I'm one of the lucky ones. I actually get to live here in New Zealand where I am still so in awe of just how beautiful a country it is. I have travelled to the South Island on many occasion but this time we chose to go off the beaten track beyond the typical tourist trail. I was not disappointed and neither will you be. Here are my top 10 must do's that you won't find in many guide books.
1. Fleur's Restaurant Moeraki
Moeraki is a tiny seaside settlement on the East coast of the South Island famous for its boulders and Fleur. The restaurant is nestled at the end of the bay overlooking the fishing boats. The fisherman bring the fish to the front door still in their gumboots and wet weather gear. Seafood just doesn't come any fresher. At Fleurs they really know how to respect the produce and nothing is ever added to the dish thats not absolutely necessary so that the seafood shines. Adding to all of this is Fleur herself, flitting between tables overseeing the whole operation making sure everybody is happy and regaling customers with stories of her colourful past. After 3 weeks of eating my way around the South Island, Fleurs was the best meal we had and quite possibly my best dining experience of all time. The place to go for seafood.
2.Dunedin Farmer's Market
Dunedin Sticking with the food theme, I consider The Dunedin Farmer's Market to be foodie heaven. Situated beside the imposingly gracious Dunedin Railway Station, this market operates every saturday morning even in the briskest of conditions. However there's nothing like a freshly roasted cup of coffee and a hot bowl of porridge to beat the cold. All manner of the freshest produce spills from overloaded crates, all locally grown. You will find freshly baked artisan breads and pastries alongside the local fishmonger and the organic butcher. Everyone's baskets are brimming with wildflowers and gourmet cheeses and pickles, jams and olive oils. In my opinion this is the best farmer's market in the country and I promise you - you won't leave hungry.
3. Takaka Golden Bay
So we travelled over the hill to Golden Bay which is about an hour North of Nelson, famed obviously for its golden beaches. The area lays claim to a very special town that is largely overlooked as a tourist destination. Takaka sits at the foothills of the imposing Takaka Hills and it's a complete breathe of fresh air. The main town consists of either ethical or ethnic wares and the abundant cafes produce all manner of organic goodness. I can particularly recommend The Wholemeal Cafe which serves up scrumptious food inside a very arty space. Takaka is home to many talented artisans, the art galleries proudly display it's local talent. If you have a hankering for dreadlocks and tie dyed undies this is the town for you. All of this within a stones throw of The Abel Tasman National Park and it's stunning beaches and forest walks. My soul place.
Not far from the glitz and glamour of Queenstown is a gorgeous wee town which sits neatly in the foothills of the mountains at the end of Lake Whakatipu where it meets The Dart River. You can take a guided jetboat tour up The Dart River with the local tour company which includes a stopover on the way back where Middle Earth can be found. This is hiking country at its best with many walking and mountain bike trails nearby. There are plenty of accomodation options here with 2 DOC camps nearby as well as camping grounds and cafe and bar options in the town as well. There is such a magic about Glenorchy with its breathtaking scenery and rugged remoteness and the way the mountains reflect off the lake that every view is a postcard. Glenorchy quite simply took my breath away.
5. The Hokitika Gorge Hokitika
This is certainly an off the beaten track place but well worth the drive. Just be prepared for lots of turns! I had seen the pictures of the gorge in the brochures and the colour looked so manufactured that it was hard to believe it would be like that in real life. Believe you me it was. Something to do with the rock flour that is produced from the rock face that mixes with the glacial water from the Southern Alps and it turns into this gorgeous turquoise colour. It's an easy walk from the car park and as each bend reveals more turquoise you are really taken away by the sheer brightness and beauty of it all. Add a swingbride into the mix and it's truly a unique experience.
6. Freedom Camping Punakaiki Marine Reserve Designated Freedom Camping Site
The pancake rocks at Punakaiki should be on every tourists list of must do's. We drove along the coast from Karamea and you start to see the rock formations jut out from the sea just before Punakaiki itself. Another startling feature of the area are the Nikau Palms interjected amongst the Pohutakawa that grace the cliff face as you drive around the twisting coastline. The rock formations themselves are stunning but certainly no secret judging by the amount of tourist buses parked outside however the freedom campsite we stayed in at Punakaiki was a little known gem of a place. Right beside the highway we parked, right on the beachfront on a grassy plateau that allowed for freedom camping. There we were us and one other, eating take way Thai from the mobile food trailer in the next car park, watching the waves roll in as the sun set brilliantly before our eyes. A highlight of our campsites.
7. Salmon Fishing at The Ohau Canal
You require a licence to fish for salmon but don't let that put you off. It's easy to obtain and you have options for different areas and length of time. We bought ours from the fishing shop in Twizel and they also hire rods. Twizel is only about a ten minute drive from the canal so it's all perfectly easy to organise. The water is alive with salmon, large jumping salmon frolicking before your very eyes. It didn't take us or anyone else for that matter long to get enough for dinner and I can promise you this the experience of catching your very own salmon to put on your plate is super exciting. Not to mention sitting in your camper overlooking the turquoise waters of the canal feasting on your catch. It's a moment in time I won't forget in a hurry.
8. St Bathans Central Otago
There is nothing like a good ghost story to make a town interesting and it's said St Bathans has a few of those. Originally created to service local miners, the towns housing was made to be makeshift so it's surprising that some are still standing ghosts and all. The centre piece of the town is The Vulcan Hotel still in keeping with the history of the area. It's a great place to relax with a beverage and take in the ambience of the area. We stayed at The Domain Camping ground just down the road and a fence hop away from St Bathans jewel in the crown. Once a hill The Blue Lake was created after the hill was flattened due to intensive mining. Once the mining stopped a hole was left behind and it filled with water. Because of the mineral content in the area, it reacted with the water to create this magnificent blue colour. Like something straight out of The Mediterranean. It's a wee detour off the beaten track but who doesn't like stepping back in time.
9. Jones Fruit Stall Cromwell
Picture this - boxes upon boxes of the freshest juiciest looking apricots, plums, peaches, cherries and nectarines. All the stone fruit you can imagine and that doesn't even begin to cover the endless packets of dried fruits and nuts. Is your mouth drooling yet? Mine was and I bought boxes and boxes of fruit that I just about had to carry on the roof and all at a fabulous price. During the fruit picking season they do orchard tours as well. Best fruit shop ever.
10. Poolburn Dam Poolburn
I have honestly saved the best till last. We had been cycling the Otago Rail Trail all day and had arrived in Omakau quite late in the afternoon so by the time we camped up next to the river in the freedom camping area it was quite late in the afternoon. Knowing that we riding again the next day I was feeling anxious that I didn't have enough time to visit The Poolburn Dam. However I had read sooooo many great things about the area that even though my husband was tired I wheedled my way into going. Now this place is really off the beaten track and I could just feel the tension in the air because my husband was getting antsy about how far it was. Honestly we appeared to be in the middle of nowhere, endless farmland that was becoming rocker by the second. This is definitely bunny country and the hawks were circling overhead. We appeared to be entering private farmland but still the road continued and so did we. The scenery is exquisite, I have never seen so many rocks anywhere and then just when you thought you could go no more the scenery opens out to a massive lake which is actually a dam and dotted around the edges are all these ramshackle baches. The sky here is just magical. Freedom camping is welcomed here although we didn't stay but I wished we could have camped there beside the lake and just watched the sky and the sunset and just marvel at nature at its finest.
By Sara Kennedy