Today’s Travel Tuesday destination is South Island, New Zealand, courtesy of the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die Page-A-Day Calendar.
1. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park (pictured above): While the South Island of New Zealand is known for its palm trees and hibiscus plants, one third of the dazzling national park found here is covered in permanent snow and ice. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park contains 72 named glaciers and 22 mountain peaks that top 9,840 feet, including the park’s namesake, which is New Zealand’s highest at 12,316 feet. This is the place to splurge on unforgettable flightseeing. Some flights include a snow landing on the 17-mile-long Tasman Glacier, the longest river of ice outside the Himalayas.
- Where: 160 miles/257 km northeast of Queenstown.
- How: Mount Cook Ski Planes offer plane and helicopter trips. Tel: 64/3-430-8034; www.skiplanes.co.nz; Glacier Explorer offers glacier lake boat trips. Tel: 64/3-435-1641; www.glacierexplorers.co.nz
- Best Times:July-September for skiing; November-April for trekking and glacier tours.
2. Arthur’s Pass: Shortcuts are rare in New Zealand. Roads typically follow switchbacks over mountains, or avoid them completely, skirting their edges and piling on the miles needed to get from point A to point B. This had posed a distinct problem in the South Island, where the Southern Alps run the length of the land like a chain of vertebrae, dividing the east coast from the west. So the Kiwis created three grand coast-to-coast shortcuts: Lewis Pass in the north, Haast Pass in the south, and the crown jewel, Arthur’s Pass, in the center. The tiny Arthur’s Pass Village serves as a gateway to vast Arthur’s Pass National Park, which is marked by sprawling beech forests on its eastern side and deeply gorged rivers and thick rain forest to the west.
- Where: Arthur’s Pass is 80 miles/130 km west of Christchurch.
- Best Times: December-early April for warm weather and wildflowers; July-September for skiing and winter activities.
3. Fiordland National Park: The Australian’s may claim the Great Barrier Reef as the Eighth Wonder of the World, but Rudyard Kipling gave the honor to New Zealand’s Milford Sound. Milford is the most famous and accessible of the 15 fjords that make up the majestic 3-million-acre Fiordland National Park (the country’s largest) on the South Island’s southwestern coast. The 9.3-mile-long inlet is hemmed in by sheer granite cliffs rising up to 4,000 feet, with waterfalls cascading from the high mountain ridges. Playful bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, and gulls call its waters home, and crested penguins nest here in October and November before leaving for Antarctica.
- Where: Most departures for Milford are from Te Anau, which is 107 miles/172 km southwest of Queenstown.
- How: Ultimate Hikes leads guided treks. Tel: 64/3-450-1940; www.ultimatehikes.co.nz; Real Journeys offers Milford and Doubtful Sound cruises. Tel: 64/3-249-7416; www.realjourneys.co.nz
- Best Time: October-April for spring and summer weather
4. The Grand Traverse:In a country where nature is king, it’s no surprise that “tramping” (aka hiking) is a national pastime—and what remarkable scenery there is to tramp through, particularly along the Grand Traverse, one of New Zealand’s premier trekking experiences. The 24-mile Routeburn Track is the first leg. It crosses the Southern Alps over the breathtaking 3,900-foot Harris Saddle and descends through a world of moss-clad trees, giant ferns, mountain streams, rich bird life, lakes, and waterfalls within Mount Aspiring National Park.
- Where: Te Wahipounanu World Heritage Area, southwest corner of the South Island.
- How: Ultimate Hike offers guided trek packages. Tel: 64/3-450-1940; www.ultimatehikes.co.nz
- Best Time: January-February for most comfortable temperatures and least precipitation.
5. Marlborough Sounds: The Marlborough region of the South Island offers two irresistible reason to visit: in the north, the grandeur of the unspoiled Marlborough Sounds, with dozens of secluded bays and beaches, and in the south, the award-winning vineyards encircling the town of Blenheim. This area, formerly occupied by sheep farms, is the country’s largest and best-known center of viticulture, with more than 100 wineries producing internationally acclaimed chardonnay and sauvignon blanc and, more recently pinto gris, riesling, and gewurztraminer.
- Where: Blenheim is 169 miles.272 km north of Christchurch.
- How: Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company leads multi-day guided walks. Tel: 64/3-573-6078; www.marlboroughsounds.co.nz
- Best Times: November-March for nice weather; February for Brews, Blues, and BBQs and the Marlborough Wine Festival.
6. The Home of Bungee Jumping and Jet Boating: If you want to learn something fundamental about the Kiwi character, you need only know that New Zealand is the recognized home of both bungee jumping and jet boating. The former act of madness originated as a coming-of-age ritual on the Pacific islands of Vanuatu. And while you may not have realized you had a burning desire to attach a thick rubber cord to your ankes before diving headfirst off a bridge, Queenstown’s high-energy brand of fun is infectious, and so far—with a 100 percent safety record—everyone has lived to brag about it.
- How: For bungee jumping, A.J. Hackett Bungy, named for the man who made a historic leap from the Eiffel Tower in 1987; Tel: 64/3-442-4007; For jet boats, Shotover Jet, Tel: 64/3-442-8570; www.shotoverjet.co.nz
- Best Time: January-March for summer weather.
Read more on 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and the calendar line here.