Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NZ South Island Trip

A wonderful trip during winter break...From the first of July till ninth of July


Routes highlighted in yellow

The above map is taken from MapSource retrieved as the trip history from Garmin Nuvi 265W GPS which has been accompanying us throughout the whole journey. It's a fantastic GPS with great features and user friendly..

Day 1 - Hokitika

Zhi Bin, Han Chow, Isaac, Kia Xin, Choon Seng and I woke up early in the morning of the first of July and got ourselves prepared for 9 days journey. I woke up the earliest to pick up our rented car Toyota Estima 8 seater. I was the main driver for the journey and many thanks to Choon Seng and Isaac for helping me driving for the last 2 days.

Arthur's Pass is our first via point heading to Hokitika. From 164 Waimairi Road, we entered Yaldhurst Road and entered West Coast Road. This is the longest road I've ever drove on. We passed by 3 small towns, Darfield, Sheffield and Castle Hill before reaching Arthur's Pass. There was not much interesting scenery along the way to Castle Hill. I think Castle Hill is only a small village. As we were passing by that village, ice and snow could be seen covering the road side and thick fog enveloped us. The only way to continue our journey was by looking at GPS, the scenery tuned from greenery to snowy. We stopped by and snapped some photos. The scenery would be even better if the fog was not so thick and the snow cap mountain ranges along the road could be seen clearly. We took some photos with some cows as background and we were wondering what the cows were doing standing in the middle of ice instead of green grasses? Eating? It was indeed a wonderful experience. Passed through Waimakairiri River, we arrived at Arthur's Pass. Before that, we was told that Arthur's Pass is a nice place to visit with fascinating scenery. However, it was not so true that Arthur's Pass has great scenery, it is the journey heading there that has the nicest scenery. Lush green forest and small township of Arthur's Pass didn't attract us a lot. Therefore, we didn't stop at all, instead, we went straight away to Hokitika using Otira Highway. We didn't stop and after about 3 and a half hours of driving, we reached Kumara Junction. This junction was a remarkable one! Why? That was the place we got the chance to view the West Coast, Tasman Sea came into our sight. Yeah!! We've reached the West Coast of New Zealand South Island. Another half an hour driving on Kumara Junction Highway led us to our backpackers (Birdsong Backpackers) in Hokitika. The backpackers was just situated along the highway, beside the Tasman Sea. We went to buy some food and headed to the beaches. Watching Sunset at the West Coast is a must as you can see the whole sun setting at the horizon. Really a great experience. Besides, we went to see Glow Worms at Glow Worms Dell near our backpackers. The path leading to the site was so dark and it was a pain for us to find the blinking worms hanging all over the trees... Our dinner was just Bi Hun and some marinated chicken bought from nearby New World Supermarket. Looking forward to our next destination : Franz Josef..

Day 2 - Franz Josef

It was Choon Seng who drove us to Franz Josef.. It took us one and a half to reach there. There was not much stuff to see along the way there. Franz Josef is famous for its glacier. Glacier is a large mass of ice moving slowly down a valley. It was formed from the accumulation of snow in areas in mountain tops where the amount of snow that falls exceeds the amount that melts. Interesting enough? That was why we visited that place. Early in the morning, we drove into Ruatapu Road, crossing the Hokitika River. After driving on this straight road, we turned into Ruatapu-Ross road which then led us to a small town called Ross. After a long drive on HariHari Highway, crossing several rivers and lakes, we arrived at Hari Hari town, this town has the widest road and it is the traffic police favourite spot, speeding in this area will definitely get you in trouble, 50km/h in town. Can you imagine how low the speed limit is and we had to decrease our speed from 100km/h to 50km/h immediately. Following the Whataroa Highway, which is long and winding, we finally reached Franz Josef town. Our backpackers, Chateau Franz, was the nicest backpackers ever in which we can have a motel style of staying. Our room was fully equipped with tv and video player and we've got our own kitchen. not wasting any time, after filling up petrol, we went to have a look at the mighty Franz Josef glacier. Driving along Condon Street, entering State Highway 6 and crossing the river sourced from the glacier led us to the glacier walk. There were about 13 tracks to have different angles of viewing the glacier, we chose the one which could lead us to the nearest possible viewing location. That was A.Glacier Valley Walk. We walked along the large Waiho riverbed. We had to walk across lots of rocky uneven terrain which led us to the glacier terminal. Upon reaching there, there was a sudden ice avalanche but we didn't manage to capture that. Along the way, we saw lots of big ice cubes resting just beside the river. It was a tiring walk, about 2 hours I think but the view there was indeed magnificent.

