Yes, I flipped the picture vertically. It helps me visualize “the down under” location of the Southern Hemisphere.
Our top 5 vacation destinations in the Southern Hemisphere all sit south of the Equator.
Many vacation destinations in “the down under” beckon alluringly for no other reason than that they offer things that do not exist in the “up over” of the Northern Hemisphere. Sir Arthur Sullivan of the Gilbert and Sullivan duo captured our desire for what does not exist at home by writing this rhyme:
As a rule, a man’s a fool; When it’s hot, he wants it cool;
When it’s cool, he wants it hot – Always wanting what is not.
~ Sir Arthur Sullivan
Our visit to the top 5 vacation destinations in the Southern Hemisphere will take us to just such places. When it’s hot in the Northern Hemisphere, you can find it cool in the Southern Hemisphere. When it’s cool at home, you can find it hot “down under”. The seasons all reverse when you cross the Equator.
So start packing, and get ready to fly to where you just may find what is not at home.
Southern Hemisphere Vacation Destination #1 – New Zealand (NZ)
New Zealand probably sits on the other side of the world from where you live, so learn how to deal with jet lag and kankles. https://www.newzealand.com/us/article/the-smart-travellers-tips-for-avoiding-jet-lag-and-kankles/
Our direct flight from Los Angeles, US to Auckland, NZ took 13 hours 57 minutes! That was just our time in the air, and it seemed forever – but it was well worth it! The direct time from Los Angeles to Christchurch, NZ is 16 hours.
We traveled in the “shoulder season” of September-November when there were fewer tourists, it cost less, and was a lamb-filled spring! The “off season” (June to August) has the fewest tourists and is least expensive, but we did not want cold. If you enjoy crowds, opt for NZ’s high season, which is their summer (December to February). Just don’t dream of a white Christmas day!
New Zealand’s two main islands may capture your imagination as they did the filmmakers for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, filmed entirely in New Zealand.
If you will be driving in NZ, you might want to review these tips before you land.
New Zealand Driving Tips
NZ is among a handful of nations that drive on the left side of the road. This can be dangerous – even when walking, so do take time to stay alert.
Most roads have only one lane each direction. Oh, and levers are on opposite sides of your steering column. Be careful not to use your windshield wiper when you need the turn signal.
THE NORTH ISLAND
Auckland, the most populous city, offers many activities, but why not begin by satisfying your curiosity about those movie locations.
Hobbiton is about two hours from Auckland, and maintained just as they created it. You can almost see wee hobbits darting among the hobbit holes and gardens.
Three hours of driving (faster than Hobbits walk) brings you to the active volcano Mount Doom (Mt. Ruapehu) in the bleak land of Mordor (Tongariro National Park).
You can fill an entire 2-week vacation with a Lord of the Rings tour, but NZ offers more! Our own 2-week vacation convinced my husband and me to relocate from the U.S. to NZ, get jobs, and live there. We did so for three years, acquiring permanent visas.
Of the top 5 vacation destinations in the Southern Hemisphere, we think none compares to New Zealand. I’ll be concentrating on the South Island in this post.
Drive south to the end of the North Island and reach Wellington, the nation’s capital city. A cable car will give you a birds-eye view of the city, green cricket field, blue Cook Strait waters, and South Island mountains. Board a Cook Strait ferry, and three hours of gorgeous views later, you reach the South Island.
THE SOUTH ISLAND
Back on dry land at Picton, enjoy the seaside town before turning eastward to Nelson, and then Westport. Little did we know that we would return to live just east of Nelson!
Nelson could keep you busy a long time, but with only a 2-week vacation, we kept going to West Coast excitement. Choose from black water rafting, surf rafting, underground rafting, jet boating, and horse trekking for your adrenalin rush.
South of Westport, we paused to see Punakaiki – the famous pancake rocks. Then we hurried to Greymouth along a beautiful coastal road. We took little time in Greymouth because we wanted to reach Franz Josef Glacier before dark, had two and a half hours to cover, and wanted to check into our motel first.
The Franz Josef Glacier
The Franz Josef Glacier held us captive for hours the next morning! Long tongues of ancient ice, between 500 and 800 years old, grind downward between the mountains, ending in a lush and temperate rainforest, of all places! The glacier is a must-see vacation destination, and an easy walk of about an hour from the parking area.
New Zealand boasts 3,153 glaciers of various sizes. You can easily visit two of them without mountain climbing. The Franz Josef Glacier (NZ’s fourth largest) and the Fox Glacier (NZ’s third largest) flow toward the west coast within about 18 miles (30 km.) of each other. We walked to both, but decided the Franz Josef thrilled us more, since it is much steeper and more dramatic.
New Zealand boasts the highest density of sheep per unit area in the world, and those sheep make your road trip a delight. Driving south on State Route 6 from Nelson to Invercargill, we laughed frequently as sheep stole the right of way. You probably won’t mind that they slow progress. The experiences they provide are worth every minute.
You may even see, as we did, what looked at first like lamb slaughter! Working dogs herded a protesting flock across a large pasture to waiting farmers. The farmers separated tiny spring lambs from their mothers and loaded the crying babies into what seemed to be a conveyor belt chute. We shuddered to think they were killing the lambs, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to linger, but my husband pulled off the road. The farmers, with typical Kiwi friendliness, invited us to the fence for a better view. They explained that the “docking chute” makes it convenient to dock tails, give vaccinations, and mark ears quickly. At the end of the chute, each lamb lands on its feet and dashes toward Mom’s voice for reassurance. Such behind-the scenes treats add to NZ charm.
THE REST OF THE STORY
State Route 6 to Invercargill at the south end of the island provides so many, many places you’ll want to visit again! Haast Pass and Queenstown – and maybe an exciting trek to Milford Sound through forests where time got lost.
Take State Route 1 from Invercargill to return northward along the eastern coastline. We liked the ever-so-Scottish town of Dunedin, along with the area wildlife: huge albatross, yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals, and sea lions.
Continuing on Route 1, before reaching Christchurch, look for signs about the little blue penguins. Some area sightseeing tours will take you to watch the sunset penguin parade when these cute bluish penguins return from the ocean to nest on land.
I can’t begin to cover every inch of New Zealand in one post, but do take time to explore Christchurch and the coastline north to the Picton ferry. Do follow State Route 2 on the North Island from Wellington along the east coast area to Napier. Cut inland to visit Rotorua, a city famous for geothermal activity and Maori culture. You’ll see bubbling mud pools and a tall geyser that erupts many times a day.
Working your way eastward, You’ll soon be back to Auckland. We somehow squeezed in the drive all the way to the island’s northern tip: Cape Reinga and turned south again to enjoy the beautiful, wild surf and sand of 90 Mile Beach.
Then it was back to Auckland.
Of the top 5 vacation destinations in the Southern Hemisphere, I can’t imagine choosing any place other than New Zealand for first place! No matter what your age, you are sure to find just the right activity, just the right scenery, to make your vacation memorable.