The Great Walks , New Zealand

January 30 till March 22, 2018

Preliminary

  1. We had 8 weeks during which we mainly wanted to do multiple day walks or “Great Walks” as classified by the Department of Conservation (DOC),  the government body in charge of anything green or blue in NZ. We did in the following order (all self guided except Doubtful Sound):
  • Canoeing the Whanganui river (classified as a Great Walk) (we did 4 days, 3 nights), North Island.
  • Tongariro Crossing (1 day, half day actually), North Island.
  • Queen Charlotte track which we did as the “Marlborough Sounds Adventure” (3 days of which 1-day hiking, 1-day sea kayak and 1 day mountain bike)
  • (Originally not planned) Abel Tasman Track, we did half because we had to delay our Heaphy track with one day: so 1 day hiking from Bark Bay to Marahau.
  • Heaphy track (5 days, 4 nights)
  • Kepler track (4 days, 3 nights)
  • Doubtful Sound – Sea kayaking trip (3 days, 2 nights), guided.
  • Routeburn track (3 days, 2 nights)
  • biking the Central Otago Rail Trail (3 days, 2 nights)

great-walks-map

So, hereunder is a writeup of the above main walks with some of our insights as a conclusion.  As we are visiting some interesting places in between these walks like Auckland, Waitomo Caves, Wellington, Queenstown we will also cover these, but not exhaustive.  You will find nothing about the North nor East of North Island. Note that we were in NZ a first time 13 years ago. This with our young children. We went to Kaikoura to see whales and swim with Dolphins, paddled in Abel Tasman and visited Fox Glacier. (New Zealand was a lot quieter back then!)

  1. Be sure to book the Great walks as much as possible in advance! When we booked, early November to do the trail in March, some of the Routeburn huts were already full. The Milford Track, we didn’t even bother to look into as the huts for this walk are fully booked a year in advance. We chose to do the Doubtful Sound by kayak instead.
  2. We rented a small but handy Toyota Corolla Hatch for 35 NZD a day from EZI cars via the Rentalcars website. Even when not doing that many walks or other multiple day activities, we would probably not rent a campervan as driving on NZ’s scenic roads is so much more fun with a normal car. A 2-person MPV turned into a camper with cooking facilities would cost anyhow about 130 NZD per day. There are everywhere lodges where you have a choice from campsite to simple rooms with communal facilities (including cooking) to full ensuite apartments.
  3. We travelled to NZ with two smaller suitcases, two 40 litre backpacks for the multiple day walks and two small daypacks for city or day walks. When doing the great walks, we left all luggage in the car which is safe to do. You don’t need to pack much for NZ anyway if you don’t mind wearing the same clothes for the whole holiday as all motels/lodges/holiday parks have excellent laundry facilities (2 x 4 NZD for laundry and drying).  And Kiwis are easy going; a comfy t-shirt and shorts will bring you everywhere!
  4. NZ is also a paradise for outdoor sports clothes and gear! You will find everywhere great shops with a dangerously attractive choice of fantastic things! So, leave some space in your suitcases for things you don’t really need but you can’t resist buying!
  5. For the walks we could pack everything which is needed easily in the 40 litre backpacks, carrying between 10 and 12 kg and allowing for an extra which you always crave even at home and especially when you see a fellow walker eating it! In our case: chocolate. You can buy anywhere an ever-increasing array of freeze dried/dehydrated foods to which you simply add boiling water for an acceptable meal. We bought a Summit rubber water kettle and drinking utensil set which is light and very useful (if you don’t mind coffee with a bit of a rubbery taste).
  6. We bought a Spark sim card upon arrival – literally just after leaving the plane – for 50 NZD for 2 months use. Spark has huge coverage, even where unexpected!
  7. Evidently, everything you ever wanted to know about NZ is in the Lonely Planet (LP), Hiking and Tramping and the standard edition! In addition, every self-respecting town has an i-Site i.e a Tourist Information bureau with very knowledgeable and helpful people and a DOC office where you need to get (depending on the Walk!) permits, can get weather forecasts and other useful information about walks and outings.  Note though that where and when i-Site represents DOC you better double check with DOC by calling them…! Another useful source of information is the Campermate App.

new-zealand-large

OUR JOURNEY:

Day 1: AUCKLAND: we took the Skybus from the Airport to downtown. 18 NZD per person. The bus took us straight and comfortably to the corner where we stayed. We were early so couldn’t enter the room yet, dropped the luggage and did window shopping in Queen’s Street, the major shopping street of NZ’s major city. In the afternoon, we did the LP’s suggested city walk passing Albert Park and Meyers Park and along some beautiful houses dating back to the 19th century. The walk ends focussing on the sea bay presence of Auckland for which it is often called “little Sydney”. For dinner we explored the Quays.

We stayed 2 nights in Ibis Budget for 195 NZD (excl bf) a night, conveniently located in Wyndham street, just off Queen’s street. You obviously pay for the excellent location as  the room fits tightly around the body.

Day 2: AUCKLAND : we had a nice alternative breakfast in HeavenScent café, next to St Patricks cathedral. Then a friend drove us to beautiful MURIWAI beach, 35 km from AUCKLAND, a nesting place for gannets. You can do a nice walk around the colony and on the beach with a pleasant lunch café nearby.

For dinner we took the ferry from the quays to DEVONPORT, a cute portside town and ate at Manuka, a cosy and good restaurant.

Day 3: AUCKLAND : we did some shopping in Queen’s street and adjacent streets;  Kathmandu, Macpac, Torpedo 7, Bivouac and all the big sports brands are present!  We visited the MARITIME MUSEUM on the quays which gives interesting insights on NZ’s Maori and European’s early maritime history, on the personalities and talents of Abel Tasman and especially James Cook and on the travel experiences of the early immigrants.

We picked up the car at EZI where we got to know that you need a certified TRANSLATION of your driving licence when not in English! EZI was able to arrange it though within an hour for an extra 100 NZD. (the translation said that the original language of the licence was French…!!?? Ours is Dutch!)

We drove to Clevedon and stayed with friends.

Day 4: to WAITOMO: a great alternative to driving just south from Auckland to the Hamilton area is to leave Highway 1 for Clevedon in Papakura, then first take the Papakura-Clevedon Road, then the Clevedon -Kawakawa Road which turns into the East Coast road. This road is alternatively called the SCENIC PACIFIC COAST Highway and BIRD COAST highway passing by Miranda. Towards Waitomo we passed also through Cambridge, a cosy town (where we decided to stay one night on our way back).

Waitomo is a cute little place – you cannot really call it a town – nestled in lovely rocky hills with green pastures and varied vegetation! We ended the afternoon with a 3 hour (return) pleasant bushwalk starting right in front of the Waitomo i-Site: THE WAITOMO WALKWAY which leads to the Ruakuri Scenic reserve.

We had dinner in the Huhu lodge – a nice setting with very good food i.e the menu had some interesting alternatives to the usual deep-fried options. Although NZ has the best in fresh produce, it is not really a gourmet destination yet. Therefore, it probably needs some more Mediterranean influx! Alternative dishes are coming up in some cosmopolitan towns, though. Apart from this, the usual fare is burgers, fish and chips and pizza (the American versions), typical pub fare, anything as long as it is deep fried

We stayed in the Waitomo caves hotel for 135 NZD (excl bf) a delightful but a bit creaky 19th century building. Interestingly, the check-in lady of the hotel didn’t think highly of its own restaurant and recommended Morepork restaurant.

Day 5: WAITOMO CAVES: we booked in advance the “Black Labyrinth” 3 hour tour for 142 NZD pp with the Legendary Black Water rafting company. You get to visit the Ruakiri Cave and see its glow worms while floating on an inner tube. As such you avoid the masses that visit the caves on foot. A fun activity with a friendly bunch!

