Amazing New-Zealand – South Island – Part III (Last)

NewZealand South Island 228Friday 4st of December – Milford Sound, Te Anau and Kepler Track

We left the camp site in the morning to get to Milford Sound,  a very famous fiord in the south west of New Zealand’s South Island, within Fiordland National Park located an hour away. We decided to go with a boat cruise that we booked in Queenstown.We though about going for the Kayak option but at the end it was a good decision to go with the boat cruise as the Fiord is very long and we wouldn’t have covered a long distance kayaking. Also, the Kayak trip was very expensive (175$-200$ each!) compare to 45$ each for the cruise.

The narrow and winding road took us through the tall forest and mountains through the Homer tunnel which was hewed from solid granite. this tunnel took apparently 20years to build and measures 1270m.  There was patches of snow all over around the tunnel entrance. We embarked on the Jucy boat cruise tour at 9am. The sky was unfortunately quite cloudy. However, it was not raining. With a mean annual rainfall of 6,412 mm (252 in) each year and being considered as one of the wettest place on earth, I guess we were already lucky! The ~2 hours cruise was relax and enjoyable. The scenery was frankly stunning with so many waterfalls around. The most impressive one was the Stirling Falls from its 155m height.

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After the cruise we stopped on the way back to Te Anau at the Chasm for a 20min short walk. We reached Te Anau mid afternoon and after eating lunch and looking at our options at Te Anau visitor center, it looked like it was too ambitious the do the full Kepler Track to Luxmore Hut within the day and drive all the way back to Queenstown. So we decided to only do the first section of the Kepler track from the car park to Brad bay campsite. The walk around Te Anau lake was very easy and enjoyable and we felt sad we couldn’t continue all the way up to Luxmore hut as the track looked like phenomenal. However, staying longer here would have mean staying less at Mount Cook and this was a non negotiable. After the walk, we stopped in Te Anau at a free wifi spot to first check out where we could stay around Queenstown for the night and also for looking at our emails. I had the strange feeling there would be some development in our immigration saga in Australia. There was indeed an email awaiting to be open from the department of immigration and as the internet connection was breaking all the time, so my patience was!  Finally, some 20 min later, I could read the full email and attached document and best news ever, we were finally granted Australian Permanent Residency, nearly 2 years after first embarking in the long and painful bureaucratic journey. No one will understand what this meant for us unless they have been through the process themselves.

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We then continued our way closer to our next destination Mt Cook instead of staying without a real purpose for another night in Queenstown, other than a quick shower! As the evening approached, we stopped in the town of Cromwell for the night and parked the car in a parking lot for the night. To celebrate the previous good news with style, we had a quick dinner and a bottle of wine in the old part of the town which was surprisingly very nice.

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Technically, it is not allowed to camp in a public car park unless you have a self contained vehicle (toilets, etc) and that there is no restriction of freedom camping in the area. So, we had a quick breakfast and left as soon as possible in the morning 🙂

By the way, in doubt, always check the New-Zealand department of conservation website. Otherwise, there are also very useful “Apps” to install, like “CamperMate”, that can guide you in the planning of your trip.

The drive to Mount Cook through Lindis Pass took out once more through beautiful and varied landscapes. From dry valley and wine producing region, to lakes and mountains. Most precious view was definitely along the blue lake Pukaki with Mount Cook in the background. We had to stop several times to take extraordinary pictures.

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Arrived at Mount Cook, or Aoraki in Maori, impressive visitor center, we took a look at the different walks for the day and the weather forecast. It was starting to drizzle lightly and it wasn’t looking too good for the reminder of the day. We reached White Horse Hill camp ground at the near base of Mount Cook and make lunch. The camp site was really good and the view of the snow covered mountains and the Hooker valley was simply gorgeous. We then started one of the short track I was really keen to do, the Hooker Valley track.  This scenic walk started directly at the camp site and led deep into the foothills of the Southern Alps through a series of swing bridges and offered excellent mountain, glacier and river views. The walk was very nice but weather quickly turned nasty with wind guts of around 60km an hour and horizontal rain! Gabby put on her rain pants but I didn’t had any. I was completed wet in a matter of minutes. It was also cold outside and very humid, with the heavy wind, we were miserable but as we were about mid way to the end of the 2h track, we decided to continue on. We reach the nice glacier lake at the end of the track and quickly turned away to head back to safe ground. We crossed the last swing bride that was literally swinging in every direction because of the wind. The wind was so strong, it was difficult to stay straight and not pushed away on the ground.

