New Zealand : The Best of The South Island

It is fair to say that for the both of us, our trip to New Zealand was the best of our lives. Sure, our itinerary led us to the most beautiful mountains and lakes we had ever seen, however it is how we experienced the country which left us with magical memories that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. This “how” is a camper van.

Neither of us had travelled this way for an extended period of time before but we can now say that it won’t be the last. The South Island of NZ is truly catered for van life with plenty of campsites which are fairly priced ($13 AUD per night) and even slightly more expensive ones with power points, showers and laundry facilities. If they’re a bit out of your budget, there are many freedom camping areas where you can just park your van next to a forest, sleep and forget about it. We went for the popular Jucy Van and instantly felt part of the Jucy community. Jucy campers always acknowledge each other on the road so we got to say hello to a lot of strangers! It felt very liberating to travel in our “home” and always be part of nature, for example, brushing our teeth looking at this:

Camping ground in Kinloch, NZ
Camping ground in Kinloch, NZ

and realising how little we needed to have a meaningful and beautiful travel experience. We also realised that visiting New Zealand in a van is actually an incredibly romantic thing to do (out you go Paris, shoo!). Experiencing nature in such an intimate way made us connect with each other as a couple on a new level which, in my opinion, is much more romantic than being in a fancy hotel overlooking the Eiffel Tower.

Before we tell you where we think you should consider going, here’s a small video of some of the places we visited and talk about in this blog. It was shot with a Canon 5D Mark iii and a DJI Mavic Air. We hope you enjoy 🙂

Top destinations in the South Island

Queenstown: is the adrenaline capital of the world and you should absolutely visit it. It’s a very charming town that never sleeps. Shops and restaurants are open till early in the a.m and the main street always seems to be buzzing, mostly thanks to Fergburger, the best burger joint in New Zealand (dare I say the world?). Queenstown is on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, one of the biggest lakes of the South Island. It’s such a peaceful and beautiful place with plenty of hikes to do and campsites overlooking the lake.

Lake Wakatipu, NZ
Lake Wakatipu, NZ

What we really enjoyed in Queenstown was all the adventurous activities you can do there. I was not psychologically ready for skydiving which the town is famous for (and Chinmay has already done it elsewhere), however I was pretty open to other adrenaline filled experiences that were a little closer to the ground. We did the Nevis Swing which was nerve wracking but so much fun. Chinmay did mountain biking near the Skyline Gondola which he really loved. We did canyoning which was my absolute favourite and would recommend to anyone who likes being in water. On our last day we rode the Skyline Luges which was obviously less dramatic than the rest but we enjoyed ourselves and giggled like kids. Here’s a short video shot with a GoPro which includes some of the fun activities we did in Queenstown:

Milford Sound: is an absolute ripper (practicing my Ozzy slang here)! Milford Sound is a world heritage site and honestly the most beautiful place we saw during our trip. There are a few options to see the famous fiord including hiking, by helicopter and by cruise. We chose the latter since we wanted to get in and amongst the mountains and see the numerous waterfalls. On the morning of our cruise adventure, we woke up to a bright and shining sun. We were told we were very lucky as it was the first time in months that the fiord wasn’t drenched in rain.

Milford Sound, NZ

Going on that cruise was a truly magical experience. The waterfalls were beautiful, the whole landscape looked as if it had been carved by a surrealist artist and we even got to see some teenage seals resting on a rock. We didn’t see any but if you’re lucky you might spot small penguins. We met fellow travellers who told us that they had done the cruise while it was cloudy and raining and that it was gorgeous as well. Going to Milford Sound is well worth the long drive from Queenstown and if we had to pick only one spot to go back to in New Zealand, this would definitely be it!

Milford Sound, NZ
Milford Sound, NZ

Fiordland National Park: is home to Milford Sound, the cute and lovely town of Te Anau, and some of the best hikes that the South Island has to offer. To be honest, just driving around Fiordland is enough to see spectacular views however we like to hike so we trekked along the Key Summit trail. We initially planned a couple of other hikes but the weather wasn’t in our favour – safety above all!

