Exploring New Zealand’s South Island was a huge highlight of my year of travels. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen what a beautiful country it is and what a blast I had touring with Wild Kiwi. There is so much to see, and though a week is hardly enough time, Wild Kiwi jam packs it full of all the highlights and some seriously fun adventures! Check out the video below for a recap:
I was not at all interested in cramming on a massive bus with a huge amount of other people. Wild Kiwi is a small group tour (max 20 people) that travels around in a swanky Mercedes tour bus. It comes with reclining leather seats, each with its own USB charging plug. The bus is also air conditioned, has a sweet stereo, and massive windows perfect for taking pictures out of. All the luggage is pulled behind in a separate trailer, so no need to worry about having your suitcase on the bus itself.
The Tour Guide
Guides can make or break a tour. Fortunately for me, Nick, our tour guide, was fantastic. He was like a walking encyclopedia of New Zealand knowledge, I honestly don’t know how he fit so many facts in his head. We’d be driving along and he could name off nearly every mountain and 10 random facts about it, earning him the nickname, “Nick-lopedia.” He was fun and silly, but always still professional. Plus he took my prank of locking him out of the van like a champ 😉 Sorry again, Nicky!
Wild Kiwi also promises boutique accommodation and not just “musty hostels.” The first two nights in Franz Josef, we stayed at the Rainforest Retreat. It was a pretty nice place. I shared a room with 3 other girls and we had our own private bathroom.The wifi was free, but the connection was a bit spotty. The restaurant on site was really good and had awesome happy hour prices!
Holy wow, the house in Queenstown was insane. Wild Kiwi actually owns the house, and it is incredible. You stay there for 3 nights, and the view alone makes the price worth the tour. Seriously though, if you were to rent this house on its own for 3 nights, it would probably be more than the entire tour cost — SO worth it! You share bedrooms again and there are several shared bathrooms. There is a sweet hot tub, that is a must go in one night. The kitchen is really nice, great for cooking for a big group of people. The living room is really spacious which ended up being really fun to all hang out in. The only downside was the wifi, it only allowed a certain number of people to connect at one time, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s not a big deal.
The last night we stayed in Tekapo, and this was one of the few disappointments on the trip. The accommodation here was really just a backpackers hostel. They (the hostel) ended up overbooking so we ended up having some guys from our tour staying in our room. I didn’t mind, though I know some girls may not have been comfortable with that. The bathrooms were communal which wasn’t my favorite either. You couldn’t get any phone service in the room, and the wifi wasn’t free, though it hardly worked anyway. I was very grumpy this night because it was raining and I wasn’t going to be able to see the stars at Lake Tekapo, which I had really been looking forward to, so I think my view is probably more negatively skewed because I was disappointed by that. It really wasn’t a bad place to stay, just not quite the “boutique accommodation” I was expecting based on the previous two places.
You really do see SO much over the span of a week. It is a lot of driving and time on the bus, but the scenery is so beautiful and you so stop often, that it doesn’t seem too bad. One thing I really loved about going with Wild Kiwi was the flexibility. Instead of having everything preplanned, they give you a list of activities you can choose from (FYI most are an addition cost) in each place, allowing you to tailor your trip to exactly what you want to do. And for your convenience, just check off what you want to do, and Wild Kiwi takes care of all the bookings! They are a fairly new tour company and are still working out all the details so this may change a little, but when I went, these are the highlights of each day:
Day 1: Christchurch to Franz Josef
This was one of the few days that we had great weather, so I got some amazing landscape pictures with the sun out! We stopped at Castle Hill first, and it was a beautiful spot and a great introduction to what we could expect for the next week! We also stopped in Hotika, a cute little beach town. You’ve got to get a picture of “Hotika” spelled out in driftwood on the beach. Also, this is a great stop to get snacks or beer and wine for the night. Or possum fur nipple tassels if that’s your thing (true story, my friend got them as a gag gift for her sister). There is also a Kiwi Center there where for $20, you can catch a glimpse of the elusive kiwi bird! This night had a spectacular sunset. Once we arrived in Franz Josef, the hotel we were staying at had an unlimited pizza night. $20 for all the delicious pizza you could ever want — it’s so worth doing! They also have great drink specials during happy hour!
Day 2: Franz Josef
The biggest recommendation I can give you on this trip is to do the Franz Josef Heli Hike. Yes, it is very expensive but so worth it. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. The only way to get up and climb on the actual glacier is by helicopter. There are other options to do a hike at the base or kayak on the lake, but it doesn’t come close to actually being up on the ice and climbing through the crevasses and caves. The tour ended about midday, so I still had time to go and see more! A couple of friends and I opted to hike to the Callery Gorge Walk. The easy hike takes you through beautiful, lush rainforest to a suspension bridge over milky blue glacier water. It’s definitely worth doing. There’s another hike that takes you to some tunnels where you can see apparently see glow worms. The Heli-hike tour included a free entry into the Glacier Hot Pools. They were cool enough, but not worth paying for if you don’t have it included in a tour ticket. End your day with dinner and happy hour at the onsite restaurant!
