Nelson Lakes & Wharariki Beach

Journey to the South Island of New Zealand

3 days
578 km driven
24.5 km walked
1,258 photos taken
Nelson Lakes Wharariki Beach Wellington

After wrapping up my Wellington stay — marking just over a week in the North Island — it was time to take the Interislander Cook Strait ferry to the South Island. I was more than a bit excited; while planning the trip I consistently heard that the South Island was where I should spend most of my time with it's more dramatic landscapes and breathtaking scenery.

I was treated to this view upon waking up from my early morning nap as the 3 hour ferry ride arrived at Picton.

When I left Wellington I had to leave my rental car there as well. The rental car company would not allow me to bring the car across the islands. As such, I had booked another car in the South Island for the remainder of my trip.

Toyota Prado VX

4.0L diesel SUVRight-hand drive

While I was under the impression it would be an identical car (the last one was a rather fun V8 sports sedan), this time I got a huge diesel SUV. Over time I ended up using the all-wheel drive capabilities of the SUV, but it was so slow to accelerate I could no longer pass slow drivers easily.

I departed Picton in the new car and drove about 2 hours — well maybe a bit longer with all of my photo stops along the way — west to Nelson where I had booked a hotel for the night.

I arrived in the late afternoon and checked into my hotel to relax for a few moments. I did a bit of searching online for a good restaurant for dinner that evening and called to make a reservation.

Quest Nelson

108-110 Collingwood Street, Nelson
USD $152 per night
1 night

Modern amenities.

With about two hours until dinner I went out to stroll around the relatively little city of just 50,000 people.

After changing into a nicer shirt and shoes at the hotel I walked a few blocks to Trafalgar street to find Hopgood's. It's a cozy modern bistro in the heart of the Nelson that showcases seasonally-based dishes.


284 Trafalgar St, Nelson
USD $84 Dinner

Amazing meal, great lively atmosphere and friendly staff. My server was actually an American from South Dakota who had been living in New Zealand for the year to work (and ski) at the local ski resorts during the winter.

I started the evening off with a glass of champagne before progressing with one of the wine pairings that was suggested for the main course.

The meal was fantastic and I was very pleased to find such a top-notch spot in a small city like Nelson.

Nelson Lakes

In the morning I packed up my stuff, grabbed a coffee and scone from the coffee shop across the street and then set off on the 90 minute drive to Nelson Lakes National Park. I had seen numerous photos of the pristine lakes and had to see it for myself.

While most places so far on this trip were rather warm given it was still summer, I arrived to find slightly chilly 17°C weather at Nelson Lakes. The water was much colder and there were surprisingly some people swimming at the time.

Satisfied with all the shots I captured and feeling a bit famished, I got back on the road. This time my destination was my next lodging: a bed and breakfast in Collingwood. I chose it as it was fairly close to the northernmost tip of the South Island where there was a famous beach I wanted to visit.

Three hours later I arrived at the Zatori Retreat bed and breakfast in Collingwood. I relaxed for a second and then looked up Wharariki Beach and hike.

Zatori Retreat

2321 Takaka-Collingwood Highway, Collingwood
USD $143 per night
2 nights

Small 12 room bed and breakfast run some some very friendly folks with great meals.

Wharariki Beach

I didn't spend much time in the hotel room before heading back out. I wanted to catch sunset at Wharariki Beach, which also required a small hike to get to after parking. Wharariki Beach is close to the northernmost point of the South Island and known for the prominent Archway Islands right off the coast.

If the shots look familiar, you might have seen Wharariki Beach before as it's one of the default wallpapers used by Microsoft in Windows 10.

I got back to my room late at night and took advantage of the extremely low light pollution to look at the stars.

I had originally only booked a one night stay at the Zatori Retreat but I was enjoying it so much and still had some things I wanted to explore in the area that I booked a second night there.

In the morning I slept in, had a nice breakfast and did a little research about what small hikes I could do at the nearby Abel Tasman National Park, which is known for its 60km 3+ day coastal track tramp.

I drove about an hour to the Totaranui campsite — during which a good deal of the road was gravel and I was very glad my car had four-wheel drive. I decided to do a 4.2km 2 hour roundtrip walk to Anapai Bay.

After a long day of driving and being in the sun I made my way back to Collingwood and had dinner at a nearby tavern before calling it a night. I researched my next destination, booked a hotel for the next night and then washed some of my clothes in the sink.