Kia Ora! I could not start this blog any other way. With two words that we have been hearing during the three weeks that our tour of New Zealand has lasted, the land of the long white cloud, in Maori Aotearoa. The first thing I want to say is that there is not a single valid itinerary. There are many ways to travel around New Zealand and all of them are very valid.
That said, the itinerary is significantly affected by the time of year in which the trip is made. It can be done on a car, motorhome, public transport, or bicycle. We started the trip in the South Island, and finished in the North Island in Auckland. The main motivation for doing the tour in this way was mainly to finish in Auckland, to take a flight to the Cook Islands.
Finally, the day had arrived! After more than a year of preparation for the trip, we got up that day with a clear mission, to endure the endless journey to New Zealand. The journey is long, very long and it is heavy (at least in my case), but let's start at the beginning.
Three hours before we arrived at the airport. So we took the opportunity to get close to one of the lounges at the airport. On the right time, we went to what would be our first flight of the day. The flight was very comfortable. They gave us dinner, breakfast, and lunch. I had time to see three films and especially to try to get some sleep.
Day 1: Christchurch and acclimatization
After a day, we landed at Auckland Airport. Here we collect the suitcases, pass the immigration control, check our bags to Christchurch and move to the domestic terminal. Once all the controls are passed, we go, inside the international terminal, to check our bags for Christchurch.
Once the bags were checked in, we took the free Shuttle from the airport that connects both terminals. We passed again another control and arrived at the end of our boarding gate. The flight was comfortable. After more than a day of life in flight, we were arriving at our final destination. What we were seeing through the window of the plane did not make us dream more and more. We fly through hours above a long white cloud.
Almost two days after our departure, we arrived at our first destination, Christchurch. Now, yes, we were in our final destination, we just needed to collect the suitcases, the car and the trip would officially begin. The flight arrived punctually at 10:25 in the morning. Christchurch welcomed us with a good day, it started well the thing we thought. As it was domestic flight we went straight for the bags that arrived fortunately without problems. We went first for a New Zealand SIM card and secondly for the rental car.
We get the SIM card from the same arrival terminal at Christchurch Airport. With the card already operative, we called to pick us up and take us to the rental office. In 5 minutes we are in the office. I must admit, the first impression of the car was bad. The only thing I liked was that the tires seemed new and it comforted me.
Well, there we went with all the suitcases loaded in the car and we put ourselves in route to the accommodation. It is a very good accommodation on the outskirts of the city 15 minutes from the airport. For Christchurch, we chose a boutique hotel with rooms not very big but with all the details. We loved the first contact with New Zealand breakfasts with a vegetable omelette that was very good. We though started to suffer the mania that they have to add black pepper to everything.
Without further ado, we set off for Christchurch downtown. The first thing we did was to eat in the botanical garden area. We ordered some calamari and some croquettes. We eat next to the entrance to the Gardens, which made it easier to start the visit after lunch.
From the Botanical Garden, we walked past the Peacock Fountain and the Canterbury Museum. We went down Worcester Boulevard to the Cathedral Square. In Cathedral Square we can see what remains of the old Cathedral of Christchurch in 1881.
Fatigue was taking its toll on me. For this reason, we decided to take a walk without a fixed route through the city and go to rest in the lodging a bit before dinner. On the way we could see on Hereford Street, in front of the Memorial, is the Cardboard Cathedral of Christchurch. For its construction cardboard tubes were used and is currently also used as a concert hall.
Strolling through some of the most commercial streets of Christchurch we arrive at one of the most lively spots in the city. In this center, we find shops and cafes. We liked this area and it was one of the few in the city in which we breathed a different atmosphere.
We crossed the river Avon again to reach the Jardines area, this time by the Bridge of Remembrance. It is dedicated to the Kiwi soldiers who died in the World War I and also serves as a memorial to those who lost their lives in later wars.
We were already in the last ones so we decided to go for a while to rest to be able to go out to dinner later. We took the opportunity to shower and take off the clothes we had been wearing for two days. With a renewed spirit, we went out for a dinner in a tram. At first, the idea seemed curious to me, as it would allow us to see things while we were having dinner. The route that the tram follows is quite broad.
We were already exhausted. The dinner by tram was long and we needed a good night's sleep. We returned without problems to the accommodation and slept like logs until the next day.
Day 2: The Road to Tekapo
We slept well and we got up like new. We needed a good night's sleep for our first full day in New Zealand and a good breakfast and both were fulfilled. After our New Zealand-style toast, fruit and pepper tortilla, we set out on the road. Without knowing it, Tekapo would become our favorite corner of New Zealand.
About 9:30 that we left we did not find much traffic for the SH76 to the SH1 where we began to find the landscape of New Zealand. There were mountains on the side, and roads of one lane in each direction. We still did not know all the good that is coming. We stopped at each side of the road to take countless photos with views of the Southern Alps in the background.
After about 60 kilometers on the SH1, we arrive at Rakaia, a town known for salmon fishing and its huge glass fiber salmon. We deviate from this road to catch a quieter road that was recommended by the Christchurch accommodation.
After half an hour we arrive at the small town of Mount Somers where we made our first purchase to stock up on things we wanted to have in the car. Here we also get information about the area and possible routes. We basically buy potato chips, chocolate, water and soft drinks.
From Mount Somers we headed to Mount Sunday. They are barely 50 kilometers but it take an hour or so. Most of the route is through gravel lands, through the Hakatere Potts Road, which crosses the tiny settlement of Lake Clearwater. On this route we find several farms with sheep and it is normal to find them in the middle of the road.
We cross the Hakatere Conservation Park, surrounded by mountains and areas of wide meadows. Going to Mount Sunday had a double interest. We wanted to see the location where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. We also wanted to do a little trek to acclimatize before facing the Hooker Valley Track. The truth is that we liked it more than expected.
The area is wonderful and after the simple 3-kilometer climb to the top we enjoy unparalleled views and peace. We cross two small suspension bridges, our first bridges in New Zealand on the Rangitata River. We enjoy the views and the tranquility that is there in the short route. We only spotted a couple of other people on top of Mount Sunday.
If we add to all this we were alone, it was a very good first route, crossing even small rivers that had been formed by the road that takes us to Mount Sunday. From here we return along the same gravel road to Mount Somers to take the SH72 again to visit Peel Forest. The last stretch to reach the Peel Forest car park is through the Peel Forest Road, with a multitude of deer farms.
Investigating a little later we see that they are used for meat and trophies for their antlers. In the Peel Forest Park Scenic Reserve, there are several routes. We wanted to take the simple trip known as Big Tree Walk. The objective of this short walk is to see the Totara tree.
It is an endemic species of New Zealand that can measure up to 35 meters and that stands out for its longevity. Some of them are believed to be 1,000 years old. The walk here is very nice. From here we went back to SH72 to Geraldine where we took advantage of to eat something at the cafe. We find a lot of family atmosphere on the site with an area with bouncy castles. It has outdoor tables and we order burgers and sandwiches.
From Geraldine to Lake Tekapo, we take the SH79 to Farlie and from there to the SH8. These roads have spectacular views. We arrived at Lake Tekapo with enough time to appreciate the specialness of this place. We keep the backpack at the lodge. It was one of the first places we booked almost a year in advance. The owner, helped us not only with our stay at Lake Tekapo but with the organization of our entire trip.
Lake Tekapo became our favorite corner of New Zealand. We took advantage of what was left of day and light to take photos in the lake area. We see the Church of the Good Shepherd, the most photographed church in New Zealand. The Church of the Good Shepherd is built in stone at the edge of the river with incredible views. We find it surrounded by tourists, mainly Japanese, taking photos as if possessed.
From the church, after a short walk, we reach the Mackenzie Sheep Dog Statue of the Collie dog made in broce. It serves as a tribute to the important role played by sheep dogs in the Mackenzie Country.
After our exploration we went to dinner at the cafe. We liked it as the views are good and we ordered the salmon. Upon leaving the restaurant we could see for ourselves why the night sky in Lake Tekapo is considered one of the best on the planet to observe the stars.
We see the Mount John that is next to Lake Tekapo and that has an observatory at its top. The day had been great, improving with each passing moment and each kilometer we traveled and we had also reached one of the most impressive places. Satisfied and tired we went to sleep.
Day 3: Mount Cook National Park
We went to bed very early but at 6 in the morning my eyes were like saucers. That day I woke up like a child. I was nervous checking the time that dawned, watching the time, and checking routes. Tekapo gave us one of the best sunrises with a clear day with the snowy mountains as a backdrop and Lake Tekapo in the foreground.
