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I’m off to explore the South Island with Haka Tours!

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I’ve been keeping a big secret, can you guys forgive me?

I’m going to New Zealand’s famous South Island for 2 weeks over Christmas!

Eeeep! I can’t wait!

Faced with yet another Christmas abroad (small sacrifice of an expat), I was really undecided about what to do come December 25. Only two requirements were on my mind – not be alone and do something cool – in retrospect two fairly easy things to accomplish in beautiful New Zealand filled with super friendly kiwis.

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I thought I was going to be a lot more homesick than how I currently find myself. New Zealand is very alien to me compared to Spain and Europe where I’ve Christmas-ed in the past, and while I’ve got plenty of friends here, they are all new friends who I didn’t want to dump my Christmas woes on.

I also thought being in a country with reversed seasons and a hot Christmas would make me even more homesick, especially since this appears to be the whitest Christmas in years back home (boo weather gods), but the opposite has happened.

I LOVE a hot December! This is great – I know understand people who winter in tropical climates. In fact, I nearly forgot that Christmas was right around the corner until I walked into Starbucks last week and it was decked out in red and gold with carols playing while I was wearing a tank top and shorts. Bizarre.

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With Christmas fast approaching, I decided to hop on an epic two-week tour of the South Island with Haka Tours. Geared toward solo, independent, adventure travelers, it didn’t take long for me to realize this was the trip for me.

I’ve been putting off going to the South Island because I’m planning on moving there at some point in the year that I’m in New Zealand. However, I’ve settled in Wellington indefinitely because IT’S THE COOLEST CITY IN THE WORLD, and also because I don’t know where I want to live in the South Island and I don’t really want to bum around from place to place until I find somewhere I love.

Nelson? Christchurch? Wanaka? Queenstown? Too many options!

new zealand haka tours

Settling on the 12 Day South Island Adrenalin Junkie Tour with Haka Tours was the solution to all my problems. Cue cheesy music. I get to spend my holidays with a bunch of fellow travel and adventure lovers exploring the best, brightest and, of course, the most beautiful spots of the South Island.

Of course being me, I can’t NOT mention the fact that the South Island is home to some of the most outrageous Lord of the Rings filming locations. Bring it.

Once again, I am excited for Christmas!

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Now to be honest here, I am not always one for organized tours. As some of my closest friends say loudly and repeatedly, I am slightly neurotic and a bit of a control freak (at the best of times) – though I don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m simple; when it comes to travel, I like to be in charge. And nothing tests my patience quite like enormous Asian tour groups. Shudder.

However, I’m swamped and overwhelmed with work and projects at the moment, and if I was planning this trip independently even with my magical travel skillz, there’s no way I could do it in 12 days for this cheap. Lucky for me, Haka Tours does small group tours (thank god) and with tons of mixes and add-ons, you get to customize your dream New Zealand trip.

Just how I like it.

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Here’s where you come in.

I need your help planning what funsies I should add on to the trip. Since I am physically incapable of doing every single one, please vote at the end of the post or leave me a comment and help me chose!

new zealand haka tours

Come Saturday night I’ll be bidding Wellington farewell from the decks of the famous ferry en route to Picton on the tippy top of the South Island.


I really don’t want to give too much away but I do want to give you guys a little teaser of what I’m going to be up to in the next few weeks, especially since so many of you have encouraged me to head south since I first announced I was moving to New Zealand!

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Christchurch and Kaikoura

When I originally bought my flight to New Zealand for August, my plan was to fly into Christchurch and then look for somewhere to base myself on the South Island.

While I had plenty of people warning me away from the mess that is Christchurch from the earthquake a few years back, there’s certainly been a healthy bunch of folks telling me how much they loved the city, so I am excited to finally experience it myself.

Kaikoura is a beautiful seaside town surrounded by mountains famous for its dolphins, seals, whales and general marine life. Can you guess what I’ll be doing there?

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Lake Tekapo

I’ve been DYING to go this lake ever since I first saw pictures of it encircled with blooming lupins. Doesn’t it look fake?

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Probably where I’ll end up moving to, Queenstown is the famous adventure capital of the South Island. This little city has always been in the forefront of my mind when I imagined the South Island, so let’s see if the fantasy lives up to the reality.

