New Zealand Travel Blog

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Started this morning at 3.3am after an early night – last night it started to rain and the sound of the pounding surf and rattle of rain on the roof of the van helped me to one of the best night’s sleep I have had in a long time. Woke up early (I guess I am still jet-lagged) so I decided to head out early. The destination was Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers. The drive was great – in an already traffic lite New Zealand early morning meant that I drove for 2 hours and passed not a single car. As light started to creep in I found myself driving along gorgeous mist/cloud hung lakes and stopped for a coffee and some snaps. In the early morning the early morning the water was totally still on the smaller ones and I got some good reflective shots.


I got to Franz Joseph glacier at about 8.30am and walked up towards it. I followed the path until it reached the wash out – a vast valley filled with smoothed boulders and a fast flowing torrent. The glacier itself is currently growing but generally it is in decline. I had to walk about 2 miles up river to find the ice itself but what a walk. The mist and rain started to drift in and I walked behind a tour group, seeing them in the distance gave some clue as to the size of the ice-wall – it was astonishing. Also astonishing was the sound made by the melt-water river as it hurled boulders with car smashing force along the river. It sounded like the river groaning. Amazing.


I managed to get right up next to the towering ice and felt very intimidated – if it were to break and fall at that moment I would be crushed with out a trace.


I took some quick shots and even saw some people climbing the ice-wall, then retreated back to my van. I then drove on to Fox Glacier (named after foxes glacier mints (humour) ) but decided not to climb up to it. Instead I did a recognisance of Mattheson Lake which is reputed to be the most photographed lake in NZ. It give mirror image shots of Mount Cook (the highest mountain in NZ) but the best time to get there is early in the morning and so I just wanted to make sure I knew where I was going and what I was going to do. I took some shots but only saw the very top of the snow clad mountain peaking from behind the rain clouds. I have it on good authority that tomorrow is going to be very clear and still…so fingers crossed.

This afternoon I am washing my smalls and having a rest (with some beers).



Day 4


A 6 am start this morning and when I woke up it was freezing in the van. This was a good sign as it meant no clouds. I got dressed and had last nights sausages for breakfast, washed and then headed straight back to Matthesons lake for my photo call. It was pitch black when I got there so I am pleased I did a reconnaissance the day before and using my cell phone as a torch I made my way back around the lake to where I had been. As I made my way along the dark, tree shrouded path I noticed that the way was lit by thousands of glow worms – it was stunning and I was the only one there to enjoy it. Even being careful I managed to slip once and grazed my knee. I set up the camera and took a few star shots.

Then as the sun came up I managed to get a few good shots of Mt Cook in the back ground reflected by the lake – stunning.


Then I hit the road south – taking pics all the way as I saw amazing coastline and gorgeous crystal clear lakes. There were some places that I thought I might camp at until I got out of the van, at which point my own personal cloud of midges descended and tried to eat me. Point to note, buy insect repellent! The sun was with me most of the way and it was only as I arrived in Queenstown that the clouds came in. During the journey I saw an area that must have been filmed for the Rohan section of Lord of the Rings and took the alpine road over to Queenstown and at one point was actually above the clouds than now surround me.


Plan for tomorrow is to make it (if possible) to Milford Sound…fingers crossed



Queenstown to Milford Sound


So I started out at 6am under a very leaden sky and within a few minutes of leaving Queenstown it was raining. A sullen drizzle which fell from a slate grey sky. Wall to wall cloud obscured the vista but I guess this was just as well. The only redeeming feature about the road between Queenstown and Te Anau was the name of the region, North Southland (I suspect I shall regret those words on the way back but I just could not see anything).

The less said about this 2 hour stretch of road the better. However, as I approached Te Anau the skies began to clear and the sun came out. I filled up the camper as it was the last fuel for 240 km (round trip to Milford Sound) and headed out. Immediately the views got better, calm lakes and golden mists hung tree lines. The ground rose steadily up and soon I was in mountainous country. The region is significant for its wide open flood plains. I kept stopping to take photographs and admire the views so it took me a while to get into Fjords Land proper, but once I did then wow.


The mountains became staggering in their immensity, great snow capped teeth. I had to slow down just to take in the views. Around every twist of the road a new vision of might and majesty. The mountains are with out a doubt the most impressive I have ever seen, and I have seen a few.

Everyone who has the means to do so must get here. It is in the middle of nowhere and a long way to travel but it is a must see.

If anyone is feeling a little self important then simply drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound and all that will end.


