South Island Side Trip
Opua, Bay of Islands
Spending the South Pacific cyclone season in New Zealand
Wow, wow, and wow! We just returned from a ten day trip to the Otago region of New Zealand's South Island and the scenery was just incredible! So many highlights! We were extremely lucky to catch fine weather throughout our stay in this normally fickle region. After months of ocean and island scenery, the mountains and lakes were a real change of pace for us - not to mention the fact that did more than just stretch our legs with several great hikes.
We flew to Queenstown and started with two nice hikes in two days - one of them straight up a ski slope in the Remarkables, a compact mountain range right outside town! Both were well worth the effort, and Nicky really did well despite his protests that hiking might be boring. Then we did a long drive to Milford Sound in a day, with another hike up Key Summit along the way. Milford Sound was as gorgeous as the guide books say, but we were glad to have built in an extra day in order to wait out our one day of rain and postpone a cruise out in the sound by a day. So we had one very relaxing day in our backpacker hotel there. The rain created dozens of new waterfalls that gushed from cliff faces all around us. The next day brought clear, blue skies and a great experience on the cruise, where we saw fur seals and paused right under waterfalls.
From there, we drove to Te Anau, spent one night, then visited a wildlife park. Wildlife in New Zealand means birds, including the endangered Taheke (think stout black chicken, sort of) and a couple of vocal Keas (mountain parrots). The same day, we drove back through Queentown and did another fantastic hike up to Lake Alta in the Remarkables. We ended the day in Arrowtown, an old gold mining town. We first arrived at about 4 PM when tour bus groups still dominated the town; a few hours later, all was deserted and we had a completely different impression of the wonderful place. It definitely felt like fall thanks to the cool mountain air and yellow leaves! Our backpacker hotel there had a DVD player and we spent the evening watching Lord of the Rings movies, going slow-mo over several of the film locations that we had seen (gotta do it!). We also rented bikes for the morning and had a great time pedaling to and around Lake Hayes.
Finally, we spent three nights in Wanaka with two more beautiful hikes. One was a highlight of the entire ten days - the Rob Roy Glacier Walk which follows a narrow valley up toward Mount Aspiring until you reach a bowl with glaciers all around. Waterfalls, spectacular ice blocks, gorgeous weather - too good to be true!
When we originally started planning the trip, it felt like we might lose out on the South Island experience if we didn't do any of the many "adventure activities" on offer there: bungee jumping, white water rafting, horseback rides, jet boats, etc, all to the tune of $150 per person. But we skipped all of them (except the Milford cruise) and didn't feel like we missed anything thanks to our hiking experiences.
It was hard to tear ourselves away from the spectacular scenery in the South Island but now we are happily settled back in to Namani in the Bay of Islands.