Day 3: Franz Josef to Queenstown
Off to Queenstown! This drive is full of stunning scenery and landscapes. The first stop was at Ship Creek, where if you’re lucky, you might see some miniature dolphins! You can also do a short walk through the rainforest. DO NOT FORGET TO PUT ON BUG SPRAY! I cannot stress that enough. The sand flies, or whatever they were, destroyed my ankles. I was itching them for the remainder of the trip. Next stop, a short walk through the rainforest to a stunning waterfall that cascades down from the cliff above. There is no shortage of waterfalls on this trip! After that, it’s off to the famous Blue Pools, and let me tell you, they really are THAT blue! There are two suspension bridges on this short hike, both with beautiful views of the striking blue pools. Traveling on, we arrive at Lake Wanaka, though very cloudy that day, still lovely to see. Ideally, I would’ve liked to spend more time here and would’ve loved to have been able to do Roy’s Peak hike (a friend not on the tour did it, and her pictures are amazing). Regardless, you’ve got to check out the massive eels that live in the lake — seriously, they’re huge. After a long day of sightseeing and driving, we finally arrived in Queenstown just in time to catch the sunset! Enjoy a classic NZ BBQ dinner out on the balcony and take in the view.
Day 4: Milford Sound
This day was a longggg one, about 10 hours of driving round trip and 2 hours on the Milford Sound cruise. Personally, I would’ve rather flown there I think. It’s not offered as an option on Wild Kiwi, but might be worth adding for those who are interested. It’s expensive, but for only a 30-minute flight and amazing views along the way, it might be worth it. Technically, you could book it on your own, you don’t have to go with Wild Kiwi. It also turns Milford Sound into a half-day adventure giving you more time to explore Queenstown. Though long, it was a really pretty drive nonetheless, and I did get some good pictures at pitstops along the way. The cruise itself was great, very informative and had both indoor and outdoor deck viewing options. They also had food and beverages you can buy. My friends and I split a bottle of champagne, because why not? 😉 Everwhere you look, waterfalls are cascading down from the towering cliffs, it really is something to see. The tour even takes you right under the waterfall if you’re brave enough to stand out on the deck (I was and it was awesome)! We were lucky enough to see some resident seals too. The drive back seemed twice as long but did make for a good nap. Once we neared Queenstown, we called ahead and ordered dinner from the world famous Fergburger for dinner. This is the way to do it as you get to skip the massive line!
Day 5: Queenstown
If you don’t do something that gets your heart pounding on this day, you’re doing Queenstown wrong. There is a reason they call it the Adrenaline Capital of New Zealand! I started the day with the Shotover Jet and it was such a thrill! It’s reasonably priced and definitely worth doing. After my friends and I headed up the mountain via the Skyline Gondola. You’ve got to go up there and at least see the view, it’s amazing! They also offer activity packages and we all decided to do the luge and The Ledge Bungee Swing which came out to about $200 for everything, not a bad deal. The skyline offers unparalleled views of all Queenstown. The luge was an absolute blast! We had fun racing each other down the track and around the tight curves. The swing was great fun too, not as thrilling as bungee jumping so a good option for those who want some adrenaline but not quite ready to bungee. The adrenaline bug bit me, and after getting a taste on the swing, I decided I wanted to bungee jump as well. Watch the video of me backflipping off. After a thrilling day, we hit the bar scene in Queenstown which was very lively!
Day 6: Queenstown to Lake Tekapo
Unfortunately, it was time to leave Queenstown. We headed off to Lake Tekapo, but first stopping at Aoraki/Mt. Cook. It is one hell of a mountain. The peaks were hardly visible through the clouds. It was a stark sight seeing the climbers memorial against the mountain and a reminder how powerful mother nature can be. We hiked to the first suspension bridge along the Hooker Valley trail, in awe of the scenery around us. Then it was back on the road to Lake Tekapo. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain and cloudy the entire time we were there. Lake Tekapo is known for its beautiful blue color and the amazing stars that can be seen at night — we didn’t get to experience either. If only Wild Kiwi could control the weather 😉 We went to a local pub for dinner and basically just hung out with each other in our rooms after.
Day 7: Lake Tekapo to Christchurch
The last day of a tour is always a bummer! On our way back to Christchurch, we made a few stops for bathroom breaks and food. Then, of course, the sun decided to show its face in the last hour or so of our drive, which made for a nice end to an amazing week.
Though I went on this tour as a guest of Wild Kiwi in exchange for my review and post, I would absolutely recommend this tour to anyone wanting to explore New Zealand’s South Island and all the beauty it has to offer. It’s well worth the price if you calculate all the expenses that involve doing it yourself: renting a vehicle, car, accommodation, food, activities, etc. And it’s so much easier that they have it all planned out for you. Plus, if anything goes wrong, you’ve got the tour taking care of you: We witnessed a couple broken down and crashed camper vans along the way, what a headache to have to deal with that. If you want a great 7-day road trip of New Zealand that hits all the South Island Must See’s, then this is a great option and my personal recommendation!
If you have any questions about the trip, what you should bring, what you should do, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, I’m happy to answer them!
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