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 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!

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Settling on the 

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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!

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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 RealNZ, 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!


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78 Comments on “I’m off to explore the South Island with Haka Tours!

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  1. 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!

  2. 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.


  3. 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!! 😉

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