And so it ends.
Another incredible month in New Zealand and Australia. Typically when I return from a long holiday people bombard me with “where next?”. As I was watching the tiny islands of the New Zealand fade away en route to Australia, I was thinking about that too.
Germany is on the books for this year. A combo Iceland-Sweden-Norway trip for 2017. Of course, my almost annual trek back to New Zealand to complete the Great Walks is likely going to skip a year, you know, for variety’s sake.
At least that sounds good to me on paper today.
From the Awaroa Hut to the Whariwharangi (“fari farengi”) Hut is also typically a 2-day hike but again, there was that departing flight I needed to make, so I did it in one. Definitely take the two days if you can. At Awaroa I ran into two ladies who were also fast tracking so we did the hike together. Pink shirt (below) was one of the ladies, an Australian tour director who was testing the Abel Tasman Track for a tour she was organizing next year and her 82-year old mother, who did the whole track with a 30 pound backpack. Did I mention tour director had just had foot surgery and mom had a double hip replacement?
Beautiful scenery along this stretch too, however a very close encounter with a seal was the highlight. We noticed him while hiking across the beach. Apparently ‘his’ beach since as we crossed over he barked at us. Luckily seals are slow on sand so we were able to snap a few photos then scurry over a boulder hill to the other side.
The Whariwharangi Hut is the smallest on the track. Most people never make it to this hut since its at the far northern reaches of the park. Its interesting in that it used to be an old farm house, now outfitted sleep about 10 people in bunks. Here be on the lookout for Wekas, a cheeky, wingless bird who will steal things out of your backpack and run away.
UL: Low-tide crossing on the track from Awaroa
UR: Oh yawn, another beautiful Tasman view
Lower: Separation Point, Gannet re-colonization
Upper: Seal encounter
LL: Seal, happy that we were leaving
LR: Arrival at Whariwharangi
Left: Whariwharangi Hut
Right: Cheeky Weka
From the Anchorage Hut to the Awaroa Hut is typically a 2-day hike but I needed to do it in one. Definitely take the two days if you can, the scenery along this stretch is incredible. Just to make things more challenging, I detoured a few miles off track to Cleopatra’s Pool, a ‘swimming area’ where a stream pools up. While the water was warmer here than in other places, it was not warm enough for me. It was, however, a good photo op of other people who apparently enjoy swimming in ice water.
Suspension bridges and vistas over the Tasman dominated my almost 12-hour hike until I reached the Awaroa Hut. Around this stretch you need to be aware of tides, since some of the paths are completely under water at high tide. I almost made it before high tide, almost.
Note to self – get waterproof boots.
UL: Cleopatra’s Pool, brave swimmer
UR: One of many suspension bridges
LL: Peekaboo Tasman view
LR: Trekking through sand
Upper: Tasman views
LL: Another impossibly beautiful beach
LR: Arrival at Awaroa Hut
If you want to do one of the Great Walks of New Zealand but Kepler and Roteburn sound a little too strenuous, I’d recommend the Abel Tasman Track, which runs along the north west coast of the South Island near the city of Nelson. Its definitely less taxing overall but there are still some steep grades. At least you will be distracted by wide sweeping views of the disturbingly aquamarine color of the Tasman Sea, which appears continuously.
I was going to post all the Abel Tasman photos in one batch but there were too many. These are from the first day of my 3-day trek, from the entry to the Anchorage Bay Hut. Typically Abel Tasman is a 5-day trek but I had to fast-track it to make my flight back to the States.
Anchorage Bay Hut is the newest hut on the track and definitely the most comfortable. It butts right up to the sea; something about hearing the waves at night makes me fall fast asleep even in a room full of other people. Or maybe it was the hike itself, who knows?
UL: Entry to Abel Tasman Track
UR: Frankenweenie, the travel mascot
LL: Golden Beaches, low tide
LR: Blue-green water, lone kayaker
Above: Anchorage Bat Hut and surroundings
Left: Driftwood Art, a common scene on coastal tracks
Right: Makeshift concert. Aqua Shorts harmonized like an Indigo Girl (crappy picture courtesy of my old iPhone5 and poor lighting, you’re welcome!)
The Fiordland Region should be one of your stops in New Zealand since the sheer-cliff landscape emerging from the sea and ecosystem can only be seen in a few places on Earth. Call me crazy but I’d rather see it in a more moderate climate like New Zealand than in Iceland or Norway.
You’ll definitely see seals and if its a nice day, as was the case for us, you’ll see them in mass.
After you finish Kepler Track, if you’re feeling extra energetic and have another 3 days, you can piggyback the Roteburn Track. Roteburn is also a 60km “moderate” hike with some spectacular scenery. If you’re time constrained you can fast-track Roteburn by entering at the Alpine Walk section to the summit, which is at the higher elevations; this stretch is only a 3 hour return and it has the more panoramic views.
Kepler is still the more dramatic in terms of scenery but its also more difficult to traverse.
The Kepler Track is a 60km hiking trail starting near the South Island city of Te Anau. There is some amazing scenery on this track, most of which you will immediately classify as Lord of the Rings. No doubt Peter Jackson issued some flyovers of the region but he did not set up camp in the region due to the preservation restrictions.
If you’re thinking about doing this track please keep in mind that while it is billed as a ‘moderately difficult’ hike, that is moderate in New Zealand terms. The first 5km is relatively easy and flat, but then you get a solid 4-5 hours of 10-30% grade switchback ascent. Moderate my ass!
Oddly and unfortunately, there was a summer snow storm the night we landed at the first hut, Luxmore. Its was great fun hiking through the start of the storm, snow being a novelty for me, however the next day the 10k hike across the top was not possible. I went down the mountain then around the other side to pick up the last third of the track. Hopefully, next time I do Kepler the weather will cooperate!
If you want to see New Zealand and don’t have a month off to do so, I’d recommend starting with the South Island and specifically the city of Te Anau. Its the smallest of the New Zealand cities I visited but it packs a whallop both in scenery and quick access to other sights unique to the region: Kepler Track, Roteburn Track and Fiordland region for tours of Doubtful and Milford Sounds.
Queenstown is a haven for adventure sportists; there are so many activity choices here you’d need to spend several weeks just to cover the highlights. However, if you only have one day, the Skyline Tram to the top of the mountain gives you some spectacular views and doesn’t take much time. If you have more time, hiking to the top of Skyline will give you great peekaboo views across Lake Wakatipu and the forest at the top comes across surreal with they way it bends and toys with light.
Don’t forget to try the worlds best hamburger @ Fergburger; do you self a favor and phone in takeaway to avoid the hour wait.
UL: Lake Wakatipu
UR: Wind surfing the lake
LL: Queenstown Airport
LR: Hiking Skyline
Above: Views from the surface
Above: Views from above and Fergburger
In the battle of man vs. nature, Christchurch is a an example of nature winning the first round with man adjusting. The 2011 earthquake here destroyed about 80% of the city’s structures. Five years on you can still get a sense of the scale of destruction, however kudos to Christchurch for their ongoing rebuilding efforts; cranes are everywhere and new buildings continue to pop up out of the rubble. I was surprised to see the changes from 2 years ago; many more new buildings and much more street art on those building they have not yet demolished.
UL: 2011 Earthquake Memorial; 185 White chairs
UR, LL: Christchurch Cathedral
LR: New art project
UL: New Regent St
UR, Caffeine Laboratory; coffee and breakfast
Center, Lower: Street art