from each direction when I walked inside of the departure wharf where the boat tours were starting their journey. Everyone around me wore hiking boots and waterproof clothing, huge backpacks – at the least my sister wore tennis shoes and warm jacket … how did I not pay attention???
We boarded our boat and began our tour into Milford Sound… I am going to just leave photos here
Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls
You can spot some New Zealand fur seals enjoying the sun
Kea bird is the only truly alpine parrot in the world and you can only find them in the South Island of NZ
Lake Fergus – small lake between Lake Te Ana’s and Milford Sound
Enjoy walking/hiking tracks within the Fiordland National Park. This area has a reputation as the Walking Capital of the World.
Milford Sounds is a must when you visit South Island of New Zealand it’s truly the eighth wonder of the world
The next location that we visited was magnificent Crown Range, Wanaka. It’s only 50 minutes drive but there are so many stops you would want to make. It’s pretty steep windy roads so pay attention while driving. Make time to stop at the summit for some awesome photos.
We made stop in a beautiful Alpine village, New Zealand’s most iconic and oldest hotels – Cardrona Hotel. There is a very cozy restaurant inside of the hotel where you will enjoy outdoor garden, open fire and plenty areas with games for the kids. We truly enjoyed our brunch.
Lake Wanaka is a beautiful destination it set against the alpine backdrop of Mount Aspiring National Park. Make sure to take photo with the most Instagram famous tree.. partially submerged willow tree standing alone in Lake Wanaka
Downtown is pretty cute and its filled with restaurants, bars and shops. Grab coffee or wine to relax and enjoy the amazing scenery. We only spent one day at this beautiful place but there so much to do from hiking, biking to wine tasting you can find activities for any type of traveler.
On the way back to Queenstown you should definitely make few pit stops (there are plenty wineries and farmers markets).
I am definitely planning to come back to South Island, there is just too much to see there!!! Want to give special shout out to my sister and my brother in law who organized such a beautiful trip, I am so lucky to have the most amazing family!