JAN 16,2010 - APR 15,2010 (90 DAYS)
Foley Towers hostel is probably one of the best places in Christchurch for indepenedent backpackers that wish to avoid the big noisy groups that are more common to the bigger hostels around the city center. Although quiet and small, it is pretty much centrally located and is a good place to start your trip in NZ's southern island or to 'recharge your batteries' before moving on. Owners are extremely nice and helpful. Caters mostly to young backpackers, but in my opinion should also be considered as a solid option for mid-range budget travellers that are looking for somewhat friendlier / less detached experience ( in comparison to those that the bigger motels / hotels usually offer) . Discounts are available if you have your BBH club card with you!
A nice option for a long day hike is to walk up all the way from the Akaroa tourist information center to the summit road above the town. If you are in reasonable shape, the walk shouldn't be too hard but it will take you the better part of the day to complete. Views of the Akaroa bay & the entire peninsula are superb. To start, simply walk eastwards from the town center uphill onto Balguerie st, then continue on Purple peak road until you reach the summit. You can go back the same way you came or opt for a longer walk down using one of the alternative routes that are found to the south. For more information and possibly a small map you can consult with the local tourist information center found in Akaroa.
Most people who choose to camp out in APNP (Arthur's Pass National Park) do it in the campgrounds that are found directly across from the DoC (Department of Consvervation) information center. While it is probably the most convenient options in terms of accessibility and camping facilities - it is not free and sometimes can be very crowded. if you opt for a quieter place to campout, and you have a car with you can stay at the Klondyke Corner campsite, about 8 kilometers south of Arthur's Pass village on the SH73 road. Although basic and pretty much 'bare-bones' in terms of camping facilities, it's a decent alternative to the big campground in the village itself.
APNP (Arthur's Pass National Park) offers loads of trekking options, some of the finest that NZ has to offer. Harper pass route, Three passes route and Cass-Lagoon track at the neighbouring Carigieburn Forest are only a few fine examples - but they are NOT for the novice trekker and should only be attempted if you have sufficient trekking and navigation skills. Don't leave out for these treks without a detailed topographic map as the markings in these treks are not of the standard that usually find in the more popular treks (many times, the best that you can hope for - is just a rock cairn of some sort). The most popular option is actually a day hike that takes you from the center of the village all the way up to Avalanche Peak. The complete journey up & down will take about 7 hours and it can be quite hefty if you haven't done much hiking so far (otherwise it's OK). There are two paths that go up: the Avalanche track and the Scotts track. The Scotts track is more moderate and has a more gradual incline but for the sake of your knees it is actually preferable to go up the steeper Avalanche track and go back down on the Scotts track. Things can certainly get 'sweaty' as you scramble your way up but once you go above the bushline, views are simply magnificant. If you haven't met Keas before (the local birds/parrots) - have this as a warning: do not leave your belongings alone as those birds are known to snatch and grab any personal item that is left by itself. They are suprisingly smart and agile!
After me and my friends finished up in spectacular Arthur's Pass, we continued towards the pretty much desolate west coast. Greymouth is the biggest town along the western shores of the southern island, but I personally would advice against staying too long there. There's isn't much to see overthere but if you're backpacking it might be a decent place to stock up with some food, do some laundry etc.
The Pancake Rocks (Punakaiki) are definitely over-hyped in my opinion & definitely not worth the trip north from Greymouth unless your'e enroute to Nelson / Abel Tasman / The Golden Bay area anyway. That being said, it can be a nice spot to break the long ride from Greymouth to the northen regions of the island. The small reserve will take about 1-2 hours tops to explore and most impressives sight, are the 'pancakes' themselves (obviously) - interesting rock formations, right on the coastlne that were carved by the endless gushing waves of the Tasman sea.
The real nice attraction in the area was actually the farmer's market that we stumbled upon . about 10 Km north of Pancake Rocks, approx. where the Fox river spills over to the Tasman sea (http://goo.gl/maps/UES03).
This market has got to be one of NZ"s smallest, but you may actually find something you like...