We had a very good breakfast in anticipation of the day we had ahead. For the SH8 that takes us to Twizel we have to drive a little less than 50 kilometers. Our goal was to reach the Hooker but it is difficult with the landscapes that are there. For the first time we saw Mount Cook on the trip brightening the day with stunning views and surprisingly no clouds.
Suddenly before us appears a different lake, with an indescribable color. The turquoise blue of Lake Pukaki is due to the origin of its waters. Most of the water in this lake comes from the river systems that extend through the Southern Alps. The ice of the glaciers, due to its immense weight drag large quantities of crushed rock with the current. Therefore, we see that grayish color in those parts of the lake that receive water from the glaciers. When these particles are deposited in the lake bed, they leave a unique turquoise color.
Leaving aside the wonderful lake, we turn off the SH80 with the Alps and Mount Cook already in front. The day was perfect and we really wanted to do the Hooker Valley Track. During the route we saw many families doing it and the truth is that it does not disappoint.
We started by seeing the rock of Freda Du Faur, the first woman to reach a peak at Mount Cook. Next we find the Alpine Memorial, dedicated to all those people who lost their lives in the Mount Cook area. The next stop is the Mueller Lookout with views of Lake Mueller and sporadic roars of large blocks of ice and snow that fell off the slopes. That sound like a thunder that causes the small avalanche impact us. It made us continually turn around to try to capture the moment of detachment and enjoy the sound of water descending the Hooker River and the sounds of ice.
During the route we pass three suspension bridges. The passage of the first suspension bridge allows us a very good view of Lake Muller with the mountains in the background. We observe the "flour" color characteristic of the Hooker River due to the particles of suspended rock that it transports and that later spills into Lake Pukaki.
Through the third and last bridge, we turn right towards the Hooker Glacier. In my opinion it is the bridge with the best views of the three, completely dominated by the views of Mount Cook. The prize of the Hooker Valley Track is the end with Lake Hooker and its icebergs, due to the time of year in which we were. There is the Hooker Glacier in the background and above all, Mount Cook.
We take advantage to regain strength at the large table facing the lake. After a long time enjoying the place, we take the road again, this time back. It's the same route, but this time it gets shorter, maybe because there are fewer stops to take photos. It even gave us the impression that it was a bit more downhill than the outing. We took advantage to order pizza and a cold drink and enjoy on the terrace.
With renewed strength we headed to Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier. To get here we take the SH80 again until the detour through the Tasman Valley Road. We arrive to the Tasman Glacier View Point. The truth is that it is not a complicated route, but doing it after eating with those steep steps, is not the best idea.
Then we arrive at the Blue Lakes to which we go down to the shore. Also noteworthy are the views of the entire valley as we ascend the road. The real goal is to get to Lake Tasman and certainly does not disappoint. I sit to see the lake with the Tasman Glacier in the background and above all listening to the silence.
Leaving Lake Tasman and the Aoraki National Park area had a strange feeling. On the one hand I was very happy for having been able to see Hooker on a wonderful day. But on the other hand I was with the feeling of having seen the best things of the whole trip and hoping to see things that exceeded these places.
As we were spending another night in Lake Tekapo we unmade the route by car that we had made in the morning. Now Lake Pukaki is on the left and Mount Cook is behind us. Arriving in Tekapo, it occurred to us to climb Mount John. The problem is that we were very short of time. We arrived at about 4:30 p.m. and at a quarter to five, they close the access and make everyone go down.
We eat in the cafe and enjoy the views. As we could not climb we went to the office to know the forecasts for the next day in order to make a flight by plane that we had booked. The forecasts were not clear at all and we were summoned to call them the next day around 8:30.
As the day had been long and complete we approached a series of outdoor hot water pools. I could only be as happy as a crab. The place is nice and it is a good option to relax after a day of walking. We went through the accommodation to shower and change clothes to go to dinner at a Japanese restaurant. It has its own salmon fishery and the sushi and sashimi is very tasty. The place is ugly and more expensive than the rest of Tekapo sites, but it was worth going to dinner.
The night was more cloudy than the day before. We again see the wonderful sky of Tekapo. It had been a perfect day and we could not ask for more.
Day 4: Penguins in Oamaru
Today we started the month of October. Spring was coming and we were hoping that the weather would be good too. We finished packing our bags because with all the pain in our hearts, today was going to be the last day in Lake Tekapo. While we had breakfast, we called to see if we could fly or not.
The day started with good news. We are very excited to be able to make our first flight by plane and above in this special place. From Tekapo we arrive at the airport in less than 5 minutes. The flight lasts almost an hour.
From there we made the same route as the previous day through the SH8. This time we passed the detour towards the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and we followed the road to Twizel. I was curious to see this small town. It is a very quiet town with Pukaki Lake a stone's throw away.
From there we headed to one of the stops of the stage, the Clay Cliffs of Omarama. These curious formations of gravel and silt were formed thousands of years ago due to currents caused by glaciers. The Clay Cliffs are about 10 kilometers from the town of Omarama where we take the SH83 to almost Oamaru. We did not see much in Omarama, nor did we think there were many things. So we quickly started our route through the Waitaki valley.
Omarama marks the western beginning of this valley that extends to the coast, reaching Moeraki. On the route we are accompanied by the Waitaki River and several lakes including the Aviemore (the largest) and the Waitaki.
On the route through the SH83 the first stop we made was to see Maori paintings on the rock. It's an easy stop since it's on the edge of the road. There are mainly drawings of animals. The second stop was to see the Elephant Rocks. To get to this point, we pass Duntroon. These rocks are famous among other things, for appearing in films like The Chronicles of Narnia (Aslan camp).
We had plenty of time to get to Oamaru and we stopped to eat just outside the city. It was one of the few times that we had to use Google Maps. It has a large nursery garden, children's areas, shopping areas imitating the style of the American West and even a great castle. After lunch we went to the Bed and Breakfast to leave suitcases and take a walk around the city. Through the owners of the Bed and Breakfast we reserve seats to go to the Blue Penguin Colony.
We had a little time to visit Oamaru. We liked the city, but it was 5:00 p.m. and we thought it was a completely ghost town, with most of the places closed and little or no people on the street. We liked the harbor area, Thames Street and the Public Gardens. It was one of the few places along with the Penguin Colony where we found people.
The street with more life in Oamaru should be Thames Street. It is in this street and in the streets around the port where we see the colonial style of Oamaru. As we went to the penguin colony and we had to be early we did not have dinner, but just had a drink and a smoothie in the restaurant that looked good.
At 6:30 pm we were in the Blue Penguin Colony. We opted to see them coming from the sea in the colony. More than hundred penguins arrived. In the colony arrive the blue penguins, the smallest in the world, of about 30 cm, coming from the sea. It is not allowed to take pictures.
They ask us to be silent and not get up during the time when the penguins are arriving from the sea, which can be between one and two hours. The area is illuminated by some spotlights that, according to the keepers, are of a color that the penguins do not distinguish very well. I do not know if it will be true.
What is certain is that they look a bit hesitant when entering. It was a good experience and at least on my part I did not have the feeling that it was a zoo in the colony. After a good time watching the penguins arrive, we went back to the B&B. We made the mistake of not driving and walk back in the cold.
Day 5: Kaka Point
A new day dawns in Oamaru. The breakfast is very nice. We continue by the east coast of the South Island. We do not go to Bushy Beach because it is too late to see yellow-eyed penguins. We leave it to try to see them at Nugget Point. Before arriving at our first stop of the day, we stopped at Kakanui where we found Alpacas.
The first stop of the day was the Moeraki Boulders. Actually what are these rocks that are found in the Koekohe beach? Are they dinosaur eggs? Remnants of meteorites? The Maoris believe that sailors arrived from a land known as Hawaiki (not to be confused with Hawaii). The canoe they came in ran aground on the coast. The remains of the canoe formed a reef and the rocks represent the baskets of eels and pumpkins that reached the shore.
From the Moeraki Boulders we went to Shag Point/Matakaea. It is a point with wonderful views and that has a small colony of seals. We reach the viewpoint after a very short 5 minute Matakaea Walk. Along the Karitane Scenic Route, we find viewpoints and incredible views of the coast with the Pacific Ocean as the protagonist. One of the viewpoints that I would highlight is the Puketeraki Lookout before arriving in Dunedin.
From there we headed to Dunedin. For the South Island, Dunedin is a giant city. We took advantage of the visit to the city and that the weather worsened a bit to eat. We visit the most emblematic points, the Train Station. The train station built in stone stands out for its hall and the stained glass windows. From there we went to The Octagon, the nerve center of Dunedin. It has that name because it is a square with eight sides.
