We grabbed our second rental car of the trip so we could start our journey north through the South Island. We headed up to Wanaka first, and stopped in the Department of Conservation (DOC) office to get some information the trails in the area. We had the entire afternoon so we decided to head to Rob Roy Glacier, which we had heard was a good hike.
Rob Roy Glacier
The trail starts about 90 mins away from town. The lady at the office told us the last 30 km was gravel and that multiple stream crossings were involved, so high clearance vehicles were recommended. So, as responsible travelers, we ignored her advice and started our cruise in our little rental car toward the trail. The scenery was incredible as we entered Mount Aspiring National Park through a large valley with a braided river, farm land, and mountain peaks. Eventually we hit gravel road, which was no problem, and then we hit our first “Ford”, where we needed to drive across a gravelly stream. I drove reluctantly and cautiously over these until I heard the first “crunch” as the car bottomed out on some rocks. At this point we had already come so far so we continued. The check engine light hadn’t come on and only a slight rattle had developed.
We did the four-hour hike, which started in open field, crossed a beautiful swinging bridge, and entered a forested valley. At the end, we could see Rob Roy’s Glacier clinging to a mountain and creating many snow melt waterfalls. We even saw a little avalanche as we were taking pictures. The best part of the hike was being surrounded by hundreds of sheep as they moved past the end of the trail near the car park!
In Wanaka we found a hostel with a private room, stocked up at the grocery store, and walked along the lake front. The next morning, we took our car to the mechanic, where they worked to fixed a bent piece of metal that was rattling on the gear box. Fiats are officially NOT Rob Roy Glacier approved! We took some pictures of a famous Wanaka Tree in the shallow part of the lake.
After we retrieved our car, we drove up Haast Pass to see the Blue Pools. This drive had stunning views of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, and there wasn’t too much traffic since it was the low season. We reached a few overlooks where there wasn’t an ounce of civilization as far as the eye could see. There are tons of quick trails up on the pass, but we had lost a lot of time with our car in the shop, so we only had time for one. The pools were only 15 minutes from the highway. They are filled with amazing glacial water and have a few more photogenic swinging bridges.
Mount Cook National Park
The following morning, we woke up to rain as we set off for Mount Cook National Park. Our streak of clear days had ended abruptly. In Mount Cook we hoped for a clearer afternoon and started up the Sealy Tarns track. It’s basically straight up a mountain, but luckily they have built 2,200 steps to the top. Steps that you quickly begin to hate with every cell in your body. About halfway up the weather got even worse. We powered through a cold rain and reached the top, where the tallest peak in the continent, Mt. Cook, was hidden behind thick rain and fog. We did have some decent views of the valley below where we had started our climb. There were some more hikes and camping huts in the park that we were forced to save for another, clearer visit, and we headed back out of the valley.
We spent a night in Lake Tekapo, which is a very small town that seems like it mostly serves as a stop-off for Chinese and Japanese tour buses. We were upgraded to a private room at our hostel, which was a very cool place. It had a big kitchen and lounge, and in the backyard there were chickens, rabbits, and a garden. There was a little picture book celebrating the history of the hostel since it opened in the early 1990’s. What an interesting way to meet people! We rewarded our hiking accomplishment with some good beer, but there wasn’t a whole lot going on in town. It is known for star gazing at an observatory above town, but on a cloudy day that wasn’t much of an option. There is also a pretty chapel overlooking the lake.
On our final day on the South Island (which we will miss so much!), we finished our drive to Christchurch. Clouds and rain obstructed the sights, so we resorted to stopping for coffee in the little towns along the way. In Christchurch, we visited the city center that was still recovering from a major earthquake in 2010 and 2011. There was construction all over the place, but the main cathedral in town was still crumbled to pieces and fenced off. It was sad to see that so much controversy on how to handle the historical property meant that nothing had been done in over six years. We visited the very good Canterbury Museum that had some history on New Zealand’s oldest city. Otherwise, Christchurch was very quiet, and a bit depressing considering its was a Friday night. It seems they are still finding their identity after the quake, which speaks to just had devastating it was. We returned our car and stayed out near the airport so we could catch our early flight to Wellington.
Our trip through the South Island was spectacular, and certainly manageable and rewarding within a week or two vacation time constraint. You can see our approximately 1000 km (621 mile) route below!
Chris & Taylor
Read our travel blog as we visit three continents in 2017.