Key Summit_1.jpg
Key Summit Trail, Fiordland National Park
Key Summit TrailFiordland National Park
Key Summit Trail, Fiodland National Park

The Key Summit trail isn’t hard at all and will probably take you between 3 to 4 hours return at a good pace (it took us around 5 hours but we took more breaks than the average person). It’s a beautiful hike and the views are very rewarding at the top. We got to see the below river by parking our van on the side of the main road so you’re still a winner if hiking isn’t your cup of tea.

Off the main road, Fiordland National Park

Lake Wanaka: is a beautiful lake and its township is very charming with lots of great restaurants overlooking the lake. It is also very close to another big and beautiful lake, Lake Hawea. There are many popular hikes around the area with pretty majestic views, the most popular being Roy’s Peak Trail. We had seen a lot of photos of Roy’s Peak and thought we might give it a go but at the time we were in New Zealand, it was closed for lambing. Some people still go despite all the signs and warnings. The fact that some these folk aren’t respectful to the owners of the private land in which the path crosses (who, request it to be closed only 1 month a year) goes over my head. We decided to do the Isthmus Peak Trail instead.

Isthmus Peak, NZ
Isthmus Peak, NZ

Little did we know that it was going to be the hardest hike of our lives. It was rough, steep and never ending. Chinmay, who has hiked Kilimanjaro, said that it was one of the toughest trail he’d seen. I honestly wanted to give up every 10 minutes and had to push myself mentally to finish it. It must’ve taken us 6 hours to reach the summit and what a spectacular view it was. Isthmus Peak stands in the middle of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, so each side of the peak overlooked a lake. It was the type of hike that I was so happy and proud to have done, I even thought it was well worth all the sweat and tears – but I would probably never do it again. I would still recommend it for all the experienced hikers out there who don’t mind to trade a very tough work out for one of the most stunning views you’ll ever see.

Mount Cook/Aoraki: otherwise known as the highest mountain in New Zealand. North of Lake Hawea, you will find yet another beautiful lake: Lake Pukaki. The water of this lake is so bright and turquoise in colour due to glacier flour – it almost looks unreal (you can see a shot of it in our drone video). While it’s quite an impressive body of water, the main attraction it has to offer is the location of its source: Mount Cook or Aoraki. Again, you can take a helicopter to see the mountain and its surrounding glacier but we opted for a quick and simple hike as we were still recovering from the Isthmus Peak Trail. The Hooker Valley Trail is mostly flat and won’t take you more than 3 hours to complete. All along, the path crosses and follows a beautiful stream of water that sneaks in between mountains – it’s stunning and effortless. At the end of the trail you end up gazing directly at Mount Cook, with a small crater-like opening at its foot, filled with water and small icebergs. This trail is definitely not to be missed!

Mount Aoraki, NZ
Hooker Valley Trail, NZ
Hooker Valley Trai, NZ

Lake Tekapo: is known for having one of the clearest skies in the world and attracts a lot of star gazers (including us). The township is designed to reduce light pollution and it sure would be pretty magical if most towns and cities in the world would follow its footsteps. We were really looking forward to Tekapo since we love star gazing but unfortunately, the timing of our arrival was a bit off since the moon was almost full and was reflecting 10% of the sunlight – no Milky Way for us. We did however have an incredible time at our tour with Tekapo Star Gazing. The tour allowed us to watch nebulas and clusters through specialised telescopes and we ended in a hot pool, gazing at the stars whilst our guide told us old Maori tales. That’s about the only thing we’d recommend you do in Tekapo.

Good Shepherd Church, Tekapo

The Church Good Shepherd usually attracts a lot of tourists and sure, it looks cute in photos, but I wouldn’t kick a fuss about it – you won’t miss out on much if you don’t check it out. The Mount John observatory near Tekapo isn’t worthwhile either, in our opinion. There is an entry fee to drive up the hill on which it sits, and there is literally nothing to do except sit down for an overpriced coffee once you’re at the top.