After a shower at their well organised outlet we drove down TE ANGA ROAD, a stunningly beautiful drive with a lovely landscape! We stopped at MANGAPOHUE NATURAL BRIDGE for a 1 hour easy and pleasant walk, also seeing million years old ossified oyster fossils and for the MAROKOPA falls (35 m high!) which are worth a visit as well!

The idea was to continue to Te Kuiti, but the road became unsealed and rather bad from the sea on.  We turned back and did the RUAKIRI Bush walk (1 hour) in Waitomo and learned more about the formation of the caves and the impressive conservation work done by DOC. We stayed the night in Top 10 Holiday park for 160 NZD in an ensuite apartment and had dinner in… Huhu.

Day 6:  from Waitomo to OWHANGO where we were to start our WHANGANUI RIVER JOURNEY: it is a beautiful drive to Tamaranui where we shopped in NW for our next 4 day river adventure, Owhango having no shops at all nor restaurants.  Tamaranui is a bit depressing with little more to offer than a big supermarket. We later in the day had to go back there for dinner. There was Thai or Thai. So, we chose to eat in the Thai restaurant which serves “Thairrific” food  as written on the front window.

In Owhango, we went down to the river for the OHINETONGA bushwalk, a 1.5 h beautiful loop walk where you can see the endangered blue ducks or phio!  The walk starts at a pleasant spot on the river offering also a “swimming pool” a bit further up.  (At this point the 42 Traverse, part of the Mountains to Sea mountain bike route, also passes by).

We rented our canoe from Owhango Adventures (OA); they also bring you to and from the river. As part of the package of 170 NZD pp, you can also stay at their lodge the night before the launch. We stayed at the one in between the Fire station and the highway. The water faucet of the Fire station was leaking big time as to prevent any bush fires.  Sleeping in the wooden lodge was also quite an experience as you feel every now and then a 30-tonnes truck about to drive through your bedroom…

Day 7: on the WHANGANUI river: day 1: from OHINEPANE to WHAKAHORO:

Grant of OA brought us to the river in OHINEPANE, gave us a short demonstration on how to tie the barrels to each other and to the boat and a small map.   We only filled up 3 barrels with our change of clothes and food for 4 days as we looked at this trip being a great walk. (Afterwards we realised we could have stuffed a bit more in the barrels, certainly after we saw what the guided groups were being served! But bear in mind that all huts are located quite a bit higher than the waterline, so you have to carry everything up for the night!)

It’s a day of great scenery, cormorant sightings and some smaller rapids to get used to them.  You often feel alone on the world, one with nature.

After about 6 hours and 37 km we reached the WHAKAHORO hut (left shore). You arrive there by paddling up the RETARUKE river for about 400 m. Then walk up the right shore before the suspension bridge and carry your barrels up for about 15 minutes to the hut.

WHAKAHORO is a basic but pleasant and clean bunkroom hut with no cooking facilities but does have drinking water and lighting (solar). And drop toilets (vault toilets). 5 minutes further up the road there is the BLUE DUCK LODGE with rooms and a cosy café which closes at 17.00 but opens for breakfast. (the Mountains to Sea MTB trail also passes here).

Day 8: on the WHANGANUI : day 2 : from WHAKAHORO to JOHN CULL

Another great day on the river, denser vegetation and more water, so faster rapids. You can plan stops according to the map at the shelters in between, but you must be on the lookout for the signs! DOC is a bit stingy on them!  We didn’t see MANGAPAPA and missed OHAUORA: the sign for this one reads: “OHAUORA 200 m after the next rapid”. But there are 2 rapids in succession and no more sign…

At some stretches, the wind can be strong and blows you backwards. So, quite some paddling is needed still. You will fully deserve your dinner!

After 35 km and about 5 hours, the warden at JOHN CULL hut fortunately had put up a NZ flag at the arrival point, so we didn’t miss this one! The location of this hut is just stunning with great views of the river, and some grassy spots with wooden tables and benches! A perfect place to while away the rest of the day.  The hut is comfortable with cooking facilities (4 gas pits), electricity and water; but with vault toilets…

We had our first experience there with guided groups: afternoon tea with cake, cheese with crackers and wine as appetizer, steaks as main dish with chocolate pie to finish of… We had our second dehydrated meal: rice risotto with lamb and traditional chicken curry which all tastes anyway like salty bean curd bits with mushy something porridge.

Day 9: on the WHANGANUI river: day 3: from JOHN COULL to TIEKE KAINGA hut.

In the morning the guides got up at 06.00 am, woke up the whole village, took over the kitchen again and made a ridiculous amount of breakfast for the already overweight guests. And they didn’t leave anyhow before 08.30 ….

The water gets faster and the scenery even more beautiful with now from time to time a poisoned goat lying with its legs up in the air. (Note that DOC is making great efforts in national parks to reduce non-endogenous fauna like possum, deer, rabbits, wasps, stoats and goats to increase local wildlife, especially birds. They do this also for flora with eg Canadian Pine. And this with growing success! See further)

We stopped at MANGAPURUA Landing for the “Bridge to Nowhere”, a pleasant 1 h return walk.  The Landing does also provide a nice picnic spot and makes it interesting to watch how other people are trying to moor their canoes. Expect from here on also some motorboats jetting over the river! (Note that bikers on the Mountains to Sea trail are picked up here by boat to continue further at Pipiriki!)

After the Landing there are some more interesting rapids as foreplay for what is to come the day after. About 30 minutes before TIEKE we capsized by hitting a submerged rock. No big deal normally, our barrels were tied well together, and nothing was just lying about in the boat. And we do a lot of Outrigger canoeing and Dragon Boat paddling during the year, so we are used to being in the water…. But there was a second rapid immediately after, which took us in the direction of a dead tree. Not wanting to be pierced by a branch or a branch getting stuck in between your life vest and your body, we did some frantic swimming and managed to move the boat to the shore to empty.

In the evening, we heard the guides explaining their guests how to negotiate the rapids the day after. One of the rapids is ominously called “50/50”, another “The Rock” …

TIEKE KAINGA is again a bunkroom hut with cooking facilities and vault toilets. There is a Marae next to it and thus rather a sacred place. We also had the tame deer from across the road on a visit to pee and poo cutely all over the terrace.

We got to know that just on the other side of the river, there is the ‘Bridge to Nowhere Lodge” with rooms and restaurant (and a tame deer when not visiting the other side of the river).

Day 10: on the WHANGANUI river: day 4: from TIEKE KAINGA to PIPIRIKI

Only 20.5 km remaining but this is the most beautiful day with great scenery and gorgeous gorges!  Good to just go with the current and let the scenery sink in … But from NAPORO, the real excitement starts!  The guides – who had asked us to trail them –  from the groups briefed us again on how to take the rapids. Basically, you avoid the “white water” because the waves of these fill up your boat quickly; you just stay 2-3 meter left or right of them, taking a side you deem the best one. The rest is good luck…!

We trailed the group for the first rapid – only one boat went over. We then paddled ahead as we were to be picked up at PIPIRIKI by 14.00 h already, much earlier than the guided group.

We didn’t capsize anymore, rather due to fate than talent.  And Grant was already waiting for us at PIPIRIKI to bring us back to Owhango where our car was parked.

CONCLUSION WHANGANUI RIVER GREAT WALK :

  1. The fact that you float down (well, paddling often helps the floating) in beautiful unspoilt surroundings for days in a row is just fantastic!
  2. We would do the same if we were to do it again: 4 days, 3 nights starting at OHINEPANE and finishing at PIPIRIKI.
  3. But we would probably stay in the “Bridge to Nowhere Lodge” the 3rd night (apparently, they also can arrange canoes and pick up). So, as such you have a nice mix of cooking facilities: none the first day, gas pits the second and a fully equipped kitchen with cook the last night.
  4. We would take some more goodies as well! (but again, be aware that you always have to carry up the barrels!)
  5. We would probably go for Whanganui River Canoes or Yeti Tours as operator. And ask for double sided paddles which are easier to steer with,  but still use the same canoes: 2 seater “Canadian canoes” as they call them. They seem to be more fun than the 1 seater canoes around;  at least the ones we have seen were not very good: you cannot sit straight enough in them! And 2 seater canoes are also ideal to test your marriage!
  6. But bear in mind that this downriver is quite different from going down the Dordogne or the Vézère! We think DOC is taking this “walk” too lightly!
    • Expect at least to go over once! Don’t panic, you automatically float to the side of the river or your boat gets stuck in shallow (er) water.
    • Make sure your barrels are tied together and tightly to the boat at all times!
    • Wear sports shoes or at least shoes with a hard sole.
    • Don’t let anything float in the boat
    • Hold on to the side of the boat when drifting (the boat will not sink), lying on your back with your feet in front, so you can push yourself away from rocks or tree branches
    • Practice a few times with your eyes closed getting your life vest off!!! If you get stuck, you can manage to get it off….

