My Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List – South Island

My recent trip to New Zealand was literally the trip of a lifetime. I planned it start to finish based on reading blogs and travel websites to ensure I was getting the best of New Zealand. In the process, I learned a lot about the history, people, and just what New Zealand is known for. Along the way, I found some hidden gems and even some areas to avoid. I’ve always been a planner but this trip took my love for travel and planning to a whole new level. I planned thirteen full days start to finish, which included the flights, hotels, transportation, activities, road stops. I know I sound like I am bragging and it’s because I totally am; a lot of love, frustration, planning and re-planning went into this trip to make sure it was perfect.

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In 13 days, we saw so many beautiful places and did so many incredible things. There were things that I never thought I could do just based on the fact I have limited myself so much on past travels. I came up with the list of things that you must do while in New Zealand, which could be an activity, visiting a place, or just something you can’t miss. When you go to New Zealand, none of these things should disappoint. With New Zealand having so much to offer, I will be dedicating one post to the North Island and one post to the South Island. This post will be about the South Island and everything it has to offer.

Christchurch

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Going to Christchurch was quite an interesting experience because this city endured a lot of damage from the 2011 earthquake, a lot of which you can still see while you are driving and walking around. Due to the damage, there is not much to do except just walk around the city, but it is incredibly fascinating; there is beauty surrounded by destruction. The whole city is a piece of art.

  • Walk the Streets – You will find yourself in awe and shock walking through the city’s streets because not only will you see all of the pain and suffering this city and it’s people has gone through, but you will see how they are trying to pick themselves back up. While walking through the streets, you will see buildings that once were home to large companies and corporations with the windows missing and graffiti covering the buildings, you will see storefronts that have graffiti on the windows and inside you see the remnants of what used to be in there, and you will walk by you will be surrounded by beautiful street art that has covered abandoned buildings. It is quite sad to walk around and see all of this, but at the same time it makes you realize how our earth and the people living on it can endure so much pain and suffering and yet they can still pick themselves back up.
  • Re:START Mall – A small outdoor shopping mall made out of shipping containers. All of the decorations and physical buildings are made out of recycled materials, which makes this especially fascinating. This is a great place to look for souvenirs, but also a great way to support the local economy. This little mall is the only part of the city we found to be lively while they work on rebuilding the rest of the city, so make sure to check it out!

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  • 185 Chairs – This art installation is a beautiful tribute to those that died in the 2011 earthquake. Each white chair represents a person who lost their life, with each chair being unique to each person; there were high chairs and car seats representing the babies and children, rocking chairs representing the mothers, and so on. The visit here is a little solemn but I think it is important to pay respects to those that were involved in such a terrible disaster.

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  • Cardboard Cathedral – Just around the block from 185 Chairs, you will find the Cardboard Cathedral with its vibrant colors and unique architecture. A lot of the cathedral is made of cardboard and was built for those to have a place of worship since the Christchurch Cathedral was destroyed during the earthquake and was too expensive to fix.

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  • New Regent Street – This street is for pedestrian use only and is absolutely adorable! The street is lined with shops and cafés, which are below colorful buildings that look like houses. It is very small and quaint, but it is a great place to walk around for a bit while you get acquainted with the area.

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Lake Tekapo

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I am not even sure where to start with Lake Tekapo as it was hands down my favorite place in New Zealand. It is about a 3-hour drive from Christchurch and a MUST VISIT during lupine season! I knew before we went on this trip that this would probably be my favorite part and I couldn’t have been more right; I can’t even put into words the beauty of this place! Prime lupine season is mid-November to end of December and if you can, plan your visit to New Zealand (especially the South Island) during this time frame.

  • Lakeside at Dusk – We happened to arrive into Lake Tekapo as the sun was setting and the colors of sky mixed with the colors of the flowers, and it was stunning; I fell in love with Lake Tekapo at first sight. We stayed there and took tons of photos and it happened to be the night that my fiancé found his proposal location. This leads me right into my next point…

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  • GET ENGAGED HERE (If you can help it) – Your friends and family will talk about it for months, and you can’t help but brag and want to show everyone a picture, including people you first meet! Make sure you have someone around who can take pictures for this special moment because I promise you want it captured. I have the best sister ever who can keep secrets and take amazing photos!

