Having sped pretty quickly down the West Coast it was then necessary to cut inland to the Otago region; it’s just the way the road goes. This generally means heading to Queenstown, the extreme sports/gap year student drinking headquarters of NZ. We were both somewhat reluctant to rush there, seeing as we like to be in bed for half 9 and it’s meant to be geared towards late night party goers, so we decided to call into Wanaka. We didn’t know anything about the place, and no one had recommended it, but it was in the book so we thought we’d pop through and see if there was much to see or do.
I don’t think it’s possible to capture it perfectly in a photo, but this place is absolutely beautiful. Sat next to Lake Wanaka, there’s literally nowhere you can turn where you won’t get a beautiful view of the lake and/or mountains. It’s also has plenty of restaurants/cafes/bars, 2 cinemas and “Puzzling world”. We ended up staying for 4 days!
On arrival we went straight to Puzzling world (I think Laura felt guilty we still haven’t had the curry I was promised after our 5 day hike), which is made up of 2 main sections. The first is The Illusion Rooms, which had a series of, well, illusions to marvel at. Sounds a bit cheesy but they were really quite good. In one section, the entire room had been tilted up at an angle of about 20 degrees. This completely freaks the mind out and it’s really hard to balance- I have a new found appreciation for the actors in Inception. In another, using a well placed camera and an optical illusion from a checkerboard floor, it made us look like one of us was a giant and the other tiny (a technique apparently used in Lord or the Rings). There was also a whole bunch of other stuff which was quite entertaining.
The second section is the Great Maze; a big maze where you need to reach the 4 corners in order before heading to the finish. Completion time was 30-60 minutes, and we came in at a respectable 45 minutes. I absolutely loved it, having never been in a giant maze before and I think I have quite a knack for it; Laura may disagree though.
On our first full day in Wanaka, we did what we do best; we walked. For 5 hours. Fortunately, this was a Sam style route, completely flat and well marked. The view was incredible throughout as we walked around part of the lake, with an always shifting backdrop of snow covered mountains. The route also took us past some incredible holiday homes which looked like they could’ve been on grand designs, bringing much envy from us.
Wanaka is also home to a winery (with free tastings) so after having a picnic by the lake and getting sunburnt we headed up to what has to be my favourite view in all of our trip so far. A lovely place to taste 7 or so wines and have a glass of Riesling.
I’m pretty sure we both could’ve spent another couple of days easily in Wanaka (we didn’t even get to explore the “transport & toys” museum) but there’s only 7 weeks to go in NZ and we’ve got so much to do so we reluctantly headed on to Queenstown.
I think because we both went in with low expectations Queenstown wasn’t actually that bad. It’s very commercial and quite pricey (for the public holiday all the restaurants put their prices up 15%. What’s that about?) and nowhere near as pretty as Wanaka, but it was nice to be in a big town for a brief change. We only hung around for a night due to how much more expensive the campsite is, plus there’s much nicer places to explore. We’re off cycling tomorrow (possibly around more wineries), and we’re planning to do another one of the great walks in the next week which is a short drive away. There’s really no resting on this “holiday”!
If I had to use two words to describe the west coast, I would have to say: wet. windy.
We (reluctantly) left Marlborough and drove to Golden Bay, which was actually quite strange- there’s only one very windy road around a mountain in and out so you feel very isolated. Then you arrive in Tanaka, which felt like a hippie colony- good coffee though. We drove to the Farewell Spit, the most northern point on the south island. Very beautiful and cute seals on the beaches but it was SO windy. The photo doesn’t really do it justice:From here, we headed down the west coast to a teeny tiny village called Punakaiki, stopping at a few campsites along the way. There’s not a lot to do in places like this, apart from hiking and the scenery was so pretty that I don’t think Sam minded too much (especially with the promise of hot chocolate and marshmallows at the end of it!) We’ve gotten into the habit of stopping for coffee or hot choc everyday- so much so that Sam has created a separate category in our budget app. I don’t want to know how much we’ve spent on it so far- definitely more on coffee than on booze!
We’ve now reached the awesome glaciers- Franz Josef and Fox. WOW. Although the weather hasn’t been great and so we haven’t been able to get as close to them as we’d like, they’re still hugely impressive. Fun fact for you- the glaciers are retreating due to global warming and so the DOC needs to constantly change the access points for the public. The only way to get onto the glacier is by guided hike via a helicopter. We looked into it but it was going to be more expensive than skydiving- Sam put his foot down firmly on this one.
