Mountains, lakes and glaciers all conspire to make the South Island of New Zealand a superbly scenic stage for active adventure, but once you’ve bungy jumped, hiked and mountain biked to a stellar collection of souvenir T-shirts and DVDs, slow down with these equally engrossing alternative experiences.
Unwind at the world’s most southerly pub quiz
Join the friendly locals at Stewart Island’s South Seas Hotel for the planet’s most southerly opportunity to retrieve long-suppressed memories of 1980s one-hit wonders and minor national flags. Quiz-mistress Vicki peppers proceedings with an often ‘colourful’ vocabulary, and visitors to the island are encouraged to not take things too seriously. So put down that Google-equipped smart phone right away.
Experience the quirky Lost Gypsy Gallery
Take the more interesting road south from Dunedin to Invercargill, and detour through the Catlins to the Lost Gypsy Gallery in sleepy Papatowai. Artist Blair Sommerville harnesses the detritus of the modern world to create tiny sculptures and machines that hum and whirr with a unique energy. Tiny trains traverse the interior of his bohemian house truck, and outside, larger works also crackle with his wit and creativity.
Be dazzled at Fred & Myrtle’s Paua Shell House
Originally located in the far southern town of Bluff, this wonderfully kitsch suburban living room has been recreated in Christchurch’s Canterbury Museum. Across four decades Fred and Myrtle Flutey showed visitors through their Bluff home decorated with thousands of shimmering paua (abalone) shells. Original family photographs punctuate the walls, period tunes bubble away, and the exhibition is a warm and poignant reminder of simpler times.
Drink in a shipping container at Revival Bar
The Christchurch earthquake of 22 February 2011 damaged many inner-city bars, restaurants and cafes, and while rebuilding of New Zealand’s second-largest city continues, the humble shipping container has emerged as a funky construction alternative. Regular DJs and an onsite food truck combine to make Revival Bar one of the city’s best drinking spots, and a quirky example of post-earthquake Christchurch innovation.
Go Steampunk in Oamaru
Welcome to a steam-driven vision of an industrial future, and the perfect complement to Oamaru’s beautiful whitestone Victorian townscape. A retro locomotive spits sparks and bucks like a rampaging bull, while a vintage airship hovers outside a cavernous gallery packed with a repurposed industrial past. Visit in June for the annual Steampunk Ball, a chance to create your own idiosyncratic mash-up of genres, fashions and eras.
Confound your tastebuds at Hokitika Wildfoods Festival
Calling all curious travelling foodies. Here’s your chance to show just how adventurous your palate is. Join 20,000 other festival goers in March and chow down on culinary goodies including mountain oysters (they’re not really oysters, OK?), huhu grubs, and deep-fried locusts. Local seafood and venison is more approachable, but Monteith’s beer and robust moonshine whisky should ease the consumption of the festival’s more challenging offerings. Learn more on www.wildfoods.co.nz.
Watch your step on the world’s steepest residential street
Peppered with quaint wooden bungalows, Dunedin’s Baldwin St would be singularly unremarkable if it didn’t surge uphill at a gradient of 1 in 1.286. But that 19-degree rise is good enough for it be included in the Guinness Book of World Records. More than 1000 athletes tackle the hill in February’s annual ‘Gutbuster’ race, and the record to reach the top and back is under two minutes. Beat that and you’ll have really earned a beer in one of Dunedin’s bustling student bars.
Go curling in Nasbey
Dotted with 19th-century stone buildings, and surrounded by forests perfect for mountain biking, the cute Central Otago hamlet of Naseby is also the hub for curling in New Zealand (surely the only sport to use a broom). Icy lessons in curling’s dark arts are available year-round at the Naseby Alpine Park, and from June to August a seasonal ice luge offers slippery downhill thrills on an adjacent 300m track.
Reinvent your style at Nelson’s World of Wearable Art
The annual wearable art awards show (www.worldofwearableart.com) may have jumped across Cook Strait to Wellington, but Nelson’s museum of wearable art is still a showstopper (learn more here). Functionality and ease of use are important, but the main emphasis for designs is integrating everyday objects into crazily spectacular and flamboyant apparel. Earplugs, soft drink cans and ping pong balls have all been co-opted for some surprising designs, and often you can only identify the component parts by taking a closer look.
Get steamed up at Queenstown's Japanese Onsen pools
With soaring indigo peaks, meandering river valleys, and the distant hum of the Shotover River jetboats, the view from Onsen Hot Pools could only be the stunning scenery around Queenstown. But ensconced in your own personal Japanese-style hot tub – super-private and perfect for couples – it’s easy to drift off into an Asian reverie. Clever design means the roof rolls back to reveal the sky above. Fingers crossed for a light smattering of southern rain to complete the experience.
Author Brett Atkinson has been all over the globe for Lonely Planet.
Seek out more southerly secrets with Lonely Planet's guide to New Zealand's South Island.