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  • Take a hike – there are quite a few trails in the area and I could not tell you which one we did, but it was still beautiful. This was not the trail I planned on us doing, but it still turned out to have amazing views!
  • Stay at Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park – If you are lucky, you will get the perfect view of the lake to wake up to and it will make your day start off in an amazing way. If you are renting a campervan, they provide a picnic table for you to use, electricity, and running water. When renting an RV, this is SUPER important. The park itself not only had very clean facilities, but like I said before, the location is very convenient.

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  • Stay up to see the stars – We were so exhausted and did not stay up to see the stars, and I regret it so much. I have seen so many incredible pictures of the stars in Lake Tekapo and months later I am still mad at myself.
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Photo Credit: Concrete Playgound
  • Church of the Good Shepherd – Unfortunately we missed this too, so don’t make the same mistake! We got so wrapped up in the beauty of the lake and its surroundings (and the engagement!) that I completely forgot about the church! This is an icon in the area and you shouldn’t miss it.
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Photo Credit: Dream Weddings New Zealand

Lake Pukaki

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Another picture perfect spot to spend some as little or as much time as you want. It can be a place for you to spend the night or a stop along the way. For us it was just a stop but it was worth every second. Crystal clear blue waters make for unbelievable pictures. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen as although it may not be hot, the sun is still shining and you can get some color in a matter of minutes.

Queenstown

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Queenstown is the definition of perfect; it is not overly crowded and it has so much to do. You can enjoy the shops, restaurants, and cafés downtown or you can book an adrenaline rush. There is a feeling of belonging in Queenstown, no matter where you are from.

  • Be Adventurous – There are endless opportunities to live on the edge in Queenstown; you can bungee jump, swing over a canyon, zipline, skydive, hang glide, paraglide, do the Shotover jet, the list is endless! My fiancé and I booked the Nevis Swing (largest swing in the world) and it was amazing! This is good for someone who isn’t quite ready for the bungee jump but still wants an adrenaline rush. My sister and her friend Jessi, on the other hand, bungee jumped and said it was crazy. No matter what you decide to do, the team at AJ Hackett take really good care of you and make you feel safe.
  • Hangout Downtown – As I touched on a bit already, downtown is full of life and is right on the water. It can make for a fun evening with the family or a romantic evening for you and your significant other. When the sun is shining, there are plenty of spots to soak up the sun and enjoy being in the moment.
  • Check out The Remarkables – This is the iconic mountain range that surrounds Queenstown. It makes for great photographs and allows you to be one with nature while still being in a city.

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  • Stay at Pounamu Apartments – This would be a splurge when it comes to accommodations, but it was worth every penny. It is a full apartment with 2 bedrooms that have king size beds and private bathrooms. It also has a full kitchen, a living room with a fireplace, and floor to ceiling windows with a view of The Remarkables. Shout out to the staff for leaving a bottle of wine, chocolate, and a card congratulating us on our anniversary!

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Milford Sound

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Magical. That is the best word I can use to describe Milford Sound as it looks like you just stepped into a scene of Jurassic Park or Avatar. The fjords shooting straight out of the water creating this perfect view. There are a few ways to get to Milford Sound, but let me tell you the best way to experience Milford Sound:

  • Fly – Through Air Milford you can fly Queenstown to Milford Sound round-trip and get stunning views; you fly through the mountains that are covered with snow, and you fly so close to the mountains that sometimes you wonder if you can touch them. It is totally worth the extra money you pay for it because you save a lot of time so you can explore more of Queenstown while still getting the experience of Milford Sound. Air Milford is owned by a father and son and they do such an incredible job; they are friendly, outgoing, and make the whole experience perfect.

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  • Cruise – if you go to Milford Sound, you have to take one of the cruises. Through Air Milford, they book the cruise for you, reserve inside seating, and give you a complimentary drink and cheese platter on board. Fortunately for us, we had amazing weather, but apparently that is extremely rare so make sure you are prepared for bad weather and high winds. Toward the end of the cruise, the staff will tell you to go outside and go to the front of the boat to see a waterfall, DO IT! Make sure you don’t have any electronics exposed, though (hint, hint).