Man flu has struck Vanatar this week- Sam has been ill, which has been SO FUN for me! No, it’s actually been ok, although patience has been wearing thin for both of us! He’s rallied though and come on hikes with me everyday even though he’s felt rubbish- massive husband points for him.
The west coast is notorious for its rainfall and this proved no exception yesterday- 24 hours of solid heavy rain. Seriously heavy rain. To the point where pretty much leaving Vanatar to go to the toilets resulted in needing to change clothes. It’s really interesting in how different countries deal with wet weather- in HK, it would’ve been declared black rain, everything would have come to a standstill (school would’ve been cancelled for sure.) In London, buses would’ve been gridlocked, tubes with massive delays. In NZ, everyone just deals with it- normal life goes on.
Tomorrow, we’re heading in land to the Central Otago region- more wineries, woohoo! Next week we’re also planning to do another great walk- weather dependant. Sam’s counting down the minutes.
Hello, Sam here. It’s been a while.
One of the many things NZ is famous for is the “Great Walks”, 9 multi-day hikes of 3-5 days with great scenic beauty and lots of campsites and camping huts en route. Apparently it would be wrong to come to NZ and not do one of these amazing walks, so we decided to do the easiest one- the Abel Tasman Coastal Track (with the idea that, if we liked it, we could look to doing a more adventurous one next.)
Having followed the advice of the gentleman in the local i-site (all major towns have one, basically a tourist information centre) we booked to get a boat to near the end of the walk (adding an extra 4 hours walking to our total journey, YAY!) and to walk back to start over the course of 4 nights and 5 days.
For the map enjoyer, we got the boat to Totranui, walked up the coast to Wharawharangi for the first night, then crossed Gibbs hill to come back to stay at Aworoa, The plan was then to stay in Bark Bay on night 3 and Anchorage for the fourth and final night. This isn’t how things panned out though…
On the walks there is nowhere to buy food, so you need to take everything with you. We were staying in the Department of Conservation (DOC) huts, which had no cookers- just some tables and some bunk beds. As a result we had to buy a portable cooker and sleeping bags, which we also had to carry along with dehydrated food for 5 evening meals, food for lunches (crackers, peanut butter and nutella mostly), snacks (nuts, energy bars and chocolate mostly) along with clothes and toiletries, and a few other bits and pieces. All in I think we were carrying about 20-25kg between our 2 bags, which was excruciating.
The walk itself, whilst long, was generally an easy walk. There were a few steep inclines, but on the most part it was a nice and easy, well formed track. The only problem was carrying gigantic bags made everything really difficult, and we weren’t cut out for it. Laura “I love walking” Atkinson spent a surprising amount of time complaining about the walking (Laura: I was complaining about the bag, not the walking.) In reality it all just added to the enjoyment (Laura: Sam was most definitely not enjoying) and sense of achievement at the end- we walked approximately 70 km in about 21 hours over 4 days. Why 4 days and not 5? We were feeling very confident about our abilities so after walking for 4 hours on the first day and 5 and a half on the second day we decided to amalgamate the walk to Bark Bay (4 hours) with the walk to Anchorage (3 and a half hours) into one mega seven and a half hour day. On all the days we were exhausted and in bed for dark (there were no electric lights in the huts), but on this night we were ready for bed about 6 o’clock.
Exhaustion aside, the walk itself was a bit hit and miss; the first day in particular was beautiful, with lots of walks along serene isolated beaches looking onto deep turquoise sea which would give the Maldives a run for it’s money (if it weren’t so cold.) Other days were mostly inland with little in the way of view. A particular highlight was crossing to Awaroa, which had to be done over a tidal estuary. We had organised to do the walk in reverse so as to get the low tide in the afternoon, however we arrived quite early and the water hadn’t dried completely. Nonetheless, along with a bunch of Army boys, a German family and Lauras impatience we crossed through the remaining water (which got up to underwear height in places). It took a while to wade through but was certainly interesting to have a walking track which 50% of the time is covered in water.
I definitely think 4 days of walking is about my limit. There’s a big hole in my right Ankle where there used to be skin and Laura had to walk two days with a bandaged toe, but it was an amazing sense of achievement at the end (and great to feel smug walking past the daytrippers with their tiny backpacks.) Would I do it again? Probably, but maybe trying to compress the walking over 3 nights so that we can carry less stuff. Those backpacks were seriously heavy and the worst part of the trip.