We finished day 10 by shopping in National Park and driving to TONGARIRO, staying the night in Tongariro Family Village between WHAKAPAPA and TURANGI for 105 NZD. Ensuite bedroom with communal cooking facilities in the holiday village. We had dinner in Tussock in Whakapapa, a restaurant belonging to Chateau Tongariro where they refused us entry so called because they were fully booked.  You will often notice in NZ that restaurants claim to be fully booked but actually staff only allow customer numbers to what they think the kitchen and waiting staff can handle!

We were told at Tongariro Family Village that the shuttle to take us to MANGATOPO Car Park the day after to start the Tongariro Crossing was cancelled because of bad weather. But then, there is always “Summit Shuttles” “as your reliable transporter between summits…!” We called them and booked space for 06:00 am leaving from Chateau Tongariro.

Day 11: TONGARIRO CROSSING

We drove to the Chateau to catch the shuttle to MANGATOPO Car park at 06:00 am.  The company offered 2 pickup times at KETETAHI Car park: 12:00 h and 14:00 h . As the weather forecast was not good, there were to our nice surprise not that many climbers.  We finished in 4 h 15 minutes,  walking rather fast as the forecast was particularly bad for the afternoon.

But we were lucky as we saw in between patches of clouds all the beautiful sights the walk is offering including MOUNT TARANAKI to the West.

CONCLUSION TONGARIRO CROSSING

  • The volcanic nature of the crossing makes this a unique experience with sights of extraordinary phenomena…
  • It is called “Alpine” but is nothing more than your usual day hike in the Mercantour or the Alpi Maritimi … called alpine rather because it is above the tree line.
  • Nevertheless, your dinner will be well deserved!
  • Prepare yourself for any weather condition! Chilly winds on the South Crater made us wish we had taken some warmer gear in our daypack. Starting early gives you also more guarantees for better weather. When raining, we don’t see any fun in doing the crossing; tramping through volcanic mud will not give you any added sense of achievement…
  • Stay the night before in WHAKAPAPA and start from MANGATOPO Car park as this brings you immediately in a “volcanic mood”. (you soon go through a lava stone field which resembles a Hong Kong New Territories car dump.)
  • Starting from here offers you a succession of great sights with the red crater and blue and emerald lakes as absolute highlight
  • Also, starting from here the elevation is 950 m while starting from KETETAHI means a 1220 meter ascent

We went to TURANGI later in the afternoon. Rather depressing. We went back and cooked in our lodge.

Day 12: driving to WELLINGTON. Had coffee in OHAKUNE, a cosy looking town, even pleasant in summer. We skipped Palmerston (with John Cleese in mind).  We turned off Highway 1 to have lunch on WAITARERE Beach.

Continued and stayed in PLIMMERTON at the Moana Backpacker Lodge for 150 NZD as everything else in the beach towns north of Wellington was fully booked! In PLIMMERTON, there was an Indian and a Polish restaurant, an Italian takeaway and a Fish’n Chips. We had Indian.

Note that the waterfront at PARAPARAUMU (near the Ferry for KAPITI Island) is very pleasant (once you have passed the shopping malls and the airport), the Queen Elisabeth Park offers relaxing dune walks, PAIKAKARIKI has a splendid Café: “the Perching Parrot” and RAUMATI some interesting shops.

Day 13:  We went for a walk in Queen Elisabeth Park (starting from south Gate in PAIKAKARIKI) and had lunch at the “Parrot”, then drove to WELLINGTON . We followed the LP’s suggested city walk which is basically following the revamped waterfront, Courtenay Place and Cuba street.

We had dinner at Shed No 5 starting with fantastic Te Matuku oysters of Waihiki Island.

We stayed at the Ibis in Featherston Street for 195 NZD per night, excl bf. Excellent location, same price as Auckland but with real space in the room.  (Ask for a room with a view when booking and be sure you book your parking space in advance when self-driving!)

Day 14: WELLINGTON: as the weather looked okay, we decided to visit ZEALANDIA,  an eco-sanctuary where biodiversity is being restored to before humans arrived in NZ. Therefore, we took the cable car to Victoria lookout and from there the shuttle to Zealandia.

At the sanctuary, we decided to take the 2-hour guided tour for 55 NZD pp. This tour is highly recommended!!! We had Mr Roy Sharp as guide.  We spent 3.5 hours with him and wouldn’t have minded a whole day! We learned about NZ’s geological history, how unique its ecosystem was and how with huge effort DOC is trying to restore some of it.

We were introduced to Takahe (a prehistoric looking blue-ish grass eating chicken), the Saddleback, plenty of Tuatura (a Sphenodon), Kaka (a cousin of the alpine Kea), Weka’s,  Bellbirds, Fantails,  Robins, one Moreport or Ruru, Tui, Hihi, Green Gecko and Weta…. Most species we would be on the lookout for during our next Great walks!! Spotting fauna and flora you know makes the Walks even more interesting!

We had lunch at the sanctuary, also recommendable as they offer alternative dishes and desserts in a great setting.

We continued our nature discovery day by walking down via the “MOUNTAIN TO CITY TRAIL” through the botanical gardens and finally through the Bolton cemetery.

Dinner at Portofino.

Day 15: FERRY TO PICTON: what a phenomenal way to exit Wellington, cross the Cook Strait  and enter the MARLBOROUGH SOUNDS (MS) ! After about 1.5 hours, the ferry enters the Queen Charlotte Sound and cruises slowly a further 1.5 hours into Picton. It is worth standing on the front or top deck as soon as you enter the Sound. (It may be good to know though that you can book online with your tickets or upon arrival on the boat private sleeping cabins!)

PICTON’S waterfront is picturesque and worth a walk over the marina bridge (look out for stingrays!) and doing some afternoon hikes: Bob’s bay and/or Harbour view walk.

For dinner we had starters at Cockels but left because of smokers on the terrace where we sat; continued at Oxley’s, a fabulously beautiful place at the waterfront with average food but a decent fish of the day.

Stayed in Jasmine Court (as part of the MSA package, see next day).  Very good!

Day 16: We had booked in advance the “Ultimate MARLBOROUGH SOUND ADVENTURE experience” of the QUEEN CHARLOTTE TRACK  with Marlboro Sound Adventure Company for 975 NZD pp: 3 nights accommodation and 3 days “adventure” of which 1 day hiking the Queen Charlotte Tack (QCT), 1 day sea kayaking in the MS – Kenepuru Sound, 1 day MTB on the QCT.

So, this being the first day, we were brought by water taxi (Cougar lines) to Ship’s Cove where the QCT starts (or ends) – look out for dolphins: we spotted Dusky ones.  We hiked to Furneaux Lodge, 15 km or 3h45 (without stops for lunch) starting with a bit of a climb but undulating after and with great views over the sounds.  We had coffee at Furneaux. It is rather a grand old dame resort in a superb location off the Endeavour Inlet and offering bunkrooms for 70 NZD, ensuite cabins for 130 NZD.

We were picked up from here by Cougar line water taxis and found out there are many more resorts in the MS that need to be discovered: Bay of Many Coves resort, Te Mahia resort, Lochmara Lodge, Punga Cove resort…..,  and the Portage Resort Hotel where we were brought to.

