For many people the first sight they see when visiting the South Island is the entrance to the Marlborough sounds on the ferry from Wellington, the entrance is breath taking with large pillars of rock protuding from the turbulent waters that rush in and out of the narrow channel, Arapawa Island on the right is a massive unspoilt island gurding the entrance, the island is dotted with beautiful secluded bays and high bush covered mountains.
The whole top end of the South Island from Arapawa Island in the south west over to the most northerly Stephens island is just a maise of islands, beaches, and coves that seam to go on forever, the only way to access all this area is by boat, the only road goes to Endeavour inlet which is in Queen Charlotte sound, these deep sounds have to the most stunning places in the south island there are endless activites here from hiking the many trails that cover the islands to fishing the deep waters of the sounds.
Heading out of Picton you have the choice of heading over to Nelson and Motueka and the Abel Tasman National park where the Abel Tasman coastal walk is located a stunning walk along the coast and native bush through to Wainui Bay, then head north to Golden Bay and the spectacular FareWell Spit a huge long sandbar that stretches out into the Golden Bay ocean here you will find seabirds and big sand dunes.
A south Island tour is not complete with out a drive through the beautiful Wairau valley in the Marlorough region this is the wine capital of New Zealand, and the valley is covered in stunning rows of grape vines as far as you can see. From here you move on through the Nelson Lakes district, ST Arnaud and the Rainbow ski area, you have the choice here to head over to the West coast to Westport or through the Lewis Pass to Christchurch and the east coast of the South Island.
The drive down the west coast is mostly through dense native bush there is not alot of access to the coastline, from Greymouth and Hokitika the road heads inland this is the last time you see the west coast for a while, two of New Zealands glaciers are located here the Franz Josef and the Fox Glaciers are located in the Westland National park they are with in a short distance of each other and are within easy reach of the main hwy.
The next stop on the west coast is Bruce Bay then back inland and emerging back onto the coastline again at Haast, you can keep to the west coast here and the road takes you through to Jackson Bay but this is the end of the road you can go no further, from Haast town the Haast pass takes you South through the most stunning valley and onto the Mount Aspiring National park, the drive through the pass is breath taking to say the least.
The Haast pass eventually opens up beside the braided river system that feeds Lake Wanaka and heads through the Neck a small divide separating Lake Wanaka from Lake Hawea, Lake Hawea is a stunning sight againest the tall barren mountain that back drops the lake and on a still day the mountain reflects in the water below giving a mirror image. From Wanaka you can head over to Cardrona ski fields and Arrowtown and then onto the beautiful Lake Wakatipu.
The next stop would be Lake Te Anau and the Fiordland National park this area was forged by glaciers and is dotted with lakes, deep fiords and for the most part only accesable by helicopter, boat or by foot, passing lake Te Anau and heading north takes you through to the Mirror Lakes and lake Gunn before reaching the famous Homer Tunnel it is an experience driving through the tunnel with water falling down on the roof and emerging out the other side to stunning deep valleys and the Milford Sound.
From Lake Te Anau head down to Bluff the very bottom of the South, here you can taste the delicious Bluff oysters and start the trip North up the East coast, an area not to miss here is the Catlin coast which starts around the Waipapa Lighthouse and follows the coastline up to Nugget Point lighthouse this stretch of coastline is both rugged and beautiful the two light houses are landmarks along this coast and are well worth a look on the way through.
The coast from Nugget point up to to Dunedin is a mix of sandy beaches and rocky cliff lines, Brighton beach south of Dunedin has a beautiful white sand beach that reaches north to Blackhead Point, and just North from here is Tunnel Beach a small peninsula with fantastic sulptures from sea erosion and a tunnel carved out by hand in the 1800s for a family to access the small beach beach below.
Dunedin city you either love the place or hate it while there is nothing special about the city other than the steepest street in the world, and i tried to drive up with the van but failed yea it is steep, the drive along the harbor side out to Portobello is great and do not miss the Larnach Castle perched high up on the hillside, the view from the castle grounds down to the harbour are stunning and there are gardens and other attractions to keep you busy here.
Heading North Oamaru is next and just north of Oamaru is the Waitaki river one of two great Salmon rivers on this side of the South Island, heading up the Waitaki will take you to Lake Aviemore, then Lake Benmore dam, a hydro electric power station that feeds the Waitaki river system, you can carry on North here to Twizel and Lake Pukaki there is a canal here linking the Pukaki with Lake Ruataniwha and the canal holds some of the biggest trout and salmon available in New Zealand.
No tour of the South should be without a visit to Lake Tekapo and the now famous abandoned church this historic stone church is just about the most photographed building in New Zealand, the building sets the backdrop for photos from tourists all over the world, the road heads east now to Timaru, the beach here is all pebbles and the ocean a deep blue, there is a coastal walk way here that takes you along the cliff tops above the water.
You will not see the coast now untill you reach the city of Christchurch in Canterbury, East of Christchurch about a one hour drive is Akaroa a beautiful rugged peninsula, the drive out through Birdlings Flat and Little River to the summit offers spectacular views down to Akaroa harbor and a drive around the harbor shoreline brings you to Akaroa a little settlement on the shores of the harbor, there is also roads out to Okains Bay and Pigeon Bay on the northern side of the peninsula.