Everyone knows about all of the best and most visited sites to see in the South Island, or you can certainly figure that out with a quick Google search (or even a browse around this site.). We've scoured this magnificent island far and wide to bring you the 5 hidden gems that you CANNOT miss when you plan your self drive New Zealand trip.
1. Hooker Valley Track
While you may have read about the ever so blue Lake Pukaki or the largest mountain in New Zealand, Mount Cook, Hooker Valley Track seems to fall by the wayside from the bloggers. This magnificent, 3-4+ hours, 5km (3.1mi) hike takes you through Aorki/Mount Cook National Park with some of the most beautiful scenery in all of New Zealand. The climactic endpoint leads you to Hooker Glacier with the stunning Mount Cook in the backdrop. This is the closest point that any track gets to Mount Cook and has pristine, unobstructed views.
Tip: Start at the Visitor Centre or White Horse Hill campground/carpark (at the end of Hooker Valley Rd off State Highway 80). Be SURE to bring water, food/snacks, a hat and sunscreen, as the hike is not shaded.
2. Sumner Beach, Christchurch
Looking to get out of the city, soak up some sun and hit the surf? Sumner Beach is a perfect little spot for all the above. Located just 15 minutes outside of Christchurch, you'll fall in love with this quaint, relaxed beachside town. Take a stroll in the sand and have lunch with a cocktail at The Beach Bar, which offers pristine views of the ocean.
Tip: Be sure to climb Cave Rock for some epic views from above, especially at sunrise.
3. Okarito, West Coast
If you're interested in a quiet, relaxing, nature filled getaway, then Okarito is the perfect place for you. In this tiny old mining town, you can take strolls next to the ocean, gaze at the stars and kayak through the lush lands all in the same day. Just a 15km (9mi) drive north of Franz Josef Town, Okarito is a great alternative place to stay if you're visiting Franz Josef and want to experience another town simultaneously. You're only a 20 - 30 minute drive from town, so could still tick off the must-do Franz Josef Heli Hike.
Okarito is also the perfect place to park your camper, as there are several campgrounds in town.
Tip: Take the trig walk, which takes you up to a viewpoint of the Southern Alps. Hire a guide to take you kayaking to see the abundance of bird species (more than 75) and other wildlife that live in the region.
4. Otira Viaduct Lookout
On the way to Arthur's Pass, coming from the West Coast to Christchurch, you'll pass over this massive 440-meter (0.25 mile) long viaduct. This bridge, completed in 1999 and costing more than 25 million dollars to construct, was created as a safe passage because the roadway was prone to rockfall, snow avalanches and landslides.
Otira Viaduct Lookout point is easy to miss and creeps up suddenly after the bridge, so be on the lookout! There are also many things to see and do in Arthur’s Pass National Park, including hiking, skiing and snowboarding, if you’d like to stay a night or two.
5. Atlas Beer Cafe, Queenstown
Atlas Beer Cafe is truly a hidden gem, as it's easy to miss when walking through the streets of Queenstown. Situated just beside the water, it offers up beautiful views of Lake Wakatipu and the BEST steak and draught beer we've ever had, at a really affordable price. Be sure to get there early to get a table, as seating is limited.
Tip: Order the GFO Rump Steak, served with steak fries and garlic herb butter. We ate there three times during our stay in Queenstown, and I have a feeling you'll do the same.
BONUS! Pedro’s House Of Lamb, Queenstown
BONUS We just had to squeeze in one more. Pedro's House of Lamb is a seriously succulent slice of heaven that originated in Christchurch. Sadly, their building was destroyed in the earthquake, but that certainly did not stop them from continuing to serve up their signature dish of the most mouthwateringly delicious lamb shoulder you’ve ever tasted. First, they slow cook it with rosemary and garlic and then serve it alongside buttery scalloped potatoes. They've expanded now to Auckland and Queenstown, making it even more convenient for you to get your fix!
New Zealand is truly an unforgettable country. At every turn there is breathtaking scenery, great food and kind people. These 5 gems are literally just the tip of the iceberg. The only way to truly understand New Zealand is to come and experience it for yourself!
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