10 South Island Secrets
What is it about New Zealand? It’s been described as a scenic fairytale, a challenge on the senses and a place of magic. Indeed, it seems to evoke feelings of excitement, mystery and wonder to all that visit. There’s certainly a reason why the country draws so many visitors day-after-day. In fact, they say a trip to New Zealand gives you a feeling that never leaves you… although it seems impossible to describe exactly what that feeling is. Some say it’s a lightness, others describe it simply as an unforgettable sensation that makes you smile. Whatever it is, we believe the South Island will leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.
So, what exactly is it you can expect? The spectacular South Island is so very different from the North Island. With the majestic Southern Alps mountain range, the wildness and rainforests of the West Coast and the Fiords of the South, you’ll get to experience a land like no other. To show you what we mean, we’ve selected 10 secrets of the south you may not yet know about but will hopefully inspire you to come and see for yourself. But what could they be? And what secrets of your own will you discover when you make your trip to New Zealand?
1. The Stars
You might not know it yet, but you’ll soon become fascinated with astrology when you discover one of our best kept secrets. The skies over Lake Tekapo near Mount Cook are an internationally recognised Dark Sky Reserve. The night sky over Tekapo is so powerfully and beautifully clear that it has been protected from light pollution, making it one of the most incredible places in the world to go star gazing. It’s a place where you can see the Milky Way in all its glory, and all the constellations shine out clearly in the sky.
2. The Lakes
While New Zealand might be famous for its mountains and steaming geysers, the lakes are perhaps another surprise. There are over 775 lakes in New Zealand covering 1.3% of the land area, varying in colour from ocean blue to bright vivid turquoise. The most famous turquoise lake is Tekapo, so turquoise in colour as it’s full of tiny suspended particles (called rock flour) that have been ground off the underlying rock by the glaciers as they have moved and shifted. Another secret of the lakes is their hidden depths – the deepest is Lake Hauroko, in western Southland, which reaches down 462 metres (the Sky Tower in Auckland is only 328m!).
3. The Mountains
OK, so the mountains might be no big secret. I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures. But what secrets they hold! Firstly, mountains cover 60% of the South Island with 23 of the peaks being over 3000m high. This means we don’t have many straight highways down here – in fact, there is no fast way to get from A to B.
The Southern Alps are the highest and largest mountain range, covering the whole South Island from north to south over 500kms. The most fascinating secret being that they are the among the fastest rising mountains in the world! They have an uplift of around 10-20mm per year!
4. Sir Edmund Hillary (1919-2008)
He’s possibly New Zealand’s most famous person, but you may not know everything about this famous adventurer. You may know that in 1953, Edmund Hillary and the Tibetan climber Tenzing Norgay were the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest. What you may not know is that he did much of his training in the Southern Alps. In fact, it was his summiting of Mount Cook in the warm summer of 1948 that gave him the credentials to join the 1951 British Expedition to Everest. Although that one failed, he went again in 1953 and of course was successful.
So ultimately it was thanks to his training in and around Mount Cook and Mount Aspiring that he gained the skills, strength and character he needed to take on the world’s highest mountain. You can discover more about this legendary figure at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre when you visit Mount Cook National Park.
5. Siberia Valley
A certain secret and a joy to discover, the Siberia Valley is a beautiful area deep in the heart of the South Island. Located in the Mount Aspiring National Park, the tricky-to-access valley is part of Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s only one way to truly experience this remote area and that’s on a unique adventure dreamed up by the locals at Southern Alps Air, Wanaka’s only locally owned and operated fixed wing scenic flight company. For over 40 years they’ve been flying people over and around this area and their knowledge and experience is insatiable.
In short, you’ll depart from Wanaka in a scenic bush plane, taking in spectacular scenery before landing on an airstrip in the valley. Then you’ll travel by foot to a remote back country hut for a spot of Kiwi tucker (food) before heading to the river where your chariot awaits. In this case, your chariot is a Kiwi invention – the humble jetboat – built to perform on New Zealand’s shallow riverbeds. You’ll enjoy a wild and exciting ride out of the Valley and back to civilisation.
6. The Hump Ridge Track
It’s no secret that New Zealand has a network of amazing walks and trails. You’ve probably heard of the famous and very popular Milford and Routeburn Tracks for starters. The secret is, that they are not the be all and end all. New Zealand has many more amazing trails of equal beauty, with less crowds and more views, wildlife and experiences than you can imagine. One of these is a big favourite here at New Zealand Trails. The Hump Ridge Track – a three day, 61km loop walk taking trampers along the south coast of New Zealand with incredible views of south-west Fiordland, the Southern Ocean and Stewart Island. You can hike part of the Hump Ridge Track on our World Heritage trip.