I'm not sure if it's because we were there on Bob Marley's day, but it seemed like Motueka had a suprisingly large concentration of hippies, reggae-lovers and other sorts of free spirits... :-)
Not much in the town itself, It is the mandatory stop before you head on to the Abel Tasman National Park itself.
One of NZ's most popular attractions, this national park is mostly known for its coastal track, although it contains other walking/trekking options as well, such as the inland track. Most people choose to stay around 1-2 days in the park, either by hiking it or canooing along the coastline. We opted for the 4 day track, going all the way north to Wainui. Some people choose to go back to the starting point after they finish hiking using a water-taxi. While it can be expensive, it is the fastest way to return. Hitching back from the northen edges of the park back to the park's entrance can be tricky as most hikers / visitors to the park usually concentrate along the more 'proximal' areas of the NP. In my opinion, you don't have to walk the entire track (like we did) in order to fully experience the scenery. If you're looking to socialize with other hikers and explore some nice glow-worms caves, the campsite and hut in Anchorage bay is your best bet, but if you're looking for a more relaxed, less crowded regions you should continue a little bit further north to Awaroa & Totaranui. Adjusting your expectaions is essential if you have a image of a secluded, desolate beaches when no footprint is visible. The park is packed with visitors in the high-season and even in the more remote parts of the track you are likely to see more than a few other fellow travellers. Despite that, Abel Tasman surley deserves at least 2 days of your time in my opinion. Pretty much everything you possibly need to know about Abel Tasman can be found here, in the DoC website: http://doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/national-parks/abel-tasman/
Probably my favorite city in the NZ's south island, the weather there is usually good and while we didn't explore much of the attractions Nelson has to offer (whatever those are, anyway) - it is a nice place to hang out for a day or two if you are after an exhausting trek or you're about to embark onto one...
There are some bars and hostels around town so Nelson serves as a minor 'backpackers hub' (but doesn't come close to Queenstown in that aspect - for better of worse).
Tasman Bay Backpackers is a a really nice hostel found not to far from the city center on Weka st, and we stayed there for 1 night so we can get a nice shower and a more comfy bed before we continue trekking in Nelson Lakes National Park. Personally, this place is memorable because of two reasons:
Overlooked by some backpackers, but known among more 'serious' trekkers and locals, This national park offers several hiking & trekking options, ranging from a few hours to a full week haul in the mountains surrounding Lake Rotoroa & Lake Rotoiti.
You can find all the information you need regarding the area in the local DoC center, at the park entrance. Most overnighters either stay at the lake or climb via the Robert Ridge route / Speargrass track all the way to the Angelus Hut (which you need to book in advance with the DOC due its increasing popularity). However, if you are up to the task and you somewhat experienced with trekking - I strongly recommend to devote extra time and go for the full 5-7 days in the Travers Sabine Circuit. Although not an official 'Great Walk', it rivals with more famous tracks (Routeburn, Kepler etc.) in terms of scenery and natural landscapes. Aside from the Angelus hut, the track does not require any booking in advance. If you have DOC's Backcountry Hut Pass you can stay in the huts along the track for free. Best of all, you are not likely to find the crowds that flood the more popular tracks in Fiordland / Mt. Cook / Abel Tasman. The starting point for track is St. Arnaud. You should head out pretty early so you can continue upwards to the John Tait Hut.
On the 2nd day, its best to continue to the Upper Travers Hut and overnight there instead of attempting to cross over the Travers Saddle to the next hut. The Upper Travers Hut is located in a picturesque mountainside, below the saddle and is one of most memorable places I overnighted in New Zealand.
From there, on the 3rd day, continue over the Travers Saddle all the way to the West Sabine Hut, deep inside the bush. From this hut you can do an optional side trip to the Blue Lake Hut but you should know that this will longer your trek in about 2 days, since you will have to go back the same way you came. With or without doing this side-trip, the next stop will be at the sandfly-infested Sabine Hut, which is located next to the shores of lake Rotoroa.