The Portage is located on a shore of the Kenepuru Sound. It has very pleasant and comfy rooms with good views over the sea. The restaurant is decent with a great terrace. The Manager thinks his huge pepper grinder makes every dish worth a Michelin star “with a dash of freshly ground pepper”.

Day 17: MSA : day 2 of QUEEN CHARLOTTE TRACK: sea kayaking in KENEPURU SOUND.

We had to wait 1 hour for a Chinese couple that didn’t apologise after they finally turned up, made no effort to even try paddling afterwards and were towed by our French guide the whole 15 km.

Highlight of the day: our French guide Lars picked mussels from a farm in the sound and boiled them for us for lunch on one of the beaches. The best green lip mussels we would have in NZ!

Paddling in this sound is ok but not spectacular.

Dinner at Portage.

Day 18: MSA: day 3 of QUEEN CHARLOTTE TRACK: mountain biking from TOREA BAY (other side of Portage) to ANAKIWA (the start or end of QCT).

A fabulous day! The start is a bit arduous as you climb to SHAMROCK RIDGE pushing your bike up for about 45 minutes. But you are rewarded with stunning 360 degree views over the sounds!

The downhill from there is often a bit more than intermediate grade, often a bit challenging but exhilarating all the way!! We had our picnic lunch (secretly) and coffees and a water refill on the beautiful terrace of TE MAHIA LODGE.  After that the mountain biking is really fun!  Towards the end don’t get too carried away because it remains a track with some tricky bits and pieces!

At ANAKIWA , a lovely lady in a caravan sells you coffees, ice creams and other goodies while you are waiting for the ferry to bring you back to Picton.

We stayed in the Harbour View Motel (a bit overpriced in comparison with Jasmine) for 230 NZD. We cooked ourselves as the budget was reached for that day.

CONCLUSION QUEEN CHARLOTTE TRACK /MARLBOROUGH SOUNDS

  • There are plenty of ways to explore the QCT knowing that Cougar Lines can bring you and/or your luggage to any place in the Queen Charlotte Sound.
  • If we were to do it again, we would probably walk 2 days and bike one day, so the first day water taxi to Ship’s Cove and walk to Camp Bay, 26.5 km and book in Punga Bay resort or Mahana Lodge. (Alternative : breakdown the first day to Furneaux (15 km) and 2nd day to Camp Bay (11.5 km)). The 2nd day from Camp Bay to Torea saddle and stay in Portage Hotel. The 3rd day arrange for bikes to be delivered to Torea Bay by one of the operators at the Waterfront of Picton and mountainbike to Anikawa.
  • We would reserve the sea kayaking for Abel Tasman (see later: doing the Abel Tasman Track as a 3 day sea kayak paddle)
  • The Marlborough Sounds are just stunning and can be explored for weeks by car, foot or bike or boat or combination of all. What we certainly want to do later is to explore the sounds (all three of them) by driving/cycling down the Kenepuru road and further; cycle around the Pelorus Sound, walking the Nydia Track, Okiwi Bay, French Pass, everything all the way up to d’Urville Island…

Day 19: DOLPHIN watching and swimming with EKO -Tours in PICTON: we booked a tour that goes into the QC Sound looking for dolphins (115 NZD pp) and when meeting dusky or bottleneck, you can swim with them. We saw 2 small pots of Hector Dolphins which are resident in the MS. (having not met with and not swum with other dolphins we got re-imbursed partly!)

EKO are a nice and friendly outfit and a good alternative to Kaikoura!

Day 20:  we drove to MARAHAU (instead of Takaka, see under): take the scenic road to Nelson with occasional stops in Havelock, Canvastown and certainly at PELORUS BRIDGE for a swim and great lunches and more,  at the Pelorus Café. There are also some beautiful short walks around there. (And next time we will certainly kayak down the Pelorus river!).

We had a stop in NELSON as well to do some browsing in Trafalgar Street, an interesting street particularly towards the end at the foot of the Christ Church Cathedral! Note that there is also an excellent i-Site and DOC office!  We were advised here to postpone our Heaphy track with one day as there was a serious Cyclone (Typhoon) approaching. That made us decide to go to Marahau and do some hiking along the Abel Tasman Track (ATT)

We stayed in MARAHAU in Mac Donald’s Old farm for 150 NZD, in a “rural apartment” with morning and evening visits of 5 cute white geese. (see pictures) (in Marahau check out Abel Tasman lodges and Split Apple Lodge as well (book early!))  Marahau is where the start (or end) of the ATT is and the base from where to explore the Abel Tasman marine reserve.

Day 21:  we walked 24 Km, about half of the ABEL TASMAN TRACK: AQUATAXI brought us to BARK BAY (45 NZD pp) with picture stops at Split Apple Rock and Seal Island (Tonga Island). We walked back from Bark Bay to Marahau, very pleasant and easy (the path almost looks manicured)  but a great walk with stunning views of  sea and beaches. We had a picnic stop at Cleopatra’s pool, a 1-hour worthwhile detour on the trail. We walked for about 5 hours and had coffees at the Park Café at the end (beginning) of the ATT.

CONCLUSION ABEL TASMAN TRACK :

  • Like with the QCT, also here you can arrange yourself any distance that suits you along the ATT! Or combinations hiking and kayaking.
  • Because of a few heavy cyclone’s that passed earlier, part of the ATT was closed which is apparently the most beautiful (and least tramped): loop from Totaranui via Separation point, around Whariwarangi hut. Check with DOC before you book whether the whole trail is open! Mutton Cove was closed already quite a while!
  • We certainly want to go back and probably walk the northern loop and then kayak from Totaranui down to Marahau in 3-4 days while staying at DOC huts (there are 4 Great Walk huts, no cooking facilities!).

Day 22 and 23: beautiful drive to TAKAKA and exploring GOLDEN BAY by car. We were warned for Cyclone Gita making landfall that day so decided to stay in downtown Takaka, Mohua motel for 125 NZD, a comfortable and cosy place with very friendly owners (Ask to stay on the 2nd floor with great pasture views from the terrace). The road to Takaka over Takaka Hill was partly washed away that night, so we would have been stuck there for a couple of days hadn’t it been that we had planned the Heaphy Track then which ironically had us actually walking out of the enclosed area and flying back in…

To blend in into the tourist scene in Takaka you need plenty of tattoos, metal pins in your face, walk barefoot and your clothes mustn’t have seen any soap for the last 10 days! Otherwise you belong to a strange subculture which – you never know with social media – may be emulated next.

But, an interesting town to explore. From here you can also have great drives to Collingwood (check out the Mussel In along the road) and beyond to Farewell Spit  (check whether the roads are ok)  and into the other direction : towards Wainui Bay – don’t miss the Wainui Falls: a lovely 1 hour bush walk –  and Totaranui.

Day 24: HEAPHY TRACK day 1: from Brown Hut to PERRY SADDLE HUT: 4 hours walking. (with picnic break in Aorere shelter)

We had booked the Golden Bay Air Heaphy package (210 NZD pp) to bring us by shuttle from Takaka airport – leaving the car safely parked there –  to Brown hut and at the end of the trail shuttle us from Kohaihai to Karamea and fly us back to Takaka.

From Brown Hut the path goes up gently to Perry Saddle.  From 200 m altitude to 915 m over 17 km distance in beautiful prime forest. The heartrate hardly went up.  Although it was raining we wished all ascents were like this!  

We arrived at Perry Saddle hut which is just above the tree line with an amazing change of landscape and fauna. Perry is a nice new hut with 3 rooms of each 8 bunks! We lit the fireplace to dry our clothes and enjoyed views of raging clouds and rain outside. We didn’t check out the Perry Spa…

Day 25: HEAPHY TRACK day 2 : from Perry Saddle to SAXON HUT (3.0 h ).

