The view from the lookout atop Fitzroy Island off the coast of Cairns.

I’m gonna be straight with you: Cairns (that's pronounced cans for you non-Australians) is far from the most exciting city in Australia unless you're really into nightlife. It’s touristy, there’s not much going on in the way of culture, it's hot and humid... So why bother visiting Cairns? One reason: The Great Barrier Reef. It’s why backpackers and holidaymakers flock to the city in droves. And as the largest reef in the world and a world heritage site, it’s no wonder why. But getting out on the reef can be expensive, so here’s our trusty guide to Cairns on a budget.


Getting Around Cairns

Getting around in Cairns is much more straightforward than in Melbourne or Sydney, so fear not the public transportation system.
  • Bus: The Translink bus system is fair in Cairns, but buses don’t run as frequently as in larger cities, so plan accordingly. You can plan your trip online and even transfer on the same fare for two hours after buying the ticket (which you can do in cash on the bus).
  • Car Rental: Most of the big companies have offices in Cairns, but there’s one additional company that’s extra cheap: Rent-a-Bomb. The catch is that you can only travel within 50 kms of the city with the cheapest option, so it’s not a good option if you’re going very far, say the Daintree.

Free Things to do in Cairns

There are a handful of things to do in Cairns for Free, so take a few days and check them out!
  • Rusty’s Markets: for cheap fruit and vegetables, lunch, and kitschy souvenirs, this is the place to be on Friday through Sunday mornings. Grab some Vietnamese street food, a custard apple, and croc-skin glasses case all in one place! It’s free to browse and you might find a great deal on avocados!
  • Esplanade Market: On Saturdays local vendors and craftsmen set up on the esplanade and you can grab higher quality souvenirs like jewelry, handmade T-shirts, and artwork. 
  • Night Markets: Every night from 5:00-11:00 head downtown across the road from the Esplanade and browse the aisles of stalls selling hats, keychains, kitschy souvenirs, handmade soap, you name it. You can even get a cheap massage or Chinese noodles.
  • The Esplanade: The highlight of this oceanfront boardwalk is the free swimming lagoon located right next to the water. It’s the perfect place to cool down and catch some rays. Take a photo next to the iconic fish fountains and feel the sand in your toes. It’s the only free option for swimming in the city since you can’t swim in the ocean (crocodiles). There are also playgrounds and a skate park if you’re keen.
  • Bars: There are scores of bars in Cairns, most of which are super skeevy (i.e. skanky, pervey, divey), but if you’re going out anyway, you might be able to score a deal if you take a walk around town first. Many bars and clubs will be handing out special offers and drink discounts on the sidewalk and many have weekly ladies nights (we came across one offering 5 glasses of champagne for every lady after 10:30 pm) and competitions for free stuff. Just know that you might have to put up with sexist activities like pole dancing competitions and wet T-shirt contests. 
  • The Botanic Gardens: These free gardens are lovely, though not terribly extensive, the highlight of which is the enclosed tropical garden complete with butterflies that need no encouragement to alight on your hat or shoulder (or camera). There are also a few longer walks starting in the gardens including the Red Arrow.
  • Waterfalls: Outside of Cairns you'll find several places to enjoy waterfalls and take a dip in croc-free waters. Crystal Cascades in one such place, though you can't get there by bus. You can try hitching if you don't have a car as a fair amount of people visit the falls, especially in the summer. Barron Falls located outside of Kuranda is another option, though it's strictly for looking at, not swimming.
  • Kuranda: About 30-40 minutes north of Cairns is Kuranda, a rainforest village based around tourism. There are plenty of expensive things to do here (take the skyrail, go to the Koala Sanctuary...) but there are also free things to do in Kuranda. Check out the markets and do some souvenir shopping, take a turn around the rainforest boardwalk, and visit some art galleries. You can drive yourself if you have a car or use public transport from Cairns for just $6.50 each way.
  • The Beach: To swim in the ocean you'll have to leave Cairns. Palm Cove and Trinity Beach have an underwater fence to protect swimmers from stingers and other deadly ocean-dwellers and a strip of restaurants and shops for when you start feeling peckish. We recommend a scoop or two of vegan gelato at Scoops Gelatiland in Palm Cove. The bus will take you up to either beach and cost under $10 per person.

The Lagoon, located on Cairns' waterfront Esplanade is a great place to relax, catch some rays, and cool down.

Rusty's Markets are a great place to find a deal on fruit and vegetables, not to mention an afternoon snack.