After that tiring sight seeing, we went to buy some chickens at Four Square Supermarket to cook for our dinner. We managed to watch The Ring and Lord of the Rings and chilled out in this comfortable backpackers. The next day would be our first time ever climbing up the glacier at Fox Glacier..

Day 3 - Fox Glacier

A 20mins drive on the Fox Glacier Highway led us to the Fox Glacier town. This town is a lot smaller than Franz Josef and it is situated on top of a hill. We headed to the Ivory Tower Backpackers and this is a small backpackers with good service. We'd booked a glacier walking guide for 89 dollars per person. After registration, each of us was provided a water proof jacket, a proper boot, metal spikes and a walking(alpine stick).

Every glacier is classified according to its terrain and difficulty of the climb. We chose the 4-hour return glacier walk. Below is a short video clip of our journey and it was the toughest and most dangerous climbing I've ever had. Walking on the edge of a cliff was the most significant one and we need to grip tightly the chain while walking. Also, walking on the ice (glacier) was not that easy as we need to trample on the ice while walking.

Ok, after so much energy being consumed during the walk, it was time for us to have a rest and continue our journey to Queenstown...

Day 4 - Queenstown

Before heading to Queestown, we went to explore a beautiful lake called Matheson Lake. It was not nice when we went there as there was a road construction and we had to walk on muddy pathway which led us to the lake. As we didn't have enough time to explore further, we just managed to snap some photos of the lake, instead we bought some post cards of the lake..

Queenstown, our next destination, this would be one of the longest routes and it took us about 4 and a half hours to reach there. Wanaka was our via point. We started our journey driving on Haast highway. Along this highway, we passed by Karangarua and again reached the West Coast. The scenery of one of the beaches along the way was so captivating with thick fog floating above the Tasman Sea..Besides that, we arrived at a place called Knights Point where we got the chance to see an awesome cliff with craggy coastlines. Another beach we visited was Ship Creek. What special about this beach other than the scenery? Ship Creek crosses the northern end of a remarkable coastal plain, formed during the last 14000 years since the last ice age. The rock bluffs which dominate the coast north of there give way to a gently-curving sandy beach that extend 50km to Jackson bay, and a complex dune and wetland landscape which spreads up to 7km inland. We then passed by a small town called Haast and Yea, the coming route leading to Wanaka Lake was the most fascinating part of the whole trip driving. It had been snowing before we drove on the Makaroa-Lake Hawea Road, the whole road was covered with snow and tyre chain was needed for safety purpose. However, we didn't have any chain in the car. Luckily, the snow-clearing guy gave me some advice on driving on the slippery road. "Do not apply break and please apply very low gear when driving on slippery slopes".. We managed to get through the whole journey to Wanaka safely and enjoyed the great and attractive calm lake with snow cap mountains as back drop..

After snapping some photos, we passed by Albert Town and winding roads and finally reached Queenstown. We stayed at Resort Lodge Backpackers for 2 nights in Queenstown. No doubt, the part of road from Haast to Queenstown was the most difficult one and we gained lots of experience and we like it!!! Guess what was our dinner there? fast Food? KFC.. We had KFC for 2 nights actually. We'd been starving and craving for nice food since we came from Christchurch as the towns we visited had very limited food and cafes. Here, in queenstown, was like a paradise to us. There are casinos, gondolas, extremely beautiful lake (Lake Wakatipu) and scenic shooting locations of LOTR. Lots of tourists visiting there and we really enjoyed that place.

Day 5 - Queenstown (Visit to Lord of the Rings film locations)

It was a very packed day. Our target destinations were LOTR shooting locations. Due to limited time, we found a place where we could really experience the environment of LOTR movie. It was Deer Park Heights. We drove there and paid 20 dollars of entry fee. It was very very cold up the hill with strong winds blowing at us. We got to see lots of deers, llamas and some other animals. The scenery up there was so fantastic that it looked "fake". There was a "Korean Prison" situated up on top of the hill and it was purposely built for a shooting location for a movie, The Rescue (1988). Next, we went to Sunshine Bay and headed North to Glenorchy to have a different viewing angle of the big lake.

