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Trip Report Two weeks on the South Island of New Zealand

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We are just back from our first visit to New Zealand, two weeks touring parts of the South Island so I thought I would do a trip report.

I have been subscriber to Fodors for quite a few years and have submitted several trip reports but each has related to Europe; this will be my first for the Australia-New Zealand board.

We flew from Melbourne with Air New Zealand, a 3 hour flight to Christchurch. We were travelling in economy so a bit of a shock after recent business class trips but service and light meal was fine and staff very pleasant. We arrived about 3:30 pm, picked up our rental car, and headed for our first stop, Arthurs Chalet at Arthur’s Pass.

The township of Arthur’s Pass is small and the surrounding area had a rather run-down air, with lots of old industrial outbuildings along the railway line and high tension power lines running right up the centre of the valley. The mountain scenery around was nice but the surroundings tended to detract from it and overall we were a bit disappointed with our first impressions. This was always just an overnight stop and I think that a slightly longer stay, with time to do some walks into the surrounding area, would give a much more positive impression. Arthur’s Chalet was not luxury accommodation by any means but our room was comfortable, the staff were very friendly, they made good coffee, and served good pub food for dinner.

The next day we drove through Arthur’s Pass to the west coast with a brief stop at Hokitika which was a pleasant town, right on the beach, where the remains of a recent driftwood sculpture competition were still evident. I was interested by the amount of driftwood, including the remains of large trees, on the beach. I guess they are washed down by the mountain rivers when in flood and then brought back by the sea. Unfortunately, the Museum of Sock Making Machinery was not open.

Continuing south through some nice forest scenery we stopped at Franz Joseph and took the 45 minute walk up to the face of the glacier. Quite spectacular, with a winding path across the valley floor leading to good views of the glacier face and the ice cave created by melt water flowing out from the base of the ice.

We then continued south, through the rain, to Fox Glacier where we spent 2 nights at the Mt Cook View motel, just out of the township. This motel was very comfortable and well equipped.

We started the next day with a coffee at Matheson Café and then followed the track to the lake itself and did the circuit for some spectacular views and almost perfect reflections in the still water. The clouds even cleared for a while so that we caught a glimpse of Mt Cook, our only one for the trip. The rain forest vegetation along the track had some really interesting plants – including a blue mushroom – and this walk was a highlight.

In the afternoon we took a walk to the face of Fox Glacier. While the glacier itself was similar to Franz Joseph, the scenery on the approach was quite different and we enjoyed this visit as well.

Later we drove down a winding gravel road to Gillespie beach which was strewn with driftwood and also had many ‘sculptures’ made from the polished stones that form the beach. We also walked to the ruins of a gold dredge but neither the dredge nor the walk was particularly interesting.

We returned to the Matheson Café restaurant for a lovely dinner – highly recommended!

The next day we drove south through lovely rain forests to Haast, then headed east towards Wanaka.

On the way south we stopped at Ship Creek and decided to try the 20 minute forest walk. This was described as a remnant of ancient forest and it certainly had a primeval feel to it with trees growing from the swamp, draped in mosses and fungi, including some more blue mushrooms. This walk was another highlight of our trip. Interestingly, the creek got its name from the wreckage of a ship found on the beach around 1871. The wreckage was a part of the clipper Schomberg which was wrecked in 1855 near Peterborough in Victoria, Australia.

The drive through the Haast Pass and then along Lakes Wanaka and Howea was spectacular and we made many stops along the way to take in the views.
We enjoyed Wanaka. Our motel was good, with a patio looking over the lake to the mountains, and the town had a good range of shops and a lively feel.

The next morning we had coffee in town then took the Crown Range road for Queenstown. This was another spectacular drive, with really good examples of glacial landforms as we got closer to Queenstown.

We detoured to Arrowtown, an old gold mining town, in a lovely setting, and with many restored buildings.

After taking a quick look around Queenstown in the rain we checked into our motel which was close to the town centre but up a steep hill. Our room was spacious and comfortable with good views across the lake & mountains.

We then returned to the town centre for a more detailed look around and strolled around the gardens ending up in the dock area where we tried the local fish & chips (very good) and followed with a delicious ice cream from Patagonia Chocolates.

The next day we drove about 45 minutes along Lake Wakitipu to Glenorchy and did a short walk around the lagoon. A nice drive but the town barely exists and the walk was just OK. After returning to Queenstown for lunch we took another drive, this time part way up the road to the Remarkables ski area where the sky cleared for some spectacular views back across the airport to the lake, Queenstown, and the surrounding mountains.
While checking emails in town I saw news reports coming in of a severe earthquake in Christchurch. We now know what a disaster that has been but at the time we just noted that we may have to modify our itinerary which had us spending our last 2 nights in Christchurch.

From Queenstown we headed for Te Anau, stopping for our morning coffee at the high recommended Lazybones Café. Unfortunately, this was the worst coffee we had in the entire trip.

Arriving at Te Anau we were able to check in to our motel early – another comfortable motel with a pleasant outlook and a quiet location.

We then visited the tourist office to book a Milford Sound cruise for the next day. We had also planned to visit the glow worm caves from Te Anau but the afternoon trip was fully booked so we decided to visit the wildlife park suggested by the tourist office. We did see a couple of parrots but the wildlife park seemed to consist mainly of empty enclosures. The visit was free but still not worth the money.

We followed the lake road to the start of the Kepler Track and then walked along it for about an hour and that was excellent, with the track following the lake edge through a lovely rain forest.

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