My camera, my words and my enthusiasm simply does not do the drive justice. You must, must, must see this. And then one gets to the Sound itself. Milford Sound is misnamed, it is actually a Fjord but the first European explorers to visit did not know the difference and the name stuck. I booked onto a ship to cruise the sound and was treated to a spectacular I shall never forget. Just when you think the drive there can’t be topped then you see the Sound. The size alone takes your breath away.


I boarded a smallish sightseeing ferry and we headed out into the sound, past spectacular falls and huge rising mountainsides.

The sheer scale dwarves anything. The cruise took 2 hours, that just flew by. Out into the Tasman sea where albatross waited to greet us and then back in. At one stage we went beneath one of the waterfalls and were treated to a very cold shower, it was wonderful


This is without a doubt the most truly spectacular thing I have ever seen in my life and has had a profound effect on the way I see myself.  So much of what I thought about myself, about what was important, about my plans for the future fade into insignificance due to what I have seen today.


Seriously, if you have two weeks to spare and a thousand pounds that you were going to spend on a fortnight laying on some overcrowded and grubby beach then my advice is don’t waste your life like that.

You simply must see Milford Sound and you must drive here, forget about flying.


I have skydived in the Canadian Rookies, I have been into one of the Great Pyramids, I have spent nights as a Bedouin in the desert, I have visited the great tombs of Petra and have been very fortunate in my life to have done these and many other wonderful things , what I did today tops all of that, easily.


You must, must, must come.


Milford Sound to Mount Cook


That evening I struck up a friendship with a pair of cyclists who were travelling home from the UK where they had been working to Poland by a roundabout route.

They had cycled down into Milford Sound and it had taken two days from Te Anau and they were not keen to cycle back as they were unsure of just how long it would take and it is staggeringly cold in the mountain passes at night. I offered them a lift to Te Anau or further if they were going that way and they happily accepted. At dawn we met at the Sound where I took some pictures of the sun striking the top of Mitre Peak (so called because it looks like a mitre) and then we were off. It took just two hours to cover the distance to Te Anau but I learnt a great deal about the travels of Magda and Michael. A nice couple and I wish them well.


From there I drove back to Queenstown (and was happily proved wrong about my impression of the route in just the day before, it was stunning under a powder blue sky).


I drove from there to Mount Cook via the towns of Cromwell, Omarama and Twizel. The roads are twisting with spectacular views around each corner. The scenery shifts from Alpine mountains to rugged rounded hills to massive river valleys and thus to a lake dominated glacial valley that is the Mount Cook national park. I got there just before sunset and took some pictures and then booked into the lovely Glentanner Park lodge. Had a nice dinner with some other travellers by a log fire and then headed out under a glowing full moon to take some star shots of the mountain range. Sadly the moon was so bright that the shots were not that spectacular but they were passable.



Mount Cook to Hanmer Springs


It is just as well that I took pictures on my arrival as dawn was a freezing mist shrouded one with no sign of the mountains. I took my leave and drove from Mount Cook past Lake Tekapo to the town of Geraldine where I needed to choose between the scenic route to Christchurch or the faster one. I opted for a faster one as my plan was to get to the famous Hamner Spring. The drive was uneventful and the landscape an almost dull flat that reminds one of Holland. Christchurch was horrid as the signage simply does not account for the traveller who may actually just wish to pass through.

After much backtracking and shouting I managed to escape the clutches of Christchurch and was back in the countryside. Driving up long (and I really mean long) straight roads and have just arrived in Tanmer Springs where I intend to (in the manner of good King George) take the waters.


Tanmer to Picton


Well, with the waters well and truly taken I headed off towards Kaikoura. The drive this morning was slightly later in the day, about 7am, as I needed to give the roads a bit of time to defrost. There is some very cold weather on its way to the South Island so I am heading North.

My plan for the day was to get some whale watching done and perhaps see some of the seals that dot the upper east coast of South Island. Arriving in good time at Kaikoura I spotted some seals basking on the rocks and spent an enchanting 30 minutes creeping around these huge but docile creatures, well that is docile unless one gets too close and I was treated to a demonstration of this as a particularly large and boisterous lady ventured a bit too close and then had to scramble for her life as one of the seals chased her down. Sadly she did get away and the seal went back to its important basking, shame. With the eastern mountains forming an impressive backdrop to the bay at Kaikoura this was a most relaxing and enjoyable experience. Having sated myself thusly I girded myself for a cruise out to see the humpback whales that are year round residents of the area only to find that there was only one boat going out and it was fully booked.
Disappointed I struck out north heading for Picton and a ferry out of South Island. The drive from Kaikoura to Picton is picturesque to say the least (although not in anyway near as grand as the west coast) and there are plenty of vistas worth taking in. With the sun high one is treated to sweeping bays with crashing surf, spraying onto coastal woodland which clothes the lower slopes of high hills which are in turn backed up, almost as if by a protective big brother, by alpine mountains a few kilometres away. Seals bask on rocky outcrops and the narrow gauge railway keeps one company as you sweep up the coast and finally inland toward Blenheim. Trundle through a quite bustling area of vines and towns and then finally one reaches Picton. Despite being 4 days early the good people of the Interislander Ferry Company allowed me to board the next ferry and I sat and composed my impression of the famed South Island.



