After Milford Track? Seeking NZ South Island Advice

Old Aug 27th, 2018, 05:45 PM
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After Milford Track? Seeking NZ South Island Advice

Hello all,

We are going to the South Island of New Zealand to do the Milford Track in mid-December. We have about 12 days total, including the trekking days on Milford, and are trying to piece together an itinerary. We have been to the South Island once before during late autumn. That trip, we started in Queenstown, went to Te Anau for a day visit to Milford Sound, to Wanaka, then up the west coast to see the glaciers, then Greymouth, and cut across to Arthurs Pass to Christchurch.

This time, we are flying into Queenstown, then 4 days on the Milford Track. We are undecided about what to do with the remaining days. Option 1 would be to go to the northern tip of the South Island. Option 2 is to remain in the southern area spend all of that time in the southern area. Option 1 sounds attractive to us as it is an area we have not seen, but we are concerned about the long drive up for such a short time, and we are not particularly interested in seeing the sights on the west coast—glaciers, etc.—to get there. But kayaking (and potential encounters with wildlife), taking day walks along the coast, drinking good wine, and eating fresh seafood appeal to us.

So here is itinerary No. 1:

Day 1: Fly into Queenstown
Day 2: Begin Milford Track
Day 3: Milford Track
Day 4: Milford Track
Day 5: Finish Milford Track, sleep in Manapouri
Day 6: Doubtful Sound kayak day trip, then to Wanaka
Day 7: Greymouth (or somewhere between Wanaka and Abel Tasman)
Day 8: Abel Tasman area for day hikes / kayaking
Day 9: Abel Tasman area for day hikes / kayaking
Day 10: Blenheim area
Day 11: Blenheim area
Day 12: Kaikoura
Day 13: Christchurch to SYD

The other itinerary we are considering is spending all of the time on the southern portion of the South Island. During our prior trip, we really liked Wanaka and the Milford Sound area. Seeing kiwi birds in the wild on Stewart Island sounds appealing, as does hiking around Mt. Cook. Finally, we are going during the busy Christmas season, and are finding that many places are already booked out, particularly in Glenorchy and the Mt. Cook village.

Here is itinerary No. 2:

Day 1: Fly into Queenstown
Day 2: Begin Milford Track
Day 3: Milford Track
Day 4: Milford Track
Day 5: Finish Milford Track, sleep in Manapouri
Day 6: Doubtful Sound kayak day trip, then to Invercargill
Day 7: Stewart island for wild kiwi birds
Day 8: Stewart island
Day 9: QT / Glenorchy
Day 10: Wanaka
Day 11: Mt. Cook area for day hikes
Day 12: Mt. Cook area for day hikes
Day 13: Christchurch to SYD

If the addition of Stewart Island makes this too rushed, we can omit and take a slower pace up to Christchurch. We did not go on Hwy 8 through Tekapo / Mt. Cook village last time, so that will be new, but QT and the Wanaka area will be repeats.

Is the scenery in the northern part of the South Island very different from what we would see in the south? Would value your thoughts, particularly areas or routes we have not considered. Thanks in advance!
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Old Aug 28th, 2018, 12:02 AM
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Go for Itinerary 2. Having a good look around Fiordland and Southland while you are there is the best idea.
The other one is an awful lot of driving around on our narrow winding roads - Wanaka to Greymouth is a 6 hour trip 450km, Greymouth to Kaiteriteri is 4 hours drive and 300 km. It seems a lot to squeeze into 2 weeks. Google maps underestimates the driving times here so add a generous bit to them.
We really enjoyed Invercargill (having never been there until this June) - it had charming Victorian architecture, great food and Bill Richardson's Transport World is truly amazing. It was DH's dream to go there and the amount of cars and trucks is incredible. It's a world class museum. If you like motorbikes there is also a smaller motorbike museum. DH is a steak man and raved about the food in Southland -something to do with the grass the cows eat or something. I like fish so had some delicious blue cod.
"Is the scenery in the northern part of the South Island very different from what we would see in the south?"
Yes. Abel Tasman is a lovely national park with no roads, golden beaches and lovely green bush but unless you fly Queenstown to Nelson it's a long long drive. I'd pick going to Stewart Island as that is some place most Kiwi's don't get to despite living here!
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Old Aug 28th, 2018, 12:07 AM
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Forgot to mention Mt Cook -some great walks and scenery there. Option 2 again!
Maybe leave out Glenorchy on Day 9 as you back track to get on the road to Wanaka the next day. The road along the lake from Kingston to Queenstown is just lovely.
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Old Aug 30th, 2018, 03:55 PM
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Tasmangirl, thanks for your helpful reply. I think you are right about the long drive in such short time. We have decided against itinerary 1 and decided to spend time in the south.

