They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth ~ George R R Martin.
True that! South Island is made up of truly mesmerizing sights, sights that one would have read in their books filled with magical wardrobes and mirrors. Vast plains – in various shades of green and sometimes brown, flanked by snow-capped mountains, not to mention sheep sprinkled throughout like white arisi mittai (vintage candy that we all enjoyed as kids) lakes that are icy blue and rainbows guiding your way……..you would think you have stumbled into a magical, mystical land. That’s South Island or Middle-Earth for you.
Our initial plan was to do a 10 day, all-driving road trip from Auckland, covering Hokitika, Punakaiki, Invercargill and Dunedin. But we dropped it and chose to fly in and out of Auckland as (1) we wanted to spend more time at Auckland with Rathi (or Rats), Ram and Mo-boy 🙂 and (2) winter had already set in NZ so we had less daylight, not to mention torrential downpours and a lot more distance to cover. Our 6-day South Island road trip(May 4, 2015 – May 9, 2015), mostly along the West Coast looked something like this: Auckland > Christchurch >Greymouth via Arthur’s Pass National Park > Franz Josepf & Fox Glaciers, Lake Matheson > Haast > Haast Pass via Mount Aspiring National Park > Wanaka >Te Anau > Milford Sound > Queenstown > Auckland – We covered close to 1500 kms in 6 days.
P.S. Eating out in New Zealand is pretty expensive so we had packed basic necessities like bread, cereal cheese, jam etc. and threw together quick and easy meals. After we were done for the day, we stopped for milk, topped up the essentials, and also picked up some munchies. We typically packed breakfast (toast with jam or cheese) and depending on the itinerary for the day, packed either lunch or cooked dinner or had lunch or dinner outside. As it was mostly wet and cold outside, we made sure we stopped for some hot chocolate and pie/muffin etc. as a treat for the boys (and for us too).
Christchurch to Greymouth
Attractions: Arthur’s Pass, Pancake Rocks, Paparoa National Park at Punakaiki
We flew into Christchurch from Auckland and before I move forward with the trip a/c, I should say that I was delighted by the Air New Zealand safety video even though I have never watched LOTR/ The Hobbit trilogy
The minute you get out of Christchurch, the awesomeness (yup, Kung Fu Panda was on when I wrote this 🙂 ) begins at every turn and stop and you can’t but wonder if you are in an alternate reality where the air is crisp, the surroundings pristine and almost unreal. Our drive to Greymouth via Arthur’s Pass National Park was just something out of a postcard.
One good thing and I guess a bad thing too is the beauty of this country moves you so much that you literally don’t have any words. So if I seem to be repeating myself with words like awestruck, awed, bewitched….please bear with me ‘cos that’s exactly how I felt. Even now – almost 2 months since, whenever I tried to write about this trip, all I got were vivid images and very few words. So I might end up doing just that, share my experiences through my lens rather than my words.
It takes around 40 minutes or so to reach Punakaiki from Greymouth and Pancake Rocks is right at the edge of the West Coast along the Great Coast Road. You gotta give it to the Kiwi’s for their commitment to conserve and preserve existing natural resources. Short of going into a geology lesson on limestone formations, the effect of seawater along with lime-rich fragments of dead sea creatures, mud and clay led to these rock formations that resemble stacked pancakes, ergo Pancake Rocks. It is a easy 20-30 minute walk and we were lucky enough to watch the sun go down.
We stayed at the Top 10 Holiday Park in Greymouth and the kids got a kick out of seeing a small home for their hotel. Even though it was just 6.30 PM, it got really dark and a quick scout of the town didn’t turn up with enticing food choices for vegetarians so we decided to eat in. We also saw on the news that there was a mild earthquake in Wanaka (our destination for the 3rd day) and the Haast Pass was closed due to heavy rains. So we went to bed hoping that we don’t encounter any such difficulties.
Day 2 – Greymouth to Haast
Attractions: Lake Mapourika, Lake Ianthe, Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier. Stopover at Whataroa Town for Coffee, Lake Matheson
It started out as a clear enough day and we were able to take in Lake Mapourika and the icy blue Lake Ianthe with our mouths wide open 🙂 We started having intermittent rains on our way to Franz Josef Glacier and even when we pulled into the parking lot. We suited up and began the hike to Peter’s Pool and by some miracle the rains stopped and we were treated to one of the most spectacular views in the world (Also see Awestruck @ Peter’s Pool).
I have only read about glaciers and this is the first time I am seeing one close up. The hike is through a nature trail and opens up into a rocky path over the river bed. You really do feel like a teeny-tiny ant when you come into the view of the glacier. There were warning signs of glacial landscape changes, leading to sudden flow of water and information boards on the fast(er) retreat of the glacier over the year.
It was like the sky was waiting for us to finish our walk cos the moment we reached our van, it started pouring. We had our packed lunch in the van and set out to Fox Glacier. As it was raining quite heavily and was also overcast, we did the short walk to the glacier but had to be content with the not-so-clear views. That said, the kids and I had a lot of fun walking in the rain 🙂 We were freezing by the time we reach Whataroa and stayed in the cafe until our feet were warm and toasty and our stomachs full with warm scone and delish hot chocolate.
