New Zealand Road Trip – Wānaka, Queenstown & Milford Sounds (Part V)

So far we’ve been spoilt by New Zealand’s natural beauty and it honestly just keeps getting better and better as you’re about to find out in this penultimate blog post.

Last time, we enjoyed a boat cruise in Abel Tasman National Park, went on some amazing hikes in Punakaiki, Paparoa National Park and Hokitika before checking out the stunning Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.

To read more about our first week in the South Island, click this link.

Day 26 – Blue Pools Track – Mount Aspiring National Park

The 3hr 30 minute journey from Fox Glacier to Wānaka via the 87-mile Haast Pass in the Southern Alps is one of the most scenic drives I have ever been on.

I found myself constantly craning my neck to try and take in all of the breathtaking views of the snow-topped mountains, tumbling rivers and undulating forests right before my eyes.

Along the way, we stopped in Mount Aspiring National Park (part of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Te Wahipounamu) to hike the 3.2 km out-and-back Blue Pools Track. The glacier water flowing into the Makarora River was so clear.

We got the ‘Insta’ shot from the swing bridge and then went down by the waters edge. People regularly swim here (probably in warmer months), but we were crazy enough to take our own dip.

When I say ‘we’, I mean I launched myself in whereas Emily chickened out as soon as the water touched her toes. Watch the GoPro footage below for proof!

The shock of the cold water was similar to when we jumped into a Glacier pool in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. (Click here if you’d like to read more about that).

I realised as soon as my body hit the water that there was no way that I could go for a swim. It was absolutely freezing!

I didn’t think the drive could get anymore picturesque when we left, but I was wrong. With the sun starting to set over the mountains, we drove alongside the stunning wind-whipped Lake Hāwea and Lake Wānaka.

In hindsight, I wish we ‘wild-camped’ here for the night. My camera doesn’t do any justice to just how scenic it was.

Day 27 – Exploring Wānaka and Arrowtown

Wānaka is a skiing resort town set against a backdrop of the snowcapped Southern Alps and is most famous for its namesake lake.

This morning, we walked down to Lake Wānaka – (the 4th largest in New Zealand) to snap a picture of a willow tree, yes you read that right.

The tree grows out of the lake itself and is thought to be at least 80 years old. It even has its own Facebook page and Instagram trending hashtag – #ThatWanakaTree.

There wasn’t much else to see or do, so we quickly got back on the road and headed for Arrowtown – a historic gold mining town 12 miles from Queenstown.

We messed up, we think…

When we first picked up our camper van, Britz handed us a leaflet with five roads that we were unable to drive on, which we had taken onboard but ultimately forgotten about.

It was only when Norman notified us on the dash screen that we had incurred a $300 fine for driving on one of these named roads that we both simultaneously shouted “oh shit” and immediately turned around.

Like always, Google Maps had directed us on the quickest possible route via ‘The Crown Range‘ – the highest road in New Zealand. I’m sure this would have been yet another incredible journey, but we hadn’t realised that we couldn’t drive over it. We’ll have to wait and see if we’re actually charged or not.

We arrived in Arrowtown a couple of hours later than we expected because we had to do a rather large detour.

It didn’t take us long to amble around the two parallel streets here because unfortunately, ‘The Winery‘ we wanted to visit was shut as we were passing through on a Sunday. Here you can taste over 80 of New Zealand’s best wines and pour your own from taster sizes to large glasses.

However, if you’re interested in the gold mining history, you can pan for gold in the Arrow River or always visit the museum.

For the next three nights, we stayed at Driftaway – ‘New Zealand’s Newest Holiday Park‘ – overlooking Lake Wakatipu in Frankton just a few miles from Queenstown. This is by far the best campground view we’ve had from Norman!

Day 28 – Day trip to Milford Sounds in Fiordland National Park

This fiord in the southwest of the South Island is a must-see. The most popular way of visiting this spectacular natural attraction is by cruising along the UNESCO-listed Milford Sound / Piopiotahi in Fiordland National Park.

Using TripAdvisor, we booked onto a small group 13-hour premium tour with a company called ‘Cheeky Kiwi Travel‘ costing $259/£135 p/p. The selling point for us was it included several stops along the way in the national park.

By the way, the sunrise today was out of this world. I’ve never seen the sky look so red in my life.

Our tour guide, Sinchan took us to Lake Te Anau, Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes and Pops View Look Out, as well as taking us on bush walk to Lake Gunn.

Eventually, after a five-hour drive from Queenstown, we arrived at the port and set off on the two-hour cruise on Milford Sound. The ‘postcard picture’ of Mitre Peak – a mountain with a steep peak rising high above the water came almost as soon as we left the dock.