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Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes

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There is not much to see or do here, but it makes for a quick stop while visiting the South Island. Here you can see some fascinating rocks that look like limestone pancakes stacked on top of one another. You can do the loop in about 20 minutes and it is worth your time.

Abel Tasman National Park

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I have to say I wasn’t super impressed with Abel Tasman, but the weather was also miserable. Before we left on our trip, I saw all these beautiful photos of the water being so crystal clear to the point of it being transparent. I am by no means saying don’t visit because I would have loved to have spent more time here.

  • Kayak – We booked a 3-hour kayak/hiking trip with Kahu Kayak for our time in Abel Tasman. I was banking on sunny and warm weather, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. Unfortunately the water was a bit choppy, but the experience was still a ton of fun thanks to our guides and the other people on the trip; our guides were full of humor and down to earth. Be ready to kayak for 1.5-2 hours and then prepare to walk for about another 2-3-hours back to the kayak base. I wasn’t expecting the hike to be so crazy and the weather to be so awful so we were extremely unprepared. We ended up having one of the guides book us a water taxi back to the main island, so if it is raining that day, remember this because the taxi wasn’t a promise.
  • Eat a burger at The Fat Tui – SO GOOD. The burgers are huge, the prices are great, and the staff members are incredibly friendly. Our guide from the kayak tour actually recommended this place to us, which was great because this place was conveniently located right next to Kahu Kayaks and we were starving by the time we got back to our RV.

New Zealand’s South Island surpassed all my expectations I had. There is still so much to see and do and the day I get to go back to the South Island will be a dream come true. I cannot thank the universe enough for creating such a beautiful country.

Since I have posted about our adventures on both the North & South Islands, who is ready for a North vs South?! Stay tuned for that post.

Ready to plan your adventure to New Zealand and need some help or someone to do all the dirty work for you? Contact me here and I am happy to help you out!

Top 5 Things To Do in Beacon, NY

My grandma lives in Beacon, NY so I like to visit when the busy schedule permits. Beacon is probably one of my favorite places in my home state because it has grown into this vibrant city with so much to see and do. Being located in the Hudson Valley is also very convenient; you can take the MetroNorth train right into Grand Central Station in New York City, you can take a day trip to the state’s capital (Albany), or you can explore the city itself.

I figured I would write a “Top 5” post for those who may want a decent day trip or a city getaway to a place that is not in the middle-of-nowhere, but will give you the satisfaction of not being in the middle of a city.

Below is a list of some things I would recommend you do should you visit Beacon! There is:

  1. Walk Main Street.

Main Street is filled with local businesses, spas, and restaurants. This is a great way to interact with locals because just like any other Main Street, it is where the heart of the city is. The best time to go is second Saturday of the month as the stores are open later and tend to have some sales or deals happening! You will find antique stores, gift stores, clothing boutiques, outdoor stores, blown glass, and galleries. Each one of them unique and nothing like any other store on the street.

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Main Street, Beacon, NY

In general, Beacon has a lot of art scattered throughout the city but you can find a lot of it right on Main Street! It takes a minute or two to admire but all of the art really brings some color to the city.

We can’t forget about the restaurants and cafes! I have not had the chance to try even a quarter of them, but what I have had the chance to try is amazing.

For breakfast I would recommend Beacon Bagel or Beacon Falls Café. Beacon Falls Café is the perfect place for a mimosa and a formal sit down breakfast. Beacon Bagel has some of the best bagels I have ever had and you cannot go wrong with the flavor you choose!

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Beacon Falls, Beacon, NY

For Lunch I would recommend Poppy’s Burgers & Fries, Homespun, or Max’s on Main. Poppy’s has delicious, 100% grass fed beef burgers that go great with a beer (which they serve). Homespun has delicious sandwiches, salads, and soups, which are all homemade. Lastly, Max’s on Main is a great place to catch a sports game or grab a drink. Their food is pub food but it is delicious!

