New Zealand: 2/19 – 2/25

(New Zealand) Arthur’s Pass >>> Lake Pearson >>> Kumara Junction >>> Whataroa >>> Paringa >>> Wanaka >>> Lake Hayes

2/19- Avalanche Peak Hike and Picturesque Dinner at Lake Pearson
2/20- A Lovely Day where Corey Climbed & Explored while Liz Painted & Relaxed.
2/21- Visiting Hokitika Town and it’s Picturesque Gorge!
2/22- Driving the West Coast Highway and Viewing the Fox Glacier
2/23- Exploring the Haast Pass and Frisbee Golf in Wanaka
2/24- Hiked Rob Roy’s Glacier and Rewarded Ourselves in Wanaka!
2/25- Mountain Biking, Painting, and Fergburger!

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Avalanche Peak Hike and Picturesque Dinner at Lake Pearson
+ Woke up and had cereal and coffee at the campsite. (Liz got to use her new tea kettle she had found at the salvation army thrift store!) After cleaning the dishes we hurriedly packed up the car and left because the sandflies were so bad!
+ Drove back to the visitor center and talked to the DOC rangers about the hike we had planned for today: Avalanche Peak. The Rangers let us know there was a lot of cloud cover today so they suggested instead of the Avalanche Peak loop we do Scott’s Track up to Avalanche Peak which would offer better views along the way.
+ It was a very long and steep hike to the top and took about 3 hours to reach the top! It was worth it though because we saw 2 Kea at the summit! The Kea birds are the only species of alpine parrot in the world! They were so cute and you could see their intelligence just by the way they inspected each hiker to see if they were reaching for food or just for their camera.
+ After admiring the Kea for a while and eating our lunch, we hiked back down. Made it back to the car in just under 6 hours.
+ Used WiFi at the Spark Box in town and had a skype chat with the housesit we had lined up in Auckland in April.
+ Drove to Lake Pearson campsite. Beautiful lakefront spot with a family of curious ducks stopping by to inspect our van.
+ Cooked the leftover chicken, mixed veggies, and couscous for dinner. It was delicious! And it just cool enough outside (with very little sandflies!) To have some hot chocolate!
+ We enjoyed our hot chocolate and watched as the stars came out for the night. We could even see the milky way from here!

A Lovely Day where Corey Climbed and Explored while Liz Painted and Relaxed.
+ Liz woke up early and read her book outside next to the lake enjoying the fantastic weather and even better views of the mountains over the lake.
+ After Corey got up we enjoyed our cereal together and soaking in the cool breeze and pretty views.
+ Drove a little farther east to Cave Stream and Castle Hill Rock Gardens. Cave Stream was cool and involved a 20 minute hike down the river to the starting point and then entering a cave in waist deep freezing cold water. Then he walked against the current for about 45 minutes through all sorts of cool canyons and tight, small alleyways. It was cool being all by himself in complete darkness and exploring this cave system. It would’ve been so amazing to be the first ones to go through here! There were some times he had to climb over rocks or around big fallen boulders and at the end he had to wriggle up a very wet rock wall via some metal drilled into the rock and finish on the other side. Then he hiked back to the car.
+ Castle Hill Rock Gardens were about what he expected and mainly appealing only to climbers who enjoyed bouldering. Corey hiked out to the rock area and climbed around on everything he could without any special climbing equipment and after only about an hour he’d explored most all of it. Not sure how climbers could be content spending a week in this area, but to each their own!
+ While Corey had been doing both of these activities, Liz relaxed in the van. She worked on her painting she had brought from Australia while sipping coffee and enjoying the views. It was a great day with great weather!
+ At this point we were in the middle of the country, just about halfway between the west coast and Christchurch. We decided to double back and head back towards the west coast to continue our loop down the coast and then head south.
+ Later that night back on the west coast we slept at Kumara Junction (cafe parking lot) just south of Greymouth.

Visiting Hokitika Town and it’s Picturesque Gorge!
+ On our morning drive south towards Hokitika, we listened to some radio show where they were very seriously discussing sheep shearing speed records and who was up and coming. Lol!
+ Spent time at the Hokitika I-site gathering information and pamphlets for the upcoming areas we’d be visiting and returning all the pamphlets from the places we’d already gone!
+ Drove 30 minutes through farmland to Hokitika Gorge and then did a small walk to admire the glacial blue water and suspension bridge. It was a very pretty area and it was so picturesque that this was the area that often graced the front of many tourist brochures advertising this area of New Zealand!
+ Drove back to Hokitika town and took pictures with the iconic driftwood sculpture on beach that spelled out Hokitika.
+ Took a very brief (20 minutes) and casual tour of the popular Jade factory. It was interesting to see the process they used to make all the sculptures and jewelery, We’d already seen a crystal factory in Ireland and now we were “experts” with Jade too!
+ Walked back through town and stopped into a gift shop. The shop owner was really nice and gave us tons of advice and recommendations for the rest of the south island. Liz bought some earrings and a bracelet made out of the puaua shell found only here in NZ.
+ Back in our van, we used WiFi for a long time and booked some upcoming activities on New Zealand’s version of Groupon called BookMe.
+ Made dinner near the beach (after dark now) and then drove further south. Crossed over some mountains and slept at Whataroa (parking area near the river).

Driving the West Coast Highway and Viewing the Fox Glacier
+ Woke up to the sound of a helicopter starting up at 8am!!! Liz moved the curtain inside the van to watch it only 50 yards away! It took off and then landed again 20 minutes later!
+ Campermate had mentioned this was a parking lot for a scenic helicopter company but when we parked last night we didn’t notice any helicopters or landing pads around! lol!
+ When we woke up and Corey got out of the van, he was met by a giant, dark cloud of sand flies! So Liz stayed in the back for a few minutes while Corey drove us away from the campsite as quickly as he could! Just a few hundred yards down the road we stopped to finish getting things packed up and allow Liz to move to the front.
+ We continued along Franz Josef Highway until we reached the I-Site for the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. Then we browsed around through the brochures and spoke to the staff about all the activity options. We were prepared to splurge on a helicopter flight up to a glacier and hike around but the weather was so poor (very cloudy and rainy) that there were no flights going. Our other options were 90 minute hikes out to a viewing point of the glacier beds, but those weren’t appealing either since we probably wouldn’t be able to see much through the mist.
+ So we chose to bide our time and use the internet for 2 hours in hopes the weather would clear up. Unfortunately it didn’t. So we chose to just go do the hike to the Fox Glacier lookout anyway. This was a shorter hike of only 30 minutes and even though the weather was still a bit cloudy, at least it wasn’t raining! The glacier was nice but it had regressed so many hundreds of feet over the past 100 years or so that it was not nearly as impressive as what it once would’ve been.
+ After snapping a few pictures and returning to the car, we kept driving south towards the beginning of Mount Aspiring National Park.
+ Although we could’ve found another free site tonight we wanted a shower and some refuge from the sandflies so we paid for our first campsite!
+ Slept at Pine Motel near Paringa. Our price of $15 pp included a hot shower (woohoo!) and a nice little kitchen which proved to be a great escape from the sandflies and mosquitoes as we cooked and ate our food. We even got to chill our wine in the fridge and charge our devices!
+ A middle age French couple also slept in their van at the same spot and shared the kitchen and showers with us. Even though their English was not the best they were friendly and nice to chat with.

