This is my 12-day Self Drive Itinerary in New Zealand Part II – South Island. Read about our short stay at New Zealand’s North Island here.
Day 4: Queenstown
We touched down at Queenstown Airport around 4.00pm and immediately made our way to our self-catered apartment, Hurley’s of Queenstown. It was about 10 minutes drive from the airport and the view, OMG, mesmerizing! We were blessed with a sunny and clear day, absolutely no clouds. When you put blue sky, crystal clear water and golden autmun leaves together, you got yourself a postcard-worthy view. Amazing. We couldn’t help ourselves but to ooohhhs and aaaahhhss all the way to Hurley’s.
After performing Zuhur and Asar, we headed to town to find some dinner since moi wanted to enjoy a relaxing night. Bahahaha. Halal restaurants in Queenstown are easy to find and you are NOT limited to Indian or Middle Eastern flavour because…*drum roll* there’s a Malaysian restaurant at the heart of Queenstown! It’s called Madam Woo and they serve halal meat. We didn’t get the chance to eat there because it was always full! So we settled for Boliwood Indian Restaurant. Mifa ordered delicious butter chicken and I had lamb briyani. If you ever decide to dine here, we highly recommend their butter chicken. The best so far! Mifa finished the chicken but asked our waiter to scrap off the remaining gravy in the bowl and pack it to go. The waiter went, “Whaaat?! O-mai-god…………” Trust me, it was that good it’s worth the humiliation. LOL!
We then walk around the town for a little while before buying some bread, eggs and cheese for our breakfast tomorrow at a convenience store. So far I am liking Queenstown!
Day 5: Milford Sound & Bennet’s Bluff Lookout Point
There are two options you can consider if you’re planning to travel to Milford Sound from Queenstown. First, self-drive. It’s going to be a long 4 hour journey each way and keep in mind the road in NZ is not like the highway you see in Malaysia. Jalan bengkang bengkok. Having said that I personally don’t recommend self-drive to Milford Sound. Second, take a tour (duh!). There are a number of different tours to choose from. You can either take the coach from Queenstown, hop on a cruise at Milford Sound (again, there are variety of cruises offered), then head back to Queenstown by coach. It will still be a total of 8 hours on the road but hey, at least you get to rest and catch up on your sleep en route. As for us….we opted for a little bit of luxury and went on a fly-cruise-fly tour by Air Milford New Zealand.
The whole tour took a total of 4 hours which includes a pick-up and drop-off from/at our apartment, a tour briefing by our pilot, Alex, a 35 minutes each way scenic flight to/fro Milford Sound and a 1 hour 45 minutes scenic cruise that also provides a buffet lunch – not halal but they had abundance of seafood and vegetarian food on board, believe me you will not be hungry. I enjoyed the flight more than the cruise. I guess after half an hour on the deck looking at the same blue sky and clear water could get a little boring. Oohhh, we spotted some teenage seals hanging out on the rocks on our way back to the jetty. According to the locals, dolphins are common too but luck was not on our side that day. Oh, well.
After spending half of our day on the Milford Sound tour, we spent the other half driving on the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road since Mifa wanted to capture a scenic photo at Bennett’s Bluff lookout. As the sun set, it started to get freezing cold!!! However, the view was magnificent! Worth all the shivering and pee holding.
Day 6: Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jump, Arrowtown & Lake Wanaka
Weather forecast stated there will be intermittent rain today. Darn!
Anyway, Mifa got in touch with his inner devil and wanted to bungy jump. He had a few bungy spots in mind, one of them being none other, the Nevis Bungy. Thank god he decided to do it at Kawarau Bridge because it was located just 20 minutes from Queenstown and the view are wayyyy more breathtaking than Nevis’s. We were the first one to arrive, the place hadn’t even open yet. LOL! I think someone was too eager to jump.
I asked him what was on his mind when he was standing at the edge. I mean, how crazy is that going against your instinct jumping off a ledge into a god knows what down there (well, in this case, it was a beautiful crystal clear blue river and a yellow floating raft). He said he wasn’t thinking at all. He just jumped. Hmmm. I know I couldn’t do that. My brain will go haywire if I decided to do something that doesn’t make sense. Mifa was pretty happy with his jump – he should! He got a goodie bag for doing it – an AJ Hackett t-shirt, a lifetime-right-to-brag-I-did-it-certificate, photos and videos (you have to pay for this) of his jump. I have to give AJ Hackett a two thumbs up! The quality of photos and videos are super cantik I tell you!
After the whole excitements we drove to Arrowtown, a historic gold mining town. Nothing to see or do here but I like how it looks like one of those wild wild west movie set. Everything here looks…calm. We had a quick bite at the local cafe, took some insta worthy autumn pictures, then get back on the road heading to Queenstown to do some souvenir shopping, lunch and performed prayer in the comfort of our room.