Arthur’s Pass: is a route you will have to take if you’re going north of Tekapo. It’s beautiful drive and you can stop mid way to check out the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall which is quite a sight. You will also notice a lot more Kea birds in the area – they are fearless and quite naughty so don’t let them get too close to your belongings. There are only around 5,000 left and all are located in the South Island of New Zealand.

Arthur’s Pass, NZ
Arthur’s Pass, NZ

Hokitika & The Glow Worm Dell: was our next stop after Arthur’s Pass. Hokitika is quite small but very charming. The town has specialised over the years in the trade of sculpting jade in traditional Maori shapes. The streets are filled with jade and jewellery shops, in which you can also customise your own jade pendant. What interested us the most though was the Glow Worm Dell at the north entrance of the town. At night, the entire dell is filled with glow worms and it felt like we were walking amongst the stars. It was a magical experience, especially since neither of us had seen glow worms before.

Glow Worm Dwell, Hokitika

Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers: are both breathtaking, I’m sure, and I could have told you a lot more about them if we had not been welcomed with terrible rain at our arrival. We had a Heli Hike booked in Franz Josef which had to be cancelled two days in a row due to poor weather. We did manage to squeeze in the Franz Josef Glacier walk in between two downpours. It’s an easy and short hike that leads you to the bottom of the glacier, well at least it did a few years ago. Unfortunately, the glacier has been receding at an alarming rate since 2008. We did however get to see part of the glacier, even though clouds were covering half of it. We had to stay indoors most of the time so we visited the Kiwi bird sanctuary in Franz Josef, which was really informative and interactive. The Fox Glacier region is supposed to have quite a few nice hikes – we were only able to do the Lake Matheson Walk which was really beautiful and didn’t take us more than an hour to complete. We hope you have better luck than us with the glaciers!

Franz Josef Glacier Walk, NZ

Haast Pass: was the most beautiful drive of the South Island for us. It starts South of Fox Glacier and continues down to Wanaka. Travelling through Haast Pass was a magical experience, the nature in this National Park is sensational. There are countless waterfalls, the streams of water along the road are bright turquoise in colour and the mountains have the most beautiful vegetation growing on them. Unfortunately, we don’t have any pictures to show for, as it was raining pretty hard while we were driving. The weather did calm down towards the end and we were able to see the famous Blue Pools which were sensational. It was perhaps a bit too cold to go for a swim even though the blue water was very inviting.

Blue Pools, Haast Pass

New Zealand reminded us of how profound travelling close to nature truly is. There is something extremely humbling about being at the mercy of nature, hoping that each day as we wake up, it will be kind to us. It was the trip of a lifetime for us, one that we will never forget and we cannot wait to explore the North Island next.

Kinloch Camp Ground, NZ
Firodland National Park, NZ
Wanaka, NZ

Some things you should know…

  • Drones : filming with a drone in the South Island of New Zealand can be a bit challenging as there are many rules and restrictions enforced by the local government in order to protect the pristine nature and wildlife. You need to apply for permits, which will cost you around $50 NZD per permit, as well as detailing the areas you want to film, how many times you want to film them and at what hour of the day. I know, it sounds complicated but we recommend you do it. We saw a few tourists flying their drones without a license and we hope they didn’t get caught because the fine for illegally flying a drone is pretty hefty and rangers are everywhere, checking the national parks regularly.
  • Sandflies: they are a nightmare, period. We didn’t even know they existed before going to New Zealand. Sandflies are little flies that will land on your skin, bite you (it pinches alright!) and you are left with a mark that itches for days… and I mean for way longer than a mosquito bite. Insect repellant helps a bit, but you’ll still get bitten so if you’re travelling outside of the winter season, be prepared!
  • Sheep: contrary to popular belief, not all parts of the South Island are drop dead gorgeous. There are vast areas which are populated with New Zealand’s well known ubiquitous sheep till the eyes can see. These will be very boring drives (for example, Queenstown to Curio Bay) – for the first time in my life I understood why counting sheep makes one sleep. What is sad, is that a lot of deforestation is happening in order to create more grazing land for sheep and cattle. It might help the farming and agriculture economy but when you’re driving in a national park and you see trees nearby being removed for sheep, it’s pretty tragic.
  • Maori culture: we were curious and keen to learn more about Maori culture during our trip but this was a bit hard to come by on the South Island. European culture is pretty much dominant in all the places we visited. Museums are full of “First Settlers” tales and objects, which is interesting in its own way, but not the information we had hoped to gain.