Oh, and help me pick an adventure sport, deal?

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Milford Sound

The Milford Sound is one of the South Island’s jewels, and I’ve been dying to check it out since I got to New Zealand. From cruising next to waterfalls and enjoying the misty atmosphere, spending the day sailing around the Milford Sound with Real Journeys, I know this will be one of the highlights of my tour!

A pretty awesome way to spend Christmas Day, amiright?

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I had been considering living in Wanaka as an alternative to Queenstown so I’m super thrilled I’ll get to visit it so soon. With fab views of the Southern Alps, I’m for some time alone with these giant mountains.

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Franz Josef

After a helicopter ride over the famous Franz Josef Glacier, I’ll spend a few hours exploring the ice with Franz Josef Glacier Guides. While I’ve spent time around glaciers in Switzerland and Iceland, I’ve never actually gotten to explore them myself.

Expect some reenactments from Game of Thrones, Jon Snow-style.

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From the icy glaciers we head north to the rainforest where we’ll be spending time exploring the bizarre pancake rock formations along the west coast. I had never actually heard of Punakaiki until this week so I am thrilled that we’ll be checking out somewhere surprising to me. 

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Abel Tasman

Two of my roommates are from sunny Nelson which is next to Abel Tasman so I am pumped I finally get to see this famous park for myself!

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So please tell me, have you ever been to the South Island? Would you like to go? Have any suggestions for me? Oh, and don’t forget, please let me know what adventure activity I should do!


75 Responses to I’m off to explore the South Island with Haka Tours!

  1. chelsea December 19, 2013 at 7:12 am #

    definitely the paragliding! we went skydiving in the north island on our honeymoon and the views are incredible! and i’ve heard the south island views are even better! i wish that we had time to explore the south but alas, like with every trip, there’s never enough time!

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 2:02 am #

      I know what you mean! I’ve never been paragliding so I am really looking forward to it!

  2. Valerie December 19, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Lake tekapo is just awsome with feets on the grounds, but it’s even better seen from above !
    Those views are what you need !
    And all places on the south island are great. Except Queenstown to live. It reminded me too much of Europe. I’d rather stay anywhere else where you can find more kiwis than foreigners.
    But it’s definitly worth a visit !
    By the way, I love your blog, and can’t wait to read all your new adventures !

    Valerie ( Back in France after the trip of her life of 15 months in NZ. i want to go back ! )

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 2:02 am #

      woah that’s awesome! yes I can’t wait!!!

  3. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas December 19, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    So, this sounds fun.

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 2:02 am #


  4. Erin December 19, 2013 at 8:30 am #

    This sounds like an epic vacation! Have such a wonderful time! I agree with you about being wary of group tours, but the fact that this particular one is small and provides the opportunity to customize sounds like the perfect happy medium. I too will be spending my Christmas abroad – my husband and I are expats in Barcelona and will be traveling to Salzburg & Vienna, Austria. I am excited to geek out on the Sound of Music tour, wander the Christmas markets and eat lots of schnitzel. Feliz Navidad, Liz!

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 2:03 am #

      Ah you’re going to love Austria! It’s such a beautiful country and at Christmas? OMG magical!

  5. Chelsea December 19, 2013 at 8:40 am #

    Wahoo Liz!! This sounds like an amazing way to spend Christmas! and thanks for telling me about Haka tours – I’m going to check them out. I voted for the scenic flight but it’s a close tie between that and paragliding… maybe you can do both!! 😉

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 2:04 am #

      those are my top two too!

  6. Rachel @ Hippie in Heels December 19, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    paragliding is where it’s at, as long as you have them do trips! You had said in your blog you’re a little but of a nerd and now not just hobbits, but jon snow too? it’s ok im in the same boat!

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 2:10 am #

      <3 Jon Snow

  7. Bsails December 19, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    Kia Ora Liz,

    Been following your blog for a few days now. As said on a previous comment, I’m a huge fan on NZ and been there about 15 times (lost count) already.

    I’ve tried the “Shootover Jet” boat last year and, although I’m not a big adrenaline addict, that was quite good fun… could only recommend it.

