My journey as an Intern at Hiking New Zealand continues: 7 days, 10 Australian ladies, one never-ending fascinating vista – New Zealand’s South Island
The stunning variety of the South Island
When coming all the way down to New Zealand from the Northern Hemisphere you definitely want to make the most out of your trip. But how do you prioritise when the whole country looks promising? Hiking New Zealand created a customised 7-day trip for a group and I was the lucky one from the office to join the guide and group.
I met the group of hilarious Aussies and the local guide Sarah in Christchurch early in the morning to drive south via Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki before continuing to Aoraki/Mount Cook. As we went around a bend with the first glimpse of Lake Tekapo all talk stopped and the photo-marathon started. The turquoise water tantalized each of us. So, we stopped directly at the lake for lunch. After that we drove to Lake Pukaki and enjoyed the perfect view of Aoraki/Mount Cook there. In the afternoon, we passed through Mt Cook Village to start our first hike to Sealy Tarns. It is an easy track with approximately 500m elevation gain and rewarding views of the summit of Mount Cook and the beautiful valley we drove through before. Exhausted by both the hiking and the captivating scenery at every turn we arrived at our accommodation for the upcoming two nights.
We set off this morning to walk up the Hooker Valley. It was a sunny day but incredibly windy! Sometimes I felt like I might be blown away in a big gust of wind despite my big backpack. Nonetheless, it was an amazing walk being surrounded by the mountains with tiny waterfalls and crossing several swinging bridges towards the Hooker Glacier. The Glacier fed Hooker Lake is pretty much too cold for a swim year-round.
In the afternoon, we walked to the Tasman Lake and hiked a bit of the Red Tarns Track which are beautiful, too.
All in all, there are plenty of short-walks from Mt Cook Village and each one offers stunning scenery. Having a couple of days at Mt cook Village allows you to swap around the hikes to maximise the weather and chances of seeing the Cloud Piercer (Aoraki/Mt Cook).
We spend the morning driving to our next destination: Queenstown. The closer we got to town the more I was dying to set foot on the mountains again. I immediately fell in love with this alpine resort town! It has a special vibe, with all the action sports on offer and outdoor enthusiasts coming together. It reminds me a bit of Innsbruck in Austria where it’s totally common to take ski and hiking equipment to university and swap classes for mountain adventures on any given day. If you have forgotten any outdoor equipment, no worries you’ll get it in Queenstown for sure.
Dropping off the luggage and putting on hiking boots was the first and only thing we did at our accommodation before heading to Ben Lomond Track, which starts almost directly in town. The summit is about 1700m high and takes around 4-5 hours return if you are used to a bit to endurance training. It is steep enough to burn some energy without being really exhausting. The view over Queenstown is spectacluar. But if you don’t feel fit enough, you can take the gondola to avoid some of the climb or just walk to the saddle. For me personally, it’s absolutely a must do in Queenstown!
Another spectacular alternative is the Moonlight Track. It’s actually a one-way trip between Arthur’s Point and Queenstown, crossing the Ben Lomond saddle. Because I didn’t have enough time to do it that way, I added just a part of the Moonlight Track to the Ben Lomond Track. There are impressive views but barely any additional elevation gain to climb up.
Basically, everything is possible in Queenstown! The morning was free for everyone and people individually signed up for different action sport activities to get their adrenalin pumping: Bungy-jumping, Jet Boating, Skydiving, rafting etc. Don’t be surprised to see happy smiling people looking proudly on the numbers written on their hand – they probably tried a jump at the Kawarau Bungy Centre. Not without reason Queenstown is the Adventure Capital of the World.
Nevertheless, our journey went on and we drove via Lake Te Anau towards the Fiordland National Park to stay at Gunns Camp.
This morning we left early to go kayaking on Milford Sound. It doesn’t matter if its sunny or not, even a cloudy day like ours allows a magic experience. The steep mountains forming the fiord and the clouds getting caught in them created an almost majestic feeling. It was pretty cold - 5 degrees when we jumped out of the van. I remembered a warm and sunny looking kayaking picture of a fellow student in Australia while preparing myself for kayaking in New Zealand: merino thermals, beanie, gloves… Why did I choose this country again?;) - It was fantastic though! We paddled 10k across Milford, close to waterfalls and wild seals.
Even though the day has been spectacular enough, it was not over yet. So we jumped in the van again and drove towards the starting point of our afternoon hike which is at the same time the ending of the Routeburn Track Great Walk with a view over Lake Marian.
We woke to 1.5m fresh snow above 900m which completely changed our plans for an overnight hike. The road was closed and there was no way of getting to our starting point.
Even though we couldn’t go out in the mountains, our return drive to Queenstown was spectacular with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains at every turn. A short hike along the Kepler Track in Te Anau rounded off a great week.
Thank you Hiking New Zealand for sending me out on this trip! New Zealand is a wonderful country!