It’s been quite a while since my last writing and I figured the first order of business would be to write up some thoughts and share some photos from my one month trip down under (New Zealand and Australia). Rather than give a step by step outline of my journey, I’ll just mention some highlights, share a few photos/videos and make some comments about traveling down under. If you have specific questions about places to see, lodging, or logistics feel free to shoot me a message/email.
- Waitomo Glowworm Cave tubing (North Island)
- Ruakuri Bush Walk at Night, Glowworms (NorthIsland)
- Abel Tasman Great Walk in a Day (South Island -North)
- Arthur’s Pass/Avalanche Peak (South Island -West)
- Motukeikei Beach (South Island -West)
- Rob Roy Glacial Valley (South Island – Lakes Region)
- Routeburn Great Walk (South Island – Lakes Region)
- Kepler Track Great Walk in a Day (South Island – Fiordlands)
- Doubtful Sound Cruise (South Island – Fiordlands)
- Milford Sound Drive (South Island – Fiordlands)
- Little Blue and Yellow Eyed Penguins (YEPs) (South Island – East Coast)
Things I Missed Out On
- Auckland City Tour (North Island)
- Tongariro Northern Circuit (NorthIsland)
- Nelson Lakes/Roberts Ridge (South Island – Central)
- Dart and Reese Rivers (South Island – Lakes Region)
- Milford Track (South Island – Fiorlands)
- Stewart Island (South of the South Island)
On November 7th, 2015 I decided to give myself a little 1/3 life crisis birthday present, a one month trip to New Zealand and Australia. I first stopped over in LA to visit my cousin, before flying off to Sydney for a few days to meet up with my parents and visit my Uncle Jim who lives a few hours south of the city. I flew down through Fiji on an all night flight, finally reaching Sydney in the morning. Sydney is a beautiful and very clean city, with a vibrant downtown, classic views like the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and botanical gardens. The jacaranda trees were in full bloom, dotting the city skyline with their bright purple flowers. It is definitely an expensive city, but worth your time to soak in some of the culture and sample the cuisine. My uncle lives on the coast just South of Sydney, amongst several small townships; a much quieter scene, with a handful of shops, farmers markets, and some of the most amazing fish markets I’ve see (oh do I miss good seafood). Amongst the family time I got out for a few exploratory runs along Seven Mile Beach and in Royal National Park (w Ryan Stuart). This quick 3 day sample has convinced me I eventually need to come back to Australia for the full tour of the outback, the reefs, and some of the other cities.
We hopped a evening flight to Auckland, then promptly took off the following morning headed South, so we did not get to explore the big city of New Zealand, but that’s how I had planned it, too much to do, not enough time. Driving through the North Island lives up to its reputation, lots of rolling green grass, a fair bit of rain, and tons of sheep. The Waitomo glowworm caves, while touristy, are well worth the visit as its not something you can find anywhere else in the world. The best way to get up close and personal is actually the free Ruakuri bush walk, at night. At night this fairly typical walk through the jungle becomes a glowworm studded private tour, just check every overhang, every creek side, and every little cave you find. Unfortunately due to a stint of bad weather we missed out on the Tongariro crossing/Northern Circuit. In windy Wellington we met up with my old friend Shelley who escorted us around town. There is a wonderfully vibrant culinary scene in the city and I could have easily spent a few more days in there, but too many places to go and not enough time.
Next stop was Abel Tasman National Park along the North coast of the South Island. I ran the 55km Great Walk in a day with help from my parents (car shuttle pickup). It’s a beautiful track that meanders along high coastal cliffs, across beautiful stretches of beach and through some jungle as well. Easy water access at the huts, but make sure to time the tides carefully or you’ll be swimming through the Awaroa Inlet. Beware the sandflies though, they can be ravenous. We next headed to Nelson Lakes NP, but again got completely stormed off our intended route up Roberts Ridge. So we bolted for the West Coast, where the drizzle and clouds broke just long enough for us to spend a spectacular day at Arthur’s Pass (Avalanche Peak is a must) and an early morning tidal walk along Motukeikei Beach. I was a bit underwhelmed by the Fox and Franz Glaciers, but it’s such a quick stop that it’s worth seeing, the Fox more so.