At the Saturday Esplanade Markets you'll find all sorts of art, jewelry and handmade goods.

The Cairns Botanic Gardens are a lovely place to while away and afternoon.

Become a perch for a butterfly at the Cairns Botanic Gardens.

Crystal Cascades is a peaceful swimming hole surrounded by rainforest just outside Cairns.
An appropriately rainy view over the Daintree Rainforest.


Eat on a Budget in Cairns

There are dozens of dining options in Cairns, many of which are expensive, but if you keep your eyes peeled you might find some good deals as you walk around town.
  • Cairns Night Markets: If it's Asian take-out you're in the mood for, You'll find it at the Night Markets. It's food court style, so pick a storefront and point to what you want.
  • Vegan Treats: We can't pass up vegan sweets, if you can't either, check out Pineapple Cafe in the city for raw bites and breakfast and lunch food and Soul Kitchen Bakery a bit outside the CBD for cakes and such. Reasonably priced and yum.


Ways to Save in Cairns

Here’s how to save money in Cairns on land and sea.
  • The Daintree: You can take a tour from Cairns up to the World Heritage listed rainforest, but you will probably score a better deal renting a car for the day and driving up yourself. It’s about a two-hour drive and you can even save on gas and the ferry crossing ($25 per vehicle and you won’t see much of the rainforest if you don’t) if you opt to share the ride with other travelers through sites like Gumtree and CoSeats. On the way you can make a pit stop in Port Douglas, which is still touristy, but much classier with nice cafes and ritzier shops.
  • Great Barrier Reef: It’s expensive to get out to the reef with the cheapest snorkeling day tour starting at $109 AUD with Compass Cruises. However, if you don’t feel the need to visit multiple sites, you can head out to Fitzroy Island (which is lovely and offers great snorkeling) on a ferry with Raging Thunder or Sunlover and spend the day for about $75 AUD and rent snorkel gear for another $16 AUD. Of course, if you have your own or can borrow some, you’ll save even more! Just make sure to pack a lunch so you don’t spend everything you saved on high-priced food. You might also be able to score a deal on BookMe.com.au if you plan in advance! Other (though less likely) options include couchsurfing or WOOFing with a host who has a boat and might offer to take you out and debasing yourself at various bars in town in embarrassing competitions for free tours. The latter isn’t our style…we’d rather pay.
  • BookMe: For savings on tours, activities and more, check out this site and keep in mind that the farther ahead you can plan, the better the deals will be.

Snorkeling on Fitzroy Island is one of the cheapest ways to see the Great Barrier Reef.

The coral and sea life of the Great Barrier Reef is diverse and splendid.


Take a couple of days and enjoy the tropics, see some World Heritage sites, and have some fun in Cairns!

The sand dunes on Waddy Point on the top of the island offer sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

No post about the East Coast of Australia would be complete without a guide to Fraser Island. Sure, it doesn’t get the publicity that the Whitsunday Islands receive or the renown of Sydney or Brisbane, it's amazing, none the less. Any traveler winding their way up the east coast has probably been handed a guide or photos of the world’s largest sand island just off the coast of Hervey Bay, but is likely to overlook it for more glamorous locales. Which is too bad because Fraser Island is a fantastic destination. It’s got surfing beaches, it’s got calm wading beaches, it’s got white sand, it’s got dunes, it’s got crystal clear lakes, it’s got dingoes. It’s a beautiful place. Unfortunately, it also costs a fortune to get there. Fortunately, there are ways to see Fraser Island on a budget!


The view from the top of Indian Heads is a spectacular one. Often you can even see sharks swimming in the waters below!

Your options are as follows: Book a bus tour, book a 4WD tagalong tour, plan to walk and camp, hook up with a local who has a 4WD and is willing to show you the island, or volunteer.

We did the latter. We were set up to do a HelpX with a guy in Hervey Bay, the gateway to Fraser Island for a week or two. Our host mentioned in his profile that he drives or boats to the Island occasionally with his helpers for weekend camping trips and the like. We were intrigued. However, we got more than we bargained for when we showed up and found out that during our scheduled stay he had volunteered to help with trail maintenance on the island for a weekend. We were invited to come along and so ended up maintaining walking trails on Fraser Island for three days. We got to see things tourists never see and help FIDO (Fraser Island Defenders Organization) with their mission to keep Fraser beautiful and accessible.


Trail maintenance on Fraser Island is hard work, but it's worth it.

Josh clearing trails of brush on Fraser Island.