We started the clear sky morning with a little hike back to Flanagans corner, the lookout just after Aorere we skipped the day before because of the weather. From there you have okay 360-degree views over the forests. Then we went up to Perry Summit, the trail of which starts about 200 m passed Perry Saddle Hut.  It is quite a steep climb to 1285 m – becoming a bit technical when coming down – with good views also over the Abel Tasman sea. We did it in 1.5 h. With lunch back on the wonderful terrace all to ourselves at Perry, with instant soup, tuna spread, Tasty cheese and crackers.

The walk to Saxon Hut in the afternoon was just gorgeous! Make sure you spend enough time exploring the “enchanted forest” around and just after Gouland Downs Hut where you indeed expect elves and fairies (or even hobbits) to pop up from behind curtains of lichens and cushions of mosses.

We had a quick dip after in the Saxon River “spa”. The Saxon hut is a bit older but still charming. And we were only 4 that night.

Day 26: HEAPHY TRACK: day 3 : from Saxon Hut to MAC KAY . (2.5 h)

Another lovely walk with sightings of a phio couple on …. the blue duck creek of course!

Mac Kay is a splendid hut (4 x 8 bunks) with great views over the Heaphy river and the Tasman Sea and a wonderful sunset, weather permitting. (And with flush toilets!). From here we did also the little climb to the lookout behind the warden’s hut.

At night we heard the resident kiwi calling for his mate.

Day 27: HEAPHY TRACK: day 4: from Mac Kay to HEAPHY HUT.

A smooth and gentle descent –  you wish all descents were like this! – with plenty of birds to spot and stop for (they spot you first): Fantails, Tui, Robins, Kereru, Bellbirds and Cormorants on the river! Suspension bridges bring further excitement. Plus, fantastic views, 2 huge ROTA trees – you can’t miss them –  and again varied scenery now coming with Nikau palms make this another perfect day!

Arrival at the 5-star Heaphy hut (5 star definitely for location!) off a lagoon on the Heaphy River and Tasman Sea. Take a dip in the lagoon but stay under as long as you can because sand-flies are welcoming you to the West Coast!  Spend the day further exploring the river and coast! You may meet up with fur seals soaking up the sun on the beach.

In the evening, you may have fellow walkers having just started the track from Kohaihai into the opposite direction and carrying fresh produce, making your salivary glands working profusely when pan frying shallots with garlic and mushrooms for their fresh Bolognese sauce … while you are heating up water for your last remaining air-dried space spaghetti…

Day 28: HEAPHY TRACK : day 5 From Heaphy Hut to KOHAIHAI SHELTER .  (17 km, 3h10)

The weather forecast was grim with heavy winds and rain and high tide at 08.30 am.  We started early at 08.00 to cope eventually with any unforeseen circumstances and to make it in time for the shuttle in Kohaihai  at 13.00 .

Because of the weather we could not entirely enjoy the views but the roaring sea and the many streams we had to walk through made us appreciate again the raw power of nature! (Check tides and condition of the path after rainfall!)

At Kohaihai in the shelter we changed our wet clothes for dry ones while doing our own versions of hip hop and other kinds of spastic movements to scare off most sand-flies. We then called the shuttle company (there is a phone in the shelter) to pick us up earlier, so we could have a nice little lunch in the Last Resort Hotel in Karamea before taking the flight back to Takaka.

Upon boarding the 5-seater Piper, the skies opened and we had a most magnificent end to our already magnificent walk. We flew back right above the Heaphy Track the way we walked it.

CONCLUSION HEAPHY TRACK

  • If you want to try one walk which is not too strenuous and to see whether you like the multiple day treks with staying in huts, then Heaphy should be your choice! Heaphy is lovely through its diverse scenery and gentle through its slow ascent and descent and the many boardwalks now put up by DOC.
  • The track is very well maintained, although the section between Heaphy Hut and Kohaihai Shelter will need more maintenance soon! Always check with DOC or with the wardens after heavy rainfall!
  • The huts are as nice as huts can be. The walk is not that busy (yet) as the Kepler and Routeburn; prices for a bed in the huts reflect this.
  • We would still opt for doing the walk in the direction as we did: from Brown Hut to Kohaihai just because of the variety of scenery and vegetation with views of the Heaphy river and the Tasman Sea as highlight at the end.
  • The ultimate of course is flying back from Karamea to Takaka.
  • We did the walk in 5 days, 4 nights. We would probably do it again in this format! It allows you really to enjoy thoroughly the magnificence of the walk and its ambience and allowing for some extra excursions.
  • All the huts have cooking facilities and even pots and pans. All have fireplaces (very welcome when humid and cold!), Mackay and Heaphy have flush toilets.

Day 29:  Driving to PUNAKAIKI:  the road from Takaka to Motueka was cleared by then for 2 hours a day; we stayed the night in Motueka and then took the scenic road via MURCHISON. We stopped in Seal Colony (Cape Foulwind) and drove via Yellow Road to Punakaiki.

We did the walk around the blowholes – wait if possible until high tide to see the full impact of the waves onto the pancake rocks. But always worth a visit anyway!

We stayed in Punakaiki Café (but we discovered afterwards more lodges to the South of Punakaiki Better check these out as well!) for 150 NZD. We had dinner at the café, Fish and Chips which they somehow managed to ruin completely: overfried pre-battered frozen fish, huge fries with “tartare” which was actually mayonnaise served in a plastic cup accompanied by a salad swimming in sweet vinaigrette. But the wine was good.

Day 30:    drive to HAAST via Lake Matheson (we visited Franz Jozef and especially Fox Glacier 13 years before): we did the walk around the wonderful lake with in between rain patches some views of the mountains reflected in it ; we spotted the light blue Entoloma Hochstetteri  mushroom, only one (see pictures) and had coffee and dangerously good cakes at the Café.

We stopped further in Ship Creek and Knight’s Point lookout. All worth a stop if you can beat the sand flies! We started with using the all-natural “Goodbye Sandfly”. Which actually works when you apply it every 17 minutes. After a few applications, the flies skid onto your skin upon landing, their wings get drenched in the oil, they lose all sense of direction and can’t even find your skin anymore. But you start looking shiny like a bodybuilder getting ready for a show and your feet start squeaking in your shoes full of oil…

We soon started using Bushman with the good old 80% deet…

Looking on the map at the location of Haast, at a junction of the sea and roads entering the mountains with exciting names and even its own pass… you expect too much of the place.  It was indeed hard to find a place for the night. We stayed in a simple room at the Asure Haast lodge for 70 NZD and had dinner at the “World Heritage Hotel” restaurant. (Don’t put your expectations as high as the name of the hotel makes you hope for!).

Day 31: drive to QUEENSTOWN (via Cardrona – Crown Range ) with stop for lunch in WANAKA.

Enjoy the scenic drive from Haast with stops in Thunder Creek Falls and Fantail falls and after entering Otago, the Blue Pools Walk.

We also stopped in WANAKA for lunch. The place feels like a posh Swiss mountain resort. And indeed, we had our first “alternative” meal at Relishes Café, next to i-Site.

QUEENSTOWN has expanded a lot since we were there last. It has a dangerously attractive array of outdoor sports shops, goodies and activities to offer. All laid out in a cosy little town in a stunning location. Of course, it comes with a high number of visitors and with them, traffic problems and bad   tourist behaviour. (Give the place a miss during Chinese New Year – as with all tourist traps in NZ during that period.)

You can easily spend a week in and around town having all kinds of excitement. Make your pick at i-Site (first make a budget on how much you want to spend, though!).

One activity we did during our -in total 4 days- stay in QT (on and off, to and from Te Anau) and which we strongly recommend is mountain biking from the downtown park to Jack’s point (25 km one way, count 4-5 hours return! Towards the end there are some steep bits!) The trail follows the lake, passes by and goes behind the golf course all the way to Jack’s point (with yet another golf course…) giving you stunning views and a good idea on the orientation of QT on lake Wakatipu.  We rented bikes (38 NZD pp) from the friendly and knowledgeable guys at VERTIGO. They can recommend you many more trails. One we certainly want to do on a next visit is the “Around the Mountains Trail”.