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We finally reached the camp site and we went straight inside the shelter to relax and dry out. Mission impossible, it was so humid and cold outside, we had to take everything humid off and put multiple layers on! We made dinner in the shelter and then spent the rest of the evening in the camper van and watched a movie. With everything all over the place inside, including damp clothes hanging around and a camping chair in the camping van, it felt like a strange bogan house. Anyway, good thing we had a DVD player so we could watch a movie until it got dark!  The walking tracks in the area were probably the best in New-Zealand so our hopes were high that the following day weather will be more merciful!

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Sunday 6th of December – Mount Cook & Lake Tekapo

Our prayers have been answered, we woke up with few thick clouds in the mountains but with the sun shining. This was great. Before having breakfast and to test the water before embarking on a longer hike for the day, we started off with the Kea Point short walking track. This was less than an hour return, and it testing positive for what was upcoming.

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Back and the camp site, we cooked a good breakfast to ensure we have enough energy for few hours and then prepared for the Sealy Tarns Track a step 3-4 hours return. The track was promising breath taking view of Mount Cook, the valley and Mueller Glacier. It wasn’t long before we had to take few layers off as we climbed up the infinite steps up the mountain. The sun was slowly pushing away the hanging clouds and the view of the snow covered mountains was opening up to our great pleasure.

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We reached the end of the Sealy track in about 1h30min with several picture stops along the way, remember that even if the pictures are incredible, it can never fully translate the 360 degre beauty of the place. There was a small alpine lake at the top that offer when there is no wind, a perfect mirror view of the Mount Sefton and the Mueller Glacier. There was only a small breeze but I think the picture is really good.

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We heard other visitor continuing our way up in the snow to Mueller hut. Considering the the day was still young and that the weather was getting close to perfect, we decided to continue on. The Mueller hut was another hour an half  to two hour away. The track got a bit more step and without man made steps. Few patches of snow started to appear until we had to hike through a big and step one. Gabby was afraid of the way down as it was slippery, but we carried on each foot step allowing us to capture another moment of this incredible place.

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Once we hiked our way up near to the top, we had to go around to the other side of the mountain where the track and stone we’re now completely covered up with snow. The hut came in our view some 20min after this. The view was truly spectacular. We walked up to the Mueller hut (1800m) and stayed there for a short break to eat and drink. Enough to replenish our body of its depleted energy. We couldn’t stay there very long as there was still a lot to do for the day! The descent was actually easier than anticipated but as stunning. We crossed path with few other people that were staying at the hut for the night.

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Back to the car some 6 hours later, very happy with the hike and the luck we had with he perfect weather, we took a short rest, ate and changed. We then drove to the nearby Tasman glacier to check out the place. We also did one other short 30min to check out the blue lake and the glacier. At that point, we were satisfy and happy to not walk anymore!

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A bit bit late on our schedule, we then drove toward Lake Tekapo to relax in the anticipated Hot Springs! The road took us once more around the stunning blue Lake Pukaki with the view of Mount Cook in the background. We followed the instruction of the GPS to finally reached a closed road on the way to Lake Tekapo :-/ There worst place then New-Zealand for having to turn back, but we were getting close to 6pm and still wanted to relax in the hot pools! We finally reached the hot springs around 7:00pm, but against thanks to long days, the pools were only closing at 9pm. We stayed for a little more than one hour and really enjoyed relaxing with the fantastic view offered to us. This was good, however we had to keep going to reach the camp site near Geraldine for night, still located more than an hour away. There were few other things planned initially that we had to skip (Lake Alexandrina, Mt John Summit and the observatory – legs can’t do more hiking anyway).