Follow us on instagram to keep up with our adventures. If you have any questions or queries about New Zealand, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact us and we’ll try to help as much as we can

Iceland: a winter wonderland

The word Iceland and winter put together can sound pretty scary and intimidating, especially if you are like me and don’t do well in the cold. This post should hopefully put your fears to rest.


Why is Iceland in winter the most beautiful place you will ever see?

Our experience was such that every corner of this country was breathtaking, and it was excruciatingly hard for us to not stop every 2 minutes to take pictures. There was something about the colours of winter which gave the whole scenery a surreal vibe. It felt like we were on a different planet. Life and nature were fighting to survive the cold and pierce through the snow. It was like seeing nature battling itself in an apocalyptic setting whilst us humans, for once, were mere quiet observers at the mercy of mother Earth. A beautifully humbling experience.


Yes, it was extremely cold and at times I had trouble speaking properly because my lips were frozen, but at the end of the day it didn’t matter one bit. The majestic sights in front of us were overwhelming and believe me, you endure the cold willingly.


One of our main goals before leaving for Iceland, undoubtedly, was to catch a glimpse of the northern lights, and boy did we try! Unfortunately cloud cover got the best of us and even though we tracked the best spots to witness the lights (which you can figure out easily using online maps) and waited patiently, they evaded us. But again, at the end of our trip we had no regret. The northern lights would have been a bonus, but Iceland gave us so much more.

From a logistics point of view, renting a car and roaming around is probably the best thing to do. We were able to take our own time and stop whenever we wanted to take pictures. The roads are very well maintained and despite being caught in a snow storm towards the end of our stay (which was actually pretty cool), we found it very safe, manageable and convenient.


What are the best things to do in Iceland?

  • Do not miss out on visiting an ice cave near the JökulsárlĂłn glacier, you won’t get to do it in summer. You cannot access these caves on your own, you have to book a tour through an agency (there are a handful of them but we used Guide to Iceland). Our guide, who was a very likeable, giant bearded Icelandic man, picked us up at the JökulsárlĂłn glacier (a lake with a plethora of beautiful crystal-blue icebergs floating on it) and drove us through what looked like a barren alien planet. Once we reached the cave, we had roughly an hour to enjoy the surreal experience of basking in the cave’s blue glow as sunlight filtered through the layers of glacier ice overhead.





  • We also highly recommend checking out the numerous wonderful waterfalls (or foss in Icelandic) which Iceland has to offer. The 3 at the top of our list are: SkĂłgafoss, Seljalandsfoss and Gullfoss (in order of preference). SkĂłgafoss and  Seljalandsfoss are located off Iceland’s ring road (which goes around the island) and are about an hour and a half to 2 hours from Reykjavik. Each of them have their own unique characteristics. The one we enjoyed the most was Skogafoss which also has a set of stairs to climb to the top of the waterfall and from there, the view is spectacular.  If you want to get close to the falls, I’d suggest wearing a waterproof jacket and be prepared to cover your cameras/phones.



Gullfoss is located on the Golden Circle, which is a smaller route near Reykjavik loaded with beautiful spots to check out. Unlike most of the other waterfalls, Gullfoss descends through a valley and hence it is a much wider and is viewed from above. There are designated paths, which aren’t ice proof (I’d suggest investing in a good pair of hiking shoes with good traction, you will need it everywhere in Iceland) and which led us to several viewpoints we could choose from. The falls were ferocious but magnificent. The speed and power at which the water came down created this loud noise echoing through the valley that was both threatening and peaceful. We stood there, thinking that we wouldn’t stand a chance against the force of this beautiful phenomena.



