This post includes affiliate links from Booking.com
We flew into Queenstown where we stayed at Pinewood Lodge – fairly priced and walking distance from the city center. We really liked Queenstown. In the winter people go there to ski and you can clearly feel the crisp air and good vibes even though we were there in the summer (February).
When we walked down the main road of Queenstown, we saw a huge line down the pavement. It turned out to be a burger bar called: Fergburger. We later discovered that it’s a very well-known burger – and yes the burgers were great! We enjoyed them down by the lake.
The next day we went shopping for sleeping backs, sleeping pads, a miniature gas stove, and food (basically noodles and soups) for the next week. We then drove to Te Anau stopping to have picnic at “the hidden picnic spot“. It’s a really nice place to have a quick stop on the way. In Te Anau we went to the Information centre (when in doubt, go there) to learn more about the different hiking / tramping opportunities in Fiordland National Park. There are several “Great Walks” as they are called, in New Zealand. These are longer tracks that require you to spend at least a couple of days completing. Unfortunately for us, we were there in High season (February) and you have to pre-book the huts along the track months before, because so many people are doing the walks. We could have camped in a tent along the track however, we didn’t have one so we would have to buy a new one. In the end we decided to only do day-tracks and then sleep in our car in the designated camping sites.
We then started to drive along the Te Anau-Milford Highway. There are several stops on the way to Milford Sounds – here is a link to a document where you can read about them. We used this exact document to determine where to stop by looking at the camping sites and walking tracks.
Henry Creek was our stop for the first night. One of the first things we unfortunately learned was that in contrast to the North Island, the South Island (and especially in Fiordland National Park) is filled with sandflies… Small annoying animals that I (a bit too late) realized bite you and leave marks that itches at least a week after! Honestly, the sandflies were a big nuisance but you just have to start taking precautions (wear long sleeves, long pants, close the doors and windows of your car or tent etc.) and put your mind to not letting it ruin your experience 🙂
Back to Henry Creek.. It was incredible! We parked under the trees and walked 10 metres to the water where we cooked our dinner using our new gas stove! Sitting there, watching the sunset and drinking a cup of hot choco.. delicious!
The next morning we took an early morning shower in the lake – a great way to start the day. After breakfast, we started driving further along the Milford Sound Highway. Our first stop of the day: Mirror lakes.
This was just a short stop, but incredible none the less. Our next stop: Knobs Flat. A perfect place for a picnic.
We then drove to The Divide (stop 18), where we went for a hike. It’s quite a steep hike (couple of hours) but the view at the top is amazing. This track also connects to one of the Great Walking tracks.
After a great and exhausting hike, we drove back towards Te Anau and stopped and stayed the night at the Deer Flat Campsite (DOC). This was a really nice place to stay – close to the river and very few people, since there isn’t a lot of space.
After each meal we would go to the nearest water source (here: the river) and wash up. I really felt in harmony with nature and starting each day with a fresh morning shower in the river or lake is absolutely wonderful.
The next morning we got up to a very beautiful sight of the river and mountains covered in mist while the rising sun colored the mountains gold.
We then drove out of Fiordland National Park and started heading towards the West Coast. On the way we stopped at Lake Wanaka at the Boundary Creek Campsite (DOC), where we decided to stay for a couple of nights – to just relax and enjoying the peace.
And enjoying the sights…
After a cold morning shower and a hot coffee, we started driving up along the coast line to the Franz Josef Glacier. It was very foggy on the day that we decided to go see the glacier, but it was still a great experience. We first took the short route to see the glacier but since there had been a landslide the day before, we couldn’t get far. So we talked to a ranger who told us to take one of the hiking routes to get even closer.
We did the Roberts Point Track from the carpark, which is an 11 km track with a fair bit of climbing. It’s very tough but the views are spectacular. Make sure to take plenty of water and some snacks.
It’s incredible and sad to see, how much of the glacier is gone. We were told that it used to be possible to fly up there in a helicopter and walk on the glacier. But now, since it has started melting, it’s too dangerous.
After the hike, we were very tired, but we needed to find a place to sleep. So we headed North to the Otto/MacDonalds Campsite (DOC). This is a nice site with toilet-facilities and some chairs and tables – but again.. so many sandflies and this time with the added bonus of mosquitoes.. So we quickly moved on.
The next day we headed to Greymouth – a long day’s drive, where we checked into a hostel in town (Duke Hostel). After several days in the car we just really needed a place to shower and a bed to sleep in – and a full McDonald’s meal… As we had quickly discovered: without a mattress in the car – it’s really not that comfortable to sleep in.
The city itself wasn’t anything exciting (or maybe we just didn’t see the right parts of it), so we quickly wanted to move on.
After a nice night’s sleep we headed towards Motueka (near Abel Tasman National Park). On the way there we stopped at Punakaiki, where we saw the Pancake rocks, which are curiously shaped rock formations. This is quite the tourist attraction but still cool to see.
In Motueka we stayed at the Fernwood Holiday Park in a small cabin. The cabin itself only contained a bed and a small fridge but there were toilets and a community kitchen right next to it. We wanted to explore the Abel Tasman National Park a bit and this was a perfect starting point for that since it took around 35 minutes by car to get there.
The next day we went to go explore the Ngarua Caves. A really cool experience – both figuratively and literally.. We asked for a tour when we got to the place and could go on the next available tour. The caves are limestone caves and the stalactites and stalagmites are amazing! Note: Stalactites are the ones hanging from the ceiling..
After the caves we drove further up the Canaan Road to the Harwoods Hole Track.
This is an easy 2,9 km one-way track and the Harwoods Hole is an incredible sight. It is possible to climb it but that should only be done by experienced climbers or with an instructor. On the way back we headed up another track (about 15-20 minutes from the Harwoods Hole going back towards the carpark) that took us to the top of the mountain and the view from there was amazing!
What a view – well worth the hike!
On the way back to Motueka we had a scary experience. The Canaan road is gravel and not very wide – meaning that you should NOT go there with a bigger van, because there isn’t space for two larger cars on the road. We were stopped because the couple that left in their car before us, had actually fallen off the road (luckily they were caught by some trees) because they were trying to get around someone in their van.. Luckily they were okay but still, it was an incredibly scary experience. So please! Don’t drive there in anything larger than a standard car (small SUV).
The next day we drove to Marahau, parked the car and started to hike along the great walk: Abel Tasman Coast Track. We hiked to Stillwell Bay (stopping along the way to enjoy the beautiful scenery) where we enjoyed our lunch. Then we ran most of the way back – for some reason we didn’t think that the 12 km (one-way) hike was enough..
One funny thing that I really liked, was how everyone would greet each other when walking by. Eventually, we made it a game of saying Hi, Hey, How are you… in all the ways we could think of – including a couple of Ohoy’s and Olo’s..
A thing you quickly notice is that most people you meet on this trip, will be tourists, especially along the Milford Sounds Highway. So, be patient on the road and take your time to stop and explore. That’s what we did and we had a great experience.
Stay tuned for the last part!
Day 10: Queenstown
Day 11: Te Anau + Milford Sounds highway + Henry Creek
Day 12: Mirror lakes + Knob’s flat + the Divide + Deer Flat campsite
Day 13+14: Lake Wanaka (Boundary Creek campsite)
Day 15: Franz Josef Glacier + Otto/MacDonald’s campsite
Day 16: Greymouth (Duke hostel)
Day 17: Motueka (Fernwood Holiday park)
Day 18: Ngarua Caves + The Harwood’s Hole Track
Day 19: The Abel Tasman Coast track