Now guys, do pay attention to this sign whenever you see a parking spot. The number means the total amount of minutes you are allowed to park in that spot. We saw this sign everywhere in Queenstown but couldn’t be bothered to figure out what it means until….we got a ticket! We parked at a 60-minute spot and well…we were there for almost 2 hours. It was a NZD15 fine, payable via online. Funny thing is…we have no idea how they (whoever ‘they’ might be. Traffic warden?) know we’ve been there for over an hour? There was not even one parking meter in the area. How do they keep track? We were being stalked? LOL!!! I wish our traffic warden in Malaysia is as efficient as them. Baru lah kurang jam kat jalan-jalan yang sempit.
Anyway, after a little rest we head out to Lake Wanaka, about an hour drive from Queenstow. The other half wanted to take photo of the infamous Wanaka Tree during golden hour.
So there you go, end of day 6!
Day 7: Skyline Queenswtown & Twizel via Lake Wanaka
Do you really want to hear I gush over and over on how beautiful this country is? Here’s a picture or two of Queenstown from Skyline Queenstown – you be the judge. After a freshly baked pizza lunch, we head off to Twizel.
The supposedly two and a half hour journey turned four hours-ish because we stopped a lot for pictures! LOL! The view was breathtaking (also we both were a couple of jakun). We stopped at Lake Wanaka again since Mifa wanted a day light shot of the tree. Me? I just hang out with the geese, feeding them bread.
We spend the night at Mountain Chalet Motels in Twizel. The coldest room we had during our stay in NZ! Brrrrr…never, I repeat, NEVER stay at a chalet during cold months in NZ. It might be nice during the summer but not at all during autumn. The floor tiles in the toilet was freezing and guess what, the shower cubicle is made of stainless steel. Time like this makes me realise living in our humid tropical weather isn’t so bad after all. Hahaha!
Day 8: Twizel to Aori Mount Cook National Park via Lake Tekapo & the Big Sky Stargazing
After saying goodbye to Sylvester, we set off to Mount Cook. We had a pit stop at Lake Tekapo because…you guess it, Mifa wanted to take some photos of the Church of the Good Sherperd – the most photographed church in New Zealand. By the time we reached Hermitage Hotel at Mount Cook, it was 3pm. We are going on the Big Sky Stargazing tour tonight so Mifa thought it would be a good idea for us to relax for a couple of hours. At 6pm, we drove for an hour to Lake Tekapo again to check in for the 8pm stargazing tour (because its check in office is at Lake Tekapo), which, unfortunately was cancelled due to bad weather. The thing with stargazing tour, they’ll only let you know whether or not the tour is cancelled 20 minutes before your scheduled tour. If you don’t check in, in the event that your tour is cancelled, your booking will not be ‘carried forward’ to tomorrow’s stargazing tour.
Right after we were told about the cancellation, we decided to just chill, had dinner then head back to Hermitage – that was when the weather started to get worse – it snowed and rained at the same time. Don’t get me started on how strong the wind was. Nevertheless, that did not stop Mifa from ‘camping’ outside the hotel and took some amazing photos of the starry sky.
Note: Mount Cook-Tekapo area is what they call the International Dark Sky Reserve. There is very minimal light pollution so you can clearly see the stars in the sky. Heck, you can see the milky way! Having said that, most area here are pitch black, especially when you’re on the road. So if you’re heading to Mount Cook, keep this in mind and plan accordingly.
Day 9: Glacier Explorers
Ughhh….we woke up to an even worse weather today. The beautiful mountain view we saw from our balcony yesterday was no where to be seen, hidden in thick fog, the wind was stronger than last night and boy…it was a freezing morning.
After a quick breakfast bite, we went out waiting for our Glacier Explorers bus to pick us up for the 8am tour. For this activity you have to be moderately fit because after a 10-minute bus ride to Tasman Valley, there will be a 20-minute hike. Be sure to wear waterproof clothes and shoes because you will get wet on the boat ride later. I read an online review by a lady who went on this tour, who was upset because the tour guide made her chosed to either carry her child during the hike or don’t join the tour at all because her child was slowing everyone down (not sure how old her child was and whether or not she ends up going on the tour). So yeah, they are dead serious about the hike being no more than 20 minutes. The trail was…stoney (is that the right word?) and slightly uphill, qualifying it as my cardio of the week.
There were 16 of us including 4 senior ladies, I think they were in their 70’s. I admire how at that age, these ladies were still able to keep up with the rest of us and look good doing it. Anyway, when we reach the Tasman Glacier terminal (it’s a fancy name for ‘jetty’) we put our safety jacket on, then we were divided into 2 groups. Our group was led by…geeez…I’ve forgotten his name but I know the other boat guy’s name is Tom. Let’s call our boat guy Tom 2. LOL!
