Leaving Invercargill we drove along the Southern Scenic route, taking in the breathtaking scenery as we skirted the fjordlands and made our way slowly, stopping for plenty of photographs, to Te Anau, gateway to the fjords, where New Zealand’s second largest lake is to be found.
We left the car behind and took a boat ride out over Lake Manapouri and a bus over the Wilmot Pass then took to the waters of Doubtful Sound. Taking a tour, we kayaked down the fjord, on the gently rippling water with the mountains standing tall and dark around us. The weather was changeable, with sudden squalls and brief heavy rain showers between periods of brilliant sunshine. We spent a lovely day on the waters, and camping rather wetly beside the sound before we continued north up to Milford South. There we also kayaked for a day, before we retraced our steps, stopping for a lovely stroll on the banks of Lake Te Anau before continuing on and round to the mountain resort of Queenstown.
Queenstown, nestled beneath the dramatic mountain peaks is perhaps the most beautiful of all New Zealand’s scenic sights. This former gold town is a haven of adventure and indulgence. It was fairly packed, which felt strange after all the wonderful time we had spent recently out in the wilds.
From Queenstown we made our way slowly north through the Mount Aspiring National Park, along the windswept west coast and stopped at Franz Josef for a look at the amazing glaciers, Franz Josef glacier and Fox glacier, both of which glistened in the sunlight between the cloudbursts. This is one of the very few places in the world where ice is juxtaposed with rainforest, which is one reason why this landscape is so special. Legend tells that these are the tears of Hinehukatere, the avalanche girl, whose lover, whom she had encouraged to climb the mountain, fell to his death. These are the world’s fastest growing glaciers and while they do grow from time to time, when there has been a particularly heavy winter snowfall in the mountains, the general pattern is one of receding. We did see several chunks detach themselves while we were there. We did a lot of fairly strenuous hiking, and were pretty exhausted when we finally fell into the tent that night, but it had been worth it to see these wonders of nature.
Next, we continued up the sparsely populated stretch of coastal road to Hokitika, a Maori site, rich in greenstone, also a former gold mining town. We took a walk in Hokitika Gorge and visited a magical cave filled with glow worms.
Further up the coast, at Punakaiki, we took the easy walk to see the Pancake Rocks and blow holes, stunning limestone formations on the rugged coastline which we reached by wandering on a circular walk through rainforest from the main road.
Westport, another brief stopping point, was once a gold mining town, but now mines coal. The Coal Mining Museum was an impulse stop, and a fascinating find, giving much insight into working underground.
Finally, we explored Nelson and the surrounding area, sunniest part of New Zealand. It was indeed beautiful sunny weather as we explored the arty city and toured a few nearby vineyards. It was a gentle and pretty end to our epic New Zealand road trip.
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