After lunch, we could not leave Dunedin without visiting the steepest street in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records, Baldwin Street. When we went two things were accomplished. It is really steep and second, it is full of Chinese.
We leave Dunedin towards Catlins take what will be our road for the rest of the day and tomorrow, the Southern Scenic Route. It is a road jewel linking Queenstown and Dunedin with a total length of approximately 610 kilometers. Our first stop on the Southern Scenic Route was at Tunnel Beach, just 10 minutes drive from Dunedin.
The route is approximately 2 kilometers with an hour duration. The views are wonderful, but we did not arrive at the right time and the tide was high. So once we went down the tunnel, we could not explore the beach much.
From Tunnel Beach we follow the Southern Scenic Route that in this first part shares sections with the SH1. At Balclutha we turn off towards Kaka Point. Kaka Point is a very small settlement. We chose it because we liked the accommodation we found and its proximity to Nugget Point.
We went quickly to our B&B. I got the impression that the owner almost did not expect us. It must be because she had booked a long time ago.
We left the suitcases and went to Nugget Point to go to the yellow penguin observation point to see them arrive from the sea. The yellow-eyed penguins can be observed in Roaring Bay where there is a small hut that serves as an observation post.
The yellow-eyed penguins, Hoiho in Maori, are much more timid than the blue penguins and are more easily frightened. So the observation point is much farther from the beach than in the case of the Oamaru Colony. It is much more complex to see and after a while we get desperate, but suddenly the jackpot. The truth is that we feel a great joy to see them. We could only see two in a good while that we were there, but we thought it was as good as the more than one hundred from the previous day.
It was getting cold. We dined at the only place of Kaka Point, which the owner of the B&B had booked in advance. We ordered a seafood and fish dish that turned out well. It has a nice area with fireplace at the entrance. We went to bed early to recover our strength.
Day 6: Surfing the Wind in the Catlins
In Kaka Point we get up with renewed strength. The breakfast is not the best on the trip. The first point to visit is the lighthouse of Nugget Point. We went early and there was no one in the lighthouse, without a doubt one of the most emblematic points of the Catlins. You're supposed to see seals in the lighthouse area, but we were not lucky. It was not going to be our day as far as wildlife observation was concerned.
The second attempt to see seals and sea lions is in the beaches of Cannibal and Surat Bay. They are very beautiful places. In Cannibal Bay we spent more than half an hour touring the entire beach, but in both places the sea lions did not want to be seen. Probably because it was so windy that it could have even flown a sea lion. In the absence of animals, we photographed the wonderful places.
A little sad for not having been able to see sea lions, we started the route of the waterfalls of the day. We visit the Purakaunui Falls. From my point of view it is the most interesting waterfall. We reach the waterfalls after a short 10-minute walk along a path full of ferns.
Even the Matai waterfalls are just 10 minutes away by car. The next stop was Lake Wilkie. Just before reaching the lake there is a viewpoint, the Florence Hill Lookout with stunning views of Tautuku Beach. We could see the characteristic wind of this area even in the waves. Lake Wilkie is just two kilometers from this stop at the viewpoint. We made the short trip to the lake viewpoint which is just 10 minutes.
The next stop on the route, and one of the most interesting of the Catlins, is Cathedral Caves. We were not able to visit them because the visiting season starts at the end of October. The last stop before lunch was the McLean Falls. Along with the first waterfalls of the day, the Purakaunui it seemed the most interesting. It was also the waterfalls that gave me a good lesson.
Trying to become an explorer I went to the second platform of the waterfall. Well, this second platform has very slippery ground because the stone is very wet. I can imagine, that little instant when my body is not in contact with the ground and suddenly, wham! I hit the ground with the ensuing bath. Obviously I got up as quickly as possible and what did I do? Then I looked everywhere in case someone had seen me.
The stage was beginning to weigh already, so we decided to stop to eat. The bad luck was that the cafe was closed the day we went. So we managed with what we had in the car, to continue the route.
Our next stop is Curio Bay and Porpoise Bay, another point where it is possible to see sea lions, but today was not going to be our day. The wind at this point of the route is so strong that it moved the car and dragged us when we went out to see something. Not for nothing this area is well known for the strength of its wind.
Curio Bay Cliffs is a magical place with incredible views. If it had not been for the wind we could have spent hours observing the sea and the coast. We were just in time to get to Te Anau at a reasonable hour, so we settled for seeing them the day before at Nugget Point.
Within walking distance of Curio Bay is Petrified Forest. On this beach we can see the remains of an ancient Jurassic forest of more than 180 million years. We arrived at the petrified forest with the tide already a little high.
It is believed that massive floods of volcanic debris destroyed the forest. The forest grew and was flooded on several occasions. For millions of years the sediments under the water were mixed with silica which transformed the wood into stone. When New Zealand separated from Gondwana, a new coastline was formed, leaving this petrified forest, which can only be visited at low tide.
Our next journey was towards Slope Point, the southernmost point of New Zealand. We were very disappointed to see that the road that leads to Slope Point was cut off from traffic. So we were 6 kilometers from the southernmost point of the island and without the desired photo.
Our tour of the Catlins was coming to an end. We had a single point on our route, Waipapa Point. From Waipapa we only had to get on route to Te Anau passing through Invercargill. It took us a long time to cross Invercargill for the traffic we found and in total it was more than two hours of travel to Te Anau after a long day.
Fortunately in Te Anau there is more variety of places to dine. This night we had dinner at an Italian restaurant. It has a stone oven to make the pizzas. We also eat pasta.
Finally we arrived at about 7:30 pm at the accommodation. It is a one-story lodge with three very spacious and comfortable rooms. The lodge overlooks Lake Te Anau and the city. Thank goodness we were warned, with just enough time to unload luggage, settle down a bit and meet our hosts.
Day 7: Milford Sound
Someday it had to touch us and it was this one. After a week in New Zealand with perfect weather, today we were going to have all the rain we had got rid of. We had booked the cruise through Milford at 11:00 in the morning. We had time to have breakfast quietly and take the Milford Road to our destination. We wanted to do it in our car and then stop where we wanted.
At 9:00 we were already on route along the Milford Road. The road was planned at the end of the 19th century, but it was not until 1953 that the the Homer Tunnel, was finished. The Milford Road or SH94, is one of the best scenic routes in the country if not the best for what we could see. The road allows us to enter one of the country's National Parks, Fiordland, the territory of the Fiords.
The closer we got to Milford, the weather started becoming worse and it started to rain heavily for the first time on the trip. We left the car in the parking lot that is a bit far from the dock and went to check in. The ship is very good. It is spacious, and has two levels that in this trip was almost empty with a few crazy people like me among them.
The day was very cloudy and I partially saw the fjord from our exit at the pier. As soon as we leave we can see the Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls with the small port of Milford next door. These 162-meter high waterfalls are permanent and the highest of all Milford. As the ship was advancing through the fjord, the perfect storm was gradually unleashed. The upper deck was cleared because the water mixed with the wind made us wet from above, from the sides and from below.
This causes waterfalls to emerge from many points of our route. We arrived at Harrison Cove where we saw several people in Kayak near the area where the Marine Observatory is located underwater. Navigating by Miter Peak, although it was not clear, nor the mountain tops, we could see many waterfalls and water falling on all the slopes.
One of the highlights of the fjord cruise is Stirling Falls. With 151 meters of height, they are three times higher than the Niagara waterfalls, but the size of the mountains at their back dwarfs them. It is in these waterfalls where the cruises by the fjord approach their base allowing us to enjoy the full force of the waterfall.
When one of the boats approaches the waterfall we can see the size and magnitude of them. Another of the typical points of Milford is the sinuous Palisade Fall. The s-shaped waterfall on rainy days, like the one we were having, increases its spectacularity that descends directly from the Elephant Mountain.
The cruise arrives at Anita Bay in the Tasman Sea, where the wind was stronger and the waves were more intense. One of the last stops of the cruise is the Seal's Rock, where we can see a colony of seals, in this case soaking. Back to the port of Milford at Miter Peak we find the ship where we will spend that night in the fjord.
It was not a good day, but with the abundance of water Milford has a special beauty and a unique magic. The way back was far from being a formality. We take the opportunity to make multiple stops like Tutoko Suspension Bridge. At the next stop The Chasm, we find ourselves a usual suspects in this area, the famous Kea. The Kea is a bird of the parrot family found on the South Island, especially in the alpine areas. It is a very intelligent bird and it is not strange to find Kea couples that work as a team to steal some food from tourists.
