Had a fantastic night’s sleep at The Chalet Queenstown, an accommodation I chose for it’s central location and highly personalised service.. just in case you’re asking. Before breakfast at 7am, I went for a stroll to experience central Queenstown during it’s “quiet time”. What a difference from the nightlife a few hours ago! I loved the relaxed atmosphere and walking along the lake it seemed that even the huge rainbow trout of Lake Wakatipu had slowed down.
Driving from Queenstown to Fox Glacier
After a generous breakfast at The Chalet – it was back on the road to Wanaka ( only an hour’s drive via Cromwell or 40 min through Cardrona). Still foggy, but slowly clearing up to yet another stunning Central Otago winters day! Wanaka is the ‘smaller sister’ of Queenstown - just as pretty – but with a calmer personality. Like Queenstown, Wanaka is located on a huge lake, very near to ski fields and brimming with great accommodation and tour options. After checking out an apartment complex for some of my guests, I popped over to my favourite Wanaka café, Ritual Espresso Cafe. It doesn’t have waterfront views, but it does have great coffee, tasty food and prompt service. Pam loves their gluten-free options. Must try Francesca’s Kitchen the next time!
I am now on my way to the West Coast of the South Island, (via Haast Pass) to visit Fox Glacier Village and Franz Josef village, where I’ll be staying tonight. It should take me approximately 4 hours. The weather has now totally cleared up and what a pleasure it is to travel those empty New Zealand scenic road in the off-season (May-September). The views along Lake Hawea, over “The Neck” to the northern parts of Lake Wanaka are just out of this world folks!
At Diana Falls there’s still some work on a major road slip from last year, but after that, my next stop is at “Ship Creek Walk”,about 10kms north of the tiny village of Haast. A stop at Ship Creek is highly recommended to stretch legs and check out the first beach when coming from the south (or the last going there). Interestingly, the majority of travellers on the West Coast of the South Island would travel from North to South. However, I felt there was much less traffic travelling from south to north. So if you’re planning a trip to the West Coast, that’s maybe something worth remembering.
Important update regarding Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers!!
It’s been 2 years since my last visit to Fox Glacier and it was a sobering sight to see those giant ice rivers retreating so much into their valleys. The rain and snowfall over the past 5 years has been well below average. Although the local Glacier guiding companies still offer glacier valley walks, the longer ice walks from the lower part of the glacier, are no longer available. However, ice walking tours are available with a short helicopter ride.
I walked a short way to both Fox and Franz Josef glaciers and was impressed with the good work DoC (Department of Conservation) has done with viewpoint and barriers. Here’s the positive news: to get the best out of your Glacier experience, I totally recommend joining a “Helihiking” guided walks (2 x short helicopter flights and about 2 hours guided walk) into the middle area of the glaciers (nailed boots, socks, crampons and walking stick are provided) OR a scenic helicopter flight landing in the upper part of the glaciers – called Neve.
There is so much else to discover and explore in the Fox and Franz Josef area, so I strongly recommend travellers spend at least 2 nights to see the full beauty of the land…like Lake Matheson…
… Gillespie Beach, Okarito Lagoon and numerous walks such as Alex Knob - nature experiences you’ll never forget.
Having now completed my main task for this quick “famil” I am hitting the road yet again, heading back via Reefton to Nelson. From Invercargill to Nelson I travelled a total of 1250 kms in 3 days - madness! Please don’t do this! Take your time to enjoy one of the most stunning scenic roads on planet earth and get ready for plenty of photo stops!
At 8.30 the next morning I left Invercargill and travelled west towards Riverton. I was hanging out for a decent coffee and luckily discovered that Riverton is the perfect place for a caffeine fix. With 30 mins to spare before my next meeting, I took a drive around the Riverton shore line, the “Riviera of the South” and what a beautiful sight it was! Even though it was clouded with mist, the sandy, rocky coast was stunning. The housing is classic “Kiwiana” with local “diaries” and even a great restaurant nearby (“Beaches Cafe”).
My meeting with Joan at Hopcroft Homestay, went like clock-work. I have known Joan and her late husband for 20 years. They were originally farming people from the local region. After retirement they had this gorgeous lifestyle property / farm type B&B lodge. Imagine entering a cul-de-sac, driving to the end to a massive green paddock with a beautiful curvy driveway up the hill to the house about 500 metres away. What a stunning entry! And after so many years, Joan still has a welcoming pot of tea and home-made cookies ready for me. The people and the landscape down here Southland epitomise true “Kiwiland” spirit and you’ll be moved by it.
Travel from Invercargill to Queenstown thru amazing New Zealand heartland…
Typical of New Zealand, the weather is dressed in her finest today with blue sky and plenty of sunshine (the farmers will love this). I am heading for “Nokomai Station”, located between Lumsden and Athol on the main route to Queenstown. Nokomai is one of the largest farms (or stations as the big ones are called) in New Zealand. A massive 36,000 hectare, it’s classic sheep country with lots of hills, mountains and glorious rivers running through the valley.
With my trusty rental car I turn off the main highway and travel 14 km on unsealed road to the main farm building. During the drive I had my first encounter with another “classic” rural scene; a young shepherd with 5 dogs and about five hundred sheep blocking the road. A photo somehow doesn’t capture this scene, so I just sat back and absorbed a moment I’ll never forget, ever!
The cottages accommodation at Nokomai are situated away from the main farm house, but the property does have it’s own restaurant/ bar building where breakfast and dinner is served. Ann, the farm owner, explained that travellers and many fishing people find their way to Nokomai wanting to experience the “real New Zealand”. Well folks, it doesn’t get much better than this!
Reluctantly I have to continue my journey to Queenstown, to a totally different world – Millbrook Resort. At the reception I met with Adith the reservations manager, who very kindly committed an hour of his time to show me around the grounds…200 hectares of it!
We climbed into a golf cart and zoomed around to have a look at the different room and cottage styles – Villa Suites (perfect for couples), or the 2 and 3-Bedroom cottage, perfect for families. With four restaurants on site, this stylish resort is perfect for weary travellers wanting to “chill out”. With superb health, spa and fitness facilities plus a 25 metre lap pool, Millbrook deserves it’s status as a world-class 5-star luxury golf resort. Adith tells that the guests who come to play golf, are in the minority and I can understand this.This privately owned resort is quite unique in New Zealand. Note to self: wedding anniversary coming up… make booking”.
Read about my 3-day visit to the true “heartland” New Zealand, Southland, a region very close to my heart!
Day 1 – Travel Invercargill to Queenstown:
After my Air NZ flight arrived in Invercargill, it was so easy to pop over to the rental counter and pick-up a pre-booked rental car (definitely needs to be pre-booked guys!).
My first visit was at “Bushy Point Fernbird B&B”, a small nature-focused B&B right on the Otatara coastline (hard to believe it’s only a 10 minutes from the airport). This is a nature lovers paradise, perfect for keen birdwatchers.
Bushy Point is the best place in New Zealand to find the extremely rare New Zealand Fernbird and it’s also one of the last remaining native bush reserves in the area. After a warm welcome, owners, Ian and Jenny showed me around their 3-roomed cottage style accommodation. Then Ian guided me around the boardwalk thru the reserve. It was only 20 minutes before we saw our first fernbird sitting in the bush – what an incredible privilege! Ian told me that some birdwatchers wait for literally hours. As my own camera was not up to the task, here’s a beautiful capture from renowned Southland Photographer, Glenda Rees.
After leaving Bushy Point I headed off to Invercargill city to visit Safari Lodge, run by Trish and her husband (who I did not meet). These Southlanders have lived all their lives in the Invercargill area, except 5 years in Mozambique, Africa. So it comes as no surprise that the rooms are named “Lion Room”, “Elephant Room”etc. This heritage-style building has very spacious suites and lovely 4-poster beds.
After my “Safari tour” I hit the road east to a park-like property called Beersheba Estate. Anne, the owner was expecting me and was very busy catching up before the summer season kicks in. Beersheba has 4 acres of pond and beautiful woodland gardens, frequented by native birds. This lovely property provides stylish comfort for travellers wishing to relax after a day’s explore.
Finally, it was time to head back to Invercargill to catch up with my old mate, John, at the ‘Buster Crabb’ family restaurant. What a unique way of present a menu…on a broadsheet newspaper layout. Good food plus a history lesson – great value!
Slept like a log and just as well, busy day ahead.
The Abel Tasman National Park is one of the smallest reserves in New Zealand and covers the shores of the north-western tip of the South Island between Nelson and Golden Bay. Some of the key reasons for exploring the park include the golden beaches, sea kayaking and fairly easy-level coastal walks.
The main starting point for most travellers is Kaiteriteri Beach or Marahau Beach; both of which are located at the southern end of the park. (There’s also the lesser used access from Totaranui/ Takaka from the northern part.) View a location map here.
Where do I stay when exploring the Abel Tasman?
Nelson: Many travellers will make Nelson their base to explore the Tasman region. The southern park entrance is only an hour’s drive away. There are also shuttle services available with hotel pick-up and drop-off ex Nelson.