The overcast sky played spoilsport again when we reached Lake Matheson as well and the friendly lady in the tourist center warned us of a storm so we decided to drive to Haast as soon as possible. The rain started picking up momentum and by the time we reached Haast, it was in full form. And boy, were we glad we started towards Haast when we did as the shops close down between 5.30 – 6.00 pm in winter. After a quick but hot and satisfying meal, we retired to the sound of rain and wind whisting through the trees.
Day 3 – Haast to Wanaka via Haast Pass
Attractions: Haast Pass, Fantail Falls, Devil’s Flat, Mount Aspiring National Park, Makarora, Lake Hawea, Puzzling World, Wanaka
I woke up to the same sound I went to bed listening to. And since it was daytime, I looked out and what do I see – crazy rains, swaying trees, crazier wind whooshing through the trees. What a sight it was and we ended up driving via Haast Pass in torrential rains, nothing like I have ever seen before.
We could not go on the walk to Roaring Billy Falls but could see Fantails Falls from the road. The rains eased when we reached Devil’s Flat and the scenery changed in a blink of an eye. We basked in the scenic glory of Mount Aspiring National Park, chasing rainbows along the way, watching Lake Hawea with our mouths open and finally reached the outskirts of Wanaka, where we came upon weirdly stacked buildings with colorful roofs and the boys decided that they HAD to see Puzzling World.
If optical illusions interest you, if mazes thrill you, then this place is a must see. The kids had a lot of fun esp. in the maze and we were all happy when we drove towards Wanaka.
Let me tell you, Downtown Wanaka is straight out of an urban planner’s dream, esp. one who loves ped-bike friendly and walkable cities/towns. We had a hearty lunch that comprised of falafel wraps from this amazing greek shop and finger-lickin custom-made veggie burgers at BoaBoa Food Company. I was itching to explore this wonderful place on my own but had to check in. After lunch, we checked into Aspiring Motel (after Mount Aspiring) and I immediately grabbed my camera and walked around the town to my heart’s content. The people were very friendly and answered my questions patiently. I was content browsing the stores, walking by the active storefronts, just existing. If I had to pick any town/city in this world to move to, it would be Wanaka. I was sad that we had to leave the very next day to Te Anau.
Day 4 – Wanaka to Te Anau via Queenstown
Attractions: Blue Pools, Makarora, Wilson Bay, Scenic Drive on Glenorchy Road
We backtracked to Makarora to do the Blue Pools Walk and by God, it was a sunny day and day filled with rainbows and scenic drives. Boy, were we in for a surprise when we went on the walk. The rains from the previous day had turned the Blue Pools into…..emerald green. What a sight it was.
On our way to Glenorchy, we stopped at Wilson Bay for lunch and drove for about an hour on Glenorchy Road before deciding to turn around and head towards Te Anau via Queenstown. We stopped in Queenstown to pick up essentials and reached Te Anau around 6.30 PM. It was by far one of the coldest nights in our trip. We stayed in a Bach aka a vacation home. We had to retire early as we had a long early morning drive towards Milford Sound.
Day 5 – Te Anau to Fiordland National Park, Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) Marine Reserve and Thereabouts to Queenstown
Attractions: Fiordland National Park, Piopiotahi (Milford Sound), Mirror Lake
One of those days where my words failed me. I thoroughly enjoyed this day and was simply awestruck esp. when we entered the mouth of the fiord to Tasman Sea. Tall mountain faces lined with moss and multiple waterfalls cascading along its sides, Milford Sound is truly breath-taking place. When we started towards Milford, the day was foggy and cleared enough for the cruise but when we got off, it got muggy again and started raining, forcing cruise operators to cancel their tours. So I guess we really were lucky.
Rains again played spoilsport when we reached Mirror Lake. The lake was disturbed, obviously due to continuous rainfall. Apparently, the reflection of Earl Mountains are breathtaking. Another day, another time 🙂
We reached Queenstown around 6.30 pm and were happy to put our feet up and watch some telly, the kids that is.
Day 6 – Queenstown
I should say that we really did have Lady Luck smiling upon us. When we reached the Shotover Jet place, the operator said that he will not be able to take us out if the drizzle turns into a downpour. You should have seen our faces, it was like someone stole our candy. But after a 20 minute wait, the operator decided that he could take us and man what a thrill 🙂 The temperature is biting cold at that speed and I mean really biting so we were completely bundled up from head to toe. It was a fun ride and the moment we stepped off the boat, it started pouring again and they stopped all rides for that morning. So like I said Lady Luck was really with us.
After lunch, Rats and I chose to putter around the hotel while G and Ram took the boys on the Gondola, the Luge Rides and some ice cream. Our trip was coming to a close and by chance we happened upon the Chicos Bar and Grill in Queenstown Square. The place was amazing, the service fantastic and the food and drinks simply mind blowing. Like Wanaka, I would loved to spend an extra day or two in Queenstown.
We flew back to Auckland from Queenstown. Even though all of us felt that the trip got over way too soon to our liking, we were also looking forward to going back to Auckland to see Mo-bear 🙂
This brings us to the end of the short yet sweet trip to South Island. New Zealand is simply a traveller’s dream destination with its mountains, lakes and glaciers, green fields and hiking trails, colorful rainbows and ever friendly Kiwis. Until next time, its Haere Ra from Lakshmi, Guru, Vidyuth and Vishruth.