    For Milford sound, I guess you will be doing a day trip from Queenstown… on a tour. In my mind, that’s a little of a shame as the road Te Anau to Milford is probably one of the most beautiful scenic drive in NZ and… really worth exploring by yourself (especially the 1st time). I did it twice and was absolutely amazed the 1st time (the fact that you don’t know what’s coming next make it that special). On my next visit to Milford I’ve decided to try and spend 1 night there… the last times I’ve done a day trip there and back (from Te Anau) so could only see Milford around lunch time, when ALL the crown is there… I’m sure it would be something even more “magical” once only few dozen people are around and with the lights at dusk or dawn.

    I’m not a big fan of Queenstown… It’s an agreeable place but… too much “the place to go” so full of tourists and everything is down for tourism. You’ve been to Switzerland! Have you been to Zermatt (or Verbier for the ski season)? it’s about the same, except cars are allowed in town. Wanaka looks much more “authentic” and “local”. Well, it probably depend a lot on what you’re looking for in the end…

    About Lake Tekapo and the picture above… it does look like a “blurry HDR picture” but beside side that… not far from reality. I’ve always been amazed at the intensity of the colors and the perspective you get to see in the south island.

    For the Scenic flight, I’d suggest an Helicopter ride with landing on one of the west coast glacier (on a sunny day, your standing on ice and snow with “sea view”.

    Oooh… and good luck for the 25th December. It probably is the only day of the year where the entire country (seems to) shuts down. Spent the day, last year, driving all the way from Dunedin to Te Anau and… well.. did get to see anyone anywhere (or almost)! Felt like I had the entire country all for myself :o)))

    Enjoy your tour (I know you will) and say hello to the kiwi for me.


    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 2:11 am #

      awesome! Thanks for the tips!

  8. Anne December 19, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    I voted for paragliding over Queenstown – it’s a beautiful city!

    Milford Sound is simply amazing. I have always wanted to go there, and when we finally went there last year, it was wonderful! The weather was perfect AND I saw wild penguins!!

    I would be wary of the scenic flight, because they often get cancelled. The weather is very, very unpredictable in that area of the South Island, and they will cancel right before takeoff if they feel it is unsafe. But I’m sure it’s gorgeous when the weather allows!

    Have fun!

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 2:13 am #

      good points!

  9. Kate M December 19, 2013 at 10:22 am #

    Ugh so jealousss! 😀 I never made it to the south island when I was in NZ, but it’s still definitely on my list. I am probably in the minority, but I would totally go for underground rafting! I went on a cave tubing tour in Waitomo (near Otorohanga) on the north island and it was Amazing. Seriously, one of the most fun experiences of my life. Something about being underground, but on a ‘river’, but in a cave… It was just brilliant.

    Whatever you decide to do though, I’m sure it’ll be awesome, because I don’t think that it’s possible not to have fun in NZ. Love that place!

    Have a super vacation and Happy Christmas from London. 🙂

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 2:13 am #

      thank you! I went caving a few weeks back in Waitomo, post next week! I loved it!

      • Kate M December 20, 2013 at 5:41 am #

        Hurray for Waitomo! Did you stop by the kiwi house in Otorohanga too? Gah, kiwis. So weird and cute.

  10. Amy Cruz December 19, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    Sounds like a incredible journey, keep up the traveling posts! 🙂

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 2:17 am #

      so many posts coming soon!

  11. Angela December 19, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    When visiting New Zealand, I spent most of my time on the South Island. I am super stoked for your upcoming trip. We arrived in NZ the day after Christmas. My favorite cities were Dunedin and Wanaka. I spent New Years in Queenstown, so I do not think I got to experience its normality. Best of luck when choosing your next city to live in. Once living on the South Island, consider kayaking the Doubtful Sound. It was truly an amazing experience and less crowded than Milford because you have to cross lakes and choppy dirt roads to get there (though it might have improved since 2010). Can’t wait to read about your adventures!

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 2:18 am #

      I am so excited! I can’t wait to see Wanaka!

  12. Eve December 19, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    Paragliding!! So excited for all your post on this trip

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 2:18 am #


  13. Hannah M. December 19, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    Exciting! I manned up and took my first solo trip last year and happily spent three weeks exploring the South Island.

    I agree with Angela, that Dunedin was probably my favorite part of the trip so make sure to get down there at some point!