Exploring the Haast Pass and Frisbee Golf in Wanaka
+ Woke up and had cereal and coffee in the kitchen. There was a deer in the paddock right next to our van! The friendly owners of the motel explained the deer was a pet and her name was Bambi. Liz asked her about the other herds of deer we have seen in pens along the road. The owner explained usually these are being farmed for venison. Oh noes!
+ Packed up van and continued driving south. Stopped in the Haast I-site for advice and they gave us some good info for little hikes in the area.
+ We wanted to drive out to Jacksons Bay in hopes of maybe seeing a penguin, but after only going 20 km down the gravel road towards Jackson Bay (1/3 of the way), we decided it wasn’t worth the time and gas. So instead we did a small Estuary loop and were surprised to see how much the area looked like Florida! New Zealand could often look just like other areas of the world, more so than any other country we have visited!
+ Back on SH6 we crossed into the Otago district and started our drive on the Haast pass Highway! It was a fantastic scenic drive and we could easily understand how this was rated one of the top drives in the world!
+ We made a few stops along our journey up and over the pass. These included the Roaring Billy waterfall, Thunder Creek falls, and Fantail falls. Fantail had tons of rock cairns made by all the visitors covering the dry river bed! The other two waterfalls were also nice and worth the short hikes out to them.
+ We also hiked up to the Haast lookout. This was a short 25 minute hike but it was extremely steep all the way up. The view at the top was great though and provided views of both rivers heading out to the two different oceans!
+ Our last hike was to the famous Blue pools. These were probably the most popular tourist attraction along the drive and we were greeted at the entrance of the path by a Kiwi protesting the governments use of a toxin called 1080. The government was dumping more of the chemical in the vicinity today and it was apparently a very bad and harmful chemical and we were advised not to go swimming today. The pools themselves though were just as clear and bright blue as we’d heard and we could see why so many people came here to picnic and relax.
+ From here the beautiful drive continued as we passed alongside lake Wanaka and lake Hawea. Both were so beautiful and calm. It seemed as if every turn of the road offered another point to stop and take some photographs. The reflections of the mountains in the background were great too and looked as if they were a painting!
+ Eventually we reached the town of Wanaka and drove up to Lismore Park high on top of a hill to play some Frisbee golf! It was an absolutely BEAUTIFUL course with fantastic views of the town and all the sailboats out on the lake!
+ Once Liz finished dominating Corey in Frisbee Golf, we went into town and used wifi for a little bit. Then we walked along the lakeside and saw the famous Wanaka Tree. It is one of the most photographed trees in the world and unique because it grows out of the lake, about 15 yards offshore. With the snow capped mountains in the background it makes for a very pretty view.
+ Another 20 minutes drive around the lake and towards the mountains brought us to our campsite at Diamond Lake.
+ Once we finished eating dinner, we met 2 girls from Australia and shared some wine and beer with them as we chatted and admired the stars. (Wanaka is known for having incredibly clear skies to make for great stargazing). Just during our hour or so sitting there chatting, we saw many shooting stars fly by and the milky way became ever clearer and brighter!