Along the way we also saw Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls, Stirling Falls and fur seals basking on the rocks.

Some of the other members opted to catch a helicopter flight back to Queenstown from Milford Sound for an additional $208/£109 p/p, which I’m sure would have been a spectacular experience.

Once back, everyone who had travelled the five hours back to Queenstown in the mini bus went to Smiths Craft Beer House to enjoy a much-needed pint and a bite to eat.

It was a long day after a 05:30 AM wake up call, but it was one that I will always remember.

Day 29 – Queenstown’s Shotover Jet, Gondola and Luge

Queenstown is a popular skiing destination for those taking to the nearby slopes of Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. It’s also a popular destination for bungee jumping, paragliding, parasailing and skydiving – all of the extreme adrenaline junkie activities you could wish for in one place!

On the other hand, if being a daredevil isn’t for you, you could unwind at the luxurious Onsen Hot Pools, take a cruise across Lake Wakatipu, put your wine tastebuds to the test or try Fergburger – voted as one of the best burger joints in the world.

In the end, we decided to go for a bit of a mix. Sky diving is definitely on my bucket list, but I’m saving that for Australia.

To kickstart another busy day, we got our heart beats racing by going on the Shotover Jet, which goes through Canyons at up to 85 km/h costing $139/£72.50 p/p.

We weren’t able to take any videos whilst actually on the $500,000 two V8 engined speed boat, so you’ll have to take my word that we had a great time.

Afterwards, we found a suitable place to park Norman, had a wander around the town and then eat at a chocolatier called Patagonia Chocolates.

In hindsight, we should have tried Fergburger or at least chosen a cheaper place to eat, as our two double scooped ice-creams and two smoothies came to $45/£23.50. To be fair, the strawberry sorbet was bloody good.

We then went on the Skyline Queenstown gondola, which is the Southern Hemisphere’s steepest cable car up to the 450 metre high lookout point for amazing panoramic views over the town. We paid $67/£35 p/p for this and for three Luge rides.

There was also the option of doing a tandem paraglide for $249/£130 p/p from the top. I’ve always wanted to do this and it was a perfect day to do so because there was no wind, but in the end I decided against it.

Instead, we took on the 1600+ metres of corners, slopes and tunnels and raced each other on the Luge. I am very, very competitive person and hate losing. I guess you could call me a sore loser when I do.

I’m glad we had another two goes as Emily won the first race. I caught her up on the inside, but she didn’t give me the racing room to pass. Lewis Hamilton would not have been happy! You can watch the full race from Em’s perspective below.

I won the second race, which meant the bragging rights came down to the last.

I had a healthy lead going into the final corner, but ended up losing control and flying out of the cart because I got overconfident by looking over my shoulder to see how far behind Em was. In the end we called it a draw. Watch me go flying below.

I hobbled around for the next couple of days after bruising my right thigh and left calf quite badly.

Day 30 > 32 – Bluff, Curio Bay, Dunedin and The Catalins

I’ll summarise our next few days because everything can be easily described through pictures (and from my point of view, it wasn’t overly interesting or exciting)!

After an amazing time in Queenstown, we made a pit-stop in Bluff – the southernmost town in New Zealand where we got a picture with a signpost.

The next day we checked out the 175 million-year-old Petrified Forest in Curio Bay and then drove to the Purakaunui Falls on the way to Dunedin through the Catalins where we climbed up the official Guinness World Records steepest street in the world with a gradient of 1 in 2.86.

Most recently, we hiked the 1.1 mile paved track down to Tunnel Beach, checked out Moeraki Boulders Beach and stopped by in Oamaru on our way back inland to the highest point in New Zealand – Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.

In my next blog post, we’ll hike the 6.6 mile Hooker Valley Track to Hooker Lake and then stay with Emily’s family in Christchurch for a week in what will be our final destination of our epic New Zealand Road Trip.

We’ve got a lot already planned here, including taking a day trip on the TranzAlpine – one of the world’s greatest train journeys from Christchurch to Greymouth.

As always, if you’d like to keep up-to-date, you can enter your email to receive notifications of blog updates at the bottom of this article; follow my blog by clicking the link, or drop me a follow on Twitter at @AlecW95 or on Instagram at @AlecW95 or @alatw95.

Alternatively, you can follow Emily on her travelling TikTok account at @emstraveladventure.

Thanks for stopping by, until the next time…

Al

Published by alatw95

26 | Freelance Journalist | Travelling the World 🌏

2 thoughts on “New Zealand Road Trip – Wānaka, Queenstown & Milford Sounds (Part V)

Leave a Reply