Flying into Queenstown was really neat, the scenery was spectacular and the airport itself was pretty cute. I headed out to Te Anau the same day. A bit of a shame not to spend time in Queenstown but there's just not time to do everything. Being in Te Anau I was in a good position to take a day trip to Milford Sound, which is actually a fjord, not a sound, but by any name it is rather stunning as is the drive to get there.
The next stop was a little town outside Dunedin (a large university town). This was a pretty restful stop, I had a little garden shed conversion to myself and had quiet evenings in and slow mornings. I spent one day going into Dunedin to look around and visit museums and another I stayed close to "home" with the exception of a trip to the beach (saw a seal and albatross but no penguins).
Kaikoura was a neat town, the combination of ocean and mountains really reminded me of Vancouver.
It's known for its wildlife sightings, whale watching boats, sea bird encounters, kayak adventures. I opted for the last as I figured I'd enjoy the experience more, regardless of the wildlife we might see. As it turned out it was a beautiful day and lovely to be on the water. We saw lots of seals and were able to get quite close.
I also went to a seawatch with an enthusiastic bird watching couple and saw about a dozen kinds of birds. Some are quite rare but as their only breeding spots are near Kaikoura they are fairly common in the area.
The hostel in Kaikoura was one of the best I've stayed at. Clean and friendly with a lot of fun extras like instruments to play (piano, guitar, ukulele), a painting corner and a baking box!
My last stop on the south island was Picton. I spent two days on mail boats delivering mail to homes not accessible by road. One day on the Queen Charlotte Sound, another on the Pelorous Sounds. Both were great experiences, a pretty low key way to get out on the water and enjoy beautiful scenery (plus mail!).
In this area I also did a 3 day hike along the Queen Charlotte Track. It was 71 km over 3 days and in a rather civilised fashion: your big pack is transferred by water taxi each day and there's the option to stay at a hotel or hostel rather than a tent each night. The weather co-operated perfectly and I had three sunny, dry days for hiking.
I took the ferry over to Wellingon (south of the north island) and went from nature to the city. Wellington is the cultural capital of New Zealand so I spent my days at museums, cafes (it's also the coffee capital) and shops. While there I saw a play and a movie, both from NZ, and spent an afternoon or two at the library browsing books and magazines (the benefit of travelling in an English speaking country!). I couldn't ignore nature entirely and hiked up Mt Victoria as well as taking a walk down through the Botanic Gardens after taking the cable car up.
Before returning home I had a few days up north with my friends. No big activities but we managed a visit to the kiwi house and saw those iconic birds and took another trip to the beach with the little dog in tow.
My flight home didn't leave till the evening so we set out in plenty of time and made a couple short stops on the way including lunch at the fish market, fitting way to end!