This is the big one, or rather the Grand one, the Grand Tour of the South Island.
3,500km of wonderful roads, coastlines, mountain passes and verdant valleys, such a variety of stunning scenery and interesting destinations, almost as if many countries best features were contained within a single island. And because the drives between towns and cities have hardly any motorways, freeways or dual carriageways, this is at least a 10 day trip, more if you’re taking in the delights at the destinations.
Leaving Christchurch head to the West Coast via Arthurs Pass which doesn’t climb high but does cut through some impressive landscapes, then check you’ve got your fuel stops and your accommodation planned out before heading down the wild West Coast. Even mobile phone signals can’t be taken for granted down here and you’ll need to know your who has priority signs at the large single lane river bridges you’ll encounter en route – yes, even on a State Highway.
There’s not one but two accessible glaciers you can visit at Fox and Franz Josef, before climbing the not insignificant Haast Pass and dropping down to the magnificent lakes at Wanaka. Now you’ve come this far you might as well carry on to the charming Arrowtown, (particularly picturesque in autumn), and then the tourist capital of Queenstown. If you’re not into your adventure sports there are plenty of high quality quieter alternatives such as boating, golf, vineyards and of course walks. It’s a no through road, but don’t miss out on the 40 minute drive onto tiny Glenorchy – a fabulous dipping and diving lakeside twister, with a lovely lagoon walk at the end and some quite mad birds….
Then double back into and out from Queenstown into real wilderness through the Homer Tunnel and onto the end of the world at Milford Sound with its spectacular fjords. Doubling back head across to Scottish tinged east coats of historic Dunedin, then inland again to drive through the Lindis Pass and then yet more crystal clear stunning lakes near Mount Cook and Tekapo. Mount Cook village offers the easy 3 hour return walk through the Hooker Valley to see the mountain up as close as you’d want to.
Head back to Christchurch via the charming small town of Geraldine and then take Scenic Highway 72 back where the Canterbury Plains run alongside the Southern Alps, before returning through Christchurch and onto Kaikoura for whale watching. Fantastic coastal roads take you up into the vineyards of Blenheim, then track across to artisan Nelson and tranquil Golden Bay, gateways to the wonderful Abel Tasman National Park.
Finally down the rugged West Coast to the pancake rocks at Punakaiki and come back to get the wonderful views in the other direction back over Arthurs Pass and in the blink of quite a few eyes, you’ve completed the fantastic figure of eight route, that you’ll be talking about for a lifetime.
The South Island Grand Tour
Delights that await you...
Click through the gallery below to see just some of the delights that await you en route, many of which were taken on my own adventures, (you can probably spot those ones….)