Tom 2 and the rest of his team at Tasman Glacier graduated with a degree in these…umm…glacier things…and are currently doing research about glaciers and whatnot. So guys, being on this tour is like being on National Geographic. I am not kidding. These people really know stuff about these glaciers and it was very enlightening having Tom 2 explaining and answering questions from us. He even knocked off a chunk of iceberg so that we could have a close up of what he was talking about. I can now tell people that I’ve hold an iceberg in my hands. He said we can lick the iceberg if we wanted to because it’s the purest and cleanest form of ice on earth! How amazing is that?!!! You must do this tour if you ever get to Mount Cook. I didn’t lick the iceberg but did dip my hand in the icy cold glacier water. Errr…will never do that again, my fingers got freezing cold (duh!), it was like nothing before.
By the end of our tour the weather started to go crazy again. Tom 2’s team at the base radioed him to get back to land. We were lucky we get to be on the 8am tour because they just cancelled all glacier tours for the rest of the day. When we got to the hotel, the weather had seriously taken a 180º turn. It started to snow. Everything was at risk being blown away by the wind – it was that strong! Mifa and I cancelled our plan to hike Hooker Valley and spent the rest of the afternoon in our room, chilling (pun is intended). Watching movies.
The weather still hadn’t improved when we got out at 6pm to Lake Tekapo for our stargazing tour. We somewhat had a hunch that it will be cancelled again tonight and we were right. Since we are already heading back to Queenstown tomorrow, our money was refunded. Darn. We were really looking forward for it. Frankly, our itinerary in NZ was planned in such a way that our stay at Mount Cook will not be during the full moon phase so Mifa and I could see clear starry sky at night.
Anyway, seeing the rain is not as brutal as last night’s, we head over to the Church of the Good Shepherd again, which was literally a minute away from our stargazing check in office and took some photos. Cool right? Then on our back to the hotel we stopped again at one of the lookout point to take more photos. At least we didn’t drive back empty handed tonight. We got some amazing photos and it was fun being Mifa’s extra pair of hand. On a different note, there were a lot of rabbits crossing the road tonight!!! Yesterday were mostly possums. I have yet to see a chicken crossing the road here, in case you’re wondering.
Day 10: Mount Cook to Queenstown
We woke up to a calmer morning. Still snowing, but not as windy. After checking out we went to Tasman Valley for a quick snap and shoot of the surrounding area before starting our journey back to Queenstown.
It was about over an hour drive on Lindis Pass highway when our road was blocked by a number of cars that couldn’t get on the highway because of the thick snow ahead. Some of them stopped to put their snow chain on while some decided to make a U-turn. This is why I mention earlier in Part I the importance of including snow chain in your car rental package. Mifa and I were offered snow chain when we picked up our car but we didn’t take it thinking “snow is only during winter, now it’s autumn” . So we drove back to the nearest town – Omarama and hang out there for a while. This set back our journey for two hours. We were supposed to reach Queenstown by 1.30pm but thanks to the snow drama, we got there at around 4pm. Of course, we did stop once or twice along the way to take photos.
Day 11: Queenstown to Auckland to KLIA
To be honest, I am so ready to go home! I am tired of indian and middle eastern food. I am tired of the cold weather. I am tired of wearing layers.
We took the first flight out to Auckland at 7am. Performed Subuh prayer at Queenstown Airport’s parents room for some privacy. When we got to Auckland Airport we were starving! We almost settled for some sad looking pastries when we saw “HALAL” sign on the counter of Pita Pit. You can find Pita Pit at the International Terminal Departure Food Court, Level 1. Mind you, only their chicken is halal, everything else including some cheese are not. Don’t worry, the staff will advise you. Anything is better than stale pastry.
After stuffing ourselves, we went through immigration and security, performed Zuhur/Asar at the Chapel (next to Aelia Duty Free shop, refer to the International Terminal: First Floor map here). There’s also a dedicated Muslim Prayer Room before immigration and security, nearby McDonald’s at first floor as well.
1.15pm, we took off and arrived KLIA at 8.20pm. Our next leg of journey is to Singapore on Malaysia Airline at 11-ish pm.
Day 12: Singapore!
It was past mid night when we finally arrived at Changi Airport. OMG. So tiring! A whole day of travelling! Since the MRT is not operating at this hour we had to queue for half an hour to get a taxi. It was past 2am when we finally got home. Ahhh…home sweet home…warm bathroom…how I missed you!
There you go peeps! Our 12-day self drive itinerary in New Zealand.