After a long relaxing stay in Franz Josef, it was time to get back on our trusty green bus and thankfully with a new driver and a few friendly faces that we’d met on the north island. Today’s destination is Wanaka but it’s so much more about the journey! One of the most beautiful scenic drives EVER. You really see it all in this small section of the journey, the ocean, rainforest, mountains, lakes and luckily we had a beautiful day for it so everything was sparkling blue, white and green. We made several photo stops, each one more beautiful than the last.
In the morning we had an hour stop at lake Matheson, and while Guy our driver insisted we only had time for the short walk, we all decided that we could walk super fast and fit in the longer walk. It was unexpectedly tiring but the views of fox glacier and the mountains in the reflective lake were so worth it!
We also made a quick pit stop at the famous Thunder Creek waterfall, famous simply for the obligatory photo that everyone gets of themselves ‘drinking’ the fall. Then with the scenery getting even better the closer we got to Wanaka and staring out the window, chin to the floor, we finally made a stop to take some pictures of lake Wanaka and lake Hawea. Both incredibly beautiful (someone buy me a thesaurus, I’m running out of words!!) and the photos don’t even do it justice no matter how many I took!
Eventually we arrived at our hostel in Wanaka early afternoon. We’d originally hoped to stay an extra night here so we could rent some bikes and really explore but the bus timetable didn’t really allow and we are running out of days. That being the case, we were straight out once dropping our bags and headed through the small town to the lake and to ‘That Wanaka Tree’. Yes, that is the trees name, so called as it has to be one of the most photographed trees in the world, I swear it appears on my Instagram feed most days. After trying to get the best angle possible and realising that it had more leaves than I thought it would, it was back to the town for a beer. It’s such a cute town and set amongst such beautiful scenery. It’s overshadowed by its neighbour Queenstown which is such a shame! Although hypocritically, we had an early night to prepare for our five nights in Queenstown.
After Abel Tasman we had a couple of flat days where we didn’t do huge amounts apart from sit on a bus and stop for the occasional photo. We stop in fairly random towns for the night and find yourself drinking just for something to do! One of these nights is pretty famous on the Kiwi Experience as we stop in the middle of nowhere and every night is a fancy dress party! With bungee jumps and canyon swings for prizes we took this very seriously and went to town on our outfits! (Spoiler alert: we didn’t win and I still feel cheated)
After a couple days we arrived in the place we’d been really looking forward to Franz Josef! Most people only allow two nights here, but fed up of the bus we decided to mix it up and stay four. For our first full day we were extremely happy to wake up to the sun as we were off to hike on the glacier and it’s known to be cancelled for just the smallest amount of wind or rain. $360 later and fashioning some warm gear and boots we were off for a five minute helicopter ride on to the glacier. It was my first helicopter experience and to say I don’t like flying, I highly enjoyed it, with some great views of the rainforest and the glacier! Once on the ice, our guide Nathan lead us on a three hour hike through the glacier including many tight tunnels and caves, carving the way with his axe. Once we’d finished and I’d taken an average of one and a half pictures a minute, it was back down on the helicopter. I can’t even begin to explain how amazing this day was. It’s incredibly surreal walking on the glacier and is the most incredibly beautiful sight! Probably the best day of our trip so far and worth every penny! We also felt incredibly lucky that the trip went ahead as the afternoon trips were all cancelled and for the next couple days.
After a big lunch and a nap, we headed to the glacier hot pools that were included in our price for a relax and a girly gossip in 40 degree pools.
The next day, as most of our friends boarded the bus, we were happy for another couple days to rest and explore. Franz Josef is a tiny town but it’s so cute! Despite rain on our second full day, we headed for one of the many free walks in the area. We took a very hilly track that lead us to a very blue river. Being the adventurers we are, we decided that rather than walk back the way we’d came as the walk dictated, we thought we could find a shortcut across the river to the main road. Not the most sensible idea as we found ourselves clambering across loose rocks next to the fast flowing river. Eventually we found our way to the main road! At this point (and our stupid decisions continuing) we decided instead of going 1km back to town to catch a shuttle bus to the glacier, we would walk the 4km instead. I was beyond cold it was causing me pain and Steph had ripped a hole in her leggings and was bleeding from chafing. It was the longest 4km and no fun at all, I was close to tears! When we finally arrived at the car park and the start point of several walking tracks, we realised that we didn’t have the energy to do anymore walking, making the last 4km of pain completely pointless! We did an easy 15 minute walk to a lake before giving in and deciding to get the 3pm shuttle back to town. 3:15 came and still no bus, and no signal to be able to call it. The rain was really pouring by this point and there was nowhere to shelter. Five minutes after giving up on the bus and starting the 5km walk to the hostel, we realised We couldn’t go on anymore and we’d have to hitchhike. There’s only one road in this place so all the cars that drove past us soaked in the rain were just mean! Finally a French couple pulled up in their camper van and gave us a lift to town. Hallelujah!! Never been so thrilled.
Day three and the rain was still going strong so rather than venture out again, we had a chilled one in the hostel, went for a lovely lunch, did some laundry and went for a cinema day! We came out of the cinema to witness an amazing sunset behind the snowy mountains, a lovely way to end our stay in Franz Josef!
We had an early start today as we were off to the ferry for our journey to the South Island. Bags checked, tickets collected and long wait completed we found some seats in the cafe area and I had a full English before having a little nap for the first hour or so of the journey. Towards the end with just an hour left, we were cruising through the Marlborough Sounds with mountains either side of us. I headed up to the top outside deck and hung around for as long as possible to take it all in, use my new camera to capture to magic and try and spot some dolphins. It was a pretty cloudy, windy, cold day and after 20 minutes I gave in and headed to the comfort and shelter of my seat in the cafe.
We arrived in Picton, collected our bags and were back on the bus for a scenic drive to the town of Kaiteriteri on the edge of Abel Tasman national park. It’s not much of a town but the hostel is pretty nice and we managed a walk on the beach before the sunset. The next day was beautiful and our first real hot sunny day since arriving. Lucky too as today we had a kayak trip booked. Our guide for the day was Blair from Kahu Kayaks. For three hours we kayaked through the national park on the Tasman Sea, following the coast line of a couple islands spotting seals. At first the seals are hard to spot as they’re pretty similar to the rocks they sit on but you soon get used to that and they we could see them all over. They are so adorable and playful with a couple getting very close to come say hi. Our guide soon realised how snap happy Steph and I were as we spent so long with each seal we spotted to get the perfect photo. As we’re pro kayakers though it never took us long to catch up, seriously I think we need to be in the olympics we are so good! After three hours our arms were getting sore so it was the perfect moment to stop for lunch on a small beach. This was the only thing that let the tour down. As you approach this tiny beach, it looks like some tiny private paradise but once you climb the stairs from the beach you realise every tour group comes here and it’s almost too busy to find a spot to sit on and enjoy your sandwich. From here our group split in two, half the group spent another three hours kayaking back to where we started, but three of us donned our walking gear and started the 12km track back. It was a steep climb at the start but the views were insane and it got easier. We timed it perfectly too as we arrived back at the kayak shop at the exact same time as the kayakers. We were very happy we made the decision to do the half kayak, half walk tour. We were recommended the full kayak tour but I’m not sure I could my arms could have done another three hours kayaking! Also the views from the walk were amazing where as the kayakers literally did the same return trip.
Abel Tasman and the seals are simply gorgeous, we had the best day! It definitely helped that it was 24 degrees and sunny too. After a long day, and some achy muscles we treated ourselves to $10 fish and chips (beer included) and a night of laundry!