Week Three – Back to the South Island!

Update: **For those of you who have not been reading the full posts (we completely understand) you may have missed our photos page which has heaps more photos than are on this post. Head to our Week 3 InFocus page for a look at even more photos related to the post below!**

We realize it’s been a while but time is flying by! We are now on to our second continent and second city in Asia: Chiang Mai second country in Asia: Laos and hopefully on to Siem Reap, Cambodia later today. We have been working on updates but internet is still that unreliable, or reliably slow and unreliable, however you want to look at it, that we are just now getting to our third post. Oddly enough the most reliable and high speed internet we’ve had lately (which is why this post is getting out) is from the tiny Luang Prabang International Airport where we are waiting for our flight that was unbeknownst to us delayed 3 hours. Side note about travelling in Asia: flights are often delayed or cancelled and they will not contact you for either. You have to either continually check online (if their website works), call in before heading to the airport (if their lines aren’t busy and they’re actually in the office that day or hour), or simply show up at the airport to find out whether or not you’ll be on your scheduled flight. A definite difference from flying in the US or Europe but then again the Asian airlines seem to treat their customers a bit better after they’ve boarded (looking at you United Airlines) – we even got an unexpected free meal on our 1.5 hour flight from Singapore to Bangkok!

In this week’s adventures we left Auckland, yet again, to revisit the South Island and actually get outside of Queenstown. New Zealand can hardly be done in one month and you’d be very hard pressed to do either island well in a single month. With a limited amount of time planned for New Zealand in our overall ‘plan’ we tried to pick out a few areas that would be a good tasting of what the South Island has to offer for when we come back! In the last post we landed back in Queenstown and drove south to Te Anau, our home base for a couple of days exploring the Milford ‘Sound’ area. Here is the rest of the South Island and our trip back north to Auckland before leaving for Australia.

Day 15 – Day two of early mornings for long drives. We had to wake up at 5:30a to drive two hours to Milford Sound for our 8:30a Rosco’s Kayak Tour of the fjord*, the 8th wonder of the world. Milford Sound is actually a fjord as it was created by glacial movement though for whatever reason they haven’t changed the name, perhaps Milford Fjord doesn’t have the same ring? Anyway, we were split into two groups of 8 people in double kayaks – surprisingly we did pretty well together and went away from the tour still talking to each other! We had a great time kayaking through the beautiful fjord, looking on in awe at massive waterfalls tumbling into the water below, taking a break to watch fur seals lounge around, and admiring the ancient rainforest still clinging to steep cliffs hundreds of feet above us, learning that they would eventually leave the cliffs bare from tree avalanches. What are tree avalanches you might ask? It’s a phenomenon that occurs every 10 or so years as water logged moss gives way to the weight of the trees, releasing their fragile cliff perch anchor in a spectacular fashion. We learned Milford Sound is one of the wettest places on earth yet we got a nice overcast day which helped keep us cool while paddling around. The one (extremely) unpleasant thing were the sand flies… man they are aggressive bloodsuckers and sooo annoying when you’re trapped in a kayak trying to eat lunch! After kayaking around for several hours, we headed back to Te Anau, blessed with a beautiful and sunny drive on the awe-inspiring Milford Road. We checked into a new hostel on a lama/alpaca farm as we decided to stay in the Milford area another couple nights to continue exploring and our original hostel had filled up. It was our first hostel with our own room which was quite nice. We also met some fellow travelers who gave us some great recommendations on what to do over the next few days of our trip.