Day 6 - Milford Sound

Milford Sound, if you had visited New Zealand before, this place would be familiar to you. The most peaceful and calm place with great scenery. From Queenstown, we drove all the way surrounding Lake Wakatipu and reached Kawarau Falls. We didn't get the chance visiting the waterfalls as the connecting road was under construction. Driving on Kingston Road, we passed by Jacks Point. The whole Kingston Road was along Lake Wakatipu lakeside. We continued our journey on Kingston-Garston Highway and passed by Fairlight and Garston. Then, we drove on Garston-Athol Highway , entering Mossburn Five Rivers Road. We continued our journey to Te Anau (via point) on Te Anau- Mossburn Highway. The entire highway was covered with thick fog in the morning and not much scenery could be viewed along the way. After about 2 hours of driving, we reached Te Anau town and we need to fill up our car with full petrol as there was no petrol station at all at Milford Sound. We'd our lunch at Subway in Te Anau before continuing our journey. We drove on Te Anau-Milford Highway and passed by the biggest lake in SOuth Island (Lake Te Anau). We stopped by at some interesting places like Te Anau Downs and Lake Mirrors. Lake Mirrors was the nicer one as we could see the reflection of snow-cap mountains on a small pond. We'd heard a lot prior to our journey that the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound was quite dangerous. It was indeed dangerous when it came to a tunnel crossing a high snow covered mountain. That was a hot spot of snow avalanche and luckily we didnit spot any warning sign boards before entering the tunnel. After going through that tunnel, we finally reached Milford Sound.. Our backpackers was surrounded by snow cap mountains and it was indeed a nice place to stay.. Just after reaching there, we went for the Milford Sound Cruise where we got the chance to enjoy the river reflections, dolphins chasing the cruise, sea lions laying on the rocks and a beautiful river mouth leading to Tasman Sea...

Te Anau was our next destination. We'd passed by this place when we headed to Milford Sound. The next day, we were going to explore that small town..

Day 7 - Te Anau

On the way back to Te Anau, we went to explore some interesting places like The Chasm, Homer Alpine Nature Walk and lake Marian. At The Chasm, we got the chance to stand very near on top of a waterfall and some other small waterfalls. Homer Alpine Nature Walk was situated just after the tunnel and lucky enough, it was safe for us that morning to walk on thick snow and enjoy the cold morning. Lake Marian was a bit further down and we just got to a viewing gantry of a very nice waterfall..

We reached Te Anau in late afternoon and enjoyed the view of lake Te Anau. A bit further down, we went to enjoy the lakefront scenery of Lake Manapouri.

The journey next day was the longest one. It'd take us 5 hours to reach Lake Tekapo according to the GPS.

Day 8 - Lake Tekapo

Using the same route back to queenstown, we passed by a bungy site. It was called "Kawarau Bridge AJ Hackett Bungy". This is the first bungy site in the world. We just had a visit there and Kawarau River was really a very nice river. Prior to jumping down, one could enjoy the amazing scenery just in front of you, so nice... Not so high, the height is about 43m if I'm not mistaken. Next, we headed to a town called Omarama and reached Twizel. Twizel was another shooting location in LOTR movie. This place was indeed very cold as it was totally surrounded by ice. Several salmon farms could be seen along the way there. All I can say about the scenery along the way to Lake Tekapo is "unbelievable". The background and the river were so "fake" and every photo taken looked as if it was taken in studio. I couldn't manage to describe the beauty of the scenery. Lake Ohao and Lake Pukaki were the 2 lakes we passed by before arriving at Lake Tekapo. I think the scenery around the lakes is the best during winter. A white landscape and blinking snow under the sun light made the place so beautiful and attractive. We reached Lake Tekapo in the evening and we took some night views of the lake. The whole backpackers was surrounded by snow and we managed to build 3 snow men.. The backpackers was situated within the Lake Tekapo Motels and Holidays Park.. This was our last stop before going back to Christchurch..

The next morning, we went to a church called Church of the Good Shepherd. This famous church has captured the hearts of couples from all over the world and is a quaint and unassuming but enormously romantic venue for any wedding ceremony. It has large panoramic window behind the altar which is deliberately clear to allow an uninterrupted view of Lake Tekapo and the spectacular Southern Alps mountain range beyond..Before going back home, we passed by another town on East Coast - Timaru. We'd our lunch there and headed back home in the afternoon. It only took us about 2 hours from Lake Tekapo to Christchurch. Metro buses could be seen plying the street and we knew, we'd reached the East Coast and Canterbury Plains...