Hiked Rob Roy’s Glacier and Rewarded Ourselves in Wanaka!
+ Once we finished our brekky, we got geared up for a day of hiking and set off along the road continuing northwest. The pavement quickly gave way to a gravel road and a very bumpy one at that!
+ There were two Israeli hitch-hikers at the beginning of the road and since we were going the same direction, we decided to pick them up.
+ On the way to the hike, we saw 6 huge bulls in the field and on the road in front of us. The farmer was there yelling and shaking a stick trying to slowly herd them away from the road. The bulls paid him little attention and started fighting amongst each other and smashing their heads together! We drove by on the other side of the road to give them as much space as possible. These bulls were almost as big as our van!
+ We had driven bumpy dirt roads before but none more bumpy or as long as this! For over an hour we made our way down the grooved road trying in vain to pick the best spots in the road and avoid the biggest potholes. Before we reached the end, there were actually 5 or 6 rivers we had to ford with our little van! Luckily none were more than a foot or 2 deep and not too rocky so we made it through just fine! We were very proud of our Bingo Bongo!
+ At the parking lot we said goodbye to our hitchhiking friends and then began our hike out to the Rob Roy glacier. It took a few hours to reach it, gaining a few hundred meters of elevation along the way. But when we got there it was worth it because it was a huge glacier and sooooo beautiful! There were multiple waterfalls (we counted at least 14!) coming down from the snow capped peaks and many great viewpoints. We wondered why Franz Josef and fox glacier were so much more famous?! This glacier was so much more beautiful in our opinion!
+ The drive from the start of the hike back to the paved road was only 33km but again took us around an hour. Besides the road itself being in very bad condition, it also included many “cattle stop” crossings which are like huge heavy duty rumble strips with gaps in between. We were worried about our van’s axle and all the other parts rattling and moving around so much!
+ The only good thing about the drive was that we passed tons of deer, BIG elk!, gigantic bulls, and fluffy sheep. The sheep are sooo cute when they have those fluffy little legs!
+ After we finally made it back to town (Wanaka), we rewarded ourselves with an ice cream cone! Liz got a scoop of Vanilla with Boysenberry (a very Kiwi flavor). Corey got 2 scoops of chocolate cookie fudge brownie and LOVED it! He thinks it was the best ice cream cone he’s ever had! Along with the delicious flavor this might have also been the most messy ice cream he’s ever had. By the time he was done chocolate was in his mustache, beard, and everything!
+ Also, the ice cream scoops were certainly the most generous we’ve ever had. The worker scooped out what would’ve been equivalent to about 6 scoops onto Corey’s cone when he only ordered 2 scoops. Awesome!
+ Once we had baby wiped our faces, we used wifi, made a quick grocery stop for ice, refilled our drinking water, and then cooked dinner next to lake Wanaka. It was very windy but we admired the late sunset views and then enjoyed dinner in the van. We were getting spoiled by all these amazing dinner locations!
+ After dinner we drove southwest up and over a big mountain while heading towards Queenstown. Slept at Lake Hayes outside of Arrowtown.

Mountain Biking, Painting, and Fergburger!
+ When we woke up in the morning, we were pleasantly surprised to see how pretty the lake was and that we had a great spot under two enormous trees with hanging vines. We ate breakfast near the lake and had a nice relaxing morning talking and enjoying the cooler (and bug-free) weather.
+ Around noon we left and drove east towards the Gibbston Winery. There was also a place here that rented out mountain bikes which Corey would be doing. So after he got his bike, the worker took him and the bike up to the top of rabbit ridge. There, he spent the next 4 hours mountain biking around all the different trails on the mountain.
+ After Corey set off with his shuttle, Liz drove the 10 minutes back to the campsite on Lake Hayes. (Yes! Liz can drive on the left side of the road too!) At the lake she continued work on her paint by numbers. She made sure to park the van where she could enjoy the views of the lake and even the silly dogs who were playing fetch with their owners. After a cup of coffee and later some warm soup, she drove back to the Gibbston winery to pick up Corey from his biking.
+ The biking was fun but exhausting as after every trail or “run” he would have to bike all the way back to the top to do a different trail. He didn’t fall at all until the very last trail which led all the way back to the winery. Then the exhaustion and difficult trail got the best of him and he took a nasty little tumble down the side of the rocky mountain. Overall he wasn’t too hurt though and you have to fall at least once when you go mountain biking, amiright?!
+ Reunited, we both drove into Queenstown. Visited the I-site where we returned 10 pounds of brochures and picked up 10 pounds of new ones. Queenstown offered a ton of fun activities and had been named numerous times as the adventure capital of the world! Because of this, all of the prices were ridiculously expensive. With the prohibitive pricing combined with the fact we’d already done many of these activities in other areas of the world (i.e. Mountain Biking, Rafting, Bungee Jumping, Paragliding, etc.), we chose to skip them over here.
+ We then went and ate at the most famous Burger restaurant in all of NZ: Fergburger! We’d been craving a good burger and were excited to try this place out. After a 15 minute wait in line and then another 20 minute wait for food, Liz got the best chicken sandwich she’s ever had. Corey had a good (but not great) burger. Both were big and very filling though!
+ Before leaving town, we used wifi for a while and researched upcoming destinations in NZ.
+ Slept at Lake Hayes again in the same spot underneath the womping willows.

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