Day 16 – Again we had to wake up at 5:30a to do the same 2-hour drive back to Milford Sound to catch another 8:30a tour, this time for a non-human powered boat journey through the fjord via Jucy Cruises. We felt that being the 8th wonder of the world we needed more than one day there. The cruise was great and definitely well worth the repeat trip. It was also a beautiful sunny day which made it that much better to wake up so early. However, we heard​ it’s possibly even more beautiful when raining as waterfalls appear seemingly out of nowhere as water rushes off the countless cliff faces – maybe next time! There was some repeat info on the tour from the day before but the boat took us further out through the fjord to the entrance where we looked out on the Tasman Sea. Apparently, Captain Cook sailed right on by the entrance to the fjord as he thought it was simply another bay along the endless shoreline of New Zealand’s two islands. It didn’t stay hidden forever though as another passing ship found the entrance and proceeded to decimate the fur seal population shortly after. That first ship to find the fjord took 10,000 seal furs back with them and proceeded to further decimate the seal population as demand for the pelts made it extremely lucrative – a pretty sad story to hear after seeing the seals up close the day before. After the cruise, we drove back toward Te Anau but stopped at Gertrude’s Saddle for a hike that a fellow traveler recommended. The hike was a beast but totally worth it. The first hour followed the valley floor to a huge and beautiful waterfall then began climbing straight up over large granite slabs and boulder outcrops to Black Lake. From there we scaled and hopped over even larger boulders at a steeper pitch to reach the top of the saddle where we enjoyed beautiful views of the Darren mountains with peekaboo views of the Milford Sound. It was the perfect place to eat lunch and enjoy the rewards of our trek. As we left the parking lot we picked up two hitch hikers, one from Canada and one from Australia, who were working in Milford Sound but headed into town for the start of their 4 days off. We felt we needed to repay the kindness of our hitchhiking rides from earlier in our travels and had enough room in our tiny Yaris though it was a much less spirited drive with the extra weight… They were great to talk to and well-travelled which made the 2 hour drive back feel closer than the day before.

Day 17 – We slept in a bit today – after 2 days at getting up at 5:30a we figured we deserved a slower morning. After making breakfast we checked out of our hostel and headed back north toward Queenstown to swap Yaris (again, last minute planning meant two rental bookings) on our way to Lake Wanaka. On the way back we stopped at Cardrona Hotel and grabbed a quick beer on recommendation of the hostel owner in Te Anau. Cardrona is a tiny, one main street, ski town along the highway that looks stuck in the 1800s. We were very happy that we stopped by, just wish we had enough time to stay the night. Upon arrival at Lake Wanaka we headed to straight to Rippon Vineyards which was recommended to us by a fellow hostel friend in Te Anau. The wine was delicious and the scenery simply stunning. The vineyard is situated on a corner plot of land overlooking Lake Wanaka with mountains surrounding the lake as the backdrop. After our tasting (which we learned are typically free in NZ!) it was time for dinner, so on recommendation we headed to Amigos Mexican restaurant as we were both still craving Mexican after our poor nachos experience in Te Anau. But as we were quickly finding out there are very limited options for good Mexican in NZ. Trial and error. It was equally as bad – the most expensive chips and gauc we’ve seen with the worst margaritas so we quickly finished our drinks and 15 chips (not joking) and headed to a local Mexican food truck, Burrito Craft. It was only found after an extensive search. We were rewarded with substantial and tasty burritos – Mexican food cravings satisfied! After enjoying our burritos while watching the sun set over the lake and mountains we continued on to Lake Hawea, a short 20 minute drive and checked into​ our hostel. It happens to be a hotel, hostel, campground, bar, and festival grounds all in one location. The fellow hostel guests, all seemingly 18-20 years old, partied late into the night, singing loudly as if there were a concert going on. There was no such concert that night. Note to self: read more reviews before booking hostels. Yes, we are getting old haha…

Day 18 – We quickly packed up and headed out toward the West Coast Road on our way back north. We had heard about a fairly unknown yet beautiful hike from several people that was just minutes away from the hostel and on our way out so we decided we had to do it. The hike, Isthmus Peak, was definitely worth it despite being quite warm, and unbeknownst to us, nearly 5 miles of constant uphill. We loved it. On the way up we saw more wild deer and stags than we’ve ever seen, free roaming cows and sheep, and lots of butterflies, grasshoppers, and singing birds. It just felt so magical. The view at the top was well worth it: panoramic views of both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea with a mix of bare and snow-capped mountains surrounding both lakes. On our way back down we saw more deer and a little further down we spotted 3 huge stags – they are such majestic creatures with their giant antlers. After our hike we continued along the road for just 5 minutes before stopping for lunch at a nice looking beach we spotted from the hike. We iced our legs in the cold water and enjoyed a simple and delicious lunch of almond butter, manuka honey, and whole grain bread. After we were full and happy we continued to drive north towards Franz Josef glacier where we were staying the night. Along the way, we picked up another hitch hiker from Grenoble, France who had just finished one of the “Great Walks” (New Zealands must-do hikes) and was headed back north for his car and to find another job as he was in NZ on a year-long work visa. He was really nice to talk to, an avid back country skier, and lover of all things outdoors. Malcolm and him got along well, talking about skiing in France and Jess got to sleep on the long winding drive North.

