South Island of New Zealand – 20 observations from a first time visitor

June 14, 2023
New Zealand
South Island of New Zealand

Pampas Grass

Hello – I’m home!

We got back on the evening of Friday 2 June and after unpacking, I spent the entire weekend buried under washing in the laundry. On the Monday I went for my second phase of root canal dental work. From Tuesday until Thursday I was over at Mum’s. Today is Saturday 10 June and I’ve finally found a little pocket of time to start putting together a post for the following Wednesday.

I absolutely loved every moment of my holiday in the South Island of New Zealand. Oh it was so sad though when it came to an end! Over coming weeks I’ll share posts on the various places we went and what we did, but for now, here’s 20 observations from a first time visitor to the South Island of New Zealand.

But first – as you read my list of 20 observations, some of you may think “derrr Min … who didn’t know that?!” but keep in mind I’m green, very green! lol My overseas travel consists of a trip to Singapore decades ago when my kids were in primary school and a South Pacific Cruise back in 2016 to Vanuatu and New Caledonia. That is it! So here we go, 20 of my very green observations as a first time visitor to the South Island of New Zealand.

  1. The South Island of New Zealand is BEAUTIFUL! Truly, everywhere we went took my breath away! A feast for my eyes and a balm for my soul.
  2. The sheep (mostly Merino) are like mountain goats – you’ll not only see them in flat paddocks but up the mountains standing on very steep slopes! How do they get up there and how do they not fall? And there are thousands and thousands and thousands of them everywhere.
  3. The public toilets are amazing! They are modern, efficient and clean. They talk to you and play you music and give you 10 minutes to do your business before they unlock. They also have a note as to when they were last cleaned and a phone number to call if there is anything amiss that needs attention. 
  4. The people we encountered across the whole three weeks of our holiday were all lovely and friendly and very familiar with Australia and Brisbane having mostly all visited (except one guy who served us at a shop at Lake Tekapo who has Brisbane on his ‘bucket list’).
  5. We discovered ‘cheese rolls’ – a south island thing. We had our first and only try of them in a little town called Geraldine. I’ll write more about cheese rolls in a future post.
  6. The Maori culture is evident everywhere – the street names, the names of towns and lakes, and on television most towns etc are referred to first in Maori and then in English.
  7. There are so many lakes but not just average lakes – huge (extremely huge!) and beautiful lakes!
  8. There are lots of beautiful mountain ranges and when we were there – most were snow capped and stunning.
  9. There are lots of winding mountain roads with incredible views from them (which was a little distracting)!
  10. Everywhere we went we noticed a lot of New Zealand Flax (Phormium), Pampas Grass (see image above) and lots of hedges and wind breakers.
  11. Walking some of the many walking tracks is the best way to see the most stunning gems that nature has to offer over there.
  12. There are no snakes or spiders or any creatures at all to fear and that made walking out in the wilderness so much more relaxing. Such peace of mind!
  13. The glacial waters we saw were the most beautiful clear icy pale blue that I’ve ever seen.
  14. There are lots and lots and lots of one lane bridges all across the island, many of which were quaint and photo worthy!
  15. The roads are very well looked after and marked. They have some different road signs to us and we just figured a couple of them out towards the end of our trip!
  16. You can buy alcohol at the grocery store, and when we were at Lake Tekapo the grocery store there also had a little coffee stand/cafe in it where you could get a coffee!
  17. They have a pharmacy chain called ‘Antidote‘. I thought that was a very clever name!
  18. Tree ferns, which I’ve always associated as a plant for the tropics, grows and flourishes in the South Island of New Zealand. I’ll need to investigate this further but I’m thinking perhaps a different variety to what we have here in Queensland. Stay tuned!
  19. You see Merino & Possum Knitwear products everywhere! Possums are a pest in NZ and their fur is used in combination with merino wool for a lot of knitwear products. Possum Merino is a blend of possum fur and superfine New Zealand Merino wool with a texture similar to cashmere – luxuriously soft, incredibly lightweight, exceptionally warm and easy to wear. It won’t pill, it won’t wrinkle, it’s anti-static and is an innovative and practical market solution to an environmental challenge facing New Zealand. This is a way they can help to control the number of possums in NZ in order to protect the native wildlife, flora and fauna. The possums in NZ, whilst similar to ours here in Australia, are apparently a little different to our bushy tailed possums.
  20. We heard stories about wild wallabies introduced to NZ from Australia back in the late 1800’s (mainly for hunting and for people with private zoos apparently!) that are now considered pests because they are destroying their native biodiversity and productive lands. They’re particularly found in the rural area around Waimate but are spreading. They have no natural predators in NZ. I’m an animal lover so the fact possums and wallabies are pests in NZ was sad to hear but I understand and accept the measures they need to take to ethically control the situation. 

I left a big chunk of my heart in the south island of New Zealand. As you can imagine, being the nature lover that I am, I was in heaven over there! We did a lot of walking which took us to places that truly took my breath away. I am not a very fit person but I climbed many steep hills and hundreds and hundreds of stairs and it was worth every bit of effort for how it made me feel and what I got to see and experience.

