South Island touring

New YHA Customer Services staff get settled in the office and then sent off on a rite of passage to do hostel work experience and ‘famil.’

A ‘famil’ is a sampling of New Zealand tourism. YHA's Steven Belfield got shipped to Te Anau from Christchurch and worked his way home via some of New Zealand’s premier landscapes. He reports on the Te Anau to Queenstown leg of the trip.

I’m still absorbing the beauty that I witnessed during my New Zealand travel, the long way back from Te Anau to Christchurch. Milford and Doubtful Sounds were highlights, but there were Te Anau, Queenstown, Haast and Punakaiki. It’s a struggle to do them all justice. When someone asks, “How was the trip?” It might be easier to show them the three hundred photos I took in six days.

After a week of hostel work, including personally getting the YHA Te Anau barbecue sparkling and ready to go for the summer, I was pretty excited about the ‘famil’ stage of my trip. That’s industry jargon for familiarisation, but this was going to be as much about pleasure as work!

I was lucky to have my partner join me as a travelling companion. First up we were off across Lake Te Anau to the glow worm caves. We floated through in darkness with the Te Anau glow worms lighting up the roof of the cave like a starry night. That was a pretty awesome experience.

But we went to bed knowing tomorrow was Milford Sound day. The clear dawn hinted that this was going to be a goody! Everything lived up to our expectations. Our views of Mitre Peak were perfect and the camera was going non-stop. Once on the Sound we spotted dolphins and seals and did a tour of the hundreds of waterfalls.

And the next day was Doubtful Sound! When my trip was being planned I didn’t realise how much was being crammed in or that any one of these days would be the highlight of a trip for many tourists. The trip to Doubtful Sound starts on Lake Manapouri, then you bus over Wilmott Pass before boarding the Patea Explorer to explore the Sound. Part of the beauty of the fiord is the tranquility. The Captain turned off the engines at one point so that we could listen to the silence of the fiord. We came back by the same route but had a tour of the Manapouri power scheme. It’s a feat of engineering and low environmental impact.

Queenstown was our next stop and we had a day to ourselves. But the YHA Queenstown hostel staff weren’t letting us laze around for long. The following day we were up early and riding horses with Moonlight Stables just out of town, before being driven out to the Onsen Hot Pools. This is the best hot pool experience I have ever had! We hopped into the warm water, rolled the roof back and took in the stunning views as the Shotover Jet whizzed by in the river canyon down below. We finished our day with a trip up the Skyline Gondola and dinner at the restaurant overlooking Queenstown NZ, the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu.

We were moving to the West Coast next and even more great experiences. But for now it was time to savour the southern lakes and fiords. We’d packed in some of the most beautiful places in the country and still had more to come. What a famil! When the next YHA member calls, it’s going to be hard to know what to recommend first.
Steven stayed at YHAs across the South Island for his journey.


Want to book with YHA for your own South Island journey?

Click here or call 0800 278 299 or email

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