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It was getting quite dark outside and there was no indication anywhere for the camp site  (Pioneer Camp site) we were looking for. We turned around twice, drove some 40km extra but could never find it. Maps or GPS leading us in strange place. It was around 10:30pm, we were exhausted, hungry and finally gave up. There was no camp site around to be found so we decided once more to chose to camp in a car park in one small town named Fairlie. We had cereals for dinner and slept almost straight after.

Monday 7th of December – Christchurch

It was the last full day in New-Zealand and we had to return the campervan in Christchurch before 5pm. I was initially planning to spend some time in Akaroa and perhaps spend some time in Christchurch in the evening but Fairlie was still a fair distance from where I was intending to spend the night originally, so we preferred to take a bit more time to explore Christchurch then rush to try to fit in two destinations that are an hour an half away from each other.

We got to Christchurch in the morning and decided to try to check Lyttelton first to check out the area and the sea side. We walked a bit around and stop by the visitor center, but the person in place told us there was not much going on since the big earthquake that shocked the area in 2011. There was one hike to do around but we didn’t want to hike anymore. We had instead a coffee in town, check out the port and and went back to Christchurch.

New Zealand is accustomed to earthquakes, but few have been as destructive as the 6.3-magnitude tremor that hit Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city, in 2011. The central business district was devastated and nearly 200 people across the city died. Even four year after the catastrophe happened, part of the city still looks like a war zone. Fences that stretch for blocks enclose vacant lots piled high with rubble. Deserted buildings await demolition, some with gaping holes where windows should be, some without walls almost all of them with several graffiti on them.

Slowly, it seems life is returning to Christchurch, in part thanks to creative endeavors of its resident. Scenes of desolation have seeded place to artsy graffiti, painting and other original creations. On one block, an impromptu installation called the Sound Garden had been set up, with chimes fashioned from hollowed-out fire extinguishers and a rain stick made from a pipe filled with wooden beads and rubber balls. Across the street is something called a Dance-O-Mat — an open-air dance floor with speakers and a disco ball where passers-by are invited to drop a coin into a washing machine, plug in their smartphones and get down in front of construction workers for a half-hour.

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We completed our tour of the city, visited the Botanical Garden and drove to our bed and breakfast for the night located near the Spaceships drop off location and the airport. Our host at the bed and breakfast (Maples on Harewood) was extremely friendly and offered to drive us to the airport at 5am the next morning.

This mark the end of a much rewarding trip to New-Zealand! Please see below a recap of the itinerary

Summary

  • If you enjoy the outdoor, you will fall in love with New-Zealand, not a single doubt!
  • Everywhere you go and everything you see in the South Island of New Zealand is spectacular!!!
  • We drove a total of 2353km!
  • We took over 1300 photos and videos
  • We did over 30 hours of hiking / walking
  • We were bitten by around 100 sand flies!
  • We spend a total of around 5,000$, with most of the cost being transport related (flight, camper van, petrol, taxi,) and activities (heli hike trip, rafting, luge, cruise)

Favorites:

  • Area: Mount Cook, simply mind blowing
  • Hike/walk: Mueller Hut in Mount Cook National Park.
  • Town/city: Queenstown
  • Beer: Mac’s Porter
  • Activity: Heli Hike trip on Fox Glacier
  • Sunset: Gillespies Beach.
  • Campsites: Boundary Creek Campsite (DOC) along Lake Wanaka and White Horse Hill Campsite (DOC).

Not so much our favorite!

  • Sandflies : They are everywhere and their goal is to bite and annoy the shit out of you.
  • Petrol is not cheap (~2$/l)…
  • So are most activities, good news is that if you love outdoor, most of this is free.
  • No Uber, Taxi is super expensive.

Tips:

  • Campervan is the way to go. Spaceships Beta S2 was perfect for our need.
  • Driving around New-Zealand with this stunning scenery can be distracting, be careful!
  • CamperMate, Android Apps was very useful.
  • Fill up for petrol in major town or cities.
  • Visit New Zealand in early December before the peak season or after.
  • Be well equip for all sort of weather. It can be very wet and cold or sunny and warm!

Pascal & Gabriela

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