One of my regrets when leaving New Zealand after my working holiday last year is that there were so many amazing hikes I only found out about once I was already in the country, and I didn’t have enough time to plan all the tramps I wanted to do. When we left Australia at the end of our visa there, Steve and I agreed our first stop would be back to NZ for a few more walks. We decided that apart from Queenstown, which we’d fly into and stay long enough for a Fergburger, and Wellington, where we wanted to catch up with friends, we would focus our itinerary on places we hadn’t yet been. After all, who knows how long it’ll be until we get to come back to this side of the world again?
Our route looked like this: Queenstown – Dunedin – the Catlins – Stewart Island (Rakiura track) – up through the Haast pass to the West Coast – Glaciers – Greymouth – Picton – Marlborough Sounds (Queen Charlotte track) – Wellington.
Well, best laid plans and all that. First there was the drive from Bluff (when we returned from Stewart island on the ferry) to Fox Glacier. We drove up as far as Lake Hawea and spent the night there so we could get an early start to the west coast the next morning. It’s a good thing we did because a slip closed off the Haast pass, blocking off the West Coast from the south. We decided to go the northern route around Arthur’s pass, turning a 2-hour journey into 10.
Of course, it was too rainy to see the glaciers. We left a day earlier than planned, to deal with a flat tire on our rental car and because we’d give up on hiking by the glaciers. We got lucky, if you can call it that, leaving for Greymouth a day before they closed off the northern road out of Fox Glacier due to more road slips. Had we stuck around, we would’ve been trapped for a week or more and there would’ve gone our plans for a Bali Christmas.
While we didn’t escape the bad weather entirely on the Queen Charlotte track, a day of heavy rain was nothing we couldn’t handle on a hike (especially not after Overland Track a few weeks prior) and it soon cleared up, offering stunning views of the sounds. But our bad luck wasn’t over yet, oh no.
After the Queen Charlotte track we headed to the Picton ferry terminal to get the boat over to Wellington, something we had always wanted to do while we lived there but had never gotten around to. We arrived bright and early as we were told, at 6:30am for the 7:30am sailing. At 8:30, the boat was still docked. 9…9:30… it finally started moving. We cruised along, making good time after that until we got in sight of Wellington harbour!!
Then the captain informed us that there was a boat stuck at the dock and we’d have to do a lap of the bay while it got moved. No big deal, it was a beautiful, sunny day and we had some lovely views of the Wellington waterfront, Petone, and Matiu-Somes island. Then… we did another lap. Then the boat stopped. Then it dropped anchor. Uh-oh. At noon they told us we’d be landing by 1pm. At 2pm they gave us chips and said they hoped we’d be off the boat by 4pm. Finally, at 4:30 they pulled up to the dock and we were able to exit the boat shortly after, only 6 hours behind schedule.
However, despite those instances of bad luck, everything else went smoothly and we had an amazing trip seeing some things we hadn’t done in our year in NZ. The highlights:
This 32-km (we did about 43-km with walking to the start of the track and side trips) tramp is probably the easiest of the Great Walks. We did it over three days/two nights but others we met were doubling up and going in two days, which would’ve been easy to do. The trail is beautiful and peaceful, and at night we set out armed with flashlights and red cellophane to look for kiwi (I saw the briefest glimpse, we also saw a possum and Steve saw some little blue penguins).
The Catlins don’t seem to get as much mention as they deserve on the list of NZ must-sees. Maybe it’s because they’re at the very south of the country between the unexciting Dunedin and the outright boring Invercargill. However, they’re absolutely beautiful, from the rocky outcrop of nugget point to the lush waterfalls inland. We also saw some rare yellow-eyes penguins. Although it wasn’t warm enough to swim, there are some beautiful beaches and apparently great surfing down there as well.
Queen Charlotte track
Queen Charlotte is like the glamping version of hiking. While you can camp along the track, if you spend a bit more there are plenty of lovely hotels and accommodations to stay at instead where you can cook meals and have a hot shower. The water taxi that takes you to the start and end of the track also carries your pack to your accommodation each night. We did the 71-km route in just three days with ease, and had magnificent views throughout.
Weta workshop tour
Despite living in Wellington all year and being massive film and specifically Lord of the Rings fans, we never made it over to Miramar to tour the Weta workshop. However, this time we not only visited the studio but also took a short and fun course learning how they make chain mail and decorate leather. While we were in the class, a man walked in, said hello, and asked what we were working on. After he left, we asked the staff member teaching us, “was that…?” “yeah,” he said, “the founder of Weta, he comes through to chat all the time”. Kiwis are so chill.