New Zealand’s West Coast

Fox Glacier

Located on the West Coast of the South Island, Fox Glacier is one of two famous attractions in the region known as Glacier Country.Fox is the name of both the glacier itself and the local village. While the glacier itself is the lesser known of the two in the region, it is definitely worth the visit. For a price, you are able to fly by helicopter and land on top of the glacier in order to explore its ice caves. Sadly on the day that we visited, the weather was too unclear to fly safely and all flights were suspended. The trail to view the glacier itself is short, but the scenery is stunning, particularly on a misty day. Be sure to bring a raincoat if visiting the West Coast, because you are guaranteed to experience plenty of it.

http://www.glaciercountry.co.nz/

 

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef, just like Fox, is the name of both the glacier itself and the neighboring village.To reach the glacier viewing point, a longer hike is required than that of fox glacier. The trail itself is absolutely stunning and gives you a clear view of the edge of the glacier. If you decide to stay in the Franz Josef village, I highly recommend Sir Cedrics Chateau Franz for accommodation, they’re a great backpackers located right in the middle of the village center. If you need evening entertainment, I suggest visiting Snakebite Brewery, they’re located on the main street of the village and have some of the best craft beers that I’ve had the pleasure of trying, along with the single best cider I have ever had, Cobra Berry Cider.

http://sircedrics.co.nz/hostels-franz-josef/chateau-franz/

http://www.snakebite.co.nz/

 

Blue Pools

The Blue Pools are very easy to miss while driving to the two glacier villages. There is a small roadside stop that is located part way between Wanaka and Fox Glacier that is definitely worth keeping an eye out for. There is a short forest walk that arrives at a fork in a bright blue river with some stunning scenery.

http://www.newzealand.com/us/article/blue-pool-track/

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Rob Roy Glacier Track/ Mount Aspiring National Park

The Rob Roy Glacier Track, located in Mount Aspiring National Park is one of New Zealand’s lesser known attractions. This trail is located a short drive from Wanaka, accessed by gravel road. This trail can be done in one of two ways, one can hike to the glacier in a matter of about two hours and then return, or they can hike the full trail, staying in huts along the way. The hike begins in a valley, crosses a few rivers and ends in the mountains, where the glacier and countless waterfalls are located. You will witness some incredible panoramic views at the glacier site. Being a short beginner hike, I highly recommend at least attempting the glacier segment.

http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/otago/places/mount-aspiring-national-park/

Milford Sound/Fiordland

Milford Sound is New Zealand’s number one tourist attraction and has consistently ranked as one of the world’s top tourist attractions. With some of the world’s greatest scenery and completely untouched landscape, it is easy to see why. The entire state of Fiordland is a national park, meaning that for the entire drive, once leaving Southland, you will not see any towns or houses along the drive. This adds to the beauty of the entire region, how natural and untouched it all really is. The only buildings that you will come across are actually in the sound itself, which include the ferry station, underwater research center, airport and staff living quarters. As far as cruises go, I would recommend using Cruise Milford, as their tours only cost $90 and include lunch. We paid an additional cost to include the underwater research center which is definitely worth the cost. If you would like to see a rare breed of coral (called black coral, despite seeming white), that normally grows in the deep see, but is tricked into growing in Milford Sound due to sediment runoff, then definitely pay the additional fee. Make sure to stop often along the drive to the sound, as there are countless photo spots and small sights worth seeing. Watch out for Kia along the journey, they are a highly intelligent mountain parrot, only found in New Zealand and are also part of the unique experience.

http://www.cruisemilfordnz.com/

Queenstown

Queenstown is in many ways, New Zealand’s number one tourist destination. The town is located between picturesque mountain ranges and a stunning lakefront with crystal clear water. The town is the capital of everything adventure, from sky-diving to bungy jumping, luging, paragliding, water skiing, BMX racing, you name it, it has it. In addition to outdoor activities, the town has some of the best food in New Zealand, with everything from gourmet burgers to fine dining. If you’re ever in town, make a point of it to visit Fergburger for one of the best burgers you will have in your life, but make sure to beat the lines for dinner and lunch or wait up to an hour to eat. If you want to fully enjoy the scenery, then either hike or take the gondola up to the Skyline building above the city. From this building, you will get an amazing view of the city in almost all directions. Also located in the Skyline are amazing jellybean pictures, including one of Frodo from LOTR. If Lord of the Rings is your thing, then make sure to head to the movie themed jewelry store located in the center of town. At night the city is full of fantastic bars and clubs, packed with people from around the world, if you’re looking to meet people then I recommend doing one of the pub crawls hosted by the numerous backpacking lodges in the city. For accommodation purposes, I would recommend using Nomads as it is an amazing hostel, affordable, friendly, clean and located right in the city center. For other evening activities, remember that drinking in public is legal in New Zealand and join countless others for a drink on the lakefront as the sun goes down, which is around 10pm in summer. If you’re interested in thrill rides or arcades, then make sure to visit the 4D interactive cinema called Dark Ride, it’s a great experience. For breakfast,I highly, HIGHLY recommend visiting Bob’s Weigh, for a meal that you will struggle to finish, but force yourself to, because it’s so damn good. Also when out at night, keep an eye out for the famous balloon man, who is always out at local pubs in the town making balloon animals until all hours of the night while intoxicated.

http://www.fergburger.com/fullscreen.html

http://www.skyline.co.nz/queenstown/

http://darkridequeenstown.co.nz/

 

Nearby Attractions

Not far from Queenstown are numerous river filled gorges and valleys. Many of these rivers have begun to be used by tourism companies to run speed/jet boating tours. If you are able to, make sure to give this a try, it is absolutely awesome. Even if you aren’t the biggest thrill seeker, at least try this. I recommend using Skippers Canyon Jet Boating if you are on a budget, but if you have more to spend, then use Shotover Jet. The scenery in the surrounding areas is worth seeing, even if just driving through the area on the way to another destination. If you have a few free hours, make your way to Arrowtown, this small historic town is absolutely stunning. Once an old mining town, it houses an historic Chinese mountain village and is home to a ridiculous number of beautiful trees.

http://www.skipperscanyonjet.co.nz/

http://www.shotoverjet.com

Stewart Island/Rakiura Track

For those who are unfamiliar with Stewart Island, it is technically the third major island of New Zealand, located south of the South Island. The island is essentially a nature reserve, with a single village located on the island, called Oban, with only 300 or so permanent residents. In off season (when we decided to visit), the village relies essentially just on fishing as a source of income, bit in peak season, makes its money from hikers and tourists. If you decide to visit the village in off season, you may experience what we did, in that the entire town will be at the village’s only pub and you and one other group of hikers will be the only outsiders on the entire island. You may also be able to join the locals in celebrating Gary’s birthday as we did. If you see signs throughout the town with the word “rocks” written on them and are curious, ask one of the locals to explain the back story behind them to you, it’s fantastic and I won’t ruin the surprise for you. To get to the island, you will have to make your way to Bluff Ferry Terminal at the very bottom of the South Island and then take the 1-2 trip to the island. There is a friendly backpacking lodge in the center of town if you are looking for accommodation. The trail itself is not overly hard but can get a tad tedious on the second day due to being completely under forest cover with no point of reference as to where you are. There are two huts on the three-day trail which we chose to do. The first will have you stay on a beachfront area which is quite nice, but completely covered in sandfly’s so bring repellant. The second cabin was by far my favourite and has you stay on an inlet. Once the tide goes out, I highly recommend that you go down to the rocks and harvest a few bags of fresh oysters to cook on the cabin fireplace or over a burner. They are absolutely amazing and unbelievably fresh as you harvested them yourself. If you ever make it to the area, the track is worth doing and gives you an unusual feeling of remoteness and isolation, putting you more in touch with the nature of the island itself.

http://www.doc.govt.nz/rakiuratrack

 

Kepler Track

The Keplar track is located just outside of Te Anau, near the border of Southland and Fiordland. The track begins in Southland and trails right into Fiordland, taking roughly four days to complete. There are three cabins located on the trail, one in the mountains, one in a secluded, forested valley and one on the Lake Manapouri waterfront. On this trail, hikers will experience a wide range of different scenery. This ranges from mountainous tundra to lush fern forests, to lakeside beaches, to mountainous hardwood forests. The track includes stunning views of the surrounding valleys and mountains. When staying in the huts, you will meet a variety of interesting people from around the world who have come to New Zealand to enjoy the country’s stunning scenery and challenging hikes. While in the huts, I encourage you to interact with the hut wardens and forest rangers as they normally have fantastic stories or very eccentric personalities. The warden we had in our first hut was a middle-aged man with an impressive beard, who wore green spandex tights and crocs and kept a taxidermied stoat in his pocket. Our ranger at the second hut had some fantastic stories regarding hikers she witnessed, including a Chinese businessman who completed the entire hike using a travel luggage suitcase. Also, two men from Italy who wore singlets/tanktops and flip flops/thongs and carried their gear in plastic shopping bags the entire hike, packing mostly beer and jerky. Another hiker apparently didn’t realise that the hut water, along with rivers in the national park were safe to drink from and so carried around 10L of water through the mountains. We had fantastic weather on our hike, apart from the second day, during which we had to traverse the mountains during a snow storm. So, if you plan to complete this hike during the winter or autumn, make sure to pack warm clothes to account for possible bad weather, even if it seems mostly sunny.

http://www.doc.govt.nz/keplertrack

Surrounding Attractions

Otago Peninsula

Otago Peninsula is full of tourist attractions, native wildlife, and stunning scenery. Amongst the attractions you will find, the only genuine castle in the region (which I sadly never made it to), an albatross center, historic gardens and beaches covered in seals and penguins. The albatross center is definitely worth the drive and is located at the very end of the peninsula. Located there are also historic disappearing cannons which are hidden below the ground and can be toured.

Pineapple Track

The Pineapple Track is a fantastic hiking trail running from just outside of the city and along the city’s skyline. The trail gives a fantastic view of the city itself and the coastline on one side and the alps on the other side. The trail is easy difficulty and only takes a few hours to complete.

Tunnel Beach

Located just outside of Dunedin, Tunnel Beach is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon, with amazing coastal views and highly unusual rock structures. A historic tunnel carved through a cliffside was once used by smugglers to bring goods up from boats.

Organ Pipes Track

Another track located just outside of the city, with fantastic views. The trail only takes around two hours both ways and gives an amazing 360 degree view of the surrounding area.

Silver Peaks Trail

A short drive outside of the city marks the beggining of the trail. While it is doable in a single day, I recommend taking two days and spending the night in the cabin located on the trail. While one part of the trail can be quite difficult due to its steepness, the rest is quite manageable.