This is our revised itinerary, staying in the south.

Day 1: Fly into Queenstown
Day 2: Begin Milford Track
Day 3: Milford Track
Day 4: Milford Track
Day 5: Finish Milford Track and take a overnight cruise on Milford (Real Journeys?)
Day 6: Milford sound to Invercargill for 5 pm flight to Stewart Island (Bay Motel)
Day 7: Stewart Island (Ulva Island & Wild kiwi spotting tour) (Bay Motel)
Day 8: Early flight back to Invercargill and drive to Queenstown (Bella Vista Queenstown)
Day 9: Queenstown (Bella Vista Queenstown)
Day 10: Wanaka (Roys Peak trail?)
Day 11: Mt. Cook (Mt. Cook Lodge & Motel)
Day 12: Mt. Cook (Mt. Cook Lodge & Motel)
Day 13: Christchurch
Day 14: Fly to Sydney

We added one more day (by taking one away from Sydney). We also cut one of the days in Fjordland by doing the overnight cruise at Milford Sound, immediately after we finish our Milford Track. We wanted to do the overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, but we cannot do that until the next day, as we cannot make it back to Manapouri in time after our track finishes. Initially we wanted to kayak on one of the sounds to have chance to see dolphins, but I understand the overnight cruise on Milford affords some time to get out onto the water on kayaks.

The part of the itinerary we are on the fence about is Stewart Island. The initial appeal was to see kiwis in the wild and experience the coast (and have fresh seafood), but the cost of flights and kiwi tour is high. We have also been recommended going on the Southern Scenic Route, through Omaru, then up to Mt. Cook. Is the coastal scenery on Oamaru comparable to that on Stewart Island? Perhaps we can substitute the east coast for Stewart Island, and its penguins for kiwis....

Thanks.
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Old Aug 30th, 2018, 06:29 PM
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The scenery in Oamaru is quite different to that of Stewart Island.The differences are vast!

Oamaru is small city with a population of almost 14,000 and it covers about 20.48 sq mi. Its center is known for its large Blue Penguin Colony and its Victorian Precinct. Notable features of the Victorian Precinct are beautifully preserved buildings made of white limestone and the Steampunk HQ. Oamaru's main commercial street is nearby, as is its Botanic Garden. The South Island's' main motorway SH1 runs right through Oamaru, so those driving from Invercargill or Dunedin to Christchurch must pass through here. Those driving from Dunedin to Aoraki Mt. Cook or Lake Tekapo also pass through here. You'll see little, if any, native forests in Oamaru. You would never think of Oamaru as remote. Don't get me wrong, I very much like Oamaru, it's charming and offers much wildlife, but it's not closely comparable to Stewart Island.
Look at these images: https://www.google.co.nz/search?q=oamaru&safe=active&rlz=1C1CHZL_enNZ749NZ7 49&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiKy4qymZbd AhXKE4gKHcfFDaEQ_AUIDCgD&biw=1043&bih=529