The next stop was the Homer Tunnel. Taking advantage of the light traffic we took pictures of the Tunnel, its "visitors" and the wonderful views. Past Monkey Creek we arrive at Lake Marian. Due to heavy rains the access was cut off. We could only do the short 20 minute ride to Viewing Gantry to watch the waterfalls crossing a suspended bridge. To get to the Humboldt waterfalls, we have to deviate a little from the main road through a gravel road through Gunns Camp.
We climb the Pops View with good views over the Hollyford valley. A few kilometers from this viewpoint is The Divide. Besides being the lowest pass in the Southern Alps, it marks the beginning of the famous Key Summit, as well as the Routeburn Track. We did not do it because the weather did not go much and the views we were going to get were not going to be the best.
It continued raining incessantly and was already wet to the bone, so lost to the river or rather to the lake. In this case, we stopped at the Lake Gunn, with views that we loved. Near the Lake Gun is Cascade Creek. We stopped at Deer Flat, Knobs Flat, Kiosk Creek and Upper Eglinton. It was not the best day to go to the Espejo Lakes, but at least it had stopped raining and the sun came out at times. The Mirror Lakes reflect the Earl Mountains. Something was achieved.
We were saying goodbye to the Milford Road and its wonderful landscapes. The last stop before reaching Te Anau is Te Anau Downs. From here there are very good views of Lake Te Anau and the Murchison Mountains.
The weather was improving as we arrived at Te Anau and at the end we could see the sun and enjoy the views of Lake Te Anau from the room. We had time to shower, change and go to dinner after a very full day in which we did not stop or eat. On the recommendation of the owners of the lodge we went to eat at the restaurant. There stands out its large fireplace as soon as we enter. With good meat and food with a certain Chilean influence we also have some ceviche.
Day 8: Cruise through the Doubtful Sound Fjord
Today it was time to say goodbye to Te Anau to head to Queenstown, but before we went to do the Doubtful Sound Fjord. We incorporated it at the last moment to our route and the truth is that it was a real success.
We traveled by car to Manapouri as we wanted to leave directly from here to Queenstown. At 10 o'clock our boat left from Manapouri. Its origin is a glacier and is surrounded by the Cathedral Mountains. We make a brief stop at the Visitor Center where there is a lot of information about the Central and the many current control systems at the lake level. From here we take the buses to the fjord.
The bus takes us along the Wilmot Pass Road. Along the road there are interesting things like the Stella Falls, but the most important point is the Wilmot Pass. At this point we have a brief stop so that we can enjoy the first views of Doubtful Sound.
From Wanganella Cove we take our second boat of the day that take us during the next three hours to cross the Doubtful Sound fjord. From the point of departure we can see the Helena Falls about 50 meters high. We saw it with enough water from the rains of recent days. The day is perfect, which allows us to enjoy Doubtful Sound to the fullest.
As we get closer to the Tasman Sea we feel more waves and the wind increases. The boat arrives at the Shelter Island and stays for a while allowing us to observe the seal colony of these islands. At this point we begin the return through the fjord. On the return route the ship deviates into Crooked Arm and the crew asks everyone to remain silent. It is at that moment that we understand why the name of this fjord and we can appreciate the beauty of the place.
On the way back, we went by bus to Wilmot Pass Road and cross Lake Manapouri again. We arrived at the Pearl Harbor car park at about 5:30 p.m. and started the route to Queenstown.
We arrived at the hotel but were very hesitant but we finally chose this one. The hotel and rooms are very good, although it is a little expensive for the services offered. We have just enough time to shower and take the gondola and cable car, which takes us to the restaurant.
Since we were preparing the trip we liked the pictures we had seen of this restaurant, especially because of the magnificent views it has over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables. The area where the restaurant is located is known as the base for various activities such as Bungee Jumping. We admire the views of the city with the lake and the Remarkables in the background.
Day 9: Discovering Queenstown and Wanaka
Getting up to the amazing views in Queenstown is priceless. Our first stop was in the picturesque village of Arrowtown. It is the typical Chinese settlement that grew rapidly driven by the gold rush. As we had not eaten breakfast, we took a drink in Arrowtown at the bakery and walked into the sweet shop.
We leave Arrowtown in the direction of Wanaka via Crown Range Road that runs through Cardrona. It is not complicated to drive through it and the views are unbeatable. At the beginning, the Zigzag highway us fun, until we reach the Arrow Junction lookout point.
After the summit, the road slowly descends through the Cardrona valley. We went directly to the Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain Track.
From this point begins the ascent to the Lake Diamond viewpoint. The views of the lake are fine, but what is really worthwhile are the views with the mountains in the background, including Middle Peak. From this point to the view of Lake Wanaka there are approximately 1.5 kilometers. They are very simple by a smooth road and with unbeatable views of what is possible to see Lake Wanaka.
From the viewpoint of Lake Wanaka we get great views of the lake and its islands, some of which are bird sanctuaries. It is worthwhile to sit and enjoy the views accompanied by the silence of the place. When we went there was not a splendid sun but at least it was not windy and we were able to relax.
We in our complete unconsciousness decided to move on to Rocky Mountain. There are steep sections and a slippery stone path. When I finally saw the summit, I was overcome with two feelings, one of joy for having arrived and another of panic thinking about how the Tongariro Alpine Crossing should be. It's time to enjoy the place that we have earned after the climb! After the deserved rest we began the descent by the west access. In some areas the road, if you can call it that, has many stones and branches and we have to be like Indiana Jones.
In total we dedicate about three and a half hours. When we arrived at the parking lot, some guys who had done the tour around the same time asked us to go back to Wanaka. To celebrate our success on the trek we stayed at Wanaka a while enjoying its unbeatable location by the lake. We eat something at a place that had a lot of young people drinking on the terrace. We thought it was a good place to have something casual, a beer and some snacks. We asked for a cream that, as usual, itched a lot.
After a while in the city and to regret not having included one night stop in Wanaka in the itinerary we headed back to Queenstown again by Cardrona. We rested a bit at the hotel where we arrived on time to be invited for a drink and a snack.
We had dinner at the restaurant in Queenstown. This restaurant, although somewhat expensive, was one of the most liked of the trip. We ordered fish and we loved everything. We finished with the Pavlova Cake that we had never tasted before. After dinner we went around Queenstown enjoying the atmosphere it has at night.
Day 10: Queenstown to Franz Josef
We got up again in Queenstown with a clear goal, to get to Franz Josef, one of the bases to explore the glaciers. Today we would arrive at Franz Josef, one of the two bases along with Fox that is used to visit the glaciers. The route is a little long and should be divided, as I said in the previous stage, in two days making a more than deserved stop in Wanaka. The main attractions of the road to Franz are a series of easily accessible waterfalls and lakes.
Not for nothing, Queenstown is considered one of the capitals of adventure sports. As we discarded the Bungee Jumping we decided to do the Jet Boat ride on the Shotover River. We go at an early hour to do the activity and for the time it was quite cool. The personnel is very friendly. They give us a raincoat, a life jacket, and a neck scarf.
The activity lasts just under 30 minutes and we enjoy it a lot, passing very close to rocks, walls and make continuous turns of 360 degrees. It is really worth it!
Since we had not had time to eat breakfast, we thought that we were going to be the only people to go to eat a hamburger at 10:00 in the morning. Well, nothing was further from reality, it was full. We did not have to stand in line and we could eat the hamburger quietly before saying goodbye definitely to Queenstown.
With a full stomach, we left Queenstown in the direction of Cromwell. To get here we cross wide areas of vineyards where Otago wine is produced. I think the best point to photograph Lake Wanaka is the Lake Wanaka Lookout in The Neck. We left behind the lakes Wanaka and Hawea. Now we had a good portion of waterfalls and amazing pools of crystal clear water.
Precisely our next stop was to make the short track to the Blue Pools. The Blue Pools are natural pools of glacial water with a bluish tone. To get to them we cross a beech forest and a suspended bridge until we reach the second bridge over the Makarora river, from which we can already observe the pools.
We were enjoying a lot, although we were always accompanied by clouds and rain. This route was a traditional path used by the Maoris who went to the east coast in search of the precious pounamu or jade.
We were arriving at Haast Pass, which the Maoris called Tiora-patea, which means the road is clear. We had left Otago and entered the West Coast. The next stop we made was to see the Fantail Falls. From Fantail Falls we drive to the town of Haast skirting Mount Aspiring National Park and get closer to the Tasman Sea coast.
As we still had the effect of the hamburger, we set out on our way to our final destination, Franz Josef. The landscapes changed drastically. On one side we were accompanied by the Tasman Sea and on the other a surprising forest that in many sections takes us to Jurassic Park.
We made a few last stops at Ship Creek, where we were able to climb the Observation Tower and chose to do the Kahikatea Swamp Forest Walk. The last stop of the day is the Knights Point Lookout. This point, apart from the great views of the coast, has an interesting history.
At the end, we managed to arrive at 6 pm to the accommodation in Franz Josef. We have enough time to keep our luggage in our cottage, a wooden cabin separated from the main house with all the amenities. We get ready and go straight to the town of Franz for dinner. There is not much variety in Franz Josef so we chose this site after consulting with the owners of the B&B. The site is not bad, but it is not great either. Tonight we went to sleep dreaming of glaciers and blue skies.
Day 11: Walk to Punakaiki
We get out of bed or rather we jump out of it very early and what did we do first? Well, it's clear, look through the window at the time. What we saw we liked a lot, and nothing to do with yesterday that was all overcast. Today there was some cloud but it was quite clear!
We went to breakfast happier because we could also hear the sound of helicopters and we thought they would be working without problems. How innocent we are! Our hosts, a lovely couple, lovers of trekking and birds told us that it was convenient that we call the company to make sure we could do the activity because they believed that there was wind in the glacier itself. All our happiness vanished.
We called our company and they confirmed what was anticipated. There was a lot of wind in the glacier and it was impossible, for the moment, for the helicopters to fly to the point. We were left with some hope because they did not cancel it for good and they told us to go to the office in the town around 10:30.
We took advantage of the delay to talk at length with our hosts and a couple who had stayed that night at the B&B. After a good conversation we left. In the door were the guides, and there was enough queue inside. They told us that they still could not fly the helicopters. They put us back an hour later, which was beginning to sound like a mess and to lose all day in Franz. We took the opportunity to put gasoline, certainly the most expensive of the trip by far. We buy some provision.
We decided to do the short 30-minute walk to the viewpoint to observe the glacier since we did not have much time. As we do not reach the end of the road we can not say much, but from the viewpoint where we were the views are very distant and we can see very little of the glacier due to its retreat.
We went back to the office and canceled the activity, with some friction with the girl who was attending. We left with a mixture of disappointment. I do not know when a light bulb lit up in our heads and we decided to try our luck in another. At about 11:30 we took the car and headed. We went to the first company we saw since we did not have any look. When we entered, the good news is that the flights were going to leave at 13:15.
As we had some time we went to do the trek through Lake Matheson and Peak Viewpoint. At the right time, we decided to do the walk to the Jetty Viewpoint that allows us to cross a bridge in suspension. We walk through a kahikatea forest and reach a viewpoint where we can see Mount Cook and Mount Tasman reflected, in the dark waters of the lake.
At the end of the walk, we decided to stay for lunch at the cafe, which is next to the parking lot and the gift shop. We took a table on the terrace they have and we really enjoyed it. We ordered a Risotto and some Gnocchi that were quite good. The food was quite good and the views of Mount Cook and Tasman are unbeatable. Without a doubt, it was a success and we ate quite well with an unbeatable landscape.
After having eaten and with high hopes of finally being able to go to the glacier since the weather was not getting worse, we approached Peak Viewpoint to have some view of the Fox Glacier in the event that we did not have the opportunity to do the Heli Hike.
At 13:15 we were in the offices and surprise, we were going to be able to do the Heli Hike! The truth is that we could not believe it. We had been going around all morning but it had been worth it. For the Heli Hike, it is necessary to take warm clothes. We did it in mid-October with ski clothes.
They provide us with boots, crampons, a kind of raincoat if we need it and a backpack so we can take for example the camera, another essential thing. I wanted to ride fast in the helicopter to go to the glacier as soon as possible since I was imagining that someone would come at any moment who was going to tell us that we could not do it. The show starts on the flight in helicopter and land on the tiny helipad.
When we arrive at the glacier our guide teaches us to put on the crampons, without which it would be impossible to move around the glacier. They explain some basic rules of safety and common sense in the glacier and start a circular route that will end in the same place.
At last, we could see the blue ice! The glacier is formed by snow that accumulates and compacts forming ice. This one has that famous blue tone because it loses a large part of the air bubbles inside it. In this dense ice, the light no longer meets the bubbles that previously caused it to bounce, giving it the white color.
During the route, our guide was telling us about Fox Glacier and also Franz Josef. As highlights of the walk, we enter two caves of blue ice in which we had to move sliding and obviously we were well wet.
We only have good memories of Heli Hike that we could do on Fox. We loved it and we would repeat it without any doubt. The Heli Hike allows us to be on the ice for approximately three hours. There we were on Fox at 6:00 PM having to get to Punakaiki about 250 km and about three hours ahead.
We dined en route at Greymouth and as it was late. It's amazing how a hamburger tastes the same here in New Zealand and Kamchatka. We arrived late to our accommodation in Punakaiki. The owners are friendly, helping us with everything we need. We stayed in the room with a small terrace for the room.
After a hot shower we went to sleep tired but very happy.
Day 12: Route to Motueka
We got up quietly after the previous day with such a long trip without making stops and with much of the driving at night. Even so the excitement of the previous day still lasted. We felt that we were having a lot of luck on our trip since the weather was allowing us to do everything we had planned.
After a good breakfast, our intention was to return to Punakaiki, since we went through at night the previous day, to visit the Pancake Rocks. Little more can be said about the beauty of these rocks located in the Tasman Sea.
After visiting the Pancake Rocks we wanted to do the Truman Track, another walk that leaves from the road and reaches the beach, very close to our last night's accommodation. We could not do it because they were doing maintenance work.
The next stop of the day was to do the Cape Foulwind walk. As we did not have time to do the entire route, we decided to go from Tauranga Bay, move by car to the end of the route and visit the Tauranga Bay Seal Hill.
The day was perfect and we could make the way in short sleeves. It is very pleasant and with hardly any difference in level. The main attractions are a magnificent postcard coast and the friendly Weka birds. Similar to kiwis, these brown birds are unable to fly.
The first part of the journey begins at the Cape Foulwind Lighthouse. The views from the start of the track in the Tauranga Bay car park are exceptional. The walk is worthwhile. In the second part of our route we go from the second parking lot to the seal colony.
From Cape Foulwind we headed to the interior of the island driving on SH6. This part of the road stands out for the incredible gorges that the Buller River has formed. One of the attractions of the area is the largest suspension bridge in New Zealand, the Buller Gorge Swingbridge. We did the walk through the park and the zip line and honestly I think they are not worth it.
There is nothing special in the park, except for a lot of signs that indicate the floods of the Buller River and the zip line is fine, but for the price that I have I would discard it. With the views that can be obtained at various stops from the road to the gorge and the river is more than enough.
Following the Buller river gorge we stop to buy something to eat at the supermarket and follow the route. Once we recovered our strength we went to one of the most photographed places in New Zealand. Its postcard lake, Lake Rotoiti is next to the small town of Saint Arnaud. Lake Rotoiti is surrounded by mountains along the edge of the Nelson Lakes National Park. The photos from a small pier are some of the best we can get on the trip. We did not have the best day possible, but the place has something that overwhelms.
To get to Motueka there are two options, follow the SH6 or take the Korere-Tophouse Road. We take this second road that runs close to the western end of the Mount Richmond Forest Park.
We stayed at a very good accommodation option with bungalow type rooms, independent and with all the comforts. Especially noteworthy is the hostess, whose help to book everything necessary to make the trip for Abel Tasman was fundamental. We managed and went to find something to eat at Mapua, very close to our accommodation.
Day 13: Abel Tasman National Park
Today I was going to be almost entirely dedicated to visiting the Abel Tasman National Park. To go to Abel Tasman we moved from Motueka to Marahau to catch our Water Taxi. Shortly after leaving Marahau, we arrive at one of the most famous stops on the route, the Split Apple Rock. It is a granite rock that has the form, by a whim of the nature of an apple split in half. Actually, it was formed thousands of years ago because of the wedge effect of water freezing.
We stayed at Apple Tree Bay heading to Torrent Bay, where the boat stops to get some passengers off and start their trek. The day was good, so doing it in a kayak must have been spectacular. On the way between Torrent Bay and Bark Bay we could see a seal colony, although that day there were not many.
The next stop at Tonga Quarry Bay was where we chose to get off to start our route on foot. What we see in Abel Tasman is a very special combination of subtropical forest and beaches that we could easily find in a paradisiacal island. The road is perfectly signposted and in very good condition.