For dinner I would recommend Brother’s Trattoria hands down. This restaurant happens to be my grandma’s favorite restaurant, so anytime I am in town, this is where we go. I order a different dish every time and I have never had a bad experience. Make sure you ask for the garlic knots! (If I ever get a picture of my food, I will be sure to update…absolutely delicious)

If you thought I was done with the foodie part of me, you are WRONG. If you just want to make sure everyone is happy with the food options, head over to The Yankee Clipper. It is a family-run diner that has amazing food for any meal of the day! You are instantly brought back in time to the diner days as soon as you walk in the door. The service is great and the food is incredible. You cannot go wrong!

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The Yankee Clipper Diner, Beacon, NY (Photo Cred: Yankee Clipper)
  1. Walk along the Hudson River at Long Dock Park.

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This is a great location to rent a kayak to head out into the historic river. The Mountain Tops Outfitters Kayak Company will help you launch your kayak and explore the area. You can find their schedule at http://www.mountaintopsoutfitters.com/pages/kayaking-on-the-hudson-river.

Long Dock Park is also a great place to go fishing, walk a rock beach during low tide, or even capture a beautiful photo of the surrounding mountains. It almost looks like another country! I have fond memories as a kid at this park as it was relatively new and the dock was built to allow water to flow through the middle of it and create an artistic element to something so standard. Over time, people have become more and more aware of the location and it’s typically crowded with families on a fishing excursion, but nonetheless still worth a visit. It is also a great location for a jog as they have a river trail!

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  1. Hike Mount Beacon.

It is a steep but quick and easy hike. I am by no means an avid or experienced hiker, but I enjoy hiking this mountain. You just need a good pair of sneakers and a decent set of lungs! It took me about 45 minutes to get to the top so this can easily be squeezed into your day. Once you are at the top, you will have incredible photo opportunities of the Hudson Valley; you can capture images of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge or ones like pictured below.

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As a lover of food, make sure to grab a sandwich from Bob’s Corner store at the base of the mountain. Anything you order will be delicious, but I recommend the Bacon, Cheddar, and Avocado. So yummy.

This mountain is not just an ordinary mountain. During the Revolutionary War it served as an early warning and signaling system for the Continental Army. An incline was built to bring people up and down to enjoy a beautiful natural setting and a cool summer breeze. Once the incline was built, a casino and hotel followed shortly after to keep those that went to the top entertained. In the late 1920s, a fire destroyed the hotel and casino and the entertainment was gone. The casino was quickly rebuilt, but due to the Great Depression, the hotel was never rebuilt. Due to the economic crisis that would take place for the next 2 decades, the incline and casino struggled but nonetheless kept going. They had more fires and more hard times and eventually in 1983, a fire destroyed every aspect of the incline and no repairs were made. You can still see the incline from miles away where the tracks used to be and you can see the powerhouse once you reach the top of the mountain.

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  1. Visit DIA: Beacon.

The DIA Center is an Art Foundation’s art collection that has pieces from the 1960s to present. The actual building used to be a Nabisco box-printing facility that was turned into this museum! The museum features temporary exhibitions and monthly Gallery talks. They have a ton of different events each year so be sure to check out their website. Another thing you must do before visiting is to check their hours as they change often throughout the year.

http://www.diaart.org/sites/main/beacon

  1. Visit Bannerman Island.
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Bannerman Castle (Photo Cred: Flickr User gaz)

This is such an incredible, history-filled, beautiful place. The island is only accessible by boat and there are many stories that go along with such a small piece of land.

Like Mount Beacon, there is a connection to the American Revolution. The island was set up with defense mechanisms to protect the Hudson Highlands from the British fleet in 1777, but the attempt was unsuccessful and the British still invaded.

Francis Bannerman, a Scottish-born man and ammunition dealer, bought the island in 1900 from the Taft family. His purchase was a result of New York City authorities forcing him to move his historical equipment and ammunition (his business) out of the city. He wanted a safe storage place for his stuff and built Bannerman castle as a result. The castle was not only a storage space but also a simple residence which he and his family would reside.

My papa was so involved with this little island and I had the opportunity to visit during a special event a few years ago. This island is not technically in Beacon but a guided tour departs from Beacon and you can buy tickets for $35 per person. For more information regarding the island or purchasing tickets, go to their website: http://www.bannermancastle.org/index.html

Beacon is the perfect day trip filled with history and so much to do!