Bronte – Ruby Bay – Motueka: These areas are located between Nelson and the Abel Tasman Park. Vineyards and fruit orchards make this one of the most scenic landscapes of New Zealand! If you stay here in a vineyard cottage or B&B lodge, it’s only a 30 min drive to the Abel Tasman National Park or back to Nelson.
Kaiteriteri + Marahau – this is just a “stone’s throw” from the Park entrance. It’s generally very peaceful (except for 6 weeks over Christmas) with stunning views over the ocean. Travellers have a choice of accommodation, including B&B’s, apartments and motels. However there is a very limited choice of restaurants and general facilities (e.g. supermarket).
Abel Tasman National Park Day Trips – how to choose
Unguided Walks - start walking from Marahau Beach or take a water taxi to one of the bays along the coastline.
In the peak summer season (mid-October to end of April) you have 3-4 different water taxi companies going up and down the coast 4-5 times a day. In the winter it’s less than half that number.
A very popular day trip is to go from Kaiteriteri with a water taxi at 9.15am or 10.30am to Bark Bay - walk to Anchorage Bay in 4 hours (about 10 kms/ 6.6 miles) – then take another water taxi back to Kaiteriteri at 3.45pm or 4.45pm. For a longer hike, go further north to Awaroa and walk to Tonga or Bark Bay. The cool part is that the water taxi is always an option to get back!
Guided Kayaking and Walks - Again, start from Kaiteriteri or Marahau with a local sea kayaking company either for half or a full day. If you have a good level of fitness, I’d recommend a guided kayaking and walking trip. This will provide you with the best of both worlds. The water taxi will take you to Tonga Bay, which is part of a marine reserve. Here you can start paddling in a double kayak.
All the equipment is provided by the operator. All you need to bring is a sun head, sun block, sun glasses and a bathing costume and towel! A guided nature walk on the Abel Tasman Track is included as well as a lunch. You’ll return to Marahau or Kaiteriteri at 5.30pm.
Sailing or Cruising the Abel Tasman National Park – for those travellers who like a little less physical exertion, a perfect alternative is a sailing excursion or a charter boat with Abel Tasman Charters. You’ll explore the little bays and beaches, go for a swim, have a paddle in a kayak and enjoy local food and wine in style!
When is the best time to visit the Abel Tasman National Park?
Given that the region is one of the warmest and sunniest in New Zealand, you can visit throughout the year. There will be less services in winter, but you’ll probably have a beach to yourself!
How long do I stay in the Abel Tasman region?
I’d recommend at least two nights – three even better! Apart from the Abel Tasman National Park, this area is a classic New Zealand lifestyle destination with lots of stunning wines (including tasting tours), local arts and crafts and other nature and wildlife excursions such as the Golden Bay and Cape Farewell (see previous blog).
You can easily connect the Nelson-Tasman region with a domestic flight from the North Island or other parts of the South Island. For travellers who want to “chill” during their New Zealand holiday, the Abel Tasman region is the perfect spot!
If you’re driving into Reefton from Greymouth, try not to choose the first café you see. Go further down the main road to “The Broadway Tearooms”. Don’t be put off by the word “Tearooms” - you won’t get weak coffee, greasy chips and stodgy pies here! We had excellent coffee, simple great tasting home-baked food and friendly service. The ‘local’ vibe is fantastic…
….this place has a ‘old world’ feel about it with rows of beautiful glass lolly (candy) jars behind the counter and windowsills lined with ornate handmade tea cosies. (Nothing nostalgic about the coffee machine though – state-of-the-art.).
Recently, after finishing our coffee here, we headed across the road to the Bearded Miners Co Ltd and the Miners Hut. You might be forgiven for thinking these guys have come straight out of one of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films, but there’s nothing fake here folks, so no pulling those magnificent beards! These bushmen are walking history books,they know their ancestry and they love to chat about the region:
There’s a certain dignity in having lived a hard life and let’s be honest, these ‘national treasures’ have lived life hard. (A miner’s life is only lucrative for a selected few.) We could smell the coal smoke on their clothes and certain…unidentified beverages. But the knowledge these guys have and the stories they’re passing down to future generations, is priceless.
The replica 1870′s Mining Hut you see in the background of the above photo, is made of cedar slabs and packed with memorabilia, complete with a resident possum clutching a can of beer and a cheerful fire burning in the hearth:
…the men are happy to pose for photos..
..but I think the most photogenic of them all, is Max, the resident dog. Little Max also has a world-weary look about him; a survivor with his own story.