franz josef glacier on new Zealand's rugged west coast

When there’s really only one place left in the world that you want to see before you die, you better believe your expectations are REALLY high… That place for me was New Zealand (notice I say was) and I honestly don’t know why. For years, I’ve had this notion that I simply had to see it AND go bungie jumping. In my mind, I’ve pictured this stunningly magical world that visiting would somehow complete my life. And guess what…

But with only 12 days to visit, I had to choose where to allot our time. Would my first visit be to the North Island or South Island? This was one vacation I was not going to rush. I looked at all there was to see on both islands then made my decision. We spent 12 sublime days touring the South Island and found some absolutely majestic natural sites that if you get the chance to visit, you can’t miss.

are there not to be missed sites on new zealand's rugged west coast

One thing we had on our side was great weather. We truly lucked out and were able to do every excursion we signed up for. Not everyone was this lucky and we know people whose outings were cancelled. So, while you do take your chances, trust me, it’s worth it…

The rugged west coast was where we spent the majority of our time and here are 5 breathtaking sites we visited that I would say, without reservation, you will want to see…

Paparoa National Park and Punakaiki

This is the land of the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, one of New Zealand’s most visited sites. I doubt you will see this formation anyplace else. We walked around 3 times as we were so amazed and never knew when we’d see a geyser shoot to the sky. Besides, the rock formations are just mesmerizing. You can even go limestone caving if you’re so inclined.

what are some attractions on new zealand's rugged west coast like paparoa national park and punakaikit

Afterwards, we hit the park, hiking one of the many trails in a subtropical rainforest. It had a lush, Pacific feel to it with many canopied trees that never cease to amaze me.

Franz Joseph Glacier

Spectacular, majestic, stunning, scary, seriously not-to-be-missed…All are appropriate words to describe Franz Joseph Glacier. I can’t say enough how much we enjoyed this adventure. We took a helicopter ride up to the Glacier and spent several hours walking around with our guide after getting an orientation and putting on our crampons. As is common when I travel with my triathlete husband, I found the endeavor to be a bit treacherous while my husband would have kept hiking all day.

is new zealand's rugged west coast worth a visit like franz joseph

If you don’t want to go to the top, you can hike the tons of trails that offer varying levels of difficulty. Robert Point Track takes about 5 hours and is difficult, but the view at the end should be worth the effort. It was so disheartening to see that the glaciers are slowly melting and this was confirmed by our guides.

With a free afternoon, we chose to get out on the lake and kayak. It seemed a shame not to take advantage of the weather and scenery.

Drive from Franz Joseph to Queenstown

One of the most scenic drives I have ever been on is the road between Franz Joseph and Queenstown. Just ask my husband. I kept yelling to pull over and sadly, pull over spots are very limited on South Island’s 2 lane highways.

You’ll pass Fox Glazier, Lake Moeraki, and then head through Haast Pass where the land opens up into golden plains. We did stop for lunch in Wanaka and drove around the lake getting there. It is a darling town right on the lake with great shopping and restaurants, not to mention very accessible water activities.

But while Lake Wanaka is what everyone said to see, we actually found Lake Hawea much more remarkable. The color of the water and the

But it wasn’t the lake that caught my husband’s eye. It was signs all over town for the upcoming Challenge Family triathlon (my husband’s a triathlete)!

Our final destination was Queenstown where we would spend 3 nights. This is where you want to go bungie jumping if you’re so inclined. This has been something I’ve talked about doing forever. But, alas, I came to realize that this is something I should have done at least 10 years ago! They now have a Canyon Swing which even my husband was going to do with me. Sadly, they were fully booked on the days we could squeeze it in. Just another reason to have to go back…

Milford Sound and Fjordland National Park

Literally everyone told us we had to see Milford Sound, so it was a no brainer. It is a gorgeous combination of mountain peaks jutting to the sea with huge waterfalls and plenty of hiking trails. People were everywhere hiking, riding, and kayaking.

is milford sound a site to visit on new zealand's rugged west coast

We were fortunate enough to have a weather-perfect day AND our own Over the Top helicopter tour to visit this area. This was seriously a trip of a lifetime.

new zealand's rugged west coast is filled with breathtaking sites to see

While many people do the fly-boat-fly route, we did 4 helicopter landings to unique environments, one better then the next. We actually landed on top of glaciers and by lakes with no one else around.

A fly by of Mount Cook, the tallest peak, was included. We even had a picnic at Lake Erskine with champagne.

is milford sound one of the amazing sites on new zealand's rugged west coast

Dart River

We couldn’t leave New Zealand without getting in a jet boat ride and checking out the area of Lord of the Rings and Mission Impossible. On the Dart River Wilderness Safari you get to have tons of fun with a crazy guide getting wet as he spins the boat around in shallow water. Beautiful vistas surround you the whole time.

the dart river is a site to visit on new zealand's rugged west coast

Then you go for an hour hike through the Heritage Trail and can sit in the chair made famous from Lord of the Rings. Really cool experience…

lord of the rings and new zealand's rugged west coast

All I can say is if you haven’t been and can ever take the time and afford to go, DON’T HESITATE.

If anyone would like information on any of the activities or companies mentioned, shoot me an email. I’m happy to share.

Sherry is one of the TriWivesClub’s founders. She is also a contributor at TravelingMom & Challenge Family. She has been her triathlete husband’s biggest supporter and co-traveler for over 15 years. She is a former co-owner of the California Apparel News and had a career in the healthcare industry. Her passions include running, traveling, real food, and animal rescue/welfare. She lives a healthy lifestyle and has been a vegetarian since 1987. She and her husband are parents to two rescue pups and reside in Connecticut.