Stewart Island only has 400 full-time residents, but it's NZ third largest island at 650 sq mi. There is little development on Stewart Island (homes, accommodation, tourist services, a few restaurants, an airport, a ferry dock, the golf course come to mind), most of this in and around Oban. About 85% of the island is Rakiura National Park, "a remote wilderness" with "distinctive ecosystems". Ulva Island, a short boat ride from Stewart Island, is predator free and a paradise for many native South Island birds, but you can also see many birds on Stewart island itself. The night kiwi tour will take you across Paterson Inlet to Little Glory Cove. I've taken this tour. I also saw a wild kiwi during the day on Ulva Island. So it's a very special place. If you enjoy that feeling of getting away from it all, you'll find that more possible on Stewart Island than in Oamaru. Of course, there will be other tourists, but it's easy to find a place to yourself. There are penguins around Stewart Island, too!

You'll be able to kayak for about an hour on your overnight Milford Sound cruise. You might have a better chance of seeing dolphins in Milford Sound than in Doubtful Sound because it's smaller. I've done both overnight cruises, saw dolphins on Milford, can't remember if I saw them on Doubtful but I think not--would have to review my notes (if I even took notes). We did see a lot of seals.

If you decide to go to the Catlins, you might see Hector's Dolphins, which frequent Porpoise Bay, that time of year.

Last edited by Diamantina; Aug 30th, 2018 at 06:40 PM.
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Old Sep 1st, 2018, 06:28 PM
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Have you considered driving to Bluff and taking the ferry to Stewart Island instead of flying from Invercargill?

We did this years ago - the ferry only takes an about hour (we stayed at the Bay Motel too - really enjoyed it). Be prepared for some serious sandflies on Stewart Island though.

https://www.stewartislandexperience....erry-services/

And FWIW - IMO the east coast (particularly from Oamaru to Christchurch) is the least scenic stretch of road on the entire SI.

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Old Sep 2nd, 2018, 12:08 AM
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Melnq8, 4quartets' alternative plan to Stewart Island was to follow the Southern Scenic Route, then continue up to Oamaru, then turn inland to Aoraki Mt. Cook, bypassing that not-so-scenic drive from Oamaru to Christchurch. The drive from Dunedin to Oamaru is interesting, scenic and historic, as is the Waitaki Valley. The Waitaki District Council is in the process of trying to establish New Zealand's first UNESCO Global Geopark.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2018, 12:44 AM
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If you haven't been along the Southern Scenic Route (yes I like Invercargill too) to the Otago Peninsula and perhaps all the way to Oamaru and then go back via the Pig Route/Maniototo to Queenstown.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2018, 07:22 AM
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Evidently I missed something. I agree that the drive from Dunedin to Oamaru is much more scenic than the drive from Oamaru to Christchurch.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2018, 05:07 PM
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Yes, Oamaru to Christchurch along the coast on Route 1 is a snooze-fest. But at least it's over quickly.

Although not for the faint of heart, Going from Oamaru inland to Dansey's Pass and then to Naseby continuing to Rte 85 and back to Queenstown via Clyde et al is another off the beaten path route for those comfortable with driving narrow gravel mountain roads (not in winter).

https://www.dangerousroads.org/austr...w-zealand.html
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Old Sep 6th, 2018, 03:06 AM
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Thanks for all of your helpful replies!

We decided to do 2 nights on Stewart Island, so we'll be going from Te Anau to Invercargill and fly to Stewart Island. Leaving Stewart Island, we'll go to Queenstown for 2 nights, Wanaka for 1, then Mt. Cook area for 2 before flying out of Christchurch.

Diamantina, thanks for sharing your experiences of both Oamaru and Stewart Island. I'm sure Oamaru and the Catlins are great, but the birdlife and the chance to spot kiwis made the flight worth it for us. We shall see!

Melnq8, thanks for the suggestion of the ferry. While I think this would be a good option for most, we have two in our family two get extremely seasick. I understand the ferry ride can be pleasant if the weather is good, but also rough in bad weather.

mlgb, thanks for your routing advice from Oamaru. We will save it for the next time we are in the South Island when we shall do the Southern Scenic Route through the Catlins.

We have reserved most places, but it has been tough to find availability at our desired hotels this December. One question about the Mt. Cook area lodging, we were able to find a room at Mt. Cook Lodge & Motel (one night in a motel room and one night in their chalet), but we have some concerns based on some reviews we have read about the place. For those who have stayed there, would you recommend the place? Any alternatives (though most we have checked were booked)--for example could we stay further away from the Mt. Cook Village area? What are the advantages of staying in the village versus outside. We are planning to do hikes in the area and are currently budgeting 2 nights. We want to do the Hooker Valley Track. What would you suggest for the second day there, and whether a 1 night would suffice. Thanks again!

Thank you!
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Old Sep 6th, 2018, 04:13 AM
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Yes, that ferry ride can be rough!

Not familiar with the hotel you mention in Mt Cook, but lodging is definitely limited, even in low season. Just not much there. We really liked this place, which I suspect is booked:

Aoraki Court Mt Cook Village Motel Accommodation Aspen Court Motel Aoraki Mt Cook

Twizel is the next closest town, you might look there. You might also look in the vicinity of Lake Pukaki - you might luck into an AirBNB or farmstay in the vicinity.

As to whether or not one night would suffice in Mt Cook - I would recommend two nights if possible, as you have to drive to get there, may have weather issues, and two nights is only one full day. I personally find one night stays more trouble than they're worth.

Last edited by Melnq8; Sep 6th, 2018 at 04:15 AM.
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Old Sep 6th, 2018, 06:24 AM
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I would also recommend 2 nights at Mt. cook due to possible bad weather. We stayed in Twizel prior to our one night stay at the above hotel recommended by Melnq8. We met folks at our place in Twizel who recommended we do a day trip to Mt. Cook (the day before we were staying there) due to the weather report. Luckily we did that, hiked the Hooker Track, and returned to Twizel. Perfect weather.

The next day we drove to Mt. Cook, did some more hikes in overcast weather, and checked into our hotel with a mountain view that we were so looking forward to! We woke up the next morning to no view at all. Completely socked in. If we had waited until that day to hike, we would have been very disappointed.

Spending two nights there will increase your odds of good weather. There’s enough hiking to fill the time, too.
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Old Sep 6th, 2018, 07:49 AM
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When ever I've seen Mt Cook it's been early, or late. So that is an advantage of staying as close as possible. Personally, I always just suck it up and stay in the least expensive unit available in Mt Cook Village..even if that's just a dorm bed in the YHA hostel! That's another option in the park..they do have some private rooms..no views from the rooms as I recall.

I think may have stayed in the motel units before they were taken off the public market and apparently have been renovated..the views were great! There is definitely an advantage at Mt Cook in having a kitchen available as the food options are limited and not especially high in quality.

Twizel was always a last resort. There is also Lake Tekapo ...warning AVOID the Godley! which should have been called the Godley-awful!

You might also check Glentanner Lodge/Holiday Park.


Speaking of kiwi-spotting. If you return and spend some time on the North Island, Kapiti Island near Wellington via Paraparaumu is another option, wonderful place!

https://www.kapitiisland.com/tours-a...-spotting-tour

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Old Sep 8th, 2018, 03:24 AM
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4quartets, if you are planning on doing the Kiwi Spotting Tour with Bravo Adventures, have you already contacted them?

I traveled to Stewart Island for four nights, three and a half days in November 2014. When I contacted Bravo Adventure Tours about their Kiwi Spotting Tour in August 2014, they were already booked up for all of the nights I had planned to be on Stewart Island. As I live in Dunedin, I could easily change my plans to work around their still-available tours. So I changed the dates of my trip.

As I said in my earlier posting, to get to the beach where you'll search for kiwis you'll take a short cruise. I didn't write down how long it took, but I'd say it took about 45 minutes. The trip going there was calm but rough on the return. Chances are it won't be rough, but if you are prone to seasickness maybe you should take precautions (medication, ginger tea or sea bands). I use a Scopalamine patch, which I can buy over-the-counter in NZ; it can cause side effects. The cruise to get there was wonderful, along the way we saw Little Blue Penguins and dolphins in the water and spotted Yellow Eyed Penguins and a New Zealand Sea Lions on the beach of one of the small islands we passed (take binoculars). Of course, it was amazing to see a Stewart Island Tokoeka (Stewart Island Brown Kiwi) foraging for sandhoppers under beached kelp. I'd seen wild kiwis in Okarito Forest and on Ulva Island, but never imagined seeing one on a beach. It rained like crazy. In fact, it rained most of the time I was there.

On your first night on Stewart Island, you might want to go to the rugby field (Traill Park) when it gets dark as kiwis are often spotted there. Kiwis have poor vision but keen hearing, touch and olfactory senses, so you'll have to quietly wait for them to show up. Bring a torch (flashlight) for walking around in the dark, but don't point it at kiwis (if you are lucky to see any).

During the three full days I was there, ferries to Bluff were entirely cancelled one day and almost entirely cancelled on the following day. I met some stressed out travelers worried about missing their departing flights from NZ. No flights from Stewart Island to Invercargill Airport were cancelled during this same time. The small "ferry" from Golden Bay to Ulva Island was also cancelled for a day because it was too windy.

Regarding Aoraki Mt. Cook, if the only accommodation you can get is "Mt. Cook Lodge & Motel (one night in a motel room and one night in their chalet)" take it. Or check out mlgb's suggestion of Glentanner, which is a 22 minute drive from Aoraki Mt. Cook Village. I've stayed three times at Aoraki Court Motel, which Melnq8 suggested, but my guess is this would be the first place to sell out as it's popular and not that large. If you can get a room there, try and get a outer room, farthest from the office, as these have the best unobstructed views. Try contacting them directly.

I'd agree two nights is best at Aoraki Mt. Cook. As you're driving there from Wanaka, the drive will take only 2.5 hours (without stops, but, of course, you'll stop). So you could easily walk the Hooker Valley Track on the afternoon you arrive and/or the next morning. You'd have time to walk another track or two as well. I also like the Kea Point Track.

Last edited by Diamantina; Sep 8th, 2018 at 03:38 AM.
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Old Sep 12th, 2018, 03:24 AM
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Originally Posted by 4quartets View Post

Melnq8, thanks for the suggestion of the ferry. While I think this would be a good option for most, we have two in our family two get extremely seasick. I understand the ferry ride can be pleasant if the weather is good, but also rough in bad weather.
I'm also planning a NZ trip and am prone to getting seasick. I see that you've got a Milford Sound overnight cruise on your possible itinerary. I would also like to do this and have just started trying to find information about the different tour companies and also whether I need to worry about seasickness. Can you share any information that you have found? Would appreciate it!
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Old Sep 12th, 2018, 06:55 AM
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No need to worry about seasickness on Milford Sound (and believe me, I can get sick just looking at water!) the water in the sounds is like glass. It gets rough where the sounds meet the ocean, but the boats don't go that far.

From one Milford Sound operator's FAQ page:

<<The Milford Sound boat cruise actually does not go out beyond the heads into the open ocean. It stays in the confines of the fiord (Sound) the entire time so there is little to no swell. I get sea sick myself and have done the tour many times and have never felt sick at all. I hope this helps clear this up for you.>>

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Old Sep 12th, 2018, 03:31 PM
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Ditto what Melnq8 said, the Milford Sound overnight trip is a relaxing experience, no worries about seasickness. I've done the Real Journeys Milford Sound overnight trip twice and their Doubtful Sound overnight trip once. Loved it, would do it for a third time if given the chance. You'll been given about an hour to kayak or take a smaller boat tour of the sound. You might see wildlife, such as dophins, fur seals, albatrosses, and, depending on the time of year, Fiordland Crested Penguins. If the night is clear go up to the top deck to look at the stars. You'll return to the dock early enough the next morning to be able to take your time enjoying Milford Road, plenty of time for taking photos, going for walks on your return to Te Anau.

