a VirtualTourist member from Boise
I am trying to plan my New Zealand itinerary for June 2012. I have the first half of the trip planned which starts in Queenstown, detours to Milford Sound, then continues up to Haast. We spend the night in Haast and then plan to see the glaciers. Any help with the following questions, would be much appreciated.
1. We are on somewhat of a budget but still want to see the glaciers. Is it necessary to pay for a guided trip or can you get a similar idea of them by walking as far as you can without a guide?
2. After seeing the glaciers, we have three more days and and two nights left. Our ending destination will be Christchurch. Can anyone give me some highlights of the upper half of the south island? We have a rental car and don't mind driving so long as it is around two hours a day which is what we have averaged every day of the trip to this point. We are mainly interested in seeing the beauty of the island.
Thanks in advance.
You are planning a winter trip? The South Island was cool enough in the spring (November); I don't think June would be particularly pleasant. Milford Sound was very nice (we did the overnight boat trip; it was worth it) and the Queenstown area was stunning. The north end of the South Island was wine country and we enjoyed that part too.
Glaciers; you can't do those by yourself (safety reason) but you can get reasonably close. I can't remember for sure, but we walked towards the Fox Glacier; but with meltwater, etc. you can't get too close. We did not get on it (we had been on a glacier before) and walking on a pile of ice and snow is something we get every winter, and it really isn't all that different.
Christchurch; check into Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World; a giant aquarium with a twist! The National Museum was also very well done.
The glaciers are already an impressive view if you only walk to the terminal faces on your own. To walk ON the glaciers is only possible on guided tours, and doing it on your own would be risking your life as the glaciers change their face and shape every day, access points change, etc. Only a proper glacier walk gives you an idea of how massive they are. If you stand near the terminal face they seem to be much smaller than they are.
Regarding the access walk, particularly the one to Fox Glacier has altered a lot within the past few years. I consider it more dangerous than the walk to Franz Josef Glacier. So if you only want to walk to the terminal face I suggest you choose Franz Josef although it is longer than the walk to Fox. There is also a good viewpoint (10 to 15 min return; Sentinel Walk) at the start of the Franz Josef access walk. The light is better at Franz Josef as well while Fox is in the shade most of the day. The sunset reflecting on the glaciers can be quite impressive.
If you only want to drive two hours daily you will not get very far after the glaciers. The two logical stops on the way to Christchurch would be Hokitika or Greymouth and Arthur's Pass. This would be my number one drive to Chch anyway. Along the way you can walk to Devil's Punchbowl near Arthur's Pass and see Castle Hill. I consider it the most spectacular drive in NZ. And do not miss to stop for a drink or meal at the historic pub in Jackson's.
If you drove a little further each day you could do a loop up to the Pancake Rocks (Punakaiki), drive through the Buller Gorge, then down south to Reefton, back down towards Greymouth but then turn off to Lake Brunner and from there onto the Arthur's Pass road.
Or just make a return trip from Greymouth to the Pancake Rocks (about 1.5 h return), then carry on to Arthur's Pass the next day.
Or stay at Punakaiki in the first night, then drive back to Greymouth and from there to Arthur's Pass for night two.
Or - back to plan B - you turn off towards Lewis Pass in Reefton, stay for the night in Hanmer Springs, soak in the hot pools, and head towards Chch on the final day. You can taste wine in Waipara where NZ's best rieslings are grown (best at Pegasus Winery).
The drive via Lewis Pass is also spectacular - just a little less spectacular than Arthur's Pass - which would also fit your 2 hour daily drive requirements better.
Driving times are as follows:
Franz Josef - Hokitika 1h 30 min (Fox is another 25 min)
Hokitika - Greymouth 30 min
Greymouth - Westport 1h 20 min h
Greymouth - Pancake Rocks 35 to 40 min
Westport - Reefton 1 h
Reefton - Moana (Lake Brunner) 1 h
Reefton - Hanmer Springs 1h 40 min
Hanmer Springs - Christchurch 2 h
Greymouth - Arthur's Pass 1h 30 min
Arthur's Pass - Christchurch 2 h
Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World and the National Museum are not in Christchurch but in Auckland resp. Wellington.
In Chch you find the International Antarctic Centre. Canterbury Museum is very interesting but still closed after the earthquakes. I am confident it will be open in June 2012. Should already be open by now...
@ orginal poster:
My P.S. would be that snow can affect your tour in the South Island. This year snow only fell in July. You have to be flexible, as you never know when the weather arrives.
It will almost certainly be cold but winter in the South Island is much nicer than in the North Island, often blue sky and sunshine, and a lot less rain on the West Coast than in summer. In fact, it is the best time to visit the glaciers.
Correct Sissy; I'm not quite sure why I wrote Christchurch (that's where we started our trip) and flew out of Auckland, where we did Tarlton's and the museum.
Sure, this can happen.
But still the National Museum (= Te Papa) is in Wellington. The big museum in Auckland is Auckland War Memorial Museum - which I find better in many respects than Te Papa but not all. Apart from the fantastic war information it surely is the best museum in NZ for Maori history, culture and show.
you will love the South Island, and April is a great time to visit.
I'm not sure that I understand your comment about averaging two hours every day.
I assume that you are flying directly into Queenstown? If not, the drive from Christchurch to Queenstown is 6-7 hours. The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound takes around four hours each way and is best done on an organised bus tour. From Queenstown to Haast takes around 3.5 hours, and from Haast to Franz Josef, another 2 hours. If you drive from Franz Josef to Christchurch, it will take around 5.5 hours. If that's too long, then your only other option is to catch the Tranz Alpine train from Greymouth to Christchurch. It's one of the world's great train journeys. Given your limited time, I'd be inclined to see the glaciers in the morning, or at least Franz Josef. You can walk to the face which takes around 45 minutes each way from the carpark. Then, drive to Christchurch late morning. From Christchurch there are two or three really nice places within a couple of hours, such as Hanmer Springs (thermal pools) and Kaikoura (whale watching).
To get a better idea of driving times and distances, there are several calculators on the web. Just Google "New Zealand driving times".
Paying for the Glacier trip is worth it! It's heaps of fun and you get to wear crampons and climb through ice caves. You can easily walk to the face of Franz Josef Glacier and get a great view, it's just a 20 minute or so walk. After that, if it's not snowing, then driving through Arthurs Pass back to Christchurch is awesome. Take your warm clothes as the Southern Alps are cold in the winter. :)
Share your view of the glacier walks which are particularly exciting on Franz Josef Glacier. However, the walk to the glacier face takes 45 minutes.