New Treasures in the South Island NZ
A mutual friend and I connected recently about a trip to the South Island of New Zealand together. Caroline lives in Montana however is originally from NZ so she was coming back for a visit and a potentially roadie. I jumped at the chance to see more unexplored places in the South.
We rented a van from Mad Campers for our two week trip. A van is so ideal in this country especially when you don’t know where you will be. There are campgrounds with space at most places and much more affordable than hotels (and more available). The Mad Camper van was also small enough to feel safe on the narrow NZ roads but spacious enough to fit all of our gear, fridge, sink and stove.
We set out from Christchurch our first day and headed to Mt Cook to hopefully do a hike I have always wanted to do up to Sefton Glacier. We stayed at a farm house the night before, Caroline’s aunties place. Lucky for us we had a nice day of weather and decided not to waste it so we walked the hooker valley track. It is an original and popular hike but so beautiful.
Unfortunately weather was turning and we decided to stay at another one of Caroline’s aunties places in Twizel. It was forecasted to be torrential rain for the next two days so we cozied up in Twizel with a big espresso machine in the kitchen to keep us happy. We wanted to stay in Mt. Cook to get this intended hike in.
After three days the weather finally cleared, but it’s the most rain that the area has seen in 50 years causing massive flooding on the west coast and sad for us the track we wanted to walk was washed out. We had to make a new game plan. We decided to do the popular Muller Hut hike, it is a stunning hike but very busy which is why we initially decided against it. The weather seemed to have scared off most the tourists however and we made our way up in the strongest winds I have ever hiked in. Many times I had to sit on the ground to prevent being pushed to the ground!
It was well worth it as the weather cleared up for the evening and the sunset was stellar. We decided to camp out under the stars and enjoyed the company of the lively people in the hut well into the night.
Morning brought incredible conditions as a blanket of cloud filled the valley. We took our time hiking around and headed back down the millions of stairs back to our van. Satisfied with a nice night out camping.
Our next destination was Wanaka. We didn’t really know what to do next but we had a few ideas to explore. We both really wanted to go into the Siberia Valley with Southern Alps Air but we were unsure about the weather. We decided to stop in at the airport anyway and see if they had availability. We were in luck! They were flying out in the morning and we put ourselves on it. You can do a through circuit in this valley however it is a three to four day walking circuit and we didn’t have that kind of time or weather so we were glad to get the plane in and out.
We landed in less than ideal weather but happy to go out walking again regardless. We checked in at the hut and lightened our packs for a little day hike to a lake near to us (about a 6 hour walk). It wasn’t too bad, but the river crossings made it a bit more difficult having to take my shoes off and try not to fall over in the current. The sand flies also were a good persuader to keep moving. It started to rain hard just as we got to the hard part, the climb. I honestly didn’t feel like going. I was thinking, it’s going to be 2 hours of strenuous steep uphill climbing and the clouds are so thick we won’t even see the lake. We had already made it an hour in and there was really nothing better to do in the rain so we pushed on. Lucky we did because it was the most dramatic beautiful lake I have seen in a long time. I think after all the hiking and traveling it takes more and more to awe me so it was refreshing to get excited about a scene again. The moody clouds drifted about and time stopped for a moment.
We made our way back to the hut in time for dinner and made friends with some of the ladies along with us. The plane was due to pick us up in the morning and so we were excited to fit in this little trip.
As the morning came we got the message that our flight was not coming due to weather. Guts for us. We also learned that the other way out, the jet boats, was full for the day and they didn’t have room for us. Our day was to turn to adventure fast. The DOC ranger recommended we go anyway and wait for the boats in hope they have room for us. So we made our way to the jetty, a two hour walk, to hope for a couple spare seats back to reality. There were fourteen of us waiting for the noon boat and it wasn’t until 1pm we started to really wonder what happened to it. Suddenly we heard a helicopter overhead and watched as he landed before us. The pilot came out to explain that with the heavy rains the river was blocked for the boat so the heli would take them. They told us they only had 6 seats in the heli, two rides for the people registered for the boats. We were out of luck, no seats. The pilot told us he could come back for us for $500, and we contemplated the expense to get out of there. When he came back for the next load of people we were about to say yes when he told us there was a boat coming later in the day downstream to try to unblock the portion they couldn’t cross. He asked us if we wanted to wait for that and so we agreed, saving our money. We walked a far way down the river hoping we were far enough for the boat to come up and waited all day. Finally we heard the boat and made sure were were in clear sight. The driver jokingly pretended to not see us and I nearly lost it but fun and games aside he rescued us and we enjoyed a really fun ride back to the car at a much lower price.
Happy to be back in cell service we decided to stay in a holiday park for the night and then head to Milford sound the next day.
We drove to Te Anau to stay another night because we wanted the weather to line up for a pretty deadly hike in Fiordland. The conditions have to be right to climb the granite slabs at the end of this hike and it can’t be wet or icy. We lucked it to have such a glorious weather window and drove to the trailhead. Crazy beautiful scenes on the way into Milford caused us to stop a lot!
As we got to our spot we realized that it may not be the perfect day. The rain from the night before was snow on the saddle that deemed so dangerous and so we made the call to do something else, quite disappointingly I might add. We went to the Sound to see if we could stay the night but quickly changed our minds. The weather was so beautiful we chose another shorter hike to go and camp at. Lake Marian is a popular day hike so we went up there hoping to find something interesting. It is a very pretty lake but sadly the crazy rains have made the lake so full there that there was barley a view from shore. It went from trees to lake and the grassy area was under water. It was still a pretty hike, and we went back to Te Anau for the evening.
We stayed in an AirB&B in Queenstown for the last non-camping night, thinking we’d need a refresh from camping before we headed to our final camping trip.
Our last hike was the Routeburn and a night at Lake Mackenzie. It was a bit grueling to do in a day, 23km one way with all of the stops for photos, but we made it! The weather was alright but unfortunately we didn’t get the greatest conditions at Lake Mackenzie. The conditions on the way out were exceptional and we dragged our tired sorry feet back to the car and called it a great trip. We rewarded ourselves to some amazing veggie burgers in Glenorchy and then I headed out of Queenstown back home to Auckland.