We chopped down trees, we cleared walking tracks, we pulled weeds and trimmed bushes. We took swim breaks and laughed around the dinner table with the group of volunteers. We walked through rainforests and climbed fig trees and laid on the beach. It was exhausting but unbelievably unique. But it was after that that the real fun started. Our host had paid $200 to get his 4WD across on the ferry (only 4WD can operate on the island’s sandy, single lane tracks), and wanted to make the most of it. So he took Josh and I and two of the other volunteers for a three day tour of the island and we camped and swam and star gazed and enjoyed! And being a former guide on the island, he knew much about the island, including all the best spots, many of the names of the local flora and fauna, and where to go to escape from the tourists on bus tours. We had a marvelous time.

This is obviously your best option for truly experiencing the island and it’s really not that difficult to do. There are a fair number of people on HelpX, GumTree, even Couchsurfing who have cars or boats and are willing to take you to the island simply for a little help with the cost of food or fuel. And these nice folks are only an e-mail away!


Only 4WD vehicles are permitted on the island since there are no sealed roads outside the Kingfisher Resort area.

The next best option is to get yourself on the ferry and get ready to hike and camp. It’s $50 to walk onto the ferry and $200 for those taking a vehicle, so if you know someone who is going over, say someone you found on Gumtree who was willing to give you a lift, you could possibly pay less than $50. Once you’re there, it’s a 14 kilometer walk to Lake Mackenzie, one of the most popular and lovely attractions on the island, and you can camp nearby for only $6 per night. Just bring a tent, a stove and food and you’re set! From the lake there are plenty of day hikes that will take you farther afield and you can leave you stuff at the campsite in convenient lock boxes (just bring your own lock). You won’t be able to see as much, but it’ll still be an unbeatable experience!


Dingoes roam the beaches in the evening and morning on Fraser Island. It's not hard to spot them, but absolutely do not feed them.

Sunsets are spectacular on Fraser Island. 

The Champagne Pools were absolutely our favorite place on the island. You can swim in clear ocean water alongside fish and relax as waves break over the rocks filling the calm pools.

If you’re not as concerned about saving money and would prefer to have all the details worked out for you, there are numerous tours to choose from. Most day tours will be on a bus and start at $170 per person. Fraser Explorer Tours is one of the cheaper options, but several hostels in Hervey Bay offer their own tours or discounts on local tours, so check into that when you book your hostel. If you’d like a broader taste of Fraser, overnight trips are closer to $360, accommodation included, with Fraser Explorer or Cool Dingo.

 For the more adventurous (with deeper pockets), tag-along tours are available where instead of a bus smaller groups tag-along with a guide in the company's 4WD vehicles. These are more of a party tour for those with visions of sunbathing and cold beer dancing in their heads. They’ll run you closer to $270 for two days or $350 for three depending on the company you choose to roll with, Fraser Dingo 4WD being one of the cheapest. Of course, you can also rent your own for about $430, which might be worth it if you're traveling with a group of people and can split costs. Just don't forget to factor in the cost of fuel!


Lake Mackenzie is one of the most popular destinations on the island. White sand and blue water make it a major attraction for tour groups.

Your final option is to volunteer with an organization like FIDO. In fact, you'll probably see more of the island and learn more about it than exploring any other way. Especially since John Sinclair, one of the founders of FIDO, literally wrote the book on Fraser Island. Seriously. He wrote a book.
The group will help you get to the island, provide accommodation and even food (for a small daily fee), and even show you around the island in exchange for work. Of course, since they are a volunteer organization it's not a bad idea to offer a bit of cash to help cover expenses. So get out there and enjoy! And if you happen to be in town in the winter, keep an eye out for migrating humpback whales in the bay!
The Emerald Lakes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National Park, North Island

New Zealand is a magical place. It’s beautiful and majestic and has geography and wildlife like no where else in the world. So naturally, you’re going to want to spend some time there, which usually means spending more money, too. But if you’re staying on the islands for more than the classic American 1-2 week vacation (and I highly recommend you do or you’ll see virtually nothing), there are plenty of ways to save money in New Zealand!


Save on Transportation in New Zealand


Tour Buses: There are several operators to choose from, but most offer a hop-on hop-off sort of service that gives you the flexibility to get off and go where you want and stay as long as you want. They’re expensive, though, from $500 with limited stops on NakedBus to over $1000 with Kiwi Experience, so be prepared to shell out the cash for the convenience of not having to do any of the driving. However, the buses don’t go everywhere and you may have to buy separate tickets with different companies to get to any places you’d like to explore that aren’t on the well-worn tourist track. Keep in mind you'll also have to factor in accommodation costs if you're not couchsurfing.

