A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand's South Island, Part I

Glacier's mint, Queenstown's engaging, Milford's Sound

sunny 15 °C

We got into Picton on the ferry from Wellington around 7pm and there wasn't much to do but eat and chill at that stage. So, to T&Os chippy, where we had some very, very tasty fish and chips – unfortunately and bizarrely they didn't have any vinegar or forks at the time (it was pretty quiet) but enjoyable nonetheless and an opportunity to eat with your fingers legitimately which happens so rarely! Following this we were very lucky to experience the free apple crumble dished out at The Villa backpackers every night. I know it sounds funny but something like that is such a treat and with ice cream too. I would recommend staying there just for that. Oh and their very cute labrador, Milly.

The next morning our bus was leaving around noon, so we didn't really have time to do much. A quick call to my little bro to congratulate him on his new job with Apple (I'm waiting on the free Iphone) and out for a stroll. The port there is like something off a postcard. It was so picturesque, as if it had been created in the imagination of an artist. See for yourself anyway, it made our stay in Picton all the worthwhile.


We arrived in Nelson that afternoon and checked into Hostel Paradiso. A strange kinda place and really, really busy. So don't go there if you're wanting a total chill. On the up side it has free breakfast (with lemon marmalade which reminds me of being a kid at home, so that was lovely), free soup in the evening, an hour and a half free wifi per person, a pool, sauna and spa. Pretty good carry-on for a backpackers.

We were supposed to stay only one night initially but changed our minds, following the rave reviews we had received about the nearly Abel Tasman National Park. So we booked our hike and kayak and retired to watch Gran Torino. It's a Clint Eastwood's film from a few years ago – very good, in fact one of the most enjoyable films I've seen for a long time and not what I expected at all.

Up at the crack of dawn the next day and about an hours drive got us to the entrance to the park. We started the day with a 12km hike which took us along the coast, weaving in and out of the beautiful bays and beaches.


We arrived to Watering Cove around midday (so named thanks to a spring nearby which explorers used for refilling their water supplies) where we met the rest of the group and our kayak guide, Gloria. She delivered a beautiful packed lunch to us which we relished having built up quite an appetite that morning. See if you can tell what the rocks look like, think New Zealand emblem...


Once we were kitted out and shown what to do we were sailing the high seas (or something like that), first stop was an island where a seal colony hangs out. They were so cool, we were hoping they would come and play in the water but there was a bit of sunbathing going on at the time. They are pretty inquisitive though and had a chat with us so that was cool. We also spotted the rare blue penguin, the smallest penguin in the world so that was a treat. I saw a dead crab floating by me in the water too which was a bit freaky but all part of the nature adventure. We must have been on the water for 3 hours. We had a double kayak so I was up front setting the pace and Stuart was at the back steering. Admittedly, I turned into a – front seat driver in this case – constantly giving directions as to our path of travel. Poor Stuart had great patience but I think I eased up eventually!


We were knackered after all that. A great, active day, but we were pooped. We arrived home in time for the lovely veggie soup which was followed by a dip in the spa...just what the body needed after a long day of activities.

We moved to the Tasman Bay backpackers the day after as it was a busy night in Paradiso – an influx of boy scouts apparently. This was a very chilled hostel where we got average but lovely free hot chocolate pudding and ice-cream.

We hit the road again the next day, destination Greymouth. It was a long day on the bus and rainy one, that actually turned out to be a good thing. We had a couple of sight-seeing stops on the way. Firstly, Cape Foulwind which I think is self-descriptive but is basically quite a rugged bit of coastline, named so by Captain Cook when his ship was blown off course there. But more impressive was the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks. Thanks to the bad weather and heavy swells it was pretty awesome. These rocks have basically been eroded so much over the years the layers of beaches that used to exist have been compressed down on top of each other and basically look like stacks of pancake. Check the video to see the larger swells forcing water and spray up through the blow holes – honestly we could have spent hours there watching the action. A fantastic, entertaining stop.


We had a little victory that day too in the form of winning the quiz on our bus. An entertaining young fellow by the name of Dom decided to wake the bus up with a some general knowledge questions. We got all but one question right – what is the capital of Turkey? I'll leave you to ponder that one – or google it.

