New Zealand: 2/26 – 3/4

(New Zealand) Lake Hayes >>> Lake Face Falls >>> Milford Sound >>> Manapouri >>> Orepuki >>> Fortrose >>> Jack’s Bay >>> Dunedin

2/26 – Frisbee Golf in Queenstown, Hiking on the Routeburn Track
2/27 – A Food Quest in Queenstown and Driving past Fiords
2/28 – Adventuring on the Te Anau-Milford Highway and Cruising Milford Sound!
3/1 – Hiking the Kepler Track and Exploring in the Clifden Caves!
3/2 – Enjoying Travels in Invercargill
3/3 – Driving through the Catlins and Reaching the Southern Most Point of Our Trip!
3/4 – Nugget Point Seals and New Zealand Rugby!


2/26:
Frisbee Golf in Queenstown, Hiking on the Routeburn Track
+ After another relaxing breakfast enjoying the lakeside scenery and beautiful weather, we drove into town to have wifi to make a skype call to our next potential housesit! After talking with Julie a bit we confirmed our 2 week sit for the end in April in Tasmania! Julie and her husband were very nice and we were excited to meet them and their pets after we finished New Zealand.
+ After the call, we restocked on groceries and made a quick visit to the DOC visitor center to answer our remaining questions about the area’s hikes.
+ Then it was on to the Queenstown Gardens to play some Frisbee golf! The course and gardens were situated on a peninsula jutting out into the lake and it made for a great place to visit or even spend the day!
+ Queenstown is known for being the adventure sport capital of the world but obviously frisbee/disc golf is the most extreme of them all! Stores around town sell or even rent discs by the day for all the tourists to try the activity out.
+ Needless to say there were a lot of people on the course this afternoon – all levels of experience- and even people all over the park who would unknowingly wander right into the path of flying frisbees!
+ After we finished the 18 hole course (which we really enjoyed for both the course design and the gorgeous views all around the peninsula) we decided to make the most of our remaining daylight and make the drive up to Glenorchy. This scenic drive follows Lake Wakatipu (longest lake in NZ) along the cliffs to Glenorchy. The drive was very pretty but you needed to focus intently with all of the 1 lane bridges and winding turns.
+ We knew we wouldn’t be hiking the entire Routeburn track since it had the same transportation problems as the Heaphy (around 6 hour drive from end to end) but we still wanted to experience a good bit of it. So we hiked 1.5 hours from this end of the Routeburn Track. There was lots of bird life everywhere. At one point, a South island Robin hopped on Liz’s shoe and was pecking at it! Corey also practiced some trail running and got to see a good bit more of the trail by running a lot of it.
+ Drove back out past Glenorchy and south again towards Queenstown.
+ Slept at Lake Face Falls right along the lake. Despite another free campsite just down the road with 5 or 6 campers, there was no one else at this one. We were all alone! At night there were tons of stars and the milky way was visible once again!

2/27:
A Food Quest in Queenstown and Driving past Fiords
+ In the morning we woke up and realized we still had the whole campsite to ourselves!
+ Decided to go for a quicker breakfast and just eat some granola bars on the way back into Queenstown.
+ We so enjoyed the Frisbee golf yesterday that we decided to play another round at the same course today! It was just as pretty and this time way less crowded.
+ After another enjoyable game, we drove into town to get lunch. After walking around for a bit, lunch ended being split among a few different places. We had 2 (expensive, but delicious) tacos, 2 cookies from the popular Queenstown cookie bar, a free Monteith’s beer at The London, and a huge banana chocolate muffin from Ferg’s Bakery. Yummm!
+ Then we started the drive to Te Anau! (Gateway to Milford Sound). This time we drove south on the other side of Lake Wakatipu and had more excellent views.
+ Stopped at the I-Site in Te Anau and were surprised by how helpful the staff were! Many of the previous I-sites seemed to have staff that were unfriendly or often surprised we were asking them so many questions as if that wasn’t their job! We were pleasantly surprised by the isite here in Te Anau.
+ We wanted to be a little closer to Milford Sound so we started the drive north and had a beautiful sunset over the Fiords to accompany us along the way. With no free campsites in this entire area of the country, we had to pay for our first DOC site: Totara.