Fiordland Expeditions also offers an overnight Milford Sound trip.

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Old Sep 13th, 2018, 05:15 AM
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Thanks for the replies about the Milford Sound cruises. This is something we will definitely add to our itinerary!
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Old Jan 2nd, 2019, 12:50 AM
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We have returned from our trip and I wanted to offer a few thoughts that, I hope, may be helpful to those planning their own South Island adventure. Thanks also to those of you who generously replied and answered my questions during our planning stage.

In the end, we decided not to include Stewart Island due to the limited time we had. Here was our final itinerary:

Day 1: Fly into Queenstown
Day 2: Begin Milford Track
Day 3: Milford Track
Day 4: Milford Track
Day 5: Finish Milford Track and overnight in Te Anau
Day 6: Overnight Doubtful Sound cruise with Real Journeys
Day 7: Queenstown
Day 8: Queenstown
Day 9: Wanaka
Day 10: Mt. Cook
Day 11: Mt. Cook
Day 12: Christchurch

Compared to our last visit to the South Island (during the month of May), we much preferred the weather this time around in December. Everything was greener and the flowers were in full bloom.

Milford Track
This was magnificent and the highlight. We lucked out with hot sunny days for 3 days of the trek and got rain the final day, which produced dramatic waterfalls. The scenery along the trek was so varied and almost too beautiful to behold. During the 45 min boat ride to the start of the trek, you feel the remoteness of the place. It really has it all--dramatic alpine scenery, rain forest, pristine rivers the color of aquamarine, and lakes that invite you to linger and swim.

Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise
We were on the fence about this because one of us in the family gets terribly seasick and the price of the cruise. We had done the day cruise on Milford Sound during our prior trip to NZ. We decided to do it, hours before our trek was to begin in Te Anau. We made the right decision. The views were spectacular, the food very good, and the staff friendly. The weather cooperated for us again and we had a bright sunny day with little wind, and experienced no seasickness. A highlight was waking up to see a pod of dolphins. The experience was memorable.

Queenstown
The commercialism of the city was a shock after our experience in Fjordland. It felt particularly crowded at this time of the year, and in hindsight we should have added a day elsewhere. We did enjoy the botanical garden and the drive out to Glenorchy. The city is physically beautiful with its mountains and lakes so I can understand why it attracts so many people, but it was much too crowded for us. Also, we felt that we didn't get very good value for money where we stayed and in some of the establishments where we dined.

Wanaka
I preferred Wanaka to Queenstown. We spent our one day doing the Roys Peak Track. We underestimated the difficulty of this hike, as it was a constant ascent in full sun. It felt more difficult than the days we had on the Milford Track. The views were great along the way though.

Mt. Cook
This was another highlight. The drive over the Lindis Pass to get there was spectacular, with lupines in full bloom. During our last visit to NZ, we skipped this for the west coast. Perhaps it was the time of the year, but we preferred the scenery here compared to the west coast. We did two wonderful hikes in the park, Hooker Valley Track and Red Tarn Track, with the latter being considerably more difficult (but well worth the effort). We had two bright sunny days here too, with unobstructed views of Mt. Cook both days. The alpine scenery here is so picturesque. There are other parts of the world with beautiful, and perhaps more dramatic, mountain scenery--the Canadian Rockies, the Khumbu region of Nepal, Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia, Swiss Alps come to mind--but the mountains here somehow felt closer--at least that is how I experienced them.

We are itching to get back here someday soon to explore the North Island and other parts of the South Island that we missed (and would welcome suggestions). As much as we do not like to repeat destinations, I would repeat parts of this itinerary in a heartbeat!
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