We arrived in Greymouth and it was pretty late so we just had a chance for a quick freshen up before we headed out for our pre-booked Monteith's Brewery tour. Bar the angry bus driver to the brewery it was a very enjoyable evening. We had tasted a couple of Monteith's drinks since we landed in New Zealand so we were expecting quite a major set up, but surprisingly it was still a small local brewery. They do produce their more popular products in a few other breweries too but you really got the impression it was still a very local business. Most enjoyable of course was the tasting session that followed the tour of the factory. I think we had about half a glass of 8 or 9 different beers/cider/lager – some nicer than others – Raddlers still being my personal favourtie (lemon and lime flavoured beer). Stu's fave was the cider with the Monteith's Golden coming a close second.


We had some really good food in the Railway Hotel after the tour and a couple more beers before hitting the hay. But oh my dear, if we only knew what we were in for I would have had a least half a dozen more drinks. We don't drink when we're up early to get on the bus as it's always an early start and a hangover on a bus is not the way ahead. Anyway, when we hit our dorm the other three occupants were already in bed. All fine until Mr.Vile got going..initially I had a bit of pity for this guy as he clearly had some sort of stomach bug but on his 8th stomp in and out to the loo followed by coughing, hacking, rustling plastic bags, slurping water, sighing and oh yea breaking wind...I had lost my patience. The mind boggles...and we were absolutely exhausted the next day, particularly poor Stuart who was in the bunk above this guy. Not good dorm etiquette at all.

I had developed a head cold by then too following the kayaking adventure so we were a right pair that morning. No time for feeling sorry for ourselves though, we had a glacier to climb. We got to Franz Josef around lunchtime and headed up the mountain once we got kited out in our boots, waterproofs and very fetching and I must say totally on trend bum bags. We decided to put ourselves in the faster group which then got split into a faster, faster group and a slower one but as there was too many in the slower we got booted up to team 1 – and not feeling the May West I thought this is going to be the end of me. But it wasn't I'm glad to report, well not for a couple of hours anyway. We were educated rightly about the glacier including the fascinating fact that it changes constantly, the ice can move a matter of metres in a day. With this in mind your guide sets out advising we wouldn't really know what we might encounter but we would plough on. When you get your crampons on (those spikey things you tie to the soles of your shoes) and first step on the ice, it's a slightly surreal feeling. The natural instinct is to kind of teeter as you know you're stepping onto ice but really the best thing to do is just slam your feet down. We got used to it fairly quickly and we were led up and down ice-steps into ice caverns and crevices and to where a cave had been the day before but where now only a half an arch remained.


We saw some Kea birds on our way there; a sort of a cross between a green parrot and an eagle or some sort of bird of prey. Apparently locals have to buy specially Kea proof locks as these guys are nearly as smart as dolphins and can break into houses and cars. They were right cheeky too, cool dudes – literally. The glacier was spectacular but hopefully you can see that for yourself. The 3km hike back nearly killed me. I think Stuart and I exchanged about 5 words the whole time. When we got back to the hostel around 6pm it was straight into bed for me, I only woke up for half an hour around 10pm to call home and wish the gang a happy Easter and then it was back to the land of nod again.

On the road again the next day we were now headed for Queenstown. This was to be another pretty epic day on the bus. One nice stop we made was near Fox Glacier at the 'Mirror Lake' – it was such a nice day we got some lovely pictures.


Onto Queenstown...


We arrived in Queenstown quite late and as we had not been out in a few weeks had decided we get a few beers in seems as it was Anzac day and Easter Monday as it happened. What we didn't know was that the Easter Licensing laws are pretty strict here, I'm still not totally sure but it's something along the lines of no alcohol sold anywhere Good Friday and Easter Monday and you can't buy it in off licences the whole weekend. Mad, anyway, good ole Nic and Jess to the rescue. They had been held up in Queenstown for a few days and had met some friends from home who are working there so hey presto, house party for us. We had a good night with the guys and nursed slightly sore heads the following day.

Having a lazy day gave us time to mooch around Queenstown for a few hours, it's a really gorgeous place. The Remarkables mountain range in the background with Lake Wakatipu and just stunning scenery everywhere you look, it's a fantastic holiday destination. It gets a bit of a hard time from the Kiwis as it is very commercial and to be fair there seems to be a way more blow-ins and tourists than locals there. But it's not shy about what it is and if adventure and outdoor pursuits are your thing than this is your place. We had done most of the things we wanted before we got here so we chilled for a few days. Wednesday we had a leisurely jaunt around Queenstown Gardens where we watched people playing Frisbee Golf – a slightly bizarre sport. Later that day we were delighted to hear that Jess had accepted Nic's marriage proposal at the top of the Nevis Bungy Swing that morning (nicely caught on camera amid the panicked looks on Jess's face) so we indulged in some celebratory drinks and had a slap up fish and chip dinner, with champagne to boot thanks to the owner of the Hoki Doki. It was lovely. Congrats again guys.


