I always wanted to visit New Zealand which was the land for outdoors lovers. The chance came this year when my daughter planned to visit a close friend in Hamilton, NZ. We expanded it into a two-week sightseeing trip with spouse and daughter. The travel arrangement was done with an agent, who scheduled flights, accommodations and some tours, but left us freedom to drive with a rental car and stop anywhere we wanted.
It was an exploratory trip rather than a single location hike. We flew from SFO to Auckland to first explore the Northern Island. We stayed in Rotorua, known for its Maori culture and many sightseeing places, such as volcanic sites, agricultural shows, a Kiwi lab in the zoo, a Polynesian hot spring, a canopy walk in a redwood forest, a skyline lift with nature walk, until we were tired.
The next destination was Nelson on the Southern Island. We joined a boat ride tour in the Abel Tasman Bay National Park, coupled with a three hour hike along the hills parallel to the shore to catch the last boat home. This excursion showed us the beautiful beaches, blue-green waters, semi-tropical forests, mostly in fine weather.
In Nelson we rented a car and drove to Queenstown. My daughter quickly got accustomed to the left-side traffic and round-abouts, which took the stress out of us seniors. The next day we continued to Te Anau, a most beautiful town in the vicinity of the Southern NZ Alps. On the way we stopped, ladies shopped, I took pics with my new camera. In the afternoon my daughter and I hiked the Kepler Track to Motorua Hut but got rained out on the return. In the evening we joined a group tour to visit the glow worms in a cave. The guides explained all about the little creatures, squeezed us through 1 m small holes, guided us on a short boat ride on a river in the cave, assured us that no earthquake were coming (?).
It rained the next day, but we decided to drive up to famous Milford Sound. The road follows along a valley with increasingly steep mountains on both sides. When the sun broke out there was a beautiful double rainbow across the valley. We stopped for a hike along the Routeburn Track to the Howden Lake Hut, but then the rain drove us back. On the route to Milford we saw innumerable waterfalls, passed through a long tunnel, played with the Keas on the cars, and finally reached the Sound. A bit of a let down in the rain, but better with fewer people than in the crowded summer time. We returned with fewer stops.
The next day was a reminder that weather rules in the mountains. Our planned tour to Doubtful Sound was canceled since the rain had washed out a bridge. The road to Milford Sound was closed, the glowworm caves were closed since the river rose and boats were stuck. At least there was the Kepler Track which we hiked toward Lake Manapuri, only to be rained out in the afternoon. The locals spoke of an unusually early winter this year.
On April 18 we had a sunny morning on our way to Wanaka. We took a short cut through the mountains and followed the Crowd Range Road over the highest pass on the island (1100 m). Enjoyed the nice sceneries of lakes (Hawea and Wanaka) and mountains. We had an elegant hotel next to the lake and admired the Fall colors around beautiful Lake Wanaka.
It was a long drive from Wanaka to Franz Josef Glacier. The road (Hwy 6) passed through mountains, reached the coast at Haast and offered many nice views of the Tasman Sea and several lakes. At Fox Glacier we stopped and hiked up to the highest point permitted to view the glacier. It was an introduction to the next bigger glacier, Franz Josef.
In the morning we toured to Lake Mapurika and the Okarita Lagunes where we hiked along the a wild shore and on the lagune nature trail. In the afternoon we joined a guided small group tour to the base of the Franz Josef glacier. The guide was excellent and informed us about glaciology, plants, Maori culture, history and climate problems. As we returned the clouds sank down and the show was over. We retreated to a hot spring followed by a fine dinner in town.
The next day we drove to Greymouth, stopping and shopping in the former gold mining town Hokitika, and arriving in time to return the rental car and catch the Trans Alpine Train from Greymouth to Christchurch. This was another adventure since one could enjoy watching the sceneries rather than the road. The back country seemed vast and empty. Green land means farm land, brown land was untouched. The train climbed and passed through an 8 km long tunnel near Arthur Pass. Great pictures could be taken of fall colors near streams and mountains. We arrived in Christchurch by darkness and were shuttled to Novotel for our last night in NZ.
Sunday morning we took a plane from Christchurch to Auckland where we had time to toured in town. By midday we continued to San Francisco, arriving on the same day earlier than we departed. It was a wonderful, action filled trip. New Zealand is definitely a country worth a trip.