Hi all. We are back from a fabulous vacation on the South Island! I’m working on a day-by-day blog entry while my other half weeds through over 1000 pictures he took. In the meantime, I thought I’d post some hints and tips that might be helpful.
A little background: We are a couple in our mid-50s from the USA and this was our third 2-week trip to New Zealand in the past 4 years. The first trip by campervan in the North Island, the second was also by campervan around the top of the South and down the West Coast to Fox Glacier. This trip we thought we’d see how the other half lives and rented a car and stayed in self-contained accommodations. We enjoy day hiking and finding less touristy adventures. But we also did some activities; we were in Queenstown, after all.
Queenstown – 1 night
Manapouri – 3 nights
Curio Bay – 1 night
Kaka Point – 1 night
Wanaka – 2 nights
Mount Cook – 2 nights
Queenstown – 2 nights
I had a general outline of what I wanted to do, but sometimes the weather didn’t cooperate and we had to switch things around. So my advice is the more nights you have at a location, the more wiggle room you have if you need to reschedule. Book any weather dependent trip for the first day; it will give you the opportunity to rebook for the 2nd day if necessary. For instance, we booked a scenic heliflight of Doubtful Sound for our first full day in Manapouri. It was cancelled because the weather was deteriorating and we rebooked for day 2 and that was cancelled as well. It wasn’t until the third day there, the day we were driving to Curio Bay, that we got to do our flight. We also booked an evening kayak trip in Queenstown that was rained out, but got to do it the second night. Be flexible and always have a plan B!
Dress in layers. The morning we walked Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook, I had a record 5 layers at 8:30am! Halfway down the return, I was down to my base layer. It had warmed up that much. Another piece of advice about what to wear is if you plan on hiking, bring an extra pair of shoes. One track was so muddy my shoes required washing under a hose and allowed to dry for a couple of days until they were wearable again.
Bring a lightweight backpack. It was great for having a place to put all those layers I was removing. We also carried our lunch in it, and sometimes our camera. I arrived in Queenstown carrying a purse, and actually felt out of place with that. So the backpack was not just used for tramping in the bush. I bought a packable one that folds in on itself into a small pouch. It was lightweight and didn’t take up much room in my suitcase on the plane. I could have also used it for extra items on the way home.
Prepare for rain – bring a waterproof jacket. Even in the driest of seasons, if you aren’t prepared you will be miserable. And just because it’s raining, don’t let it get you down. I think someone here said, “If you don’t like the weather, wait half an hour.” That was very true on a couple of occasions. It would be pouring when we set out driving to a place of interest, and only lightly sprinkling when we got there. I would have hated to miss out because of a little rain.
As for getting around, I was pretty familiar with which direction we were going and what cities lay which direction. Signage is more obvious if you look for a city or town name, rather than a road name or highway number. So, if driving from Manapouri to Curio Bay, follow the signs to Invercargill, and then signs for Fortrose, then for Curio Bay. I also had the advantage of having Geocaching Pocket Queries loaded on my iPad for offline use. It would show us where we were even if we weren’t online. Another plug for Geocaching is that it took us to places we would have never known about, like the two little falls at the Boyd Creek turnout on Milford Road, or the beautiful wetlands you look over at Rakatu Wetlands pullout on the road south of Manapouri.
There was one thing I thought I had well planned, but it didn’t work out was my cellphone. It was a hassle to unlock our phone, so I researched and bought an inexpensive unlocked, quad-band phone for our trip. For whatever reason, it was not compatible with Telecom. So we ended up buying an inexpensive phone on our first day of arrival. It came in very handy for reconfirming activities that required us to do so.
I hope some of this is helpful to others. Once we get the blog entry the way we want, I’ll post a link. Since it’s nearing tax season here in the states, it may be several weeks.