After Milford Track? Seeking NZ South Island Advice

Old Jan 2nd, 2019, 06:10 AM
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4quartets -

Thank you for reporting back! It does sound like you were incredibly lucky with the weather. I'm glad to hear you had such a wonderful trip.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2019, 02:47 PM
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Thanks for reporting back. What a fantastic trip! I can't remember. Did you do the Milford Track independently?

What a nice sight to wake up to in Doubtful Sound and lucky as dolphins are harder to spot there than in Milford Sound. The overnight trips are a unique experience.

Yup, that's Queenstown, expensive, busy and commercial, but with some good things on offer, too. I think you seized on two of the best choices, the gardens and Glenorchy.

And your timing was spot-on with the Russell lupins! You had luck all around.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2019, 01:36 AM
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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.
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Old Jan 4th, 2019, 12:18 AM
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We walked the Milford Track independently.

Based on what we have read and your comments, it indeed appears that we got lucky with the weather. A local we met in Christchurch mentioned that this spring was particularly wet, but we didn't experience it when we were there in mid-December.

The dolphins were a wonderful surprise. We saw them in the bay where we were moored for the night. As the boat began to move, they were spotted again surfing the bow waves of the boat, and we had a great look at them for about 5 minutes.

Finally, are the scenery and travel experiences in the North Island very different? We are still very interested in getting to the Abel Tasman area of the South Island someday and perhaps continuing north from there and wonder how different the scenery and travel experiences are compared to Fjordland.
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Old Jan 4th, 2019, 06:02 AM
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4quartets -

IME the North and South Island are quite different. We've been visiting the SI since 1996, yet have only been to the NI twice, as it just doesn't appeal to us the way the SI does.

That's not to say it doesn't have a lot to offer, but it's more populated, more developed, there's more traffic and it just lacks the gobsmacking scenery of the SI - that's strictly my opinion, others will undoubtedly disagree. When I think of the NI I think of logging trucks and clear cutting (although the SI isn't far behind unfortunately). I guess the only way to find out for yourself is to go!

As far as the Abel Tasman area goes - this part of the SI is more populated than Fiordland and much dryer. It's a wine and fruit growing area - think estuaries, wide sandy beaches, azure blue water, etc.

Here's a couple of photos I took in the area this past May:

Last edited by Melnq8; Jan 4th, 2019 at 06:04 AM.
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Old Jan 5th, 2019, 11:45 AM
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There are some cool spots on the NI, some of the far north beaches are stunning eg around Cable Beach, Matai Bay, the wild west coast (eg Bethell's Beach and Muriwai) which has far fewer sand flies than Fiordland, the Kauri forests (and the Ngawha Springs hot pools), wine country such as Martinborough, Kapiti Island (another location for guided kiwi-spotting if you stay the night).

If you play golf there are some famous courses on the NI that are open to the public, such as Alister McKenzie's fabulous Titirangi, and Paraparaumu Beach GC. The course in Rotorua is also a hoot, I recall hitting a fabulous shot under some trees, over a steam vent and onto the green..the locals must have thought I knew what I was doing...

Kerikeri and Pahia are also interesting for history as is Napier (Art Deco city) and Wellington isn't bad either.
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Old Jan 11th, 2019, 06:31 PM
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Thanks for the beautiful pics and your thoughts about both islands. If we come back to do the North Island, it will be very tempting to carve out a chunk of time to return to Fiordland and Mt. Cook. I want to do another multi-day hike.

Thanks for your thoughts also. Your description of the beaches sounds appealing. I had read that there is a place on the North Island to see kiwi in the wild. That would be something to look forward to since we didn't make it to Stewart Island this time.
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Old Jan 12th, 2019, 05:26 AM
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4quartets, thanks for answering my question. You're way tougher than I am. There's no way I could lug a backpack over mountains and slippery surfaces, or sleep in a hut with (potentially) multiple snorers.

I haven't been to all of the mountainous regions you've been to, but I think one thing that makes Aoraki Mt. Cook so special is that you're in a valley surrounded by 19 peaks that rise more than 3000 metres (or 10,000 feet) around you. It's like sitting in a bowl whose sides are composed of high glaciated mountains.

You got really lucky with the weather. Yes, we had heavy rain in the south of the South Island at the end of November and early December, and we're still feeling the effects. This summer will be a bad one for allergy sufferers as, according to experts, "pollen production was likely to be greater and last longer this summer because of the higher than usual rainfall in spring." The birds suffered, too. Here in Dunedin, at Orokonui Ecosanctuary, two rare takahe chicks drowned in November's heavy rains, and there are only about 350 takahes in NZ. Little Blue Penguins chicks at large colonies in Dunedin and Oamaru are starving and must be hand-fed because the adult penguins have not been returning to feed them, as they're having trouble finding enough food in the still-murky ocean waters off the Otago coast.

On the North Island, there were heavy rains in the Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty days before Christmas. Several flooded campsites in the Coromandel were evacuated.

I don't know either of the islands very well, but I'm sure you'd enjoy the North Island, whose landscapes probably vary as much as those of the South Island. There are similarities, both island have mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, rainforests, beaches, sand dunes, wetlands, beautiful bays, offshore islands, vineyards, and many other commonalities. Arguably, the most distinctive, and perhaps defining, feature of the South Island is the Southern Alps. And there is nothing like Fiordland NP, which, because its terrain and wet weather, remains the most remote and pristine part of New Zealand. Off the top of my head, I'd say the the North Island stands apart for its volcanic landscape and subtropical far north. While there are thousands of glaciers on the Southern Alps, there are only 18 small ones on the North Island's Mt. Ruapehu.

