Herald Online reporter Paul Harper made his way around the South Island by rail over the course of a fortnight. Here are some of the highlights of his trip.
It's a long drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound but one of the finest drives in the country. The coaches wind their way through the lush beech tree-filled rainforest, before climbing up towards the Homer Tunnel.
At Monkey Creek the bus stops to allow passengers to stretch their legs. Unsurprisingly the tourists have been hunted down by the region's kea, who proceed to perform for their guests. As we board the bus, one of the playful parrots picks at the rubber at the door, perhaps showing his displeasure that its audience is departing.
Milford Sound is not actually a sound - it is a fiord. A fiord is a glacial valley which has been filled in by sea water, while a sound is a river valley flooded by the sea. That ice carved the steep towering walls which loom over the water over hundreds of thousands of years only adds to the marvel of the awesome scenery.
To add further to the wonder of the cruise, we were treated to the delightful sight of fur seals relaxing on the rocks and little blue penguins darting through the water alongside the boat.
The weather was exception for the duration of the cruise, but just as we climb up towards the Homer Tunnel on our return home, the clouds darken and the tour is treated to a light snow shower.
Fiordland is perhaps New Zealand's most remote region, but one that all Kiwis should make the effort to visit. It is an area almost untouched, giving visitors a glimpse of a rugged landscape not too far dissimilar to that which would have greeted Maori explorers centuries ago.
From Te Anau we head south, stopping just down the road at the picturesque Lake Manapouri. It is fairly early in the morning, and the mist hangs about the edges of the lake, with the snow-capped peaks of Fiordland rising out from the light grey clouds.
We are not there long and continue south, through Tuatapere and along the Southland coast - where the outline of Stewart Island can be seen out to sea - through Invercargill and stopping at Bluff. Here, the group enjoy the remarkably good weather, and admire the view looking south out to sea.
In Bluff we are reunited with the charter train we last saw in Dunedin. We follow the tracks up to Invercargill, which, like many of the South Island's cities, is home to a collection of impressive heritage buildings. We spend half an hour in Invercargill - long enough for me to find some delicious crumbed blue cod and a park to enjoy it in - before we board our trusty train for Dunedin.
In Dunedin the group are given a coach tour of the city, taking in sights including the Botanical Gardens, Otago University and the world's steepest street, Baldwin Street.
Many of the city's fine historic brick buildings are within walking distance of the Octagon at the centre of the city, including grand churches and cathedrals and the city's impressive railway station.
Some in the group have not had their fill of the city's heritage and in the afternoon pay a visit to Larnach Castle on Otago Peninsula - New Zealand's only castle.
The last full day of the tour, the group board the train in Dunedin and head for Christchurch. We stop in the South Canterbury town of Timaru for half an hour at midday, allowing passengers to stretch their legs and check out the town.
Spying several spires in the distance I make a mad dash with my camera, and find Timaru to have a surprising number of fine old churches and buildings to be admired.
We leave Timaru about 1pm and head north, arriving in Christchurch about 3.30pm. The group is given a sobering tour of the Christchurch CBD, giving everyone some appreciation of the devastation caused by the city's earthquakes and the scale of the rebuild underway.
In the evening the group reminisce over a farewell dinner, before flying home the following morning.
Paul was on the South Island Springtime Tour, run by Pukekohe Travel.
- nzherald.co.nzBy Paul Harper @Snappy_nz Email Paul