Tuesday, October 28, 2014

South Island Rrrroadtrip

Our route took us from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo and Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, then through Omarama to Wanaka and Queenstown. We visited also Glenorchy and Paradise and then continued to Te Anau and Milford Sound. Then we headed to Catlins and drove via Invercargill and Dunedin following the Pacific Ocean coastline. From Oamaru we turned west and after we passed Wanaka again we continued to Haast and followed the Tasman Sea coastline via Greymouth and Westport. There we turned east, passed Lewis Pass and visited Hamner Springs on our way to Arthur's Pass, our last destination before returning to Christchurch.

We drove a van that had a bed attached to it and storing space under it. The kitchen facilities (stove, containers for food, water and dishes) were at the back. We drove during the sunny and rainy days from interesting and beautiful (well sometimes weird and unnecessary) places to other ones and slept mostly in free basic campgrounds. 

It was a typical New Zealand road trip experience flavoured with crazy tramps, enormous waves, exciting wildlife and hundreds of pictures.

Here are the highlights:

Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki
Just a beautiful scenery on a beautiful day

Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Hooker Valley track (10 km return): Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand

Tasman Glacier view track (2.6 km return): Tasman Glacier, the longest glacier in New Zealand

Omarama Claycliffs
Amazing clay formations

Mount Aspiring road waterfall shower

Near Wanaka, at the Diamond Lake we did the Rocky Mountain Summit track (7 km return) to see the view to the Wanaka Lake and Southern Alps (Kā Tiritiri o te Moana). Other exciting tracks were inaccessible for us with our oldish van so instead we decided to take a waterfall shower near the Mount Aspiring road. It was the most horrifying wash I've ever had, it made you question how smelly you really need to be to risk your life to get clean. At the end we both survived, felt fresh and promised never to complain about shower with too little pressure.

Rocky Mountain Summit Track

Pictures from the way

Lindis Pass

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wanaka

Rivendell neighbourhood near Lake Wanaka

Kepler track (60 km loop)

Kepler track is one of the New Zealand's Great Walks and is advertised as 'An adventure above the clouds'. 

For us it was actually tramping IN the cloud but an adventure nevertheless.

The Great Walks are premier tracks and very well maintained. They can also be pretty pricey, especially if you stay your nights at the huts or even camp next to them. It is obvious that we are travellers with a tight budget and since we are also nutbags we decided to do the Kepler in one day, to save money and to challenge ourselves.

So one cloudy morning we woke up at 5 am, ate breakfast and head to the trail with headlamps on. The first moments on the track were kind of magical. The birds were singing in the darkness but other than that it was silent. Just huge beech trees watching us. It felt good to hike again.

Slowly darkness gave way to light and we could turn the headlamps off. We were already ascending and heading towards bush line and tussocks. The morning was fresh and cool but by the time we reached the alpine area and the first hut (13.8 km) it was obvious that it would be too cloudy to see the astonishing view that is characteristic to Kepler. 

It was disappointing but there was nothing we could do about the weather. So we just kept walking.

At some point it started snowing. When we were descending from the top of the track and reached the tree line again we were surrounded by a beautiful ambiance of white snow flakes floating down on beech trees covered with lichen. Even though we missed the mountain views at least there were other exciting things to lay your eyes on. Beeches, podocarps, fern.

Hay grows bigger here

But let's be honest. After four hours of watching those exciting things they become less interesting. And when you have no interesting things to watch other things occupy your mind. Like pain. We reached the half point of the track (a hut at 28 km), and then we had only a quarter left. And then ten kilometres. We kept eating cereal bars, chocolate, raisins and jellybeans. And started hoping the track would end soon.

It felt amazing to reach the car park after 12.5 hours of first happy tramping, then a bit tired walking and at the end some miserable shambling. But we had done it, gained some self confidence for the next big adventure and finished before dark. Even though we missed the beautiful parts, Kepler was definitely one of the big highlights of the road trip.

Fiordland and Milford sound

We named Fiorland, a World Heritage area, as our favourite place to see. No, we didn't do much there (our sore feet prevented us from walking, totally actually). No, we didn't go for a cruise in the Milford Sound (our wallets prevented us from spending money, totally actually). But yes we enjoyed driving in middle of the dramatic mountains and green temperate forests, taking pictures of the snowy peaks and clear and green water lakes. It was sunny the whole day which is rare in that area and the curvy and hilly road made it funny to steer the van. Definitely worth the visit!

Kea, the alpine parrot
The world's only alpine parrots are known for their intelligence and curiosity and under full protection. They like to eat parts from cars.

Catlins' waterfalls, wildlife and waves

If we talk about our favorite things to see on the trip, after mountains, it was definitely wildlife and big waves. Waterfalls and lighthouses were mostly for pretty pictures and neat little walks. 

Nugget Point Lighthouse

Catlins (the coastal area in south) and West Coast were the areas to explore those three w's and there was no way to decide whether we liked the Pacific Ocean and Yellow-eyed penguins better than Tasman Sea and Fiordland crested penguins.

Yellow-eyed penguins (hoihos), the rarest penguins in the world, are nesting at the Curio Bay, fishing for the whole day and returning back to the nest at dusk. They suddenly appear from the roaring waves, stand on the rocks (surrounded by petrified forest, meaning 180 million years old trunk sticking out from sand, by the way) and check the tourist population of the night while cleaning themselves. 

Then they slowly start waddling towards the shoreline vegetation and their nests, not caring too much about the people with dozen cameras (which is good, not many of them are well behaved near rare wildlife). Awesome New Zealand wildlife viewing!

We saw Fiorland crested penguins (tawakis) in Munro Beach, after half an hour walking through rainforest and arriving just in time to see two of these funny little birds running from the sea to their hiding nests. Precious moment, with a setting sun. 

We returned back to the car in darkness and had a small owl lurking and following us. It was time to leave the wildlife alone.

It's been long time since neither of us has seen ocean and stood on a beach. We stopped in several locations to admire the enormous power and beauty of water and waves. 

Moeraki Boulders


One of the most impressive places were the Punakaiki Pancake rocks and blowhole. Could have stayed there the whole day just watching and wondering "how?!". 

On one of our beach explores we also saw a sea lion bathing in, not sun, but wind and rain, being totally ignorant to us or the crappy weather. What a beautiful life they must have!

Elephant rocks
Weathered limestone outcrops

Blue Pools on our way to Haast

Lake Hawea

Caving and glow worms
We entered one cave, called the Clifden Caves, during the trip. It is located in the Southland and with its limestone foundation very impressive mix of stalactites and stalagmites, glow worms (titiwais), crawling and climbing and getting muddy and wet! Unfortunately we couldn't reach the end of the cave track and see the pool because rain had filled some parts and we weren't willing to swim across the dark pools. And let's face it, Julien was already trying hard to keep his claustrophobia under control.

Fox Glacier

Best West Coast activities are meant to have a lot to do with the two most famous glaciers, Fox and Franz Joseph. Unfortunately the weather was against us on the day we meant to visit those attractions so we only saw Fox, in descending clouds and finally rain. FJ we skipped.

Rainforest walks


Sylvia Flats hot pool

A natural hot pools next to a river. Perfect for a morning bath!