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The Road Less Travelled: Best Kept Secrets in New Zealand’s South Island

Truth be told, if you're forever wistfully dreaming over the never ending scenic photos of New Zealand and haven't dropped your bags and made a run to the airport yet, maybe this could sway you. With its utterly diverse landscape, stunning backdrops, beautiful beaches and pristine glacier lakes, it's no surprise NZ consistently tops the list as one of the most desired destinations for 18-35 year olds, who flock to the land of the long white cloud to grab a slice of mother nature at her finest.

But what about the road less travelled? What about the places that fall under the radar; the places where crowds are unheard of, experiences are once-in-a-lifetime and the level of outstanding natural beauty is pretty much off the chart.

We’ve handpicked New Zealand's South Island best-kept secrets, perfect for your summer or winter getaway...

"Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." - Robert Frost

Wanaka

If you’ve ever caught yourself daydreaming about New Zealand, there’s no doubt you would have heard of the ever popular Queenstown. But just an hour away lies a hidden gem – Queenstown’s charming sister town of Wanaka – a destination just perfect for those looking for a more relaxed vibe. As you enter this town, you’ll be faced with Lake Wanaka, a dazzling and crystal clear lake that’s 45-km long and the ultimate spot for kayaking, hiking or biking.

What to do? For those feelin’ more adventurous, why not test your level of fitness by hiking up Mount Roy, approx 1578 metres above sea level. Up here, you’ll get a panoramic 360-degree view of Wanaka – a site guaranteed to take your breath away. 

Not too far away from Wanaka is the Rob Roy glacier track which leads you to the Mount Aspiring National Park. Expect to find nature’s finest here, with mind-blowing mountains, glaciers, river valleys and alpine lakes. It takes approximately 3-4 hours to complete this track so come prepared – bring some picnic food!

Crystal clear lakes are in abundance around Wanaka, but one particularly breathtaking sight is Lake Hawea which covers a massive 140 km’s.

Lake Tekapo

A trip to New Zealand isn’t complete without visiting more than your fair share of lakes. But rest assured, the lakes are as picturesque, as pictured, and as beautiful as you had imagined.

If you’re lucky enough to make it to the South Island, driving through the Mackenzie region to witness Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki will give you all kinds of feels. Wondering why the colour of the lake is so damn glorious? The fresh glaciers that move through the river make up for the turquoise colours of the water, making it one hell of an aesthetically pleasing view.

Lake Tekapo

What to do? A short drive from Lake Tekapo is Mt Cook, which paints a pretty accurate picture of the scenery in the South Island. You’ll be spoilt for choice in this region, with the Southern Hemisphere’s first and biggest dark sky reserve. The Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve is pretty much every star lover’s dream. Due to the low levels of pollution on this side of Earth, it’s known as one of the best spots in the world for stargazing! 

Image of Mt Cook
Image source - https://www.instagram.com/courtney.dawe.photograghy/

The Caitlin’s 

Tucked away and unbeknownst to many is the less-travelled Southlands and Caitlin’s region at the most southerly point of New Zealand. It is also part of the Southern Scenic route and close to the town of Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland, which is 2.5-hour drive from Milford Sound.

This rugged coastline is home to some fine specimens, and we’re not talking the two legged human kind, we’re talking wildlife, in the form of marine birds and mammals.

What to do? For some wild and rugged coastline views, check out Nugget Point. This coast (which even comes complete with photo worthy lighthouse) stretches far and wide with rocky bays, deep valleys and plenty of chances to spot penguins, dolphins and even seals if you’re lucky. Cathedral caves is another of Caitlin’s attractions, soaring up to 30 metres overhead with access at low tide only. It really is a majestic and natural work of art.

Kaikoura 

Consider yourself a bit of a wildlife enthusiast? Than Kaikoura could be the place for you. ‘Kai’ means food, and ‘koura’ means crayfish, and that means YOU SHOULD EAT PLENTY OF CRAYFISH. This town is a scenic two-hour drive from Christchurch and will leave you enchanted with its sweeping mountain landscapes, marine life encounters and coastal walks. Give the local sea colony a visit and go whale-spotting – these friendly giants are an unmissable Kaikoura attraction!

Kaikoura - New Zealand

Moeraki

Welcome to New Zealand’s fishing village and one of the most fascinating attractions in the Otago region – The Moeraki Boulders.

What to do? Make your way to Koekohe beach near Moeraki on NZ’s Otago coast and you will come face to face with boulders up to 3 metres in diametre. These spherical “stones” have naturally formed in ancient sea floor sediments around 60 million years ago through shoreline erosion from coastal cliffs. It’s perfect during sunrise or sunset! 

The Marlborough region

Nestled at the northeastern tip of the South Island, is Marlborough, a well-known wine region and world-class producer of Sauvignon blanc with unbeatable coastal views, peninsulas and islands to match.

What to do? Take a winery tour and visit one of many vineyards by car, coach or bicycle and treat yourself to a glass of pinot noir. Being a region that offers oodles of sunshine, why not explore the waterways of the Sounds which include the 70-km Queen Charlotte walking track, the river of Pelorus, Kenepuru and Mahau.

Marlborough

Another popular way to explore the beauty of Marlborough sounds is by jumping on a half or full day cruise. I mean…just look at that view.

Cruise ship in Marlborough

A trip to New Zealand is a spellbinding journey filled with plenty of adventures and scenery that will only leave your mind-blown. Explore trips to New Zealand with Contiki and experience the best-kept secrets this country has to offer.

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