Note that we don’t know how expensive accommodation is in Queenstown as we could stay with good friends there! But we are afraid rather expensive!

Day 32: KEPLER TRACK day 1: from the “control gates “of the Lake and the Waiau river to LUXMORE HUT.

We drove early from QT to Te Anau (2h15m, the road leads further to the Divide which is the end of Routeburn and ends at Milford Sound), picked up the tickets for Kepler at the DOC office, parked the car at the Control Gates (Kepler is a circular track) and set off.  You start with a nice flat walk along the Lake through mainly beech trees with a huge variety of mushrooms on the ground.

From Brod Bay on the track starts to climb:  from about 215 m altitude to 1085 m over 8.2 km. So, about 10% or double the steepness as the first day on the Heaphy. Once the tree line reached you have panoramic views over the lake and the surrounding mountains.  It took us 3h15m to reach Luxmore Hut (the hut has a “changing room” with water, the only hut we stayed in with this facility)

Luxmore hut has great views over the Te Anau Lake and its Southern Fiord. Also explore the Luxmore Cave (slippery so wear your hiking shoes and take a headlamp!).

In the evening the warden gave us a tour explaining the main flora of the tussock around the hut and how it is adapted to high(er) altitude and dry weather. Note that the tree line in NZ is about 1000 m lower than in most parts in Europe. Apparently, this because the soil is much colder and the layer of soil much thinner…

Day 33: KEPLER TRACK: day 2: from Luxmore to IRISBURN HUT. (we did it in 3h30m. As it was raining, we didn’t stop at all).

This should be the most beautiful day of the track! With great views along the trail and apparently the best from Mount Luxmore (1472 m) – which we didn’t even climb.  (So, the good thing is that we have to do the walk again!). But even in the rain we enjoyed the limited amount of views.

This is a tougher day than the elevation profile on the map lets you believe!  You basically climb twice to about 1385 m from around 1000 m and then a steep descent to Irisburn at 497 m alt.

At Forest Burn Saddle shelter, look out for Kea’s, the world’s only alpine parrot. From this shelter on, the track follows a splendid ridge (great job done by DOC!) all the way to Hanging Valley. And then down in beautiful forest in an endless series of zigzags.

From Irisburn Hut, a nice little walk leads to the Irisburn Falls and swimming hole (for the brave). Look out for blue ducks!

In the evening the warden at Irisburn told us funny stories about walkers’ behaviour…

Day 34: KEPLER TRACK day 3: from Irisburn to MOTURAU HUT. 16.2 km, 3h 40m.

A gentle and nice walk. Look out for riflemen! (a bird!) and Rimu trees towards the end. At Moturau you can take a dip in Lake Manapouri.  And still plenty of beautiful shrooms around.

Day 35: KEPLER TRACK : day 4 : from Moturau hut back to the CONTROL GATES . And stay in TE ANAU.

The last section of Kepler is a wonderfully pleasant hike with a few side trips along the trail to explore!  And take time to be awed by the sheer power of the majestic Waiau river!!

CONCLUSION KEPLER TRACK

  • Without a doubt a great walk of which we couldn’t fully appreciate the greatness because of the weather. The few dramatic views we had during the second day hold a promise for when we return in fine weather!
  • We met a lot of people that did the walk in 2 or 3 days, cutting the trail short by taking a ferry to Brod Bay and start/finish there or stop/start at Rainbow Reach to take the shuttle bus there.
  • Again, we probably would do it as we did: 4 days and 3 nights, allowing plenty of time to absorb the beauty of the surroundings.
  • Expect the huts to be full along this Great Walk. (and all other ones in this part of NZ!)
  • There is a “changing room” in Luxmore with a faucet and little basin, so you don’t have to change into dry clothes in the bunkrooms. All huts should provide this as often you are wet to the bone by rain and sweat and changing clothes in the bunkrooms makes the whole place wet. Toilets are of the flushing type. There are cooking facilities everywhere on the walk but no pots and pans.

In TE ANAU we stayed in Top 10 holiday park for 175 NZD, ensuite room for 2 nights, not much more left. (There are cheaper choices around, but you need to book in time!)

Dinner at Paradiso downtown, offering a good Italian Pizza!

Day 36: TE ANAU: Is a cute little place wonderfully located on the shores of Te Anau Lake with views of Mount Jackson and Mount Luxmore. Worth staying there 2-3 days.  It also has a lot of great day hikes on offer (certainly the one starting at Rainbow Reach by walking towards Shallow Bay and even to Moturau hut, the last day of Kepler in a relaxed way!).  And of course, everything to do with the Milford Sound can be booked here.

We saw another interesting activity being advertised downtown: floating down the WAIAU river and coming back by mountain bike. But the only 2 guides certified for it were doing the Godzone race…

As it started to rain in the morning, we first went to see the movie about Fiordland : “SHADOWLAND” in the purpose built theatre in town. The movie is made by 2 helicopter pilots who fly daily over Fiordland.

We then drove to MANAPOURI and did a little bush walk along Fraser beach. Went for picnic to Rainbow Reach. Stopped at the bird sanctuary to see their Takahe and Kea. Coffees at the Sandfly Café in Te Anau town.

At 16.00 we had to go and try our gear for the Doubtful Sound at “GO ORANGE “(actually all belonging to Real Journeys that own about half of all Southern Island adventure activities).  The 3-day trip costs 565 NZD pp and includes transfers, kayak rental and gear rental.

Had dinner in Redcliff Restaurant (book in advance!) in Mokonui Street. Very good and cosy!

Day 37-38-39: DOUBTFUL SOUND 3-day Sea Kayaking:

Day 1: pick up at 06.15h in Te Anau (at the long term parking) 30 min drive to Manapouri, ferry from Manapouri to the Power Station across the Lake (50 min) ; bus to Deep Cove (30 min).

During the three days we paddled from Deep Cove to Crooked Arm, about 25 km, the second day further into Crooked Arm, a leisurely 15 km and the last day return to Deep Cove, again 25 km.  To sum it up (but of course the sum doesn’t justify by far the beauty of it): we had majestic views of mountains reflected into the lake-like water and of magnificent waterfalls, we saw twice bottlenose dolphins (resident) and up close, a fur seal sunbathing and an alive possum.

We had exceptionally good weather: 3 days of sunshine, only the last day strong (head) winds! That day we left in the dark at 06.00 am (so clearing the campsite and put the gear in the canoes starting at 04.30) to arrive in Deep Cove at 12.30 (pick up at 13.30 to go all the way back to Lake Manapouri and Te Anau). We had Joel as guide, a very knowledgeable and cautious but funny guy!

CONCLUSION DOUBTFUL SOUND (DS) 3 -DAY KAYAKING

  • Without a doubt – so not doubtful at all as James Cook thought the prevailing winds would not allow his ships from sailing back out of the sound and therefore called it “Doubtful”! – one of the experiences of a lifetime! One way to get as close as possible with nature!
  • When you really want to explore the Sound, 3 days is a minimum. The “Overnight on the boat and so called “one day paddling” also advertised means that you really only go paddling for 2 hours in Deep Cove. (“a day” is what it takes the operator to organise the event, not the time you expect doing it). Not really worth all the hassle. Nor the money..!
  • Doubtful Sound is peaceful! During the 3 days you see about 2-3 tourist boats per day. In Milford (we were told) about 50 in the morning alone. How long DS can keep out the hordes of tourists remains the question.
  • Fiordland is one of the wettest places in the world! It gets 300 days of rain per year with an average of 11.5 meters (= 4 times London). So, the 3 days of sunshine we had resembled almost a drought!
  • We were well prepared but not enough still:
      • The campsite is nothing more than some cleared vegetation and flattened soil and a vault toilet.
      • The first night temperatures dropped to 6 degrees Celsius. My > 15-degree Celsius sleeping bag could hardly keep me warm, even wearing all the layers I had brought.
      • Rainproof warm clothes are not an unnecessary luxury! And bring at least one extra change of clothes!
      • Hard sole shoes are also a must because you need to carry your canoes a few times per day over rocky beaches! Painful if you have soft soles (like diving shoes) (crocs or croc-like are the most convenient as you can wear them in the boat and in the evening.)
      • The first day after having set up your tent, while changing from your wetsuit into dry clothes, you may be cursing the one that dragged you into this adventure!! But… always think: “The sheer beauty of nature outweighs by far little inconveniences (sandflies?)”!
      • The shelter tent set up by the guide makes the evenings bearable and even cosy!
      • Bring handy pots and easy to cook foods: we had one gas stove with 2 small pits for 8 people.
      • Bring headlamps.
      • Don’t forget the thing you would crave the most. There is quite some space in the canoes! And share with all! You are eight in total, so you can share 8 personal cravings!
      • The canoes are very stable and with double-sided paddles, easy to navigate
      • Be prepared to paddle quite a bit and quite hard, though!