And so here I sit thinking about the last week. From my arrival at Picton, driving thusly; Picton to Greymouth, a journey of wide open river valleys where grape vines bathe in the sun, producing the wonderful New Zealand wines that grace many of the supermarket shelves of the UK at a price that makes the French suspect that there is a pipeline through the center of the earth as it is so low, to the first inklings of the sort of mountains that one will see in the rest of the country. Next was Greymouth to Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers, a reminder that coast is as stunning as mountains but that both together is a wonderful experience. Franz Joseph, although shrouded in low cloud gave a demonstration of the power of ice but also of the power of man as the glacier is in overall retreat thanks to global warming, which is being accelerated by our activities (such as driving around in a campervan to see the shrinking glaciers, ironic).

From the glaciers to Queenstown was a drive that took in stunningly still lakes, crashing surf and quiet and beautiful lower alpine mountains, drives along wide and deep lakes and of course one must not forget the biting flies that are in abundance there (I fear for them as without me to dine on they may very well be endangered by now).

From Queenstown to Milford Sound I shall not forget the impression the building landscapes had on my sense of insignificance in the face of nature. Even now, days later, I am in awe of the surroundings in the south west of south island. The Sound itself a colossus of mountains rising directly from the still waters of the Sound to peaks of around a mile high, ships seemingly pea like in relation to the walls they cruise along. From Milford Sound to Mount Cook a long drive but saving the lovely Magda and Michael a two day cycle (at least) uphill to Te Anau but then the drive back past Queenstown and up into the centre of the island.

A rapidly altering landscape of low red tussock covered hills, sweeping mountainsides, crystal clear lakes and then finally the awesome expanse of the Cook Glacial valley, broad and empty with a cooling wind running down from the wall that is Mount Cook and neighbours. The freezingly cold but clear night that allowed me to take a stunning image of the mountains. Mount Cook to Tanmer Springs with the long straight drive to Christchurch, floundering around in the low rise sprawl complete with a lack of decent signage, seeing too much of the city before finally bursting from its embrace back into the mountainous country around Tanmer Springs. Wallowing in sulphurous 41 degree waters for four hours and emerging into the frigid air, escaping the attentions of an amorous and not unattractive but neglected wife (not mine) and feeling totally relaxed.
Then the leisurely drive from Tanmer Springs to Picton via the seals at Kaikoura with the charming and sometimes breathtaking coastal mountain road.


South Island delivered all my minds eye had promised it, indeed in certain areas had exceeded it. I shall forever wonder at the scale of Milford Sound and the kindness and openness of the people of South Island. I would happily admit to being in love with the place. But of course, as with every love there are the good points and the bad points.


South Island:


Bless you for open and clear roads

Damn you for lack of signage

Bless you for amazing scenery

Damn you for 30km speed limits in empty towns

Bless you for so many stopping places along your highways

Damn you for lack of decent internet connections

Bless you for cheap accommodation

Damn you for being so far from my home 

Bless you for Tui Beer

Damn you for …erm…erm

Bless you for friendly natives

Bless you for helpful police officers

Bless you for wildlife protection that does not impede the enjoyment of the outside

Oh yes, damn you for the All Blacks!


I have left South island a little earlier than I had planned as the forecast is for a very cold spell moving into the Island and so I intend t take a slow drive back to Auckland via Rotorua where I hope to enjoy the thermal springs and see some of the seismic landscape that I didn’t really see the last time.

I also need to finish off all the Tui Beer in my fridge and the bottle of wine that I bought and this will call for a lot less driving… so a few more entries still to come I suspect.


South Island farewell, but not for the last time I am sure!

TRE69 says:
Fun blog! Fabulous pics! What kind of camera do you use? I am pondering whether or not to by a DSLR for my upcoming trip to NZ in late Sept/mid Oct? Any suggestions for a beginning photographer?
Posted on: Jun 11, 2009
cmgervais says:
Great blog, fantastic photos!
I went to Milford Sound via helicopter...sounds like I missed a really nice road trip!:^) No regrets though, it was phenomenal by air too!
Posted on: Jun 30, 2008
sylviandavid says:
Your pictures are outstanding! Your blog was both fun and educational. sylvia
Posted on: Jun 26, 2008
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