2/28:
Adventuring on the Te Anau-Milford Highway and Cruising Milford Sound!
+ Our decision to stay north of Te Anau proved to be a good one as we were ahead of most of the tourists and tour buses that were coming from Queenstown that would be hogging up lookouts and slowing down the roads.
+ There were a bunch of different places to visit and explore on the way up towards Milford Sound and we intended to get to as many of them as we could.
+ The first place we stopped was Mirror lakes. It had completely still lakes that acted as mirrors to the mountains in the background and have inspired many artists to just sit for hours (or days) and paint!
+ The Divide was our next stop and it was a popular one because it was the start (or end) of the Routeburn Track and the Key Summit hike that branched off from it. Since we’d hiked the other end of the Routeburn, we wanted to hike this end as well. After a lovely hour and a half on the Routeburn, we split off to climb up to the Key Summit overlook. It did have a superb overlook of Lake Marian situated in a glacial valley. Although it was pretty, we didn’t think Key Summit was as amazing as it had been described. Or maybe we were just getting spoiled after all the other NZ hikes we have done!
+ Next stop we hiked the start of the Lake Marian hike to see waterfalls and a raging river. Both were pretty neat and the hike was mostly secluded.
+ Now we were to pass through the gem of the drive, the Homer tunnel! It was built in 1935! While waiting to cross we saw Kea hiding in shade under a parked car. We didn’t have time to stop and go see them up close this time but we were glad we’d come so close to them on our Arthurs Pass hike.
+ The Chasm was the next stop on our drive. Corey hiked/trail ran up the path to see waterfalls, weird rock formations and deep, giant caverns. These had been hollowed out by the water pressure and little pebbles over thousands of years. Pretty neat.
+ We arrived at Milford Sound around 5 pm and checked in to our cruise as we admired the views of Mitre peak. We were please when the check in lady informed us since it was the last one of the day, the boat would only have about 22 people as opposed to it’s 200 person capacity! Not only this but many of the other tour operators didn’t have a tour this late so we were one of the only boats out on the water! This meant we’d have a much more peaceful, quiet, and relaxing cruise than 99% of people who visit Milford.
+ Once on board, we were all immediately summoned down to the dining area where our dinner was waiting. There was a pretty good array of food options and best of all, since they’d made so much more food than this small quantity of passengers could eat, we were all allowed to go down for seconds and thirds. Awesome! Or as they’d say in NZ, Sweet As!
+ The weather was perfect with bright blue skies and the sun setting over the water and we were surrounded by beautiful fiords! This area is infamous for cloudy and rainy weather and many people aren’t able to get views of the whole area due to all the fog and clouds. We were lucky enough to be able to see it all! We also spotted lots of fur seals and sea lions lounging around on the rocks and some dolphins swimming around too. No little penguins or whales this time, but they have come into the Fiord in the past!
+ Milford Sound was definitely one of the top attractions in NZ and we were glad we got to see and explore it!probably the whole world!
+ After the tour was over, we drove all the way back to Te Anau and sat next to a Spark box using wifi for a while.
+ We had to drive another 25 minutes south of town to get to the nearest free campsite at Waiau river. We led a French couple to the campsite from Te Anau that didn’t have a GPS so they asked to follow us. It was very late (around 1am when we parked!) but everything turned out fine.