  • Go down to Moose Café in Te Anau after being back to continue the experience and the fun!

Day 40 -41 : Queenstown : see higher.

Day 42:  ROUTEBURN TRACK, day 1 :  (don’t forget to pick up your tickets for the walk in a DOC office! ) from Routeburn shelter to ROUTEBURN FALLS HUT.

The drive along Wakatipu Lake to GLENORCHY (on itself also a pleasant place to stay and use as a base!)  and then further up over the Dart and Rees Rivers is already stunning! On the way you will also notice a sign to “Paradise”! When so nearby already, it is certainly worth visiting!( This is also the way to start the Rees Dart Track).

Note that around Routeburn Shelter there are also quite a few day walks while the easy climb to ROUTEBURN FLATS (at 458 m altitude only) is a very pleasant day walk on itself!

From Routeburn shelter it is an 8.8 km with 560 m ascent, a moderate climb which we did in 2h15m. This in stunning surroundings and with the Routeburn river heavenly blue and making its way down in every possible physical form.  The Routeburn Falls hut (1005 m alt) has a terrace with splendid views.  In the afternoon, go up a further 10-minutes to see the Falls.

The Falls hut is brand new and has 2 big bunkrooms arranged in 2 x 2 bunks, with flush toilets, cooking facilities but no pots nor pans. As the hut is just above the tree line, nights can be chilly though, even in summer. The fireplace functions well in having your clothes dry overnight, plain luxury for the commoners or riffraff we are. Just behind this hut you will notice the luxury hut for the guided tours where clothes are machine washed and dried while guests are nipping from their G&T’s….

Day 43: ROUTEBURN TRACK: day 2: from Routeburn Falls Hut to LAKE HOWDEN .

When we booked in November last year, Lake Mc Kenzie (LMK) was already fully booked, so we had to walk till Lake Howden Hut! We walked exactly 1h to Harris Saddle, from there 2h 5min to Lake Mc Kenzie and a further 2h15 min to Lake Howden.

After having passed the Falls, the hike becomes really “alpine”! You are passing a chilly saddle with potential gale winds and often snowfall, even in summer! But views from Harris Saddle onwards are just wonderful! (We got a good idea of them for about an hour only).

Mac Kenzie hut ‘s location  (see picture) deserves its popularity! The Lake and surroundings need a further exploration on a next visit!  We had lunch in the Hut (instant soup, Tasty Cheese and crackers, indeed!)

The hike continues to have its surprises, though. Pictures of the 174 m high Earland Falls, about an hour from LMK are probably making their way onto Instagram or FB about twice every minute during summer!

Lake Howden is a sweet little hut of 20 places lying at a corner of Howden Lake.  We just had enough energy left that day to go along the lake and check out the campsite.

Day 44: ROUTEBURN TRACK: day 3. From Lake Howden to THE DIVIDE (the end)

(1.5 h BUT definitely leave more time in nice weather to go up to KEY SUMMIT (we did, so is included in the 1.5 h but Key summit was surrounded by clouds so we just had a look at the picture posted there of the possible view of Hollyford Valley… ) . We had booked a shuttle via Tracknet (80 NZD pp) to bring us back to QT picking us up at 10.15 h. A beautiful ride but taking 4 hours…

CONCLUSION ROUTEBURN:

  • In terms of total experience, from the drive to the start, from the setting at Routeburn Shelter to long after the end at Divide, probably our favourite walk!
  • If you manage to book so, we would still walk it in 3 days, 2 nights: book Routeburn Falls, Lake Mac Kenzie and the 3rd day from Lake Howden either to Divide and go and stay in Te Anau and come back via Greenstone Caples Track the day after or go straight from Lake Howden to Caples (then you miss Key Summit) ! As such you avoid the long ride back to QT (which is in itself not unpleasant)
  • Using Glenorchy as base (or even Queenstown but much more expensive) you could spend a whole 2-3 weeks having the ULTIMATE WALK experience doing the Routeburn, Milford Track (booking opens July 1 for the next season!), Hollyford Track and then coming back via Greenstone Caples, then spend some time in PARADISE and finish with the Rees Dart Track. In between you can go shopping for new supplies in Te Anau, Glenorchy or Queenstown…
  • All huts have cooking facilities, fireplaces and flush toilets. No pots and pans.

Day 45:  Walk around CORONET Peak, coffee in ARROWTOWN and drive to CLYDE

Nice views from Coronet Peak. Also Arrowtown is worth visiting, you can easily spend a whole day browsing through the village – but you will not be the only one with this intention. We just went there for Coffee in Duddel’s Café ; btw, they have very nice dumplings!

Drive to Clyde to start the Central Otago Rail Trail (CORT) the day after. Stayed in an ensuite room in the Antique lodge that evening for 130 NZD excl bf.  A good place. Had dinner in Oliver’s Lodge and Stables, a” white tablecloth dinner” as they call it in NZ.   Very nicely restored grocery store! Very nice beers – own brewery and good food. They also have rooms in their beautiful courtyard. But pricey! (note there is one more restaurant in town worth checking out plus a take away)

Have an evening stroll after dinner through town!

When we returned from the CORT 4 days later, we stayed at Dunstan House for the night, right across the street.  The place could feature easily and right away in any old Western movie: it was and is kept beautifully in style! The hotel just had new owners, a nice couple! They also plan to serve food later on.  Check this out as it always feels better to eat in places where the owners are directly involved in cooking and serving you than when the place is owned by a large group – like across the street –  where the service is impersonal and indifferent.

Day 46: CENTRAL OTAGO RAIL TRAIL : day 1 : from Clyde to LAUDER.

We picked up our bikes at Trailjourneys down the road to Alexandra. We rented 2 bikes, panniers and return shuttle from Middlemarch for 220 NZD per person. They can arrange the whole tour or parts of it with accommodation and also suitcase transfer every evening. Anything is possible. The bikes they designed themselves for this trail, actually simple but good enough trekking bikes.  A well organised and friendly company! (Note that there are three more operators serving the trail.)

We cycled a bit back to Clyde town and did the trail next to the impressive Clutha river to ALEXANDRA. This adds about 8 km to the trail but is worth it!  In Alexandra you connect with the CORT by first passing a fantastically looking mountain bike track, probably the Flat Hill Trail! (for more mountain biking, check out www.centralotagonz.com with more on the Roxburgh trail as well.

After Alexandra you enter “block-mountains “country as they call it, in rolling hills and pasture.  We had a nice lunch in the garden of Chattoo Creek. Had then luckily tailwind all the way to OPHIR, a 3 km detour from the trail.  Ophir is nothing more than a street but with charming Art Deco like cute little buildings! We had coffee and great pastries at the beautiful and friendly Pitches Store. They also have rooms! Also Blacks Hotel looks inviting – they were renovating when we passed. Ophir, worth checking out!

