New Zealand's South Island was made for road trips. It has glaciers, fjords, volcanoes, vineyards, Lord of the Rings-style forest, impeccable roads, and very few people sharing it. With only a million inhabitants in a landmass the size of New York State, the South Island feels largely untouched and like the ultimate place to connect with nature.
Pick up your campervan or car in the "big city" of Christchurch, then drive to the turquoise waters, golden beaches, and verdant palm trees of Abel Tasman National Park. The 37-mile coastal trail along the granite headlands, lush forests, and sandy coves classifies as one of the country's nine Great Walks, though the ability to combine tramping with kayaking, biking, and boating sets it apart.
From there, move south through the heart of the Southern Alps, stop in the diverse terrain of the region's national parks, and cruise along the geological phenomenon of the west coast. Between Paparoa, Arthur's Pass, and Westland Tai Poutini National Parks, you'll cover temperate rain forests, flowing glaciers, and golden beaches.
Finally, weave through massive mountains toward the shimmering Queenstown-Lakes District and end at the ocean-flooded valleys of Fiordland National Park.
This story is based on excerpted text from the National Geographic book Ultimate Journeys for Two . It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Lead Image: Paddle between these bays with a spin around Pinnacle Island’s playful fur seal colony. Transition from the sea to the river with a paddle up Bark Bay Inlet, among waterfalls and flowering kanuka trees. PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDREW PEACOCK, AURORA