The following day we were up with the lark for our trip to Milford Sound. We weren't too keen on an 8hr return bus journey but what a day. We came across another 'Mirror Lake', Lake Matheson, it was very pretty (check out the optical illusion, the mountains are just a reflection of the water).


The other scenery as you drive through to Te Anau and on into the Fiord is just jaw-dropping.


And to top it off the two hour boat cruise of the Sound (apparently this place was inaccurately called a 'sound' which is a flooded water basin – it is in fact a Fiord – so there!) knocked our socks off. Never mind the stunning, sheer dramatic scenery, we had a pod of dolphins cruise along with us for about half an hour. We also saw some seals and a few random penguins. Really one of the best things we've done in New Zealand and the weather was so beautiful, we were very lucky. However they say the worse the weather the even more dramatic it is as there is more waterfalls coming down off the mountains. We'll have to go back on a rainy day some time.


I wanted to quickly mention the film we watched on the way home, it was really good. It was called The World's Fastest Indian – starring Anthony Hopkins.It's basically about this guy from Invercargill on the NZ South Island who goes to Utah to race a really old motor bike in the land speed trials on the salt flats. A really excellent film. To top off a great day, when we got back to Queenstown we indulged in the legendary Ferg Burger – awesome, 'nuff said. Actually, there's a letter on the wall in there from a doctor claiming one of his patients dislocated his jaw trying to eat one – we managed to get our chops around them though!


Friday was our last day in Queenstown so we headed for the gondolas and up to the skyline for some luging. Which at times became almost suicidal due to the extreme level of competition between Stuart and I. It was great fun and death-defying if you ask me – and oh yea, it was a draw by the way.

That night we enjoyed the Royal wedding – even though the kiwi coverage was more spitting image than BBC but my didn't they all look dashing?

Onto Dunedin, the Edinburgh of the south apparently.......

In some personal news, we were very happy for Stuart to become an Uncle last Sunday to the beautiful, baby Ruby. She took her time in joining us being more than 2 weeks overdue but all the best one's arrive late, as was the case with my little gem of a nephew Tristan. Congrats to Fraser and Lyndsey, can't wait to meet her.

I'm a little sad to be missing Tristan's Christening this weekend..and probably a bit irresponsible as I am his Godmother. But I'm sure my sister Nicola will do a sterling job standing in for me. Have a lovely day everyone. Xxx

The Villa Backpackers, 9/10 awesome free apple crumble with ice-cream
T&Os fish and chips, 9/10 yummy but a bit badly stocked.

Paradiso Backpackers, 9/10 – very busy but lots of excellent perks.
Tasman Bay Backpackers, 8/10 – yummy chocie pudding
Kaiteriteri Kayaks, 9/10 – enjoyable but not eventful.

Noah's Ark – 8/10 fine except for that crazy dorm-mate
Monteith's Brewery Tour – 9/10 good fun but a little rushed at the end and we didn't seen any equipment in action.

Franz Josef
Montrose Backpackers – 9/10 – fine, free internet
Franz Josef Glacier Guides, Half day guided walks – 9/10 really good but I thought they could have explained to us better at the foot of the glacier what we were going to do, we were kinda on the way back down before we knew it.

Southern Laughter – 9/10 – small room but comfy with a tv, lots of kitchen facilities which was very welcome. Oh and very tasty spicy free soup.
Ferg Burger – 10/10 – tiny gripe is it's cold inside if you eat your burger there but it doesn't really take away from how good those burgers are!
Hoki Doki Fish & Chip shop – 10/10 – delicious and free champers for the celebration, a very nice owner indeed.
Winnies, Póg Mahones & Frasers all good for a sup.

Posted by kelandstu 16:44 Archived in New Zealand Tagged queenstown harbour kayaking picton lake_matheson nelson greymouth franz_josef punakaiki_pancake_rocks milford_sounds ferg_burger kea_bird monteith's_brewery mirron_lake abel_tasman_national_park blue_penguin

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hi nice trip. but must be typing error with the date 19.05.2011 - 30.05.2011

by kekgi

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