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Our route is shown in RED. We drove in a counterclockwise
loop, starting in Christchurch.
We left home at 2:15 pm. We flew from San Jose to Los Angeles to Auckland to Christchurch. The flight from Los Angeles to Auckland was 12 hours, nonstop. It was a night time flight, so much of the time we were sleeping. There was a 3 hour time difference between California and New Zealand (but it was a different day).
(we kind of missed this day, traveling and crossing the dateline)
Driving on the left side was more difficult than I expected...
We visited an old church in downtown Christchurch, then went to the Antarctica center near the airport. They had great exhibits about Antarctica, and even had a room full of snow and ice. There was a wind machine in the room to let you experience the wind chill in Antarctica.
We had breakfast at McDonalds, then headed towards Arthur's Pass. There was lots of wildflowers and many great views along the way. Our first hike at Arthur's Pass was to Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall. Later we walked along the Dobson Nature Walk to see the wildflowers, then hiked along the Bridal Veil trail to another waterfall. We saw our first Kea today. It's a large green parrot native to New Zealand.
After breakfast we left Aurthur's Pass and drove to the coast, then north. The coast reminded us of the Big Sur coast in California. We stopped at Paparoa National Park. There is a section of beach there (in Punakaki) where the rocks along the coast look like stacked pancakes. There are numerous blowholes where the waves crash and spray water into the air. We then drove further north to the Truman Track, where we took a 30 minute nature walk through the rain forest. At the beach there was another blowhole. We drove north again to Charlestown and toured an old (but still working) gold mine. We drove back to Punakaiki and walked the Dolomite Point Walk to see the blowholes, then drove south to Greymouth for the night.
We drove south to Hotika and walked through town. There were lots of small shops to see. Both Winny and I bought a sheepskin in one of the shops. We then drove south to Franz Josef Glacier. We stopped in town at the visitor center first, then drove to the trailhead for the glacier. You can see the glacier from the trailhead. It's another 15 minute walk to get to the foot of the Franz Josef Glacier.
We got up early and drove to the Fox Glacier (a short drive from the Franz Josef Glacier). We stopped at the visitor's center first, then drove to the parking area for the glacier. From there we hiked to the foot of the Fox Glacier (mostly in the rain). Later, we drove to Lake Matheson (no views in the rain), then drove to the coast where we hiked to an old gold dredge in the rain forest. Late that night (still raining) we walked along the glow worm nature trail. It was amazing! Thousands of little green lights, all over. It was worth staying up late and walking in the rain.
The first activity was a drive up the glacier-view road. At the end of the road we did another nature walk to another view of the glacier. Since it was raining (again) we drove back to the Franz Josef Glacier visitor center where we saw a poem about rain (this is a rain forest).
We woke up to a mostly clear blue sky, with clouds only over the higher mountains. We drove into town and took a helicopter flight up onto the middle part of the Fox glacier. Nobody else was interested in the helicopter hike that day, so Winny and I had our own personal guide who gave us a 2-1/2 hour tour of the glacier. The glacier was moving 5 m per day where we hiked. The base of the glacier was expanding down the valley at 20 cm per day. After the helicopter trip back, the weather changed and there were no more trips for the rest of the day. We were the only ones on the glacier that day. After our heli-hike, we drove south to Haast and stopped at the visitor's center. We spent the night at Haast.
Photos from the heli hike on the glacier. Photo 1, photo 2, photo 3, photo 4, photo 5.
After breakfast we started our drive over Haast Pass. It was a nice day. We stopped many times for short walks to scenic waterfalls and great views of the mountains and valleys. From there we drove past Lake Wanaka and then Lake Hawea, with great views along both. We stopped at the visitor center in Wanaka, then drove Highway 89 towards Queenstown. Highway 89 is a dirt road, with fantastic views as you enter the valley to Queenstown. We stopped at Arrowtown on the way to Queenstown. It was a small, touristy town with lots of small shops. We then continued on to Queenstown. It is a tourist town next to Lake Wakatipu (view of the lake from Queenstown). There are lots of shops, restaurants, etc. We stayed in a campground overlooking the city and had pizza in the Cow restaurant.
In the morning we took a jet boat ride on the Shotover River. Next we headed back to Arrowtown and stopped at the hang gliding flight park (half way between Queenstown and Arrowtown. I bought a hang gliding t-shirt at the flight park and two wool sweaters in Arrowtown. We then walked to an old Chinese settlement dating from the gold rush times. From there we drove to the Kawarau Suspension Bridge where hundreds of tourists go bungee jumping every day. That evening we returned to the campground in Queenstown.