About an hour and a half later we arrived at Bark Bay. We were able to see some of the typical images of Abel Tasman with the combination of the lush forest and its beaches that we had not seen before.
The Bark Bay camp can be reached by two routes based on whether the tide is high or not. We found ourselves at high tide so we had to make the long journey that is also very worthwhile. We go through a suspended bridge and the Waterfall Creek, a well-known point in the National Park since many canyoning activities are done here.
In Bark Bay is one of the cabins that are used to make the Great Walk. Without a doubt this was the most special place of our tour of Abel Tasman. As we were already at our destination and we had time until we picked up the boat, we decided to continue moving a little further towards Torrent Bay, although we did not have enough time to get there.
An interesting point is South Head, from which we have a very good view of Sandfly Bay and Frenchman's Bay. We also take advantage to eat something. We tried for the first time a kind of black pasta mixture of several herbs and spices with a strong flavor. We did not like anything at all but we had to try it. We got to try a variety of honey, even some that they themselves produced on a small scale in their garden.
From this point we return to Medlands Beach, our pick-up point to return to Marahau. Here we finished our experience in Abel Tasman and felt that our experience in the South Island had ended. With some sadness, we headed to Picton where we would spend the night. What interested us most was the stretch of road that connects Havelock with Picton, with the famous Queen Charlotte Drive.
Close to Picton is a key point of visit on the route along Queen Charlotte Drive, the Cullen Point viewpoint. The views from this point are simply spectacular.
We arrived in Picton late with just time to go to our accommodation, which was very good. The bathroom includes a shower with hydromassage that came great after spending half the day touring Abel Tasman. We look for something to dine. The city does not have much and is used as a base to catch the ferry to the North Island early as we did. Many do not stay night in Picton, but go directly to catch the ferry and stay overnight in Wellington.
We dined where we could in a city that was half deserted. We cannot say much about the place since when we arrived we were told that the kitchen was closed. We could only order pizzas that were nothing special. We arrived at bad times so did not get to take the mussels. So we left them for a next time. We went to sleep for the last time in the wonderful South Island. We had the impression that it would be very difficult to overcome what was seen and lived on this island.
Day 14: Ferry to Wellington
Our day started very early as the ferry left at 9:05 but we had to check in an hour early. We have breakfast very well in our lodging of Picton where they offered us a great variety of honey.
We chose a ferry. It was the first time we were traveling on such a large ferry. We had traveled by car on ferries in Scotland, but they did not have this size. The ship was the newest of the fleet. It has a restaurant, a bar and a premium room. They serve free food and have free wifi too.
On this trip until a ferry trip between islands is worthy of admiration. In this case it is because the Marlborough fjords are crossed, a group of bays, islands and coves with impressive views. The ferry that makes the Picton-Wellington route in both directions runs through the Queen Charlotte Sound fjord. Like the rest of Marlborough fiords, it was formed because the old valleys were flooded with water.
It was a very comfortable trip of approximately two and a half hours and a farewell to the height of the South Island, impressive from start to finish.
Wellington welcomed us with a leaden weather and a light drizzle. The weather was not inviting to walk to discover the city and also we did not have margin as we had to get to Tongariro. So we decided to spend some time at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
It is a very interactive museum and also free, with some very interesting exhibitions like the Battle of Gallipoli. It is incredible all the information that it contributes and how realistic are the large-scale figures found in the exhibition.
We did not dedicate more time to Wellington since it was late and we had ahead 4 hours of trip and more than 300 km until our destiny. I had a bittersweet feeling in Wellington because we enjoyed the Te Papa Museum on the one hand, but I think we missed some interesting things like the renowned Cuba Street or the harbor district. With perspective if I had to re-plan the trip I would spend the night in Wellington, a city with much more life.
We decided to take the SH1 from Wellington to Wanganui where we made a stop to visit the information point and buy some provision. From Wanganui we took the SH4 that took us to the Tongariro National Park. It is a long journey and without many stops of great interest which makes it a somewhat monotonous trip. The road to the area of the National Park improves and the landscapes are much more colorful. We even found a waterfall next to the road itself due to heavy rains.
As we approached the Chateau Tongariro the weather was getting worse and the clouds were getting darker. We arrived at the hotel drizzling, with just enough time to check in. It is a large stately hotel, with large halls with high ceilings, fireplaces and cozy corners. The lounge is an authentic delight with wonderful views. The hotel was founded in 1929 and has a small indoor pool, a small cinema room, as well as a golf course directly in front of the hotel.
This hotel reminded us of the typical mountain hotel located in a spectacular setting with a lot of history behind it. We take a shower to recover from the trip and go down to dinner at the hotel restaurant. After dinner and a little exploring the hotel we went to bed. The forecasts for tomorrow to be able to do the longed for Tongariro Alpine Crossing were bad. So I went to bed a bit dejected.
Day 15: Tongariro Alpine Crossing
We did not get up too early, but around 8:00, partly because we thought we were not going to be able to do the trekking. It had dawned cloudy and with a little wind, so a little dejected we got ready and went to breakfast. To confirm whether or not we could do the crossing we went to the Tongariro National Park Visitor Center.
When we arrived a boy told us it was impossible to do the trek today. According to the last report that had in the high part the winds reached more than 90 km/h and the conditions were not good to do it. The news stopped me like a jug of cold water. It is the bad thing of betting everything to a single day in Tongariro area. While we were circling the visitor center, gloating over my pain seeing images of the route that we were not going to be able to do and thinking alternatives, the boy called us again. He told us that they had updated the weather report and that the conditions had changed! I was very happy, but it also scared me a little how easy conditions change in the area.
We decided to leave the car in one of the car parks in Ketetahi and get transportation from that car park to the point that would be the beginning of our route, the Mangatepopo carpark. Our driver was very nice and on the road between parkings she was telling us all the details. We had not yet seen Mount Ngauruhoe with the fog.
At 10:00 in the morning, we began our journey. The sensations were not very good since it was quite cold. It was drizzling and there was a lot of fog that did not allow us to see the great show that the route offers.
A little less than 1.5 km away we find the detour to the village of Whakapapa, where the Park Visitor Center is located and nearby, was our accommodation. We were doing the way under intense fog and a gentle drizzle at times. The weather gave us momentary truces due to the strong wind that took the clouds. The road at this time advances on a raised platform and at this point we can see remains of ancient volcanic eruptions.
In little more than 1 hour we had covered the distance that goes from the parking lot of Mangatepopo to Soda Springs. Our problem was that the day was still quite bad, with a lot of fog that prevented us from enjoying where we were reaching. At this point I seriously consider whether it was a good idea to continue on the road.
At some points the fog is less and is enough to let us see the valley at our feet, but it was only a few moments until it was covered again. Throughout the climb we can see traces of eruptions and volcanic deposits. Almost reaching the South Crater, we found snow on the route that would no longer leave us beyond the Blue Lake.
Once past the South Crater we arrive at a flat terrain that communicates both craters. The views of Mount Ngauruhoe are supposed to be spectacular, but we still had the mist as our good travel companion.
It seemed that the fog was going to give us a truce while we crossed the plain and suddenly we found enough water and snow. But it is one of the simple areas of the journey and where we can enjoy the views, the first we had. Arriving at Red Crater we have another climb. The good did not last long. The views after the first climb of Mount Doom and the valley are incredible.
After this short break, we face a new climb to the Red Crater. With the snow conditions that we had, this climb, although short, is difficult and dangerous. In some sections we have to grab a rope anchored in the rock. From the Red Crater, the views of the Oturere Valley and the Rangipo Desert make all the climbs we had during the day worthwhile.
We take advantage of the esplanade at the top of Red Crater to eat something and regain strength. We do not enjoy much because the fog comes and goes and when the sun goes out we feel quite cold and there is still a long way to go. In this section it took approximately 1 hour. From the top of the Red Crater the views of the Emerald Lakes and Blue Lake in the background are postcard and it will stay engraved
The Emerald Lakes or Emerald Lakes occupy ancient craters near the top of Mount Tongariro. The emerald color is due to dissolved minerals, close to the Red Crater. In the Esmeralda Lakes we saw the first fumaroles and we could enjoy the characteristic smell of sulfur.
For the descent of the Red Crater we found very useful those canes that until then had been an element of decoration more in the trunk of our car. Once we descend the Red Crater we are in the Central Crater, which reaches the Blue Lake. It is a flat area with no apparent difficulty, but the amount of snow made progressing in this part more difficult than expected.
To get to Blue Lake from the Central Crater we have to climb another slight slope. From the highest point of this part we see magnificent views of the surroundings, with Lake Rotoaira and Lake Taupo in the background.
