That’s it! We finally made our trip to the South Island of New-Zealand. If you have at least a tiny interested to the great outdoor, it is without any hesitation that we are recommending that you put this fabulous destination on your travel bucket list, preferably at the top!
I have spend several hours (40h+) to plan this trip inside out so that we could maximise our time there , learn about the highlights and the different places to checkout based on our preferences and construct a itinerary that make sense.
We left Brisbane (BNE) around 6pm on the 27th of November for a quick 3 hours flights to arrive in Christchurch (CHC) at midnight. After clearing immigration, which unfortunately took a while…, our trip officially began. First note: Taxi rides in New-Zealand are quite expensive and Uber isn’t available on the South Island so it may worth planning your logistic well to minimise the need for cabs.
Saturday 28th of November – Leaving Christchurch toward the West Coast through Arthur Pass
We woke up at 7am and after a quick and pricey taxi ride, we took possession of our new mighty home named “Hikaru Sulu” from Spaceships in Christchurch that would be our close companion for the next 11 days. After stopping for supply (read: gas, food, wine, beers!), we took the road toward the West Coast through Arthur Pass.
Some 100km away from the city, our first stop was Castle Hill, a short walk in Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area where some scenes of the famous movie “Lord of the Rings” were filmed. The place was filled with weathered limestone formations, some towering as high as 10 meters. We were actually quite impressed for a first stop of the day!
We then stopped at Arthur Pass to check out some possible walks. It started to rain quite heavily so I only did the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall walks. Enough to get very wet but the view was worth it still.
Then we continued our way toward the West Coast and passed through the town of Greymouth to the Rapahoe Bay Holiday Park to check for availability for the night. The place was good and by the coast. At that point around 6:30pm, it stopped raining and the sky was clearing up. We drove to our next destination, the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes near Punakaiki in Paparoa National Park. This place has couple of beautiful short walks on the west coast. We did check the Pancake Rocks (see picture to get why they call it that way!) and the Truman walk. Both we’re totally worth it.
It was around 8pm and the sun was still shining bright, we drove back to the camp site for the night and stopped along the winding coastal road for few amazing photos. Back at the camp, we made dinner and had a drinks on the beach watching sunset. It was a really good and full pack first day covering around 300km, 4 walks and amazing scenery.
Sunday 29th of November – Glaciers & Lake Matheson
We woke up early to make the most of the sunny day ahead of us visiting our fist glaciers in the south hemisphere of the world. The Frank Joseph and Fox glaciers are unique relics of the last ice age few thousands of year ago. Mighty rivers of solid white, tumbling down ice through deep rock valley. Apparently, no where else in the world glaciers advanced so close to the sea at this latitude, although nowadays, the retreated quite a bit with among other the consequence of climate change.
The road and the scenery was spectacular along the coast. Our first stop was Frank Joseph Glacier. We first stopped in the township to check for helicopter hike trips over the glaciers. We were aware of the incident few weeks back that resulted of the dead of few tourist due to the bad weather, however, considering the number of trips they do day after day and the perfect weather, we were quite keen to do the adventure, which seemed quite unique to us! Unfortunately, everything was booked out for the day so we booked the earliest trip the next morning to Fox Glacier. Ouch, this was really expensive, 400$ per person but hey, you only live once and climbing a glacier and exploring deep blue ice cave after an helicopter ride in these mountains seemed something extraordinary.
We drive toward one of the walk to do to check out the Frank Joseph Glacier. There was few short walks to do but unfortunately, due to the rain the path was flooded to get intimate with the bed of the valley where the glacier lie.
We then continued our way to Fox Glacier some 30min away. We had a quick lunch in the touristic township and then drove to do some short walks to check out the glacier in hope we could get more intimate this time with the last ice age! There was a really nice blue pool next to the parking. We were a bit rebellious and passed the first gate blocking masses of tourist away and continued close up to the glacier.
By the time we were done with this wonderful place for today, the clouds were back. Our next stop was lake Matheson. Lake Matheson is a famous picture spot. On clear day without wind, there is a perfect reflection of the snowy covered mountain in the lake. However, we didn’t have that luck but we couldn’t complain. We did the 1.5h walk around the lake. It was rather pleasant.
We headed down to Gillespie Beach for the night not too far from Lake Matheson. One of the camp site maintained by the department of conservation (DOC). We bough a 7 days camping pass with them for 40$ that gives access to most park maintained by them. Gillespie beach was really good, although the 21km gravel road to get there was quite sketchy. We were also lucky to get one of the last available spot as this place was pretty crowded, understandably. On one side, you have the ocean with a perfect view of the sunset and on the other you have that great view of snow covered peaks. We enjoyed every last minutes of that sun set that evening.
Monday 30th of November – Glacier Hike & Lake Wanaka
We didn’t stay very long in the morning as we were literally eaten alive by all the sandflies (mix of a mosquito and fruit fly, very annoying), so we drove back to the township for breakfast and coffee awaiting our departure for the helicopter hike. The group of tourists was broken down into 4 different groups as the helicopters could carry 6 passengers each. With each person paying 400$ and with 2-3 departures time each day based on weather, this seems to me to be a very lucrative industry. Although, that being said, the weather has been terrible lately so they could not fly that much. So as to speak, we were lucky. They weighted every person and every group in preparation for the flight, gave us a briefing and we were on our way. It took only 10min to get on the glacier. The view was of course spectacular and it was my first experience in an helicopter.
The view on the glacier was stunning. The deep intense blue of the ice was impressive and mesmerising. We walked through some small cave and around the glacier. The hike itself was to our liking a bit slow due to the group of tourists that were not necessary hiking “aficionados ” but rather selfie stick picture seeker but the adventure was still very memorable and unique. The whole duration was about 4 hours. Back to the base, we went back to the car and start driving all the way toward Lake Wanaka some 220km away. As we were getting use to, the road and the scenery was again amazing through the Haast pass.
The drive was really nice. We stopped at Knight Point Lookout and few other random location to enjoy the view and take few pictures and we did the Blue Pools Walk in Mount Aspiring National park (60min return). Arrived at the North of Lake Wanaka, it was getting late and we decided to camp at Boundary Creek campsite before reaching Wanaka and to wake up earlier the next day to reach our next destination. The camp site was really nice at the border of the lake. Once more we checked sun set over the mountain while having a nice beer (Mac’s Porter – very good!) and made dinner…. with day light at 9:00pm.