Lauder is really in the middle of nowhere. Spielberg could have filmed part of “Duel” here. We stayed at the Lauder Railway School B&B, indeed the former school of the village; cosy and sweet. 130 NZD incl bf. We stayed in the Sports Shed. And for a bit of a Faulty Towers’ experience, head across the road. There is the Lauder Hotel, but they don’t provide rooms anymore! They do serve dinner – the only food available in Lauder! –  but you must go and book immediately after you arrive in Lauder.  They decide when you can have dinner…   And only mains and dessert! But dinner was good. And to make the picture complete, later on in the evening the owner of the B&B gave us a rendition of “King of the Road” accompanied on his ukulele.  Sweet!

(Check out Lauder before you go because the owners of the B&B are looking to sell and move as do the owners of the hotel!)

Day 47: CENTRAL OTAGO RAIL TRAIL: Day 2: from Lauder to RANFURLY.

A simple but good breakfast at the B&B before a magnificent day! The POOLBURN GORGE between Lauder and AURIPO is so lovely! Take time to dismount and climb some trails for even better views.  (Don’t forget to put off your shades in the tunnels and put on your headlamps!).

We stopped at HAYES ENGINEERING to visit the museum (strongly recommended! you visit also the “Homestead” , i.e where the family lived) ) and had lunch in Hannah’s kitchen with rhubarb and ginger cake as  dessert. Delicious!  We spent a pleasant 3 hours at Hayes. The weather was beautiful, the skies were blue, the air crisp and the grass freshly cut.

WEDDERBURN makes also an interesting stop! In the unstaffed info kiosk, you get to see the difference between the many kinds of wool that are produced in the area and their applications. And 500 m further down the road is Wedderburn Tavern where you could have dinner when staying in Wedderburn.

We stayed in RANFURLY, advertised as an “Art Deco” capital…  Indeed, there are some interesting buildings and paintings in town.  We expect it only to be bustling though during the Art Deco festival in February. By now it was virtually dead (except for some Irish descendants dressed in green celebrating St Patrick’s in their garden); the Centennial Milk Bar was closed; only the hotel showing some activity. The Ranfurly Hotel on the outside is beautiful but is missing soul….  But okay, the restaurant, the usual fare, was good and the room comfortable. There is a 4Squares in town.

Note that a popular activity done by many is curling in NASEBY. You can arrange pick up in Ranfurly by the Naseby guys. Checkout the website!

Day 47: CENTRAL OTAGO RAIL TRAIL:  from Ranfurly to MIDDLEMARCH.

We first went to watch the interesting video on the history of the Rail in i-Site, in the grand old railway station.

The next section of the trail, from WAIPIATA to HYDE is as beautiful as the Lauder to Auripo section!   Make also time here to explore some of the small trails going up the hills along the road.

From Hyde onwards, the track is gliding down to Middlemarch. Lunch at the Kissing Gate recommended! The shuttle brought us back to Clyde at 13.30 h. This makes also for an interesting ride as you can follow and recognise many places you have passed the 3 days before!

CONCLUSIONS CENTRAL OTAGO RAIL TRAIL

  • We would call it a ride through mesmerising scenery. Relaxing and just lovely!
  • The trail can be done by anybody. Only very gradual ascents and descents, as you would like all of them to be! But if you want, the operators also have e-bikes available!
  • Read all the panels along the trail! And appreciate what our forbearers have gone through to build this rail and for what purpose…
  • The climate here in Central Otago is very different from Fiordland with dry and crispy mornings (8 degrees C) ! As our panniers were only half full, bring certainly long pants and enough layers plus hat or beany or buff and gloves!
  • We would still do it in the 3 days, 2 nights format! But sleep in Ophir the first day (Pitches Store or Black’s Hotel, early bookings for both are needed, we guess!); day 2 stay in Waipiata Country Hotel.
  • Check out also Wedderburn Lodge, Wedderburn Tavern and Kokonga Lodge (a beautiful setting, between Waipiata and Hyde).

Day 48-49 and 50: we drove back to Auckland via Twizel, Christchurch and Kaikoura (Stayed the first night there),  Ferry and stayed in Raumati the second night and Stayed in Cambridge the third night.

CONCLUSION GREAT WALKS

  • There are still 3 on the DOC list to do for us: Lake Waikaremoana, the Rakiura on Stewart Island and finish the Tongariro crossing. But we wouldn’t mind doing again all the above 6! And there are many more we want to walk: Rees Dart, Hump Ridge, Mt Taranaki, etc.
  • The DOC is really doing a great job in making these walks very accessible and Great in every sense of the word. The DOC sites are well organised and give excellent service! The paths are well maintained, and the huts are attended by wardens who love nature in the first place and want to pass on this passion to all passing by. Note that all huts offer info on the track and they have maps and books on fauna and flora!
  • The Great walks will remain great as the paths will probably never be inundated with large masses of walkers! But DOC allowing private lodges along the Milford and Routeburn does not help keeping the numbers low on the tracks! Milford is already paying the price for it.
  • As a reference, we want to list some of the useful things (we think “useful”) next to the obvious to take on the walks:
    • Really Waterproof rain jacket and waterproof long trousers
    • Really Waterproof covers for the backpacks (we found out that our first cover was not “really” waterproof!)
    • A beanie and light gloves; and a buff can serve for anything.
    • A hat or cap against the sun;
    • Sleeping bag: from 10 degrees C and above (when in summer).
    • One pair of sandals or similar for the evening in the huts (most huts ask to leave the walking shoes outside)
    • Clothes pegs (6 pp) to hang your clothes outside the huts and prevent them from blowing away
    • A few empty Ziplog log bags of various sizes, they are light, handy and waterproof
    • As breakfast we had various cereals, muesli, oats, granola, nuts and dried fruits mixed to one’s liking in a Ziplog bag with the amount of breakfast for each day times the number of days. Next a Ziplog bag with milkpowder. In the morning you just heat water, add milkpowder to a portion of the mix.
    • For lunch: crackers, tuna spread and Tasty Cheese and sometimes salami. As dessert peanut butter in small sachets.
    • For each of us per day: 2 x instant soup, 2 x instant coffee, 1 x tea, 1 x chocolate milk; ideally not individually packed but in a plastic jar or ziplog! (note that none of the huts have garbage bins, so you need to take all wraps and packaging with you!)
    • For dinner: freeze dried meals: check out: The Back Country, The Gourmet Company, Absolute Wilderness,….(Note that you need long enough spoons to spoon out the food!), in Wanaka : check out the outdoor sports stores: there is a local duo that just started making these foods. There are also high pressure steam cooked foods (A bit heavier to carry but a lot tastier!): Kaweka Food Company. Most are available at large grocery shops, outdoor stores, even some DOC offices.
    • Coming handy always: a lighter, a swiss knife, headlamp.
    • Except for Whakahoro on the Whanganui, you don’t need to take a camper gas stove. Where cooking facilities are available, there are usually plenty, so you don’t have to queue long to heat something up (except along Whanganui where guided groups may monopolise the facilities for a longer while.)

CONCLUSION NEW ZEALAND

  • While the weather is miserable in the northern hemisphere, NZ offers a fantastic alternative! Plus, all the beauty of the country comes with a friendly and relaxed people!
  • Unfortunately, NZ is quickly becoming a victim of its own success!
  • And a lot of people seem to travel now for a different purpose: instead of really wanting to explore and feel a destination, live an experience like :  “we are here, we enjoy it, we may even take a picture, we want to stay as long as we can, but have to leave eventually” they travel for “we stopped there as well, took quickly a picture and left. So, friends, colleagues and neighbours can see on Instagram, Wechat, FB, how glorious our life is”.
  • A Chinese tourist asked why he was queuing in front of Ferg Hamburgers in Queenstown summed it all up: “I actually don’t like hamburgers, but I want to show my friends I was here. …!”You can easily recognize this kind of travellers: on the bus or ferries they show no interest at all for the scenery outside. They are just glued to their little screens.