    But, as for the cities you are actually planning to visit, here are some favorite bits:
    Christchurch – botanic gardens and seeking out farmers markets. It was the only city I every felt a little on edge in, but I was staying in a pretty damaged neighborhood that was still rebuilding.
    Lake Tekapo-walk up to the observatory, and look forward to shooing sheep out of your path on the way down. (I also did the night tour to the observatory, but it was not quite worth the $$ for me).
    Wanaka-The Mount Iron walk gives you wonderful panarama of the area from the top. And winetsting. I liked the quick walk along the lakefront to Rippon Vineyard.
    Abel Tasman – kayak, hike, whatever -it’s so beautiful.
    If you have time in Picton before ferrying back, I’d also recommend spending time in Marlborough Sounds. Even walking a bit of the Queen Charlotte track was amazing.

    Sorry for the novel, but have fun!!

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 2:19 am #

      thank you for the tips!!!

  14. Steve December 19, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    Now I am feeling jealous. Have a great time and I look forward to reading about your adventures.

    • Liz December 19, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

      Thanks! I can’t wait!

  15. Rachel Lees December 19, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    Hi Liz, super-excited for your upcoming Christmas adventure. I voted for the flight over Lake Tekapo just because you’ll probably get a chance to do all those Queenstown things later in the year anyway. I’ve been meaning to email you with my recommendations for the South Island (being a native South Islander there are a few), and I just haven’t got around to it yet!
    If you get a chance take a look around Picton. It is my most favourite place in the world, and is the gateway to the Marlborough Sounds which is stunning and very under-rated (but I think the locals want to keep it that way). Queenstown is great if you want to live in a transient community with lots of other foreigners, but if you’re wanting a more real-kiwi-community feel, I’d go to Wanaka or Nelson. And good luck with the Cook Strait ferry. Pray for a fair-weather crossing. It’s a fabulous trip when the weather is stunning. Not so fabulous if it’s rough! 🙂

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 5:29 am #

      OMG great tips! Please email me! Where are you based now?

      • Rachel Lees December 20, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

        Based in Tauranga, Bay of Plenty. I will email you soon! Promise!

  16. Amanda December 19, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

    Ahhhhh this will be so fun!! I’m glad you’re going to Milford (even though I think Doubtful Sound might be better), and yay for glacier hiking! Probably one of the coolest things I’ve done in NZ.

    I’m voting for jet boating for your activity, because it’s crazy and fun and, like buggy jumping, WAS INVENTED IN QUEENSTOWN!

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 5:27 am #

      I can’t wait to go glacier hiking! I know I know but I can’t bungee with my back like this 🙁

  17. Jerrica Peterson December 19, 2013 at 7:48 pm #


    I’ve been following your blog since I found it right before my big move abroad. I’m currently living in Australia and am leaving for Queenstown tonight! I will be there from Dec 21st- 26th. Any chance you’ll be in the area and will have some free time ?! Have you considered skydiving? My friend and I are planning to go and you are welcome to join us :). If you’re around, feel free to email me at If not, have a great trip!

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 5:27 am #

      Hi I think we will overlap! I wasn’t going to skydive because I just went a few months ago but well see!

  18. Dustin@WeGoRTW December 19, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    If you want a hidden gem and a great one day hike then Earnslaw Burn glacier, even the local DOC folks only heard of it and not hiked it –

    We found the Milford to have too many dam sand flies, but still worth the drive by. Oh and the Routeburn was nice –

    Rest of the other stuff at –

    • Liz December 20, 2013 at 5:26 am #

      Great tips, cheers!

  19. Savannah December 20, 2013 at 7:35 am #

    You should definitely go paragliding! I went in Switzerland and LOVED it, so I can only imagine how amazing it will be in FREAKING NEW ZEALAND. You have no idea how much I want to go to New Zealand, I am a massive LOTR fan.

    • Liz December 22, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

      Then you need to get here stat!

  20. Sara G December 20, 2013 at 11:48 pm #

    Pancake rocks at punakaikai are amazing, you’ll love it. Have fun and enjoy the adventures!

    • Liz December 22, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

      Can’t wait to see them!

