I know, I know, I keep saying this as we move along in our journey but today was probably one of the biggest highlights of our trip - a day in the Southern Alps and exploring Mount Cook. Although we had another long drive, over 3 hours, it was worth every second of it. The views during the drive were magnificent but the end destination blew us away. We first made a quick stop at Lake Pukaki which was a stunning mirror reflecting the mountains. One hour from there was the highest mountain in New Zealand, Mount Cