07 Aug 21
Why New Zealand’s South Island is one of my favourite destinations
“There is only one word for New Zealand – epic!”
As a lover of mountain scenery, I always nab a window seat on an aircraft. Not that long ago, but before all the talk of travel bubbles and vaccine passports, I was peering out of the cabin window on my way to New Zealand. The late winter cloud periodically cleared to reveal the stunning Southern Alps in all their white-peaked glory. I remember thinking: ‘I am literally 3 hours away from Australia’s East Coast – why has it taken me so long to visit this place!’.
The spectacular 500km mountain range stretches from Wanaka to Arthur’s Pass, the backbone of the South Island. Formed by two geological plates colliding and pushing against each other, the peaks of the Alps are snow-covered year around. But the Nelson Tasman and Marlborough regions, tucked away in the very north of the South Island, are at considerably lower altitudes and enjoy plenty of sunshine. They are extremely pleasant destinations all year and, with their stunning natural landscapes, perfect for walking.
Named after Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman, Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s smallest national park and quite possibly New Zealand’s best kept secret where hiking is concerned. This area was also the site of the first contact between Māori and Europeans when Tasman first visited here in 1642, and historical references can most definitely be experienced along the trail.
The park itself offers well-formed tracks amidst a stunning coastal environment. Idyllic beaches, hidden coves, and inlets (which at certain times of the year you may be lucky enough to enjoy to yourself!), and lush coastal native bush make for a very enjoyable few days walking. Lovers of wildlife won’t be disappointed either, with penguins, seals, and cormorants in abundance. Like us, they relish in the beautiful clear azure-coloured waters, ideal for swimming – be sure to put your swimmers in your daypack during the warmer months!
One of the delights of the trail, aside from the warm Kiwi hospitality, is that the lodges are accessible only by boat or on foot, which truly adds to that feeling of ‘getting away from it all’. Built on the original homestead site in 1994, Meadowbank Homestead is fashioned from recycled timbers and features heirlooms and local heritage artefacts passed down through eight generations of the Hadfield family. While the beachfront located Torrent Bay Lodge, further along the trail, traces the nautical history of the region, with each of the comfortable rooms named after ships which navigated the Abel Tasman Coast.
Further east lies the Marlborough region, home to scenic sounds, world-famous wines and of course…hiking! Stretching between the Queen Charlotte & Kenepuru Sounds lies the Queen Charlotte Track. An area also steeped in history, it is believed that Captain Cook sheltered in Queen Charlotte Sound during each of his three voyages of exploration at various points and named it after Queen Consort Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of King George III.
The trail stretches 73km end-to-end and offers a true sense of discovery as you traverse the numerous peaks (none higher than 400m) and ‘straddles’ that are a notable feature of the trail. Vantage points along the way offer incredible views across the sounds and provide ample opportunity to keep an eye out for a wonderful variety of native wildlife – you may encounter New Zealand dolphins, whales in season and prolific birdlife. Evenings are spent in comfort at three locally run hotels along the trail, all offering delicious food and wine, most welcome at the end of a big day!
One thing is for certain, whether you consider the Abel Tasman, the Queen Charlotte, or a combination of both, you will be rewarded with two very different but equally enjoyable coastal hikes. Some of my most treasured travel memories have been formed on walking holidays with my children, and there are so many ‘boxes to tick’ when taking teenage kids to New Zealand. It’s close, it’s beautiful and the combination of fresh air, exercise, and spending time together in the great outdoors lends itself perfectly to a great family getaway.
While far flung long-haul destinations are off the cards for now, it is great to know that travel to The Land of the Long White Cloud will soon be on the table again, offering us the opportunity to dust off the passport and appreciate some of the most outstanding hiking on the planet. The South Island of New Zealand has been here all along, and while it did take me some time to discover, well you know what they say…. better late than never!
What we offer
We offer guided and self-guided options for both trails. Walk them separately or combine them in the same trip. Both offer fantastic experiences and include support from our local leaders and in-country staff.