At this point in our trip, we learned a valuable lesson: New Zealand will always blow our minds. After the first day of driving from Marahau to Punakaiki, we thought there was no way it could get any better. We were wrong. After the route from Punakaiki to Franz Josef, we thought the same thing. Then came the drive from Franz Josef to Wanaka. I am not exaggerating when I say that this day had some of the most incredible sites I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a four-hour drive, but, as you probably guessed, we took MUCH longer. One of my goals in life is to come back to this part of the world and spend weeks, not hours, exploring the many paths through Mount Aspiring National Park.
Where to stop:
Wherever you want. Seriously, we had one planned stop on this drive, but we also picked random parking lots to stop the car and hike. We were never disappointed, and, because there is just SO much to see along this drive, we almost always had the hikes to ourselves. Seriously, prepare to have sensory overload on this section of the South Island, and DON’T TRY TO DO IT IN FOUR HOURS. Mount Aspiring National Park was not meant to be simply glanced at through a window. Get out there, find a random path, and see where you end up!
One place you absolutely must stop is at the blue pools. You can’t miss them – they’re definitely the most crowded stop along the drive, but totally worth it. And the crowds really aren’t that bad, at least compared to tourist spots in other countries. We were there mid-afternoon during peak tourist season, and we still only had about 30-40 other people on the path and at the pools. And because it’s glacier water, it’s not like everyone is huddling around the same area like they would be at a hot spring.
When we eventually made our way out of the mesmerizing Mount Aspiring National Park, we were met with stunning blue lakes in the area surrounding Wanaka. The landscapes in New Zealand change so drastically in such a short distance; it’s truly something that is unbelievable until you go there.
Where to eat:
Don’t worry about stopping for food – there’s too much to see! I don’t even remember passing a restaurant. Instead, pack a lunch, pull off the road, and hike to your own secluded spot for lunch. That’s what we did!
Where to stay:
This is where having a camper van would really come in handy. I am already planning my trip back to this part of the world, where we will rent a camper van and just stay in the park for at least one week.
If there’s one town on New Zealand’s South Island I’d like to revisit for a longer period of time, it is Wanaka. At this point in the trip, we had spent over a week without getting anything close to a full night of rest (thanks a lot, New Zealand landscapes!). There are so many AMAZING hikes near Wanaka – it would be easy to spend months here. Courtny and I used our brief time in Wanaka to rest and relax a bit after the exhausting start to our trip. After all, this was our honeymoon!
What to do:
We spent our full day just exploring the town, enjoying wine at the scenic Rippon Vineyard, and catching a flick at the world-famous Cinema Paradiso. If you want to get active, there are so many things to do! There are tons of hiking options – I’d recommend taking a peek at this blog to help you get started on some of those: In a Faraway Land
If you really want to crank up the adrenaline, then Wanaka has all sorts of adventure options for you. So whether you want to jump out of a plane, scale a waterfall, or hit the lake for some fun, Wanaka’s got you covered. One unique option that has climbed to the top of our NZ bucket list? The Wild Wire Via Ferrata. We did our first Via Ferrata in Canada in 2018, and I would absolutely LOVE to check out this one in New Zealand.
It would be wrong of me to not include Wanaka’s most famous landmark, #ThatWanakaTree. It is the most photographed tree in New Zealand, and possibly the world! We went there during the day, but we were a bit turned off by the crowds. Thankfully, a rainstorm came a bit later in the afternoon, which cleared everyone out until Courtny and I were the only people there.
Even cooler than the storm photos? Once the storm died down, the clouds started to clear and we were treated to a silent, stunning view later in the evening.
Where to eat:
Kika is one of the best restaurants in town. It’s a bit pricier than we normally spend on our trips, but the food and drinks are delicious. We also tried out Sasanoki, which was a great experience with good prices, tasty food, and wonderful service.
Where to stay:
If you are a group of 2 or traveling solo, I have one recommendation for you: Glenn & Sukhi’s Lakeside AirBnB. Do yourself a favor and book this amazing place! Glenn and Sukhi are the best AirBnB hosts we’ve ever had; they will give you privacy if you’d like, but their door is always open if you’d like to have a chat with them. They are such fascinating, kind-hearted people who truly make you feel welcome. On top of that, the actual guest suite is wonderful. It is affordable, has an amazing view of Lake Wanaka, and one of the most comfortable beds we’ve ever slept on. I cannot say enough good things about this place – it will continue to be our go-to spot in Wanaka for any return trips!