From this point, after the 11 km traveled, the snow began to abandon us. We could see the slopes of the bare mountains without practically any vegetation at the beginning. As we descended towards the Ketetahi Refuge by a zigzag path vegetation began to appear.
According to the indicative panels we had about two more hours until the parking. We were not in a hurry because the car was waiting for us in the parking lot. At some point the slopes of Mount Tongariro were covered with forests, but as a result of multiple eruptions only grass and low vegetation are present today. In the final part we find a Totara tree forest.
We had finally reached the end of the journey! It took approximately 6:40 hours at a leisurely pace, stopping to eat and take pictures. The experience had been hard but very positive and we finished very happy.
We returned to the hotel and unlike the previous day we could see great views of Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe.
With full satisfaction we went to the hotel. We have a hot shower and went to dinner like the night before in the hotel restaurant.
Day 16: Road to Rotorua
We wake up for the second and last day at Tongariro. The day dawns again leaden, a new sample of the luck we had with the day. The route of this day was changed at the last moment to include Waitomo in our trip.
Waitomo is approximately two hours from Tongariro National Park. The road is beautiful with farms along the entire road and large wooded areas. We did not make stops since we were going with just enough time to get to Waitomo Caves.
Without much knowledge on the subject, we decided not to do the typical visit to the Glowworm Caves, but to do something a little more original and adventurous, the Black Labyrinth. We decided to do the activity with the best known company in the area. Everything went very well with them.
Under the green hills that we can see in Waitomo, there is a labyrinth of underground caves and rivers. In the Glowworm Caves, there is a kind of luminescent firefly, which can only be found in New Zealand. This species usually lives in humid caves. The activity lasts just over three hours and the goal of seeing the famous Glowworms is fulfilled.
In Ruakuri Cave is where we go by the Black Labyrinth. It is the largest underground cave in the Waitomo area.
Once we put on our equipment, we are given a two-piece neoprene consisting of trousers and jacket, boots and a helmet with light. We move first to an area where we will have to choose who will be our best friend the next few hours, the donut.
With our friend in tow we are already going to the river, even without entering the cave, in order to be taught how to sit on the donut and especially how to throw ourselves with our back to the water. It sounds fatal but it is the most fun of the whole route.
One thing if I can tell you, the water was frozen. Three guides accompany us throughout the route. Inside the cave there is a bit of everything. There are not many narrow areas.
When we arrive at the first waterfall we were in a total shock. The best thing to do is take a leap of faith. The last part of the route is the most relaxed. We turn off the flashlight helmet to see well the glowworms of the cave. In this part we do not have photos since glowworms are sensitive to light.
In short, it was a good experience since we had never done this activity. We went very happy to the best part of the tour. We have a good hot shower and hot food with bagels and soup.
From here we headed to Rotorua. I do not know if it was because of the fatigue of the previous day, or the one accumulated in the morning in the caves, the road felt a little long and without excessive interest. We took the SH3 to Te Awamutu where we turn off to the road that takes us to Cambridge, to take the SH1 and later the SH5 that would take us direct to Rotorua. On the way we saw that Cambridge is the most pleasant thing we found. It is a big city for the average New Zealand, but we could see that it is very livable with large green areas. To our surprise we see quite a lot of life on the street.
In SH1 and SH5 to Rotorua we find a lot of traffic, even caravans when crossing some town. The day in Rotorua was dull and we began to realize the reason for its fame. We went first to our accommodation, a very nice place with unbeatable views of Rotorua. It is situated on the side of a mountain next to Mount Ngongotaha Scenic Reserve. We take another shower and go out to find somewhere to dine.
They recommended us to go to Eat Street, where most of the restaurants are concentrated. We were wandering a bit until we found a place. We dined on the terrace where they have stoves. It is a nice place with good food and service, but somewhat expensive and few servings. After a good dinner, we went to sleep.
Day 17: Waimangu and Wai-O-Tapu
We start the day with a good breakfast in the accommodation and a visit to the alpacas that they have in the farm. The day was beautiful without any cloud. During our visit to the geothermal parks there were times we went in T-shirt. The views from the garden of the lodge were very good. We could see even the geyser of the Te Puia park.
The first park we visited was Waimangu. From here our next important point of the tour was the Echo Crater and Lake Frying Pan. Next to the lake are the Cathedral Rocks. From the lake descends a river of water in which we can see very bright colors due to the presence of different chemical elements.
Next to the road that climbs to the Crater Lake of Hell we can see the terraces of the bird's nest. Terraces shaped like a bird's nest that are actually small geysers. We take the path of the simplest valley. From what we had seen, the craters are not very visible due to the lush vegetation, which meant that the hard journey did not motivate us much. The next stop, was the Warbrick Terrace. The terraces are an explosion of color and resemble the color palette of a pintos.
Finally, we arrive at Lake Rotomahana, in which we can take a cruise that we did not do to take advantage of the morning and go to Wai-O-Tapu. On the shores of this lake were the Pink and White Terraces, described as the eighth natural wonder of the world.
We decided to go directly to the Wai-O-Tapu thermal area. We do not arrive at the time when the geyser erupts, specifically at 10:15. The first visit inside the thermal area is the Devil's Home, a smoky crater full of sulfur crystals formed by the cooling of the sulfur gases. The next two stops are two other craters, the Rainbow Crater and the Thunder Crater.
We left aside the craters and went to a series of mud pits, the Devil's Ink Pots, made of gray mud since they contain oil. The following is one of the most beautiful stops in the entire Wai-O-Tapu area. The Artist's Palette is a crater flooded with different colors depending on the water levels and the overflow of the Champagne pool.
We crossed by a path that was attached to the white quartz terraces. Once the wooden path ends, we find one of the most emblematic spots in the area, the Champagne Pool. After the panoramic point the Nuptial Veil Falls mark the end of the quartz terraces that we saw earlier.
After the Oyster Pool we find the Sulfur Cave. The road ends at Lake Ngakoro, where all the water flows with sulfur through small waterfalls. In the final part of the route, we find Inferno Crater that contains boiling mud in the background. There is the Bird's Nest Crater, so called because in its walls nest birds that take advantage of the heat that gives off to incubate their eggs. The last crater is the Sulfur Cave.
As a final one we find the Devil's Bath. This was our first geothermal incursion in our trips. We have not been to other areas so we cannot compare, but we left with good feelings about what we had seen. We liked it a lot. We returned to Rotorua and took the opportunity to eat since it was late. We wanted to eat quickly to take advantage of the time to visit the city before dinner as we were soon picked up at the lodge.
With a full stomach we went to the center of Rotorua to visit the Government Gardens and the Rotorua Museum which was closed indefinitely for severe structural damage after the Kaikoura earthquake.
Next to the gardens is the Rachel Spring Whangapipiro. It is said that this water has therapeutic and relaxing properties for the skin due to its high content of sodium silicate. We briefly visited Rose Garden and the area surrounding the nearby golf course.
We headed to Lake Rotorua. Being a very good day, there were many people on the street enjoying the green areas by the lake. We also found a regatta on the lake. In the center of the lake is the Mokoia island. Finally, before returning to the lodge to rest before dinner, we went to Ohinemutu, the original settlement of Rotorua, where the Maori live today. In it is the Te Papaiouru Marae.
After this we returned to the accommodation to rest a little before dinner. As a climax to our stay in Rotorua, we booked the visit to a Maori village. The people simulate a Powhiri to welcome us. The warriors of the village appear in a canoe on the river and the welcome begins.
A warrior of the tangata whenua (hosts) will challenge the manuhiri (guests) to verify if they are friends or enemies. The warrior deposits a branch on the ground that the head of each of the tribes of the visitors must take to show their good intentions. It is an interesting initiation to our visit.
We were able to record a video of the arrival of the warriors and the Powhiri. Once the warriors have allowed us to enter their village, two warriors in the shelter of a bonfire tell us the reason for the tattoos, which reflect the ancestry of the person and their history. In other times it was an indicator of the person's social level, knowledge and ability. They also tell us about the Maori legends, the first sailors from the legendary Hawaiki and their ability to navigate and of course their famous Wakas (Canoes).
Now two women teach us the Poi, a type of dance in which they do pirouettes with a poi (ball on a rope). The women are very skilled. At the next stop they showed us examples of games for children and adults that they use to improve their reflexes and ability. They gave us a demonstration of Ti Rakau, where the players throw sticks (Rakau) at each other at the same time without letting them fall to the ground.
Another variety that they showed us is with the Rakau leaning on the ground and the players forming a circle. A person outside the circle must go saying right (matau) or left (maui) so that the players move to the next suit depending on the indicated direction. The player who drops the club will be eliminated. It looked like fun, but if it is already difficult to follow the instructions in English in Maori it becomes more complicated yet.
At the next stop they showed us the Kapa Haka. Kapa Haka means literally forming a line and dancing. At the last stop, they briefly explain some interesting elements of Maori architecture. Then they take us to the place where they prepare the food through traditional Maori Hangi mode.
This mode involves cooking food in a well, using hot stones. First stones are heated with a good fire. The stones are placed in the oven and then the food in metal baskets is covered with blankets to finally cover everything with soil for several hours before opening the Hangi.
We entered the Marae to see typical dances including a final Haka. The Haka is a Maori war dance that was made on the battlefield as a demonstration of pride, strength and unity of the tribe. After this we had dinner.
Back we rode in the same van that takes us to the accommodation.
Day 18: Hobbiton
We headed to our last destination before arriving at the final stop, Auckland. We had booked the first visit of the day to Hobbiton. We had to have breakfast and say goodbye to our hosts in a hurry so we could leave a little before 8:00 from the Rotorua B&B. It takes slightly less than a time to arrive, on a good road with enough Passing Lanes.
From the Shire's Rest, we ride on their buses that take us to the set. It makes us think that at any moment a Hobbit is going to come out of one of the holes. JRR Tolkien describes a plum tree in the region, but instead of this there was a pear tree. In order not to lose the smallest detail, all the pears were removed and prunes were stuck in their place.
All Hobbiton trees are real except for one, which is located just above the house of Bilbo. The leaves are fake, brought from Taiwan and pasted one by one. This tree no longer exists, there is currently a replica of silicone and steel. The Hobbiton set was completely dismantled when the shooting of the Lord of the Rings trilogy ended.
Without a doubt it is a special place that is worth going to. Everything seems out of the movie itself and we really get into the role when we visit.
We chose to make the Karangahake Windows Walk about 2.5 km and about an hour long. To make this hike we must cross the Ohinemuri River through a suspended bridge. After climbing some stairs we can see abandoned machinery on the road, like old wagons. The route continues through dark tunnels where we only had the flashlight of our mobiles. The road suddenly emerges on the cliff and some stairs lead us to another suspended bridge to cross the river and take the road back.
The area of Karangahake was a discovery that we really liked. From Karangahake we went to Waihi where we find the largest gold mine in New Zealand. Waihi Beach here is a beachfront resort, overlooking the Pacific Ocean with lots of charm and where we take advantage to eat that day.
After lunch, we enter Coromandel and arrive to Hahei and Hot Water Beach. We could see the surroundings with green hills that look more like carpets with spectacular landscapes.
We chose this site for being close to many of Coromandel attractions and being the starting point for some of the boat trips along the coast, including Cathedral Cove. The B&B is a luxury with every detail imaginable. The hosts helped us with all our doubts and they even put us in a higher class room than we had booked since it was just us. The views of Whitianga from the accommodation are very good.
After arriving at the lodge and getting ready we went to Whitianga for dinner. We had dinner at Whitianga in one of the places recommended by the hosts of our accommodation. Whitianga is a good base for visiting Coromandel and for boat trips along the coast. At first this town was famous for its wood industry, especially kauri wood.
Day 19: Coromandel Peninsula
After a very good breakfast in our accommodation we headed to the wharf of Whitianga where we had hired a boat tour of Mercury Bay. The tour departure is from the Whitianga pier. We hired the excursion on a glass bottom boat and everything was a hit. The rider made us enjoy all the way with very entertaining stories of the place, of New Zealand and of the Maori culture.
At the dock we find the Haunui "waka". This is a 72 foot waka whose sailors go to sea in the traditional way, without instruments and based on the study of the stars. The first stop of the journey is the Shakespeare Cliff. We did not do the walk to the cliff.
From here we sail to the next stop, Cathedral Cove. The views during the whole route are very nice. The arch of natural stone is one of the most photographed points of New Zealand.
At this point we could enjoy the views of the many fish that are in the marine reserve. The transparent water allows to observe perfectly the seabed. The last visit of the tour took us to one of the largest caves in New Zealand and the third largest in the southern hemisphere, the Orua Sea Cave.
From here we returned to the Whitianga pier again enjoying the views of Coromandel. We chose to eat a place that is next to the pier with a good terrace and where we ate well.
After eating, without leaving time for us to enter the post-meal stupor, we went to make a route through the peninsula.
We did not get to the northern part of the island, Port Jackson, since the road does not connect this city with Port Charles. So we just crossed the island on the wonderful Highway 309 from Whitianga to Coromandel Town and from there, we arrive at Colville and Waikawau.
The first part of our route was to cross Highway 309. The first stop was a visit to a farm where we can buy Manuka honey from the tree of the same name. The next stop is the most worthwhile, to see the kauri trees, in the Kauri Grove. We realize how gigantic they are. There are only 13 surviving specimens of the large number of kauris in the past.
It is really worth seeing these trees that can reach 50 meters high and live 2000 years. The next stop before arriving at Coromandel Town is at the Waiau waterfall. Highway 309 ends in Coromandel Town. It is a nice town with buildings of Victorian architecture so we do not spend much time and we continue towards Colville. It is in this part where we find the wonders of the peninsula.
Our journey to the north of the peninsula ended a little beyond Colville, when we come across a detour to Port Jackson or Port Charles. The last part of the route is the most complicated. The roads are gravel all the time and climb small mountain passes with many curves. It is worth it without a doubt.
We spent the whole afternoon touring the island because we were slow, to enjoy the scenery and because the roads do not allow much more. Coromandel we thought was spectacular.
We stop at the accommodation to get some fix and enjoy with our hosts a good wine from the area.
Day 20: Auckland
We woke up for the last time in Coromandel with the final goal to the great city of New Zealand, Auckland. It was our penultimate day before we went to the Cook Islands. Again we had an excellent breakfast in our accommodation. The homemade bread is great.
Again we enter the interior of Coromandel on white roads. This time the play did not go so well and on this road we found works and we stood for a while waiting for them to give us a pass.
From Thames we headed to Auckland. Instead of taking the SH2 highway we take the road that runs along the coast, the East Coast Road via Miranda. Maybe we wanted to delay as much as possible our arrival in the "big city" because that only meant the end of the trip and the magic of this incredible country. The route allowed us to have a pleasant trip to Auckland.
The most interesting part of this route along the coast are the bird reserve areas in the Miranda area. And suddenly came the fateful moment that we hoped was the end of the wildest New Zealand, where you feel like an explorer in all that awesome nature, but someday we had to return to reality.
We had forgotten to drive in big cities. Our hotel was on a street parallel to Queen Street, very close to the Sky Tower. We unloaded all our bags for the last time from our car and keep in the hotel. It is a small boutique hotel in the center of Auckland with good and comfortable rooms and above all huge and very functional bathrooms. We ate something in the bar and went to explore the city.
As our hotel was very central we walked down Queen Street. This street is one of the main arteries of Auckland with many shops and office buildings. The street reaches practically the pier of the city. We turn onto Victoria Street to catch a glimpse of the magnificent Sky Tower.
This telecommunications tower has become one of the main attractions of Auckland. It is located in a complex that also has a hotel, a casino and several restaurants, two of them in the tower itself. We decided to go up to the viewpoint to enjoy the views.
From Sky Tower we walk along Hobson Street. A nerve center of the city is the square where the Town Hall is located next to the Myers Park.
Our next stop of the day is the Mount Eden, famous both for the volcano itself and for the views that are obtained from the city. Once we finished the visit to Mount Eden we went to the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. To reach the park, we cross Mount Albert. It seems, as in many parts of the South Island of New Zealand, that we are entering Jurassic Park.
We were not going to do any walk because the weather did not go with us much. We went straight to the area of the coast through the Piha Road, a scenic road with some stops to take pictures of the views.
First of all we visited Karekare beach. The beach has something magical and although the weather did not go too much we were able to enjoy it for a while. The next stop is the beach of Piha beach. We found the latter more spectacular.
From there we walk to Albert Park, the best park in the city, with its Victorian houses on Princess Street. From there we returned to our hotel to rest a little, get ready and prepare for dinner. With the help of the hotel staff, we had found and booked a Japanese restaurant.
It is a tapas bar in the heart of Auckland. It was a surprise to find ourselves in a hurry with this bar. The dinner was very good with salmon sushi. The walk back to the hotel gave us another perspective of Auckland. We sleep soon. It is the last night of an incredible and unforgettable trip in New Zealand.