The North Island is generally warmer, with the exception of the mountainous regions of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. home to the active volcanoes of Mt. Tongariro (1,967 metres), Mt. Ngauruhoe (2,291 metres) and Mt. Ruapehu (2,797 metres); and the scenic Desert Road section of State Highway 1, the NI's highest main road. In winter and sometimes in spring and autumn, snow can fall on these areas.

Volcanic landscapes are more common on the North Island. Mt. Taranaki (2,518 metres), a quiescent symmetrical cone volcano somewhat reminiscent of Mt. Fuji, is on the West Coast near New Plymouth. White Island, an active marine volcano off Whakatane on the East Coast in the Bay of Plenty, is also part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. Auckland sits on a currently dormant volcanic field of 53 volcanoes, the youngest being Rangitoto Island in Hauraki Gulf, which erupted a mere 600 years ago. Parts of Northland, Coromandel, Waikato, and Little Barrier Island are also volcanic. On the South Island, only Lyttelton/the Banks Peninsula/Akaroa, Timaru, Oamaru and Dunedin are volcanic. All of the South Island volcanoes are extinct.

The North Island also has a larger Maori population. This is most evident in Rotorua, Northland and on its East Coast.

How many weeks would you have for your next NZ trip? Would you be thinking of flying from Nelson to Wellington, or driving from Abel Tasman to Picton and then taking the ferry to Wellington. If the latter, and if you'll have enough time to spare, you might consider spending a couple of nights in Picton.

mlgb mentioned many of the North Island's top attractions.

The "hip and cool' capital, Wellington, is a beautiful, compact city. You can easy walk or catch public transportation to its various attractions, such as Te Papa National Museum, the Botanic Garden, the Wellington Cable Car, Zealandia Ecosanctuary, and more. The Martinborough wine region is a little more than an hour away. Even though it's close to the capital, it's never seemed very busy to me The wine is terrific, with Pinot Noir being the star. The drive from Martinborough to Cape Palliser Lighthouse is also scenic.

You'd probably enjoy the Central North Island volcanoes: As you're hikers, Tongariro Alpine Crossing might be of interest. I've not walked it, but many other posters on this board have. I've only visited this region once, when it was covered in snow--not a great time for walking.
This You Tube does a great job of describing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing:

Three of NZ's Great Walks are on the North Island (though one of the three is paddling journey).

I agree with mlgb, you'd probably enjoy the subtropical Bay of Islands/Northland, with its beautiful coastal scenery and historic landmarks, such as the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and Old Russell/Okiato, which briefly served as NZ's first capital. Close to the Bay of Islands, you'll find Waipoua Forest, home to NZ's giant kauri trees. It's touristy but the trees. like the giant redwoods of Northern California. are worth seeing.To get to Waipoua Forest from the Bay of Islands, you'd drive along pretty and quiet Hokianga Harbor. North of the Bay of Islands, Doubtless Bay with its beaches and the small fishing village of Mangonui, is also lovely. Many visitors to the Bay of Islands take tours of 90-mile beach and Cape Reinga, the top of the North Island.

There is a lot of beauty in Auckland. mlgb mentioned Bethells Beach. one of several black sand beaches along Auckland's West Coast. Other well-known beaches along this coast include Piha, known for it surf and beach rescues (due to rip tides), Karekare Beach, where Jane Campion's The Piano was filmed, and Muriwai. home to a gannet colony. The Waitakere Ranges are also on the West Coast, but it might be of limited access due to kauri dieback disease. There are also some good wineries around the Kumeu area.
View from our accommodation above Bethell's Beach:

Auckland's Hauraki Gulf is home to islands worth visiting. You might enjoy spending a couple of nights on Tiritiri Matangi Island, a predator-free ecosanctuary with amazing birdlife. Day trippers can visit the island on daily ferries between 26 December - 20 January. The rest of the year, ferries only sail on Wednesday through Sunday and on public holidays. There is only one place to stay on the island, a bunkhouse with three rooms for public use. Each room has 4 to 6 bunk beds. So apart from rangers and a few volunteers, only 15 members of the general public can stay on the island any given night. The bunkhouse is comfortable. Its kitchen has two fridges, a freezer, two gas stoves and ovens, and a microwave.

Or you might be interested in Hauraki Gulf's Waiheke Island, with its gorgeous wineries and pretty beaches; or volcanic Rangitoto Island, a pest-free uninhabited island that's home to NZ's largest pohutakawa forest and connected by a causeway to pest-free Motutapu Island. Hauraki Gulf Islands I've not yet visited but are worth mentioning are Great Barrier Island, which is an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, Kawau Island, and Rotoroa Island.
A lot of day-trippers head to Waiheke Island in high season, but this was size of the crowd at Waiheke's Onetangi Beach:

Above Onetangi Beach:

Many years ago, my husband I enjoyed a drive from Whakatane to Opotiki, around the East Cape to Gisborne, then to the Mahia Peninsula to Napier/Hawkes. This route is part of Pacific Coast Highway. This North Island touring map lists other North Island "themed" highways:

Yes, there are places where you might see kiwis in the wild on the North Island. Aroha Island near Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands comes to mind. Habitat Tours in Auckland offers kiwi spotting trips in Auckland's Tawharanui Regional Park. You might also see wild kiwis on Kapiti Island or Tiritiri Matangi Island. Wellington's Zealandia Ecosanctuary offers night tours during which kiwis are sometimes spotted. You'll find a long list of places on this link:

Last edited by Diamantina; Jan 12th, 2019 at 06:05 AM.
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