Australian Photographer Jimmy Raper is currently on a whirlwind trip though the Americas. Before arriving at his first destination, he decided to make a week-long pitstop in New Zealand. There, he rented a campervan and drove around the South Island, starting in the city of Christchurch and winding up in Milford Sound. The route gave him plenty of time to explore and enjoy each of the areas he stopped in and here, Jimmy recounts some of his most favorite and memorable spots.
Lake Tekapo is nestled in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island. Upon arrival, we parked our Apollo camper van adjacent to the water. Although it was already quite late at night, we stayed up to watch the sky; the number of stars we could see was absolutely amazing. We spent the next morning walking around and relaxing in Lake Tekapo’s outdoor hot springs, one of the area’s main attractions. Three tiers of pools, all at different (very warm) temperatures, are available to indulge in year-round. Though there may be snow on the ground in winter, the springs are still open.
From Lake Tekapo, we headed northwest to Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain at over 12,000 feet tall. It is part of the Southern Alps, which run the length of the South Island. We had hoped to climb to the peak but unfortunately ran out of time. We did watch the sunset, though, and it was absolutely magical to see the last glimmers of light shine and dwindle over the enormous mountaintop.
From Mount Cook, we drove to the town of Wanaka, arriving in the middle of the night. When we awoke the next morning, we were completely taken aback by the beauty of the area and the surrounding mountains. We decided to spend the day climbing Roys Peak, known for having a trail that zigzags steeply up the side of the mountain, through grass and farm land, until the ridge of the summit. At the top, the view was incredible; pictures don’t do it any justice. For those who are brave enough to make the climb, I’d make sure you have plenty of food and water with you – the trek up is exhausting. Additionally, begin your ascension around lunchtime; you’ll arrive to the peak just before sunset – the colours you’ll see are amazing.
Queenstown is one of the coolest, most vibrant cities around. There are tons of awesome restaurants and pubs to try; I recommend “Fergburger” for one of the best burgers you’ll ever have! The city is known as the adventure capital of the country and there you can try anything from bungie jumping to white water rafting; from paragliding to jet boating through narrow canyons. There are a heap of information centers in town that can point you in the right direction. If you’re visiting in the winter, Queenstown also offers great opportunities for skiing and snow boarding.
Although Milford Sound is not too far from Queenstown, the drive there takes about 5 hours as you rope around the mountains. It’s absolutely spectacular, though; the landscapes change from mountains to forests to farmland as you go.
In Milford Sound, we took a ferry ride through the Fjords; doing so is the most popular activity there and rightly so: the area’s beauty is absolutely mind-blowing! It feels like you are traversing a completely surreal, magical place as you coast through, with waterfalls and sheer rock faces (that rise 1,200 meters or more) on either side of you.
After the ferry ride, we attempted to hike to Lake Marion in the Darran Mountains of Fiordland National Park. It was a short but intense uphill hike that passed through huge boulders and collapsed trees. Again, it’s well worth the effort: you are awarded with an amazing view of the lake nestled in the mountains.
Driving around New Zealand was an incredible experience; there is so much stunning beauty everywhere you look. There are other places I’ll have to return to see – Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers; the city of Dunedin; the entire North Island – but I’m grateful to have gotten my first taste of the country.
My advice to you: do the same. It doesn’t matter how much time you have; rent a campervan and get out there. There is so much to see and you won’t want to stay in one place the whole time. One last insider tip: Rent a diesel car or van. Although it’s slightly more expensive, petrol prices are over $2 a litre compared to diesel at $1.40. That diesel car will pay for itself! Safe travels and enjoy.
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