3/1:
Hiking the Kepler Track and Exploring in the Clifden Caves!
+ Enjoyed breakfast in our lounge chairs in the cool sunny weather.
+ Started driving back north and stopped at Fraser beach (to use the bathroom). Then we admired the pretty lakeside beach for a moment.
+ Drove to Rainbow Reach bridge carpark- one of the access points for the Kepler Track which was another Great Walk!
+ After a steep uphill start for 15 minutes, the path leveled off and was mostly flat with lush scenery surrounding us. We hiked in 1.5hrs together to the first hut which was situated on the edge of a lake. Then we had some snacks and a water break.
+ Liz decided she was ready to turn back towards the car but Corey wanted to get in some more trail running and see more of the trail. Therefore, Liz hiked back to the van and Corey ran on ahead.
+ Liz hiked back through the green mossy forest and after arriving back at the car she ate a snack and read her book.
+ Corey had a great run and made it to the next hut in only 56 and a half minutes (instead of the posted 3 hour hiking time)! This trail run was pretty tough near the end as it gained a lot of elevation but getting deeper into the forest was worth it.
+ Then after a short rest he ran back to where he’d originally split from Liz and made that run in 59 minutes! Although he was pretty much spent, he half jogged/half hiked back to the van over the next 40 minutes and arrived only about an hour later than Liz did!
+ After refueling with a Nutella sandwich, we started the drive south towards Invercargill. Along the way we stopped at Clifden Caves which we weren’t even planning on, but read about it in one of our many many guidebooks/pamphlets while driving.
+ Since Liz isn’t the biggest cave fan, she chose to hang back and read her book while Corey went in to explore the caves. They ended up being awesome and for about an hour Corey worked his way through the tunnel passage from one side to the other. Some parts were really narrow, bendy, and wet and he had to contort his body weird ways to get through. He also passed 2 couples heading back out the way he’d come in because they were unable to keep going forward. Corey decided to check it out himself and successfully managed to maneuver around the obstacles they couldn’t and complete the passage! It was a fun adventure and we couldn’t believe something so cool was free! Especially in NZ where they’ll charge for many fun adventures!
+ Once the mud was wiped off of him and we were back in the van, we continued on south towards the coast.
+ Slept at Monkey Island Road reserve just past the tiny town of Orepuki. Our camping spot was right on the beach!
+ Just after sunset the small sliver of moon was super low in the sky poised right above monkey island! We finished eating dinner and watched as all the stars came out. They were amazing again!
+ Fell asleep to the roar of the waves. Decided in the morning we are makin’ pancakes!

3/2
Enjoying Travels in Invercargill
+ When we woke up we had better views down the coast than when we had arrived the night before.
+ Took advantage of low tide and walked out to Monkey Island. While surveying the surrounding waters, we saw a seal hunting for octopus and a few Hector dolphins swimming around!
+ Back at the van we had a very nice brunch of pancakes, syrup, coffee, and juice. It was nice to just relax and enjoy our surroundings.
+ Drove into Invercargill where we used wifi for a little bit before heading towards the community “Splash Palace” pool.
+ Enjoyed their hot tub, sauna, pool, and nice hot shower. AHHH!
+ All squeaky clean, we wandered over to the Invercargill Brewery. They weren’t offering tours today but the lady was really nice and gave us a few samples and then we bought some 1.3 liter bottles to take with us. Here in NZ they call these plastic 1.3L bottles. These are called a “rigger” here in NZ. It’s basically like a plastic growler.
+ Burger Fuel was a NZ restaurant we’d heard about but had yet to visit. We decided the time was right and we each ordered the burger and beer combo and really enjoyed our big burger choices!
+ Popped into the Warehouse store for a little bit for some groceries. Came out with groceries, gym shorts for Corey, and Dr. Pepper for Liz!
+ We really wanted to get down to Bluff to catch the sunset so we sped south 30 minutes and made it there just a bit late as the sun had already dipped below the horizon. We still enjoyed the rest of the daylight though and walked around the area, taking a picture of the popular sign post with how many kilometers it was to different points on earth. We were actually closer to the South Pole than the Equator!
+ Back up in Invercargill, we found a Spark box and parked the car to use wifi. It just so happened to be right outside a strip/dance club! Lol!
+ Before leaving town, we refilled our water tanks and dumped our grey water at a designated RV dump site.
+ Drove 40 minutes east to sleep at Fortrose.

3/3
Driving through the Catlins and reaching the Southern most point of our trip!
+ Woke up to very windy and rainy conditions. During a break in the rain, we both got out to use the toilet and take at look at our beachside campsite since we arrived way after dark the night before.
+ Since it was such awful grey weather, we decided to hop back into the van and watch a movie! We munched on our chocolate stash and watched the movie Gold (borinnggg) and a few episodes of Community. By this time, the sun had finally come out and the wind had calmed a bit so we decided to get going.
+ Drove east continuing on the southern scenic route. Even though this is a recommended tourist drive, a lot of the roads are gravel and some are not in very good condition! Corey has become an expert at avoiding the potholes!
+ Stopped at the Waipapa Point lighthouse. Saw a huge NZ sea lion! We almost walked right into it as we were making our way through the coastal grass! After we retreated to a safer distance we watched as it sat up and then made its waddling way towards the shore. This NZ species of sea lion is huge! Males grow to twice the size of the fur seals.
+ Slope point was our next stop that we parked and hiked out to. Technically this spot is the actual most southernly spot on new Zealand. (Not Bluff that had the sign where we visited yesterday). Slope point is the most southernly point we will reach on our entire RTW trip! It was super windy so we held on tight when we took a picture with the sign pointing towards the south pole.
+ Across from the small parking lot for Slope Point there was a great view of farmland full of sheep paired with the gnarled windswept trees. The trees appeared to be growing horizontally from the constant intense wind. This view encapsulated so much of the South island: the incredibly wild and rugged beauty
+ Porpoise Bay was our next destination. Here we parked our car and walked around the coastal cliffs and beach area admiring the views and keeping an eye out for wildlife. We got lucky and saw some Hectors dolphins jumping in the distance! One brave spectator even swam out in the freezing water to be closer to them!
+ Then we drove a short distance over to Curio Bay where we saw 1 yellow eyed penguin from afar. We waited around for about 30 minutes for more penguins to come ashore since it was the prime viewing time, but they stayed out at sea and didn’t make an appearance. Soon the dwindling daylight and freezing temperatures forced us to move on.
+ A very winding drive for an hour or so to our campsite, Jack’s Bay, where we hunkered down and made a nice warm dinner.
+ During dinner and then all night long we could hear the sea lion calls from out in the grass and on the beach. The seemed very close to our car but we chose not to go venturing out in the dark to find them. Instead we admired the stars again. I think this was about our 8th night in a row where we could easily see the Milky Way!

3/4:
Nugget Point Seals and New Zealand Rugby!
+ Woke up and looked at the seals relaxing on the beach and in the tall grass close to our car. We walked around the little pathways looking for more and we almost walked right up on one because it was hidden in the grass!
+ They didn’t seem too bothered by us and one seal pup was so curious it would’ve come right up to us if we didn’t back away!
+ Climbed back into the van and cooked the rest of our pancakes for breakfast. (We discovered last night that our gas can for the double burner was out so we were now using our single burner portable stove).
+ We made Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes and even a Tumbles shaped one! They were delicious.
+ Did the hour long hike to Jack’s blowhole. It was not impressive and with low tide there wasn’t any water spraying out of the top. In hindsight we would have been ok to skip it.
+ Drove to Nugget Point and Roaring Bay. This place was one of the most beautiful stops on our whole NZ trip so far! Almost like a 12 Apostles of New Zealand! Tons and tons and tons of seals laying on the rocks and swimming in each and every pool. The only difference between this and Wharariki Beach is that this time we were way high up on the cliff tops looking down on the seals way below!
+ Before we left the area we made a brief stop at Roaring Bay to look for the rare Yellow Eyed penguin again. No luck this time either.
+ Finished the Southern Scenic Highway as we drove North to Dunedin. As we approached the city, it became warmer and warmer! Our multiple layers and windproof clothing now seemed ridiculous in this sunny beautiful day! It’s crazy how each part of NZ is so different and separate from the next!
The whole southern coast was very cold, rainy, and wilder around every turn!
+ As we pulled into Dunedin we realized there was a rugby match on tonight! The Otago Highlanders (Home team here in Dunedin) were playing the Canterbury Crusaders (Christchurch and surrounding area). We decided to check it out since we’d wanted to see a match while we were here in NZ!
+ As we were walking to the ticket office, 2 guys approached us asking if we needed tickets. We assumed they were scalping but they just gave them to us for free! Sweet As! Online it had looked like most of the actual seats were sold out and we would probably be buying standing room only tickets. But now we had two $30 seats for free! We thanked the guys profusely and then walked toward our gate to get into the game.
+ The game was fun and the home team had a big lead for most of the game. Unfortunately at the end they collapsed and allowed the Christchurch team to come back and win the game in the final minute.
+ It was a really fun experience and the family sitting next to us was kind enough to explain some of the more confusing situations and rules to us.
There were also silly cheerleaders dressed in super hero costumes from Night ‘N Day, the local gas station/quick stop store. They were way more entertaining then the cheerleaders back home!
+ After the game we swung by a Pizza Hut and got some dinner. Then we used WiFi for a while next to a spark box as we watched all the drunk college students walk by and act like fools. Oh, the good ‘ol college days!
+ Slept in Dunedin Market Reserve in a parking lot that was open to self contained vehicles only. Really nice because we would have had to pay for a place or drive 30 minutes outside of town otherwise.

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