  21. Ellen December 21, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    Milford is awesome!!! But…sandflies!!! SO MANY SANDFLIES! I went last summer and woah it was crazy! But also crazy beautiful 🙂

    • Liz December 22, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

      Woah thanks for the tip! I’ll get big spray

  22. Rebecca December 22, 2013 at 1:06 am #

    My favorite towns on the South Island are Akaroa (my favourite town in NZ!), The Golden Bay region outside of Abel Tas, and Dunedin. You prob won’t get to them on a tour, but add them to your list to check out when you “move”, especially Dunners, if Qtown doesn’t work out and/or if CHC is still a mess. Dunners reminded me of a smaller CHC. LOVED IT!

    • Liz December 22, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

      I can’t wait to check these stops out!

  23. Daniel December 22, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

    I’m getting nostalgic just from reading this, because I’ve been to all these places in the South Island, except Christchurch, Kaikoura and Lake Tekapo! Words cannot possibly explain how I love and miss New Zealand.

    I would recommend doing anything, just as long as you do it in Queenstown, because there are so many different activities and adventure sports offered there! Milford Sound is another must-see.

    When I spent Christmas in New Zealand a few years back, my itinerary was something like:
    Brisbane (where I used to live) -> Auckland -> Wellingtown -> Nelson (Christmas eve) -> Abel Tasman/Kaiteriteri Beach (Christmas day) -> Punakaiki -> Franz Josef -> Wanaka -> Queenstown -> Te Anau – Milford Sound -> Queenstown -> Christchurch (just the airport sadly) -> Auckland (where I spent new year’s eve) -> back home to Brisbane

    I’ve made quite a few posts on New Zealand on my blog, check them out!

    • Liz December 22, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

      Woah that’s a great itinerary

  24. Jesper Kofod December 24, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    Enjoy all of your adventures and keep us updated! 😉

    • Liz January 3, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

      Will do, I have so much to share!

  25. Anita December 26, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    wow way too cool! I would rate this as coolest christmas trip ever! Wish you a lot of fun and I can’t wait to follow your South Island adventures via Instagram 🙂

    • Liz January 3, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

      Thanks Anita! It was spectacular!

  26. Michael December 30, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    Hey, have a great time there in New Zealand! I’ve been an aventurer all my life and I plan to visit the South Island in a couple of years when I retire. It is exciting to see what you are all doing there. Be safe and have fun!

    • Liz January 3, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

      The South Island is amazing, you’re going to love it!

  27. Jeannine December 30, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    Hope you do move to Queenstown! I’m planning on moving for a year next year from Ireland as it suits my lifestyle. Do you reckon you could look into the kayaking potential when you’re there? It’s my main sport (Maybe it could become yours?!) and I’d love to know how it is out there!

    Enjoy your trip! x

    • Liz January 3, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

      Kayaking is amazing in NZ, I’ve already gone a couple times. I know there are a lot of options on all the lakes, rivers and ocean too, especially in the south island

  28. Brendan van Son January 1, 2014 at 2:06 am #

    Looks awesome! Oceania is my last continent and the South Island of New Zealand is my #1 priority there. The photo teasers are awesome. Can’t wait to see what you get up to.
    I voted Underground rafting 😉

    • Liz January 3, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

      You have to come here Brendan, you’re going to LOVE IT!

  29. Angelina January 3, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    That sounds really fun Liz. I have always wanted to go to south island. You should try zorbing I have heard it is really memorable. Though have you ever thought about going to Brazil it is beautiful.

    • Liz January 3, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

      Haven’t done zorbing yet, it’s on my list 😀

  30. Georgia January 3, 2014 at 6:41 pm #

    Just came across your blog and read this year’s haterz post first – and I’m now addicted (why have you been missing from my life all this time?!) I’m slowly working my way through the huge backlog of posts – thanks for perking up an otherwise dull Friday night!

    Also incredibly envious of your trip to NZ!

    • Liz January 3, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

      wahoo that’s nice to hear, thanks!

  31. Naomi January 6, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    And now am so jealous your Christmas was this beautiful! You look like you sure had lots of fun! I think you should the Scenic Flight of Lake Tekapo. Well, thats the only thing i’ve done in the list (not on Lake Tekapo though) and its amazing seeing the waters from above.. 🙂

  32. Alina April 28, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

    Amazing pics, Liz. I know that you wrote this post a long time ago, but I just started reading your blog and it’s so cool. Fun to read and very inspiring. Thank you for sharing your adventures.


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