NEW ZEALAND South ISLAND ITINERARY
Planning your full itinerary in New Zealand will probably sway you more toward the South Island over the North. We really loved both but if we had to pick one, it would be the South. The scenery here is much more drastic and spectacular. This is a consolidated version of our full itinerary, here, and is perfect for a week away.
Most likely you'll be flying into Queenstown from Auckland after a long international flight. The flight between Auckland and Queenstown is quick and we arrived and were settled by early afternoon. We had rented a car and it was a quick and easy drive from the airport. We started by checking out the town which was smaller than I thought but really cozy. There are plenty of cute shops to keep busy in - my favorite was a homemade candy and fudge store called "The Remarkable Sweet Shop" on Beach Street in the center of town.
We loved the harbor area where the rocky sand beach meets the water and you are surrounded by beautiful mountains and nature everywhere you turn. We walked down here one morning and it was just so peaceful and serene - you really feel like you are at the edge of the world.
By this time we were ready for lunch and headed to Fergburger. We always do a lot of research on food and drink before going anywhere and had read this was famous in Queenstown and a must try. Being from New York we may be biased toward Shake Shack which I think definitely has better burgers but the Chief Wiggum (slow cooked pork belly) was really delicious. We were able to get a seat at the bar to sit and enjoy our sandwiches and a beer.
Since it was mid afternoon by now, we decided it would be a good time to head to Skyline Queenstown for a ride up to the peak via gondola. We loved the view from up here of the Remarkables and the beautiful harbor. They also offer a luge as well which we couldn't resist. Queenstown is known for it's high adrenaline sports and activities and the luge was about as adventurous as I could get into. But we loved it!
For dinner that night we had booked a table at Madam Woo for Malaysian food. The restaurant is trendy inside and we enjoyed the food here as well - it wasn't our favorite in Queenstown but that's because every other night the food was really delicious.
What we were not expecting on this trip was snow but unfortunately we got a big surprise when we woke up on our first full day in Queenstown to a chilly forecast and snow on the ground! Because of the weather, our original plans for a flight to the Milford Sound and cruise there got cancelled (when booking this tour they recommend you book for your first day because it's actually common for it to get cancelled for any type or wind or even heavy clouds in the area. The planes they fly are so small that they really need perfect flying conditions to safely get there). At the last minute we tried to rearrange our wine tour for the following day but the tour guide wasn't able to change the date forward so we had to get creative with our scheduling.
We started the day at Bespoke Kitchen which wound up being how we started every other morning in Queenstown. We loved this cute breakfast and lunch place close to our hotel - the Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel. Their breakfast board with avocado toast and a chia pot was delicious (by the way, avocados are so popular in New Zealand which I did not expect. They're actually grown in the country in the North Island). We sampled almost everything on the breakfast menu between the two of us for three breakfasts and didn't find a thing we didn't like.
Thanks to the snow, we unexpectedly found one of the highlights from our time in Queenstown - the Onsen Hot Pools. This wasn't on our original itinerary but it was perfect for the weather. It's located about 15 minutes outside of the city on the way to Arrowtown and the Central Otago wine region and it overlooks a beautiful valley and winding stream. You can book hour time slots and get a private room with your hot pool and a remote control for the garage-like door that opens up to the fresh air. For extras you can buy teas and an incense candle which was a fun and inexpensive add on.
After the hot pool we decided to explore the Central Otago wine region ourselves. We stopped at two tasting rooms and really enjoyed the wines at both Mt Rosa and Wet Jacket. Who knew that Central Otago specializes in French style pinots and they are really good! In between the wineries we stopped at Gibbston Valley Cheese for a snack and on the way back we checked out Arrowtown. It is such a cute little town - I would have loved to stay for longer but the weather was getting worse at this point and we wanted to get back to Queenstown since we were driving ourselves.
At the first wine room we stopped at, the women working there who we were chatting with recommended The Bunker for dinner in Queenstown. We got lucky with a reservation that night and loved everything about the restaurant's cozy, dark interior and delicious food. This was now the 4th day straight eating some form of lamb and we couldn't get enough. We also tried the venison tartare for an appetizer which was risky but worth it - we surprisingly enjoyed it a lot.
