My partner and I are planning two weeks on the South Island of New Zealand. Can you suggest a relaxing driving itinerary that allows us to stay a couple of days each in a few interesting places?
- D. Thomas, Richmond, Vic.
Start in Christchurch, which has the best air connections of any South Island city. Spend a couple of days admiring the gardens and take a drive to Akaroa, the French-accented town on the gorgeous Banks Peninsula. Head north to Kaikoura, where you have a choice of whale-watching or dolphin watching/swimming cruises and, if you're up for adventure, the swim with the dusky dolphins is one of life's top 20 experiences.
You need to book well ahead and, if you're susceptible to seasickness, the local chemist makes a secret, magic preparation. Next, push on to Blenheim, gateway to the Marlborough wine region.
If you're passionate about food and wine, plan two days here. Drive on towards Picton, the main base for the Marlborough Sounds. This series of river valleys, which drowned when the sea rose and left a labyrinth of waterways separated by forested hills, is one of the most lovely parts of the country. Take a half-day journey aboard the Beachcomber Mail Boat cruise, which delivers mail and supplies to isolated farms and houses. Sea kayaking is another great way to explore the Sounds.
Picton has plenty of accommodation but better still is to find a bed-and-breakfast somewhere among the Sounds. A couple of hours' drive to the north-west, Nelson is a lively mini-city with wine and craft trails, as well as hiking and kayaking excursions in Abel Tasman National Park. Next stop is Franz Josef, a full day's drive away, on the west coast.
The local specialty is guided walks on the nearby glaciers but the heli-hike - which takes you up to the frozen wonderland of the glacier's mid-section - is worth every cent. Drive on to Queenstown via the Haast Pass Road. If time is still on your side, take the Crown Range route through Cardrona to Queenstown. NZ's adventure capital, Queenstown has plenty to offer. Use up whatever time you have left before returning to Christchurch.