Our journey then took us up and over the rainy Haast Pass to the Lakes region of the South Island, specifically Wanaka and Wakatipu (Queenstown). This area has earned its reputation as an adventurer’s basecamp, with milder weather, but easy access to some fantastic trails and the mountains. I personally enjoyed Wanaka more, its much more laid back and quaint than the glitz, glamour and more touristy Queenstown. The highlights of our exploration were definitely the Rob Roy Glacial Valley and the Routeburn Great Walk. If heading for the Rob Roy Valley in early season, make sure your car can handle the several 6”-18” deep creek crossings, otherwise be prepared for a bit of extra walking. The Routeburn is a tricky one, as it’s a point to point with a 5 hour car shuttle. I opted to run 2/3 of the track to the Lake MacKenzie overlook, then turn around and head back, definitely doable as a day run in this manner, approx 34km.
I could easily have spent weeks in the Queenstown/Wanaka regions, but as it was we were soon off to Te Anau and Fiorlands where more adventure awaited. First up was a day run of the relatively new Kepler Track Great Walk, a line that traverses sandy beaches, deep green jungle, steep narrow valleys, then endless high ridgeline. I missed out on much of the views because of the snow storm up high (6-10” of new stuff). But the stark contrast of the route was still an amazing thing to experience. With a perfect sunny weather window dropping into Fiorlands we took a ferry ride across Lake Manupouri then hopped the Fiordland Navigator for an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound. If you catch this area under decent weather its well worth the price of admission, and much quieter than its busier cousin Milford Sound. Towering seaside mountains, waterfalls in all directions, kayaking, fur seals, penguins, bottlenose dolphins and more. This was by far the highlight of my trip to New Zealand.
We spent the final few days of our trip winding down along the East Coast of the South Island, stopping in Dunedin to see hundreds of the Little Blue Penguins at the albatross sanctuary ($25), Katiki Lighthouse to see Yellow Eyed Penguins (YEPs), and just enjoying the coastline. Our final night was in Christchurch, a city very much in transition. The earthquakes of 2010-2011 ravaged the downtown, leveling most of its high rise buildings and damaging the historical structures. There is really no night life to speak of downtown, and very little to do, so it was a bit of a downer, and I until it revives itself I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time there. So ended my one month tour down under, on a somber note.
We (3) opted not to get a camper van, instead we rented a smaller Nissan Wingroad hatchback and ended up staying mostly in hostels and cabins with the occasional night of tent camping. Personally I think this worked out better, as the driving was much easier in the smaller vehicle, we could dry out wet gear at night, and it ended up costing about the same (camper van vs hatchback + hostels). We didn’t reserve any of our lodging, but we were early enough in the season that the only place we had any issues were Queenstown and Christchurch. Most hostels, holiday parks, and developed campgrounds have pots, pans and utensils for one to use. If you plan to stay in more DOC campgrounds then you’ll need your own gear, but they still have cooking shelters and sometimes also gas stoves.
We went during their early summer (Nov), it was a bit colder, a bit rainier, but the crowds were much smaller. January and February tend to be warmer, but you’ll need to plan a head a bit more than we did. In regards to the itinerary, I’d highly recommend staying flexible and allowing yourself as much time in a priority location as you can. We found out quickly that the weather is very unpredictable, so look at the forecasts and pick your weather windows, otherwise you’ll end up in a downpour or gale force winds, not so fun. But when it’s nice, OH IS IT NICE! If you’re an outdoors adventurer, the South Island is where you want to be; mountains, jungle, glaciers, beaches, trails, climbing, swimming, etc.
For planning we didn’t have much of a set itinerary, but did use a combination of Lonely Planet and New Zealand Frenzy. I think some of the most fun things we did came out of the off-the-beaten-path New Zealand Frenzy guide, well worth the $10 price tag. Lastly, for those who have traveled the US, you won’t find many things in New Zealand that you can’t see somewhere else; we have big mountains, we have subtropical rainforest, we have glaciers…., its more that New Zealand has all this and more within a days (or less) drive, creating a beautiful contrast of scenery. This doesn’t mean the sights aren’t worth seeing, rather to just enjoy New Zealand for what it is, and the Kiwi way about it. While there are several items noted above I missed out on, I’d have to say I’m not sure if I’ll ever return to New Zealand. Not that I wouldn’t love to, but more that there are so many other places I’ve never visited and explored it’d be hard to set aside the time again, but maybe…..
Here are my compilation videos from the month’s adventures.