Taupo to Queenstown and everywhere in between
19.05.2009 - 13.06.2009
Hi again everyone, sorry it’s been a while since we last wrote, but hopefully you’ve had chance to look at the pictures? Anyway, here's another update for your reading pleasure!
Since our last exciting instalment, we've had a mixture of very energetic and very lazy days to go with the very mixed weather we've been having! Have you ever heard the song '4 seasons in one day’? It’s pretty apt here - the weather can be very changeable, especially when you're walking up mountains which are 3,000 feet above sea level!
On May 20th, we attempted to walk the Tongariro Crossing, one of New Zealand’s most famous walk past huge mountains and active volcanoes with breath-taking views to boot. Sadly, having rose at 6am and got all geared up to go, the road to the crossing was closed by snow.
Not to be deterred, our very helpful hostel owner showed us a walk we could do which afforded equally as spectacular scenery without the danger of being caught in dangerous blizzard conditions should the weather worsen.
So we walked past the Taranaki Falls in brilliant early morning sunshine on our way in-between Mt Ruapehu (2797m) and Mt Ngauraho (2287m), the latter used for the infamous Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Our aim was to reach the Tama Lakes by 1pm, in order to give us time to eat lunch and get back to the car before dusk approached. With snow partially obscuring the markers and ice everywhere, this wasn’t somewhere you wanted to be walking around in the dark!
We reached the Lakes on time, sitting to admire their strange green colour while eating lunch. We began to notice clouds approaching on the horizon and so decided to make haste back down the mountain – we’d taken more than enough photos while the visibility was good in the morning.
Around an hour away from the car, the clouds confirmed our suspicions with heavy snow and a real drop in temperature, at this point we were especially glad for our merino wool thermals and waterproofs! Our party of 7 all got back to our cars looking like snowmen but everyone agreed it had been a fantastic walk and well worth the sore feet!
After a well earned rest we drove north to Taupo, after finally summoning up a small amount of energy to explore we were advised that the Huka Falls were quite a spectacle to behold.
We walked through an attractive park, the trees in all their autumnal glory and the river below steaming where a geothermal pool joined its cool waters. Following the river along, we heard the falls long before we saw them. The falls are long and narrow with only a 10 metre drop, but the volume of water passing through is equivalent to 400 tonnes per second!! The sight and sound of such power is truly awe-inspiring.
We spend a couple of days relaxing in Taupo before venturing south east to Napier, famous for its art-deco architecture. Following a devastating earthquake in 1931 – the largest in New Zealand’s recorded history the city had to be rebuilt. Unfortunately we only see rain clouds here so move on quickly to Wellington in search of drier weather.
After looking at the dire hostel reviews for Wellington we decide to stay outside of the city in the coastal town of Plimmerton just 20kms up the road. On arriving at the Moana Lodge we’re happy with our decision, it’s one of the nicest places we’ve stayed, with just about everything you could want for, they even baked a birthday cake for Richard!!
We had fun exploring the area, just outside Wellington there is a seal winter ‘Haul out’ where the males come out of the sea to re-condition over the winter months, generally feeding and lazing on the rocks all day!
While in Wellington, we dragged ourselves out of bed at the crazy hour of 5am to drive into town to watch the Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona in an Irish bar. Unfortunately, the game didn’t quite go to plan and United lost 2-0. That’s all Richard can bear to type about that!
On June 3rd we bid a fond farewell to the north island and caught the Wellington to Picton ferry. It was a lovely sunny day, so despite the biting wind we sat on the front deck and admired the gorgeous scenery as it unfolded in front of us – clear blue water, lush forests lining hills with sprinklings of cloud at their peak, dramatic sweeping coastlines with islands liberally dotted around and inviting little bays with sail-boats moored up and tiny boardwalks. A wonderful introduction to the south island, which we’d been told was even prettier than the north and we were starting to believe it.
The following day we took a 6 hour walk over the Queen Charlotte Sound to further linger on the sights we’d enjoyed on the ferry. Again we were lucky with the weather and took some great photos.
We then decided that we’d like to travel south to try and walk the Fox Glacier and enjoy an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, both activities potentially requiring us to wait until the weather permitted us to enjoy them, as the west of the south island is notorious for its wet weather.
We spent a couple of days in Nelson, where we sampled a Kiwi Saturday morning food market and also visited the geographical centre of New Zealand!
Travelling south again, we stayed overnight in Greymouth before heading to the Franz Josef/Fox Glaciers area to enquire about walking up one of them. Unfortunately, the forecast for the whole of the next week was rain and more rain, so we stayed overnight before heading down towards Queenstown on the Haast Pass, one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring drives we’ve ever experienced.
We’re currently staying just outside Queenstown in Arrowtown, which is an old gold mining town and has a wonderfully preserved high street from its former prospecting days. We decided against panning in the river, it looked a little too cold!! The town also has a fascinating restored Chinese settlement where we explored the old storehouse and tiny dwellings made form old tin sheets and built into cliff faces.
Queenstown itself is a little commercialised, geared towards party-goers and thrill seekers but nonetheless is beautifully situated on Lake Wakatipu and overlooked by the imposing and magnificently snow-capped Remarkables mountain range. It has the feeling of a small alpine ski resort, rather than a town in New Zealand.
Tomorrow we drive to Manapouri, where we will stay prior to our over-night cruise on Doubtful Sound, one of the most remote and beautiful fjords in the country. We’re crossing everything for good weather, though we have heard it’s still a striking place in poor weather.
As always we hope to hear from you soon, take care of yourselves
Richard and Lucy