Rental Car: It may be expensive, but it does give you the freedom to explore at your own pace and see just the sights you want to see. Rent a van and you can even sleep in it if you like! To save money and if you have the time and inclination, look into sites like Transfer Car or Imoova for deals on relocating rental cars. Some places will give you the car for free if you take it from Wellington to Auckland (and other routes) for them as most travelers are headed the other direction.

Hitchhike: Being an exceedingly backpacker friendly country, hitchhiking is pretty well accepted, especially on the south island. More populated areas are easier to hitch from, but big cities like Wellington, Auckland or Christchurch may not be so amenable. It may be free, but you’ve got to have a lot of time on your hands and be prepared to scrap plans if you don’t get picked up.

Buy a car: This is what we recommend if you’re going to be in New Zealand for at least a month. You can pick up a decently priced vehicle at Turner’s auctions in some larger cities, on numerous backpacker boards, or on TradeMe.co.nz which has auction and buy it now type listings. Even better than a car, buy a campervan so you don’t have to pay for accommodation, too. Spend as much as you can get away with and plan to sell it a few days before you leave the country. We bought a camper van that had been outfitted with a mattress, camp stove, etc., for $1,750 NZD in Hamilton and sold it for $1,700 NZD in Auckland when it was time to leave. You will most likely have to perform routine maintenance like oil changes and you may have to pay for repairs and upkeep (like replacing tires or we had to replace the ignition switch), but with the price of a rental car for that long, you’ll still come out on top.


Save on Accommodation in New Zealand


Hostels: Everybody knows this is the cheap backpacker options. I personally have a love-hate relationship with hostels (I love getting to hang with other travelers, I hate having to sleep on a squeaky bunk bed in a room with 4 sweaty guys and no AC), but they serve a purpose. They’re all over and you’ll pay less than at a hotel, usually around $25-$30 NZD per person.
          
Camping: There are scores of campsites all over New Zealand where you can pitch a tent or pull up an RV for anywhere between $6-$40 NZD. Prices are often per person in New Zealand, so check before you go.

Freedom Camping: Our favorite option, especially if you bought or rented a car or campervan. You’ll need an app like Wikicamps or Campermate to tell you where to go (on- or off-line), but you can find free camp sites all over New Zealand for all kinds of camping. The apps will also tell you where to find Wi-Fi, water, showers and the like. But be sure to follow instructions as some sites are only for self-contained vehicles (ones that have a toilet on board) or don’t allow tents and you could get fined.


Save on Attractions in New Zealand

            
OnlineGrabOne.com and Bookme.com are useful for Groupon-esque deals from skydiving and jet boat tours to Maori experiences and thermal spas. Sometimes they offer pretty big discounts. The catch sometimes being that the deals are only good for a certain day of the week or time of day.
            
Tuesdays: I realize this isn’t an actual resource, but most movie theatres offer discount tickets on Tuesdays. Unlike in the US, most do not offer reduced price tickets for matinees, so don’t hold your breath for a cheap afternoon flick.
            
Coupons: Even if you’re not staying at a hostel, it’s not a bad idea to pop into one or two as they often have racks of brochures and discount coupons available for local attractions.


Save on Food in New Zealand

            
FirstTable.com: If you’re prepared to eat early, as in the very first table of the night early, this site will let you pay half price for meals. Not bad for a night out!
            
Groceries: Obviously cheaper than eating out is cooking for yourself. Whether camping or staying in a hostel, save money by buying groceries and cooking your own meals. Pak-N-Sav is supposedly the cheapest option, but Countdown often has a reduced section where veg and packaged goods are nearing their expiration and on sale.
            
Farmers Markets: Not all markets are created equal. We went to one in Hamilton where everything was priced pretty high (granted it was good local produce, bread, etc.) and we went to one in Wellington that had amazing deals on fruit and veggies, even tofu. If you’re in a mid-size to big city over the weekend, checking a few markets out could save you a wad of cash.


Save on Fuel in New Zealand

            
AA Smart Fuel Card: If you’re driving yourself around the islands, pick up one of these at a gas station that has the yellow AA logo on their sign. It will save you $.06 off per liter when you spend at least $40. You can also choose to bank your savings for later use if you prefer.
            
Supermarkets: Countdown and Pak-N-Sav both offer fuel discounts when you shop with them and your receipt will indicate that you get $.04 or $.06 off per liter.
           
Fill up farther north: It can’t be avoided, but generally speaking, the farther south you go, especially on the South Island, the more expensive fuel becomes. So if you’re traveling south, don’t wait to fill up to see if it’s cheaper at the next place. It won’t be.

Enjoy New Zealand on a budget!

New Zealand's South Island as seen from the Ferry on Cook Straight.
The South Island of New Zealand may have one third the population of the North Island and fewer big cities, restaurants, and public transportation, but what it lacks in people and scads of modern infrastructure it more than makes up for in natural beauty. The South Island, simply put, is spectacular. There’s not a corner you'll drive around without being awed by some new natural thrill. There are waterfalls, glowworms, mountains, coastal drives and jagged sounds that will blow your mind. And the only way to see it all (in our opinion, anyway) is to pack the car and hit the road, which is exactly what we did.

We started on the North Island, which you can read about HERE if you haven’t already, but allow us to pick up where we left off.

The rocky outcroppings of Marlborough Sounds welcome you to the South Island from Cook Straight.
We took the ferry from Wellington to Picton and set off from the small town terminal straight away with plans to hike in Abel Tasman National Park later in the afternoon. We stopped in Nelson a couple hours later to grab some maps and info and such, do a little souvenir browsing at the info center (you know how it is), and found out the hike we wanted to do was several hours farther away than we had originally thought. So we decided en route to head to a closer section of the Coast Track and walked as far as Tinline Bay. As for Nelson, you could easily spend an afternoon if not a day or two in the bright little backpacker town, so if you can, set some time aside to appreciate it's cafes and such. We didn't for lack of time (and an encroaching magazine article deadline), but wished we would have.

Tinline Beach on the Coast Track in Abel Tasman National Park.
After the hike we retraced our steps and freedom camped at an I-Site in Motueka, a small town nearby. It had just enough to appease us: a supermarket, park, well-lit parking lot, cafes, and car repair shops, which was fortunate because the next morning our car wouldn’t start. We paid $65 for a mechanic to look at it, declare that nothing was wrong, and start it back up with no problem. Go figure. Turns out, there was something wrong, but more on that later. As it also turns out, we should have purchased an AA membership (like the US's AAA membership) for $80 and gotten the van looked at for free, but you live and you learn.

So after a bit of panicking and several hours of waiting (do mechanics enjoy making people wait?), we were a bit behind schedule, but we still made it to Fox River Cave in Poparoa National Park where we walked through an ancient forest and explored the cave with our cameras and headlamps. Of course, the drive there is nothing to gloss over. The west coast coastal drive was sensational with its cliff faces, rocky outcroppings, sandy beaches, and mountainous backdrops. I kid you not, it was all we could do not to pull over every 3 minutes to take a photo of the landscape. So we limited it to every 6 minutes. Would you expect anything less from photographers? If you can manage it, drive along at sunset for a gorgeous sunset.

Don't forget your head lamp for Fox River Caves. Wellies wouldn't hurt, either.
The drive on the west coast of the South Island offers stunning scenery.
Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier were next. We were told we were amazingly lucky to have a beautiful, clear, sunny day to view the glaciers. Apparently the west coast gets over 3 meters (Meters! That's over 10.5 feet!) of rain a year, so a sunny day is practically a miracle. Actually, nearly our whole trip was miraculously rain-free, but that’s beside the point. In the backpack-friendly little towns you can shell out for an air-drop hike on the glacier if you want, but you can walk to the terminus for free. There is also an abandoned mining tunnel (for eerie afternoon walks) near Franz Josef and a lake where visitors can see glowworms at night (we only saw one in the tunnel). That night we freedom camped at Gillespie Beach, which we highly recommend for sunsets and stargazing.

Franz Josef Glacier
Taking a moment to appreciate nature on the way to Franz Josef Glacier.
Not only can you camp for free at Gillespie Beach, but you'll be treated to vibrant sunsets, too.
New Zealand's South Island is the perfect place to stargaze.
The drive to Queenstown the next day was just as lovely as every day previous. Lake Wanaka and Hawea were fantastically blue, The Remarkables, the mountain range outside the city, were, well, remarkable, and the small tourist-centric town was a welcome diversion after basically being out in the middle of nowhere for the last three days. Queenstown is for souvenirs, hiking and adventure tours (Skydiving! White water rafting! Bungy jumping!), so we browsed for the day, enjoyed the waterfront, and relaxed, more or less. There was a Hell Pizza, which had already become our favorite restaurant for vegan pizza in New Zealand, so we were pretty happy campers.

Brilliant blue lakes and jagged peaks welcome you back to civilization as you head to Queenstown.
The Kawarau river outside of Queenstown. Bungy jump from the bridge or just enjoy the scenery.
Which was good because the following day was about as irritating as it gets. We decided to go ahead and make the drive to Milford Sound, which comes highly recommended by brochures, adverts and visitors all over the place. We should have checked the weather before we went because the Sounds basically have a weather pattern all their own and we essentially drove four hours one way (read: out of the way) to look at fog in the rain. Not cool. So if you go, make sure the weather forecast is clear or there’s really no point. We did stop around Te Anau to explore a bit of the Lord of the Rings’ filming location for Fangorn Forest and the Dead Marshes on the way there, though, so it wasn’t a total waste (I guess).

Apparently Milford Sound is somewhere behind all that fog. 
About the clearest view we had of the Milford Sound area.
Mount Cook was next on our list. Another one of those places that has its own weather. Beautiful and clear 5 miles away, Mt. Cook was shrouded in cloud and no coaxing from us could lure it out (I’m the mouse whisperer, not the mountain whisperer, after all-but that’s another story). You can see floating glaciers on the lake next to it, though, and camping on Lake Pukaki was extraordinarily picturesque, especially while watching the sunset behind the mountains while lounging in a camp chair and strumming away at a ukulele.

The Mount Cook Mountain Range from the west.
Mount Cook may have been in hiding, but the view from across Lake Pukaki was fabulous.
Nothing like a bit of ukulele music while watching the sunset over Lake Pukaki.
This is where our car troubles flared up again. Told you I’d get to that. Our car just decided to turn off as we cruised into Twizel, the town just south of Mount Cook. Just went dead turning off the main road. Scary. So after much fiddling, deliberating, googling, and calling our dads (aren’t dads great?), we came to the conclusion that it was probably the starter. But small towns and Saturdays don’t bode well for car repairs, so Josh prepared himself to basically drive the three hours to Christchurch the next day holding the key in the “on” position. We even started looking for a tree branch that we could carve to jerry rig a key-holding contraption, Macgyver style.

Fortunately, after about an hour the key decided to stay put on its own and we made it to the city safely (phew!). Of course, repair shops were still closed (It was Sunday, after all, and this is New Zealand), so we went to the Sunday markets, picked up a uke case and some kettle corn, explored the Botanic Gardens, museums, cafes, you name it (vegan chocolate beet cake at Beat Street CafĂ©, yummmm). We’d worry about the car tomorrow.

The Christchurch Art Gallery is sweet as on the outside and in.
The city is still rebuilding after the 2011 earthquake.
The ReStart Mall is a great place to grab a quick bite, recaffeinate, or do a bit of shopping. It's a shipping container mall set up after the 2011 earthquake.
And the next day, while we perused the ReStart Mall, got some more tasty vegan treats at a local health food store, and wandered through the Christchurch Art Gallery (which has blazing fast Wi-Fi in addition to cool art, btw), our car did get fixed. It cost $260 NZD for a new starter and labor, which was actually less than Josh and I both feared (and we didn't have to pay for parking that day!). And so ended our concern that our car would decide to just turn itself off again while we were driving and we could leave Christchurch in peace.

There was one last thing to do on the South Island before we headed back to the North Island on the ferry: Kayaking in Marlborough Sound. We opted for a full day of it (6 hours) with Sea Kayak Adventures. They gave us all the gear, dropped us off and picked us up, and we cruised the sounds for the day marveling at starfish, sting rays and eagle rays right below our boat, a fur seal napping on the rocks, birds galore, a mountainous landscape surrounding us, and a family of very friendly ducks. Totally worth the price ($100+ NZD). It was the perfect end to our South Island adventure and we were totally wiped for our late night ferry crossing back to Wellington that night after dinner, drinks, and a bit of browsing in Picton. Which, by the way, was a practically empty sailing so we had all the Wi-Fi to ourselves, though we paid for it with a choppy crossing. Didn't bother us. Rocking boats put me straight to sleep.

Treat yourself to some outdoor adventure with a day of kayaking on the Marlborough Sounds.
Mountains and wildlife abound on the Marlborough Sounds.

But back on topic, if you’re heading to New Zealand and having the North Island/South Island debate with yourself (we think that’s silly; you should just do them both), opt for south if it’s majestic scenery and breathtaking landscapes you’re after. But seriously, just do both. ;-)