Day 19 – We woke up, made a quick breakfast and then headed to Franz Josef Glacier which was less than a 10-minute drive from town. Glaciers are cool but after you’ve seen so many living in the PNW they tend not to be as awe inspiring as they might be to other tourists. After a couple of quick pictures we started out on another long drive toward Hammer Springs. We stopped along the way at Hokitika, a small town known for their jade where Jessica bought some jewelry. We then continued along Highway 7 via Lewis Pass to reach Hammer Springs. We checked into our motel, a small family campground with tent and RV spaces among the cabins, quickly ran a load of laundry, and then headed to the hot springs where we spent 2 hours relaxing and decompressing from the long drive. After a good soak and very hungry we searched out anything open past 9p and landed on a delicious Indian place. It also served as breakfast the next morning – a great start to any day!

Day 20 – We packed our laundry, which was scattered all over the cabin to dry, ate our leftover Indian for breakfast, and got in the car with what we thought was plenty of time to catch our flight out of Christchurch. The drive is normally an easy 1.5 hours however shortly after getting back on the highway toward Christchurch we found ourselves being redirected by police blocking the road. Apparently just a half hour earlier someone had crashed their car into a tree and due to the brutality of the impact the authorities had to close down the highway in both directions. This forced us to take an hour plus detour up north to catch another highway to then head back south. Not something we planned for… This new route was along curvy roads and we were driving behind huge trucks going extremely slow. We finally got to the airport, at 11:05a yet we still needed to fuel up the rental and drop it off. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 11:30a. Little did we know there is only one gas station in the whole area and it does not have an attendant which is how we typically paid for gas as our great American credit card companies don’t give us a pin (unless you want to pay an astronomical ‘cash advance fee’ for the transaction) which these stations require… By time we got gas, dropped the car, and made it to check-in we had 5 min till the plane was to depart and they would not let us board. Bummer as this meant our only other option to any time sort of time in Nelson was to catch the next flight out at 2pm, presumably at our expense. Thankfully we explained what happened and they waived all fees for our tickets – this would have been an extra $400 dollars​ for only a 45min flight! Sadly we only had one day in Nelson so it was cut short by 3 hours. Once we finally got there we checked into our hostel, the Bug Backpackers Hostel (Jess’ favorite one yet) and grabbed their free bikes to head into town. Usually people visiting Nelson spend their time doing outdoorsy activities but with our limited time we decided to check out their beer scene. Brewery hopping was fun but the town baffled us – we had heard great things from so many people but it seemed for the most part deserted and completely rundown. There were about two cute streets and that’s it. We are not sure if we just totally missed​ something or if that’s just how it is but it was weird. At least the beer was good – we found a tiny beer store/bar opened by a guy from Colorado who only buys and sells beer that he and his partner enjoy drinking. If they don’t like it they won’t sell it!

Day 21 – We woke up, had a quick continental breakfast from the hostel, and caught our bus from Nelson to Blenheim. We quickly walked 2 miles in the rain with all our bags to our Airbnb where our bicycle wine tour was waiting for us. We quickly checked in, dropped our bags, and headed out for a day of wine tasting via bike – in the rain. We didn’t let a little rain stop us… after all we’re from Seattle. So off we went on our tandem bike… yes tandem. It was terrifying at first but after the 2nd stop we got it down. First stop was Te Whare Ra Winery before our lunch at Giesen Winery. After a delicious smorgasbord lunch we continued on our bikes, now riding through down pouring rain to Braden Winery, Framingham Winery, Forest Winery, and finally Wairau River Winery. We made the best of it and had a great time. Being free tastings all the pours were very light which made biking easier but didn’t help with the rain! At 530p we headed back and returned the bike. We weren’t too keen on a 2mi walk in the rain into town for dinner so they kindly dropped us off. We found a great dinner spot that had 2-for-1 pizzas and great roasted veggies as a side – yum! That night we chilled and watched Netflix while working on the blog, our first time since leaving on this trip. It felt great to just relax and get a nice shower in a clean bathroom after a few nights in hostels. A much needed refresh.

Take a look at the pictures above for a quick visual summary of the notes above and head to our Week 3 InFocus page for a look at even more photos! Enjoy

One Reply to “Week Three – Back to the South Island!”

  1. Marlene Dawsey says: Reply

    You write like a pro! So great to hear all about your trip. I need a map so I know where you are. You both look awesome. Thanks for the great details! Love you, Marlene

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