I love the time of year we were there too. It was cool which I like but not too cold. We got to see some snow capped mountains and even some icebergs. We got to experience the late Autumn leaves still on many trees  and carpeted on the ground in many places – such a feast of colours for the eyes. Here’s just a few small samples of the beautiful scenery you can encounter as you drive around the south island of New Zealand. I have many short video snippets so it was hard to choose just a few (ok I ended up with five lol)!

Three weeks though is the longest holiday I can ever remember having. For many, many years now we have just had a few nights away here and there, sometimes 5. The longest holiday I can recall was 11 days in Tasmania in 2015. The three weeks was long enough for me to completely unwind and relax and boy it felt so good. It was a good reminder to us that longer holidays are necessary to have more frequently. They’re so good for us!

My plans to do my travel journal/art in the evenings kind of went pear shaped. I started strong in Christchurch and got quite a bit done. Where we stayed had a nice little table with two chairs and very good lighting. Also – I was fresh, and keen! Then the next place we stayed for one night at Hokitika had very poor lighting and it had been a big day and I was too tired so I did a pencil sketch and thought I’d catch up at the next stop. Next stop was Fox Glacier. Can’t remember what was the problem there but I’ve just written a little note on a page of what to draw and thought I’ll catch up on both at the next stop.  Next we were at Wanaka. This time, regardless of the fact I was tired, I decided to do a couple of sketches to represent our stay in Wanaka while fresh in mind and get back to the others at another time. I did two sketches at Wanaka – one is ok, the other is not good at all (I was way too tired). After the Wanaka sketch I wasn’t happy with because I was so tired, I decided to give myself a break. It wasn’t as easy as I thought. We were having huge big days that were very physical (walking and climbing etc) and were exhausted at night and a lot of the places we stayed at did not have a suitable place for me to set up and/or didn’t have good enough lighting. I was also posting NZ highlights every evening on both my private Facebook and blog Instagram/FB pages which took up a lot of time and effort. So, my plan now is to continue my travel sketchbook at home from photographs I took. It will still get completed.

I think to do a sketching holiday where you sketch as you go you need to do it during your days and dedicate time to it and to do that you need to either travel by yourself or with other sketching/painting buddies! 

I’m so grateful to have had such a beautiful holiday. I need to plan the next one now!

More posts on my South Island of New Zealand holiday to come. Meanwhile, if you’re on Instagram here’s a ‘reel’ that give a series of snapshots of the wonderful holiday we had. It goes for 1 minute and 10 seconds.

If you’re not on Instagram, here’s the reel on YouTube as a ‘short’ but it cuts the last 10 seconds off unfortunately as ‘shorts’ are restricted to 60 seconds.

Till next time!

Ciao for now,

Linking up with Denyse Whelan’s ‘Wednesday’s Words and Pics


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  • Reply Joanne Tracey June 14, 2023 at 7:58 am

    So glad you loved it…& that you tried a cheese roll. I make them at home from time to time. The wildlife, the flora, the birdsong…love it all. And their possums are heaps bigger than our cute little ones.

    • Reply Min June 14, 2023 at 11:24 am

      Thanks Jo – I absolutely loved it all! I was so desperately in need of a holiday and what a great place for one (yes the wildlife, flora, birdsong – all of it was wondrous!). I’m glad I tried a cheese roll too! Curiosity got me. I will make some for sure. Have you got a favourite recipe to share? I never actually saw a possum. Heard them rustling in the bushes as we were walking back to our accommodation at Queenstown a couple of times but didn’t see them. Heaps bigger are they? I didn’t know that!

  • Reply Leanne | June 14, 2023 at 12:29 pm

    Hi Min – I enjoyed following your journey on Facebook and could see how much you were loving it. I can’t believe it’s all over and done with and you’re now back home….time certainly flies! New Zealand is definitely on my bucket list for somewhere in the future.

    • Reply Min June 15, 2023 at 9:01 am

      Hi Leanne – I can’t believe it’s all over either! I hope you get over there Leanne – I know you’d love it. I certainly did – every moment of it!

  • Reply Joanne June 15, 2023 at 5:13 am

    That sounds just wonderful! I can’t imagine a 3 week vacation; we have never managed more than 7 days tops. New Zealand sounds beautiful and so relaxing.

    • Reply Min June 15, 2023 at 9:05 am

      It ‘was’ wonderful Joanne – wish I could go back and do it all again. The 3 week vacation was heaven. It gives you more time to unwind, relax and enjoy. I intend to do more of those longer holidays!

  • Reply Debbie Harris June 15, 2023 at 6:54 am

    I also loved our visit to New Zealand a few years ago Min and can see how much fun you had in your social media posts. I love your list of 20 things you didn’t know, I learnt a few things too! I agree with longer holidays if you can manage it. We’re currently in the UK with our daughter and granddaughter for almost 8 weeks, not staying with them but nearby, and it’s a great length of time to relax and enjoy the variety of activities we plan to do as a family. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us and i look forward to your future posts.

    • Reply Min June 15, 2023 at 9:09 am

      I loved it a lot! The combination of a longer holiday and all the beautiful scenery and nature was just what I needed. The list of 20 things aren’t ALL things I didn’t know – some I did (like that there were lots of large lakes etc) but to see and experience them is very different to hearing about them. I’m enjoying seeing the photos of the fun times you’re having with your family over in the UK. Almost 8 weeks would be incredible – kinda double and a half of my 3 weeks. You should be completely chilled out and relaxed by the time you return home! Enjoy every moment. It’ll be hard to leave but what amazing memories you’ll have made. xo

  • Reply sherry June 15, 2023 at 2:42 pm

    We love NZ and have been several times over the years. It is so beautiful. and has so much to see and do. And it’s different from australia (esp. QLD) so even more enjoyable we found – just to see different habitats etc. The glaciers and glacial waters are fantastic to see. Hope your dental work went well.

    • Reply Min June 17, 2023 at 3:45 pm

      It’s very different to Qld isn’t it Sherry – though I was surprised to see so many tree ferns! Most Australians we met along the way were surprised to hear it was our first time to NZ. They have all been multiple times like yourself. I would go back in a heartbeat. Loved it so much. Dental work went well. Phase 3 to come yet!

  • Reply Lydia C. Lee June 15, 2023 at 4:01 pm

    Sold!! It sounds fab! I didn’t know about all the lakes but I had seen magnificent pics from a friend who worked at Lake Taupo for a bit. I will also need to google why they have no snakes and spiders… seems strange given our proximity, but I suspect that’s me not know how the world works. Off to find your Insta,…#WWandP

    • Reply Min June 17, 2023 at 3:47 pm

      Glad you’re sold Lydia – and I haven’t even started yet. Wait till you see the posts to come that will share all the incredible things we saw and did. It is mind blowing how they’ve managed to keep snakes and spiders out of NZ. I don’t know how they’ve managed it. I think they do have some sea snakes but I haven’t researched that much. There’s always more to learn!

  • Reply Denyse Whelan June 15, 2023 at 5:27 pm

    I can see why you were so taken with the South Island Min. Every time you posted I loved learning and seeing more. I have, thanks to Head and Neck Cancer FB group, many friends from NZ or Aotearoa as they name it, from both islands. One good friend (shame we are connected because of HNC) said the only reason she wouldn’t want to live in Australia is snakes and spiders! I look forward to more of your posts and can see you may be ‘hooked’ on travelling now. So good to see your post this week for Wednesday’s Words and Pics Link Up on Denyse Whelan Blogs. I look forward to you joining us next week too! Denyse.

    • Reply Min June 17, 2023 at 3:49 pm

      It’s pretty hard to hide how taken I was with the south island of NZ Denyse. I was really, really desperate for a decent holiday so that helps but aside from that, it is just so gorgeous over there I can’t see how anyone could not be taken with the place. It’s beautiful! Lots of posts to share yet. xo

  • Reply Sammie @ The Annoyed Thyroid June 16, 2023 at 11:50 pm

    What an amazing adventure you had – love the You Tube andI really enjoyed the armchair adventure following your Facebook updates at home. We always wanted to go to New Zealand but we never quite made it when we were in Australia and now it seems way too far! I have to agree with you, I think if you want to consistently sketch on holiday you need a dedicated drawing getaway because it can be hard to focus on too many different things and one of the best things about a holiday is just being able to be in the moment and savour the experience.

    • Reply Min June 17, 2023 at 3:51 pm

      Thanks Sammie – it was a fabulous holiday. Sad you didn’t get there while living in Aus but you might still get there one day. If you come back to visit Australia maybe tag that on – why not?! You’re right about the art – it needs to be a dedicated art/sketch holiday because we were so busy during the days just enjoying all there was to see and do and exhausted at night. I truly did savour every moment. I drank it up to help sustain me later on because my normal life is a bit tough these days. xo

  • Reply Leslie Susan Clingan June 18, 2023 at 11:22 am

    What a vacation!! I feel like I have been on a mini-vacay just enjoying your post and your videos. Have to admit, though, seeing the car driving on the wrong side of the road (for the U.S.) took my breath away for a second. I was afraid you were running off the road completely.

    Oh, the miles and miles of Merino sheep!! And glorious green meadows. That sea green brook water. The leaves. The snow. Snow takes my breath away, too. I love it so much. Everything reminded me of our trip to Germany in 2017. I am ready to have a real holiday again but alas it won’t be this summer.

    Hope you found your mama well on your return. Perhaps you can catch up on your s ketching from stills in the videos or photos you took. I look forward to seeing your art.

    • Reply Min June 19, 2023 at 9:00 pm

      Thanks Leslie! It certainly was a great holiday/vacation. All the things you listed in your second paragraph are all things I love so much too! You made me laugh with the comment about being on the wrong side of the road! I’d feel the same if viewing USA driving on the wrong side of the road! Hard to get used to something so polar opposite to what you’re accustomed to isn’t it?! Mum is doing ok. I’m back over there again tomorrow. I’ve done a few more sketches from photos since I got home and will keep on doing that when I find time till I’ve got the holiday covered. I’m not overly impressed with any that I’ve done though but I am always so self critical.

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