The weather cleared today and we got the go ahead for our trip to the Milford Sound. I had high expectations for this day and was a little disappointed with the actual cruise portion at the Sound. The Milford Sound wasn't all that I had hyped it up to be but the flight on this cute little plane was a highlight especially on the way there when I got to sit in the co-pilot seat. We really enjoyed the experience and would recommend it even if just for the flight. You feel like you're soaring above all the mountains and get such beautiful views of the surrounding area outside Queenstown.
We got back in the middle afternoon and took a drive out to Glenorchy which is a great half day activity. The drive is beautiful and Glenorchy is just this tiny little town at the edge of the world. It was the perfect way to spend a sunny the rest of the day.
After another breakfast at Bespoke Kitchen and walk to the harbor in the morning (it's the perfect time to walk through the town without the crowds), we were really looking forward to our rescheduled wine tour with New Zealand Wine Tours. They were so nice to accommodate us even though we were the only ones who had scheduled that day.
Our first stop was at Peregrine Wines, the closest of those that we visited to Queenstown. Here is where we had our first really nice Pinot Noir from New Zealand and ended up buying a bottle to take home with us. We also fell in love with the Pinot Gris which is also really popular here, a white wine variety that we hadn't drank much of. Since it was before 11am at this point we had the wine tasting room to ourselves when we first arrived so it was nice to chat with our tour guide and staff.
For lunch and a tasting before we headed to Mt Difficulty. This winery and restaurant has beautiful views of the valley and surrounding mountains and the food is delicious. We also really loved the sweet dessert wine here and the time to relax for lunch before our next stop at Misha's Vineyard and Tasting Room. What we loved about the tour was that each winery we visited was so different. Misha's is a new winery with wines made from a well known wine maker. The quality was great and the tasting room experience was nice because it was just us again!
After a long day of wine tasting we were debating what to do for dinner when our tour guide recommended a take out lamb restaurant. Tired and intrigued (and having read so many amazing reviews), we placed our delivery order at Pedro's House of Lamb. 45 minutes later arrived our slow cooked, roasted lamb shoulder for two accompanied by vegetables and bread which we enjoyed right in our hotel room. It was the perfect end to our time in Queenstown.
We left early this morning for our flight from Queenstown to Christchurch where we rented our first New Zealand car and hit the (left) side of the road. We had about 2.5 hours ahead of us to our next destination so we had planned a stop along the way at a small fishing town called Akaroa on Banks Peninsula for lunch. Our final destination was to The Annandale - our home for the next few days in a cottage on a working sheep farm. The Annandale is also on the same peninsula but in Pigeon Bay and while they look close on a map what we didn't fully appreciate was the winding roads and mountains that we would wind up and down to get from one place to the other.
We loved the harbor in Akaroa and felt like it was such a peaceful place nestled in the mountains. We were expecting a big town, so we were surprised to find only a few restaurants, a butcher and grocery store and one main street. But it was the perfect mid day stop and the views of New Zealand's countryside as we were winding down to sea level were so pretty that I insisted on stopping along the way for some pictures.
By the time we arrive at The Annandale it was mid-afternoon. We dropped off our car at the front gate and hopped in a 4-wheel drive truck for our 30 minute drive winding around dirt roads on the side of cliffs toward our new home for the next few days. This property is incredible. There are a few different choices for where to stay and each is completely secluded from the others. Our full hotel review is here. We loved the Shepherd's Cottage - it was the perfect place for two people and felt rustic enough to be on a sheep farm but luxurious enough to feel like you were really being pampered.
Our first full day on the farm was meant to be a mix of hiking ourselves and the farm tour offered as an extra by the hotel. But since the weather had been a little rainy the tour was cancelled and we were left on our own. We spent the day hiking - basically all day. But it felt like no time! It's amazing how small you feel in such a big place. But we loved the up close views of all the cattle and sheep and the beautiful views of the cliffs looking over the sea.
We ended the day with a home cooked meal and tunes on the vintage record player in the cottage (read more on our review of The Annandale - they have a really unique meal package where they bring you prepared meals each day that you just cook - and they are all so delicious).
Unfortunately we only stayed at The Annandale for two nights and while we had all morning on the day we were leaving we were definitely sad to go. We spent the morning cooking breakfast, watching the sheep graze in the fields in front of our cottage, and doing another morning hike. By noon we were on the way back to Christchurch ready to board our flight. We could have easily stayed in the South Island for another week, there is so much to see and do here. But alas, we only had 12 days total and spent them visiting both islands. More on our full itinerary here.