From here you can continue through the Speargrass Hut back to St. Arnaud, but the real treat is go all the way up through the very strenous climb via the Mt. Cedric Route to the Angelus Hut. The views here are absloutely amazing and are worth the very long climb up. It is recommended that you stay overnight in the Angelus Hut but if you are very fit and you start very early, you can continue directly back to St. Arnaud via the Robert Ridge route (this day is going to very long and exhausting - so come prepared with plenty of water as there's isn't much of it until you reach Angelus Hut).
As always, the best source of information for detailed track notes, maps or weather forecast is the DoC itself, either in the national park's visitor center or the Doc's website (http://doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/nelson-tasman/nelson-lakes/travers-sabine-circuit/)
After we finished with Nelson Lakes, we continued south and suffered a few days of heavy downpours while passing through some forgettable towns along the west coast. We ended up in Westland National Park, home to the popular Franz Joesf & Fox Glaciers. The glaciers, going down all the way from the slopes of Mt. Cook (& its neighboring peaks) area to the coastline are remarkable and worthy of your time. There are several options to explore the area, including heli-skiing and heli-hiking. If you are a backpacker (like me) with little cash in his pocket, the cheaper option would be to explore the lower regions of the glaciers. While it may not be as clean & pristine as the upper edges of the glaciers, the views from the mid-bottom area are still beautiful and the whole experience is quite impressive. You can go with the commercial tour guides that are located in the villages next to the glaciers. They will take care of everything you need so you don't need to have any ice/glaciers skills at all - but as i said, these are commercial tour operators and if you dream of a intimate adventure in the glaciers by yourself - forget it. The alternatives are either going up by helicopter (expensive!) or going to explore the glaciers by yourself independently, provided that you are experienced enough with glaciers or mountaineering and equipped with crampons, ice axes etc.
If you have a few hours to spare and you're looking for a scenic spot to have a picnic lunch, head to to Lake Matheson for a quick and easy short walk where you can enjoy nice views of the Southern Alps, reflecting in the lake's waters. The lake is a short distance from the Fox Glacier Village.
After we finished with the glaciers area, going pass the Copeland track and some typical west-coast scenery, we decided to stop for a little while around Haast. The beaches around the Haast area were pretty much empty when we were there, and there are several options to go around. If beaches is indeed what you are after, I wouldn't recommend going on the Haast-Jackson Bay road since you virtually don't have any beach access until you actually reach Jackson Bay itself. Instead, opt for other places such as the beach next to Ship Creek - about 16 km north of Haast itself. As always, the Tasman sea will be absolutely freezing cold - but when did this ever stop people from running butt-naked screaming into the water? A few hours to a day should be enough to explore the Haast region including making some stops & short walks near Haast Pass, which arguably sits on one of the most spectacular stretches of road in NZ's southern island.
Enroute from Haast to Wanaka, we unknownigly passed the Gillespie Pass track that we intended to do, by thus - postpoing this trek to a later time (which eventually turned out to be the next visit in NZ - maybe).
Wanaka, the real human settlement of considerable size that we have seen for many miles by that point, turned out to be one of gems that the NZ's southern island has to offer. I can't put my finger on any specific reason or any particular attraction for why I think that - but I guess it's mainly because of the relaxed atmoshphere that constantly surrounds Lake Wanaka.
It might be considered by some folks as a somewhat tourist trap, but I don't care - I still liked it. I'm talking about Puzzling World of course. This half-musuem, half-playground-for-adults contains a wealth of illusions that are meant to mess with your head. I won't spoil the fun and tell you exactly what to expect, but overall - the experience was very positive. You can also pay a little extra and try to work your way out through a giant maze (which I didn't really care for, the "musuem" part was much better in my opinion).
Practically every backpacker has either heard of it or been in it, Wanaka's Cinema Paradiso is a great opportunity to catch up with some of the recent blockbuster that went out while you were away in the mountains. The cinema itself is not the ordinary multiplex you're used to from home, and all viewers sit in some sort of a unique sit/chair/??? inside a room that kind of feels like somebody's giant, vintage living room. I could elaborate a little more and even post a link to some pictures that better explain what am I talking about, but I think it's best for you to just come and see for yourself. It's better to come a little bit early so you can get tickets and reserve yourself a 'special' sit. Don't skip on the giant chocolate chip cookies that are being served during the intermission!