  • If you are driving through the Golden Circle, you should definitely go to our next pick. The Geysir hot spring area is a geothermal field where geysers can explode up to 30 meters high and boiling mud pits let out a huge amount of vapor which gives the whole area a mysterious and fantastical look. A lot of people complain about the strong rotten egg smell created by the sulphur but we were already used to it because the tap water in Reykjavik has the same eggy smell. We weren’t too fussed about it and quickly got used to showering with stinky water (which by the way, is very good for your skin). Eggs aside, the place is quite impressive and we were fascinated by the colour combo of the red moist earth and coral blue water pits. We had to wait a bit to see the massive explosion of water but it was a spectacular sight, definitely worth it and everyone around us was clapping and cheering.




  • The Reynisfjara black sand beach is close to Vik, a village on the southern coast of Iceland. This vast and beautiful beach is literally the only spot on the island where our mobile reception became feeble (the phone reception is on point in Iceland, we had full coverage even in the most remote locations). Reynisfjara is the most spectacular lava beach we’ve seen so far. The jet-black pebbles covering it are surprisingly big and not at all sand like, the basalt columns rise in perfect geometrical harmony to form a gigantic church organ and the towering cliffs on each side of the beach extend to the Atlantic welcoming the ocean in their abode. To top it all, we timed our arrival perfectly and were treated to a breathtaking sunset. We came back late at night to try our luck with a black sand beach and aurora borealis combination but the Icelandic gods were probably asleep and we went back to our hotel empty-handed.




  • Going to a geothermal lagoon in Iceland will be your only chance to get your beachwear out in sub-zero temperatures. The island is filled with warm lagoons and most of them are quite small, but the biggest, the Blue Lagoon, is not too far south of the capital so given our tight schedule it seemed like the best option. The trouble is that it’s not cheap and most of the time quite crowded however if you need to splurge on something in Iceland, you won’t be disappointed with the popular lagoon. The spa lends you a swimsuit if you’ve forgotten it (which I did) and you get a complimentary drink at the lagoon bar as well as special mud masks you can try on while enjoying the warm water. The water is of a beautiful whitish blue, and surprise, surprise… it smells of rotten eggs!  We were both in heaven in the warm water and felt our poor muscles, which were tense from days of cold weather, relaxing and healing. No wonder Scandinavian and Icelandic culture encourages the use of saunas on a regular basis, we found that our bodies really needed the moist heat to recover and revitalise ourselves.




  • Finally, we recommend spending a day in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. We say a day, because it’s a fairly small city and you would honestly be out of things to do or see on the second day. The words that come to mind to describe it are cute and colourful. We saw many little houses painted in bright colours and the streets were filled with murals and urban art. There are very few tall buildings in Reykjavik so the beautiful Hallgrimskirja really stands out. This tall and modern church is located at the heart of the city (many call it a cathedral but we were told that it wasn’t the case). The streets are pretty but very touristic, although we spotted lots of cool hipsterish bars and restaurants. However, as vegetarians, we were pretty disappointed with the food. It was difficult to find something nice and decently priced (Iceland is quite expensive) which didn’t involve rye bread and sliced cheese. On several occasions we opted for cheap *cough cough* supermarket sandwiches to sustain us through our travels. If you enjoy fish (fermented mostly) and meat, you will love the food scene in the capital. Other attractions include the Harpa, Reykjavik’s modern concert Hall, beautiful views of the shore and nice museums. We were staying in a residential area, which we found to be much better as we saw how the locals lived.





Final thoughts on Iceland…

Iceland is a growing island, still fully alive with a mind and spirit of its own. For us, the purpose of travelling is to seek moments which give you a reality check and remind you that earth and nature are the boss and that we must learn how to tune in with their rhythm to truly appreciate the power of it all. When we do, we are rewarded with beauty and experiences beyond words. We want to eventually go back during summer to see Iceland in all its green glory, but we doubt that it would ever top our amazing winter escapade.

If you have any questions or queries about Iceland, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact us and we’ll try to help as much as we can.