Another day with a clear blue sky! We started the drive to Te Anau (located on Lake Te Anau), where we stopped at the visitor's center to learn about the fiords. From there we started our drive toward Milford Sound. The views were fantastic all along the route to Milford Sound. At Milford Sound we took a short walk to see a large waterfall, then went to the Milford Sound Lodge where we spent the night in another tiny cabin. Before going to bed, we went outside to see the local glow worms.
Christmas Day! We rode a cruise boat along the entire length of Milford Sound and into the Tasman Sea. There were great mountain views and waterfalls along the entire trip. After the boat ride we drove back through the Homer Tunnel and to the start of the Hollyford Track. From there we took a short hike to a very impressive waterfall. The view was fantastic. I was sure the photos would be equally fantastic, but they turned out pretty boring. We then went back to the Milford Sound Lodge for the evening.
This is "Boxing Day" in New Zealand (another holiday, just as popular as Christmas). We left Milford Sound and started our drive back to Queenstown. We got there late in the day and decided to drive to the local ski area in the Remarkables (a mountain range). There were great views of the local area, and a hang glider launch area. We had dinner at Roaring Meg's where we had rack of lamb. We spent the night in Queenstown.
Another rainy day. After breakfast we took a boat cruise in a 1912 steamboat from Queenstown to an old sheep farm. The steamboat ride was really interesting. It was fun to watch the men operate the steam engines on the boat. At the sheep farm we saw demonstrations of the sheep dogs herding sheep, and a sheep shearing demonstration. The boat ride on the way back was quite exciting. The weather had turned bad and the waves were making the boat sway in the waves. In the bar, several trays of glasses fell onto the floor and shattered. After the boat ride we started our drive towards Mt. Cook. Along the way we stopped at an old gold mine and took a tour. From there we continued driving and stopped at Twizel for the evening.
We drove the last hour or so to Mt. Cook National Park. We arrived around 9:00 am. By 10:15 am the sky was clear blue. It was a beautiful day. We stopped at the visitor's center, then hiked along the Hooker Valley Track to the glacier terminal. We spent lots of time enjoying the view at the glacier terminal, then headed back. We had dinner outdoors and enjoyed the mountain views. After dinner we drove down the Tasman Valley road as far as we could (until it turned into a 4WD road), then hiked to the glacier viewpoint. It was a great view of the Tasman Glacier, largest in New Zealand.
We drove back to the end of the Tasman Valley road again, then hiked the trail along the Tasman Glacier to the Ball Shelter. It was about 8.5 km each way. Much of the trail is on a rocky 4WD road that isn't used much. The last 1.5 miles is on a footpath because the road has been carved away by the glacier. The first few miles weren't very scenic, but there were great views of Mt. Cook and the Tasman Glacier near the end of the trail. We had lunch just past the shelter. While eating lunch we watched a very large ice avalanche crash down the mountain on the other side of the valley. We didn't hear it until it was almost done. After lunch I hiked up over the ridge to get a better view of the mountains, valleys, and glaciers at once (it was a little steep for Winny).
Another clear blue sky. That makes 3 days in a row! It was early morning, so we took a short hike to the Wakefield Falls off the Tasman Valley Road. By then the store was open and we bought lunch supplies for our hike. The hike today was to Sealy Tarns (little lakes) just below the Mueller Hut. The first part of the trail follows the Kea Point trail, then it is a steep trail, pretty much straight up the side of the mountain. The view at the top was great. We could see Mt. Cook and several of the local glaciers from our vantage point. We had lunch, then headed back down the trail.
When we woke up there were lots of low hanging clouds and the mountains were completely gone. A light rain started. After breakfast we started our drive to Akaroa (appx. 75 km east of Christchurch. It was a long drive. It was late afternoon when we arrived. We explored the town and went to bed early (difficult on New Year's Eve).
More drizzle this morning. After breakfast we drove to Okains Bay, approximately 20 km from Akaroa. We went to see the museum in Okains Bay. We were the first people there, so we got a personalized tour which was very interesting. The museum was much better than we expected. After the museum we headed back to Akaroa and took a boat tour on the bay. On the boat tour we saw several Hectors Dolphins and lots of other wildlife. There was also a blue penguin, but we couldn't see it. We did see a yellow tail penguin, but it was far away and hard to see. After the boat tour we drove back to Christchurch.
This was our last day. We decided to spend the morning at the Air Force Museum in Christchurch. There were excellent displays about the New Zealand Air Force. It was a good museum, well worth the admission price. After the museum we dropped off our rental car and got a ride to the airport for our flight back to California.
Some comments if you decide to go: