Monday, May 18, 2009, 10:55 PM - New ZealandIt was time to visit South Island in New Zealand and besides, I simply just could not resist the outrageously low prices of plane tickets right now.
We decided to travel by a car which would give us more flexibility. Truth be told, the campervan is the best way to get around in this country, however arriving here in autumn, we knew there would be plenty of readily affordable accommodation. We left our options open in regards to our itinerary since we only had a week spare. Once landed in Christchurch we picked up the rental car, making our way to the backpackers lodge. The first place we stayed was a bit below average but at least we had a private room and a warm bed for the night.
That very first night we headed out to the Cathedral Square and came upon a travel agency open late at night. In addition to getting some ideas for our itinerary we secured a booking on the Milford Wonderer, a ship cruise that would provide one night's accommodation, dinner, breakfast, sunset and sunrise forays into the fiord's entrance, nature guides and canoeing. All that for the attractive price of $147 NZ per person.
The following day we jumped into our little red rental Toyota, heading toward Mount Cook, with Queenstown as the final destination for the day. The main attraction along the way had to be Lake Tekapo, with it's crystal clear water, serene surrounds and beautiful views. The drive along Lake Pukaki toward the base of Mount Cook was also quite spectacular, even if without the same sense of magic and serenity that we experienced around Lake Tekapo. By this time, we were going quite shutter crazy, finally arriving in Queenstown at 10pm. Bit weary from the drive, we opted for an inexpensive motel instead of hunting for a backpackers.
The next morning we got up at 4.30am, with 5am as our target departure time to Milford Sound. The idea was to beat the tour buses that we heard greatly frequented the following stretch of road and catching some of the soft early morning light in the process. So via Te Anau to Milford Sound we drove, enjoying the vistas along this magnificent stretch of road, with countless stops along the way. Once we've exhausted ourselves photographically at Milford Sound, we boarded the ship that was going to be our home for the night. The cruise along the fiord was simply spectacular, with the sunset and sunrise jaunts to the ocean easily as the highlight. On our return to dry land, driving for five hours, we returned to Queenstown for the night, taking more photos along the way. We got there just in time for a sunset at the top off Coronet Peak which overlooks Queenstown and is a well known ski resort in the area.
The next day we headed to the South Island's West Coast via the scenic road to Wanaka. A great little town and an attractive alternative to the larger and more commercial Queenstown. In fact we liked Wanaka so much that we just had to stop for a coffee before moving on. The next part of our trip took us on the stretch of road between Wanaka and Haast. We found this scenic route simply breathtaking, making our drive longer, due to the constant photo stops. Nevertheless, two hitchhikers and a few hundred kilometers later, we finally made our way to the small tourist town of Fox Glacier, finding a wonderful little tourist park which suited our budget.
When the next morning arrived and thanks to a slight stomach bug of my Canadian companion, we canceled the guided glacier tour, opting instead to drive and walk there un-aided. This worked out much better as despite the cold chill and building showers, I managed to walk right up to and along the glacier, enjoying it's icy crystal majesty. The most significant feature of this part of the country is how the glaciers are sandwiched between mountains on one side and the rich, lush rainforest's on the other, making for stark contrast in the landscape.
Taking all this in, we drove onward, heading to Hokitika where we considered spending the night. However as this town didn't really inspire a warm and fuzzy feeling, we kept on driving, hoping for a town with more appeal. As we were heading back in the general direction of Christchurch, our drive inadvertently took us through Arthur's Pass, an area rich in history and hikers paradise. Besides being a man made mountain pass, along some very steep roads that made our little red Toyota grunt in agony, Arthur's Pass was also a place that we immediately fell in love with.
Calling into the local backpacker's we got a room in a quaint little cottage. Located in the vicinity of a local Kiwi bird population that one could hear at night and surrounded by both imposing and beautiful mountain peaks, it was a wonderful way to spend our last night in New Zealand, enjoying great conversations next to a cozy fireplace. The following day, having immensely enjoyed our stay, we decided that beside doing the Milford Track and staying overnight at Wanaka, this was definitely going to be a place that we would like to revisit.
We then drove onto Christchurch, returned our car, checked into the airport and proceeded to map out our next trip to New Zealand, while waiting for our plane home. All in all it was an outstanding, 2000km+ holiday with magical vistas, great people and mostly great weather which Wendy and I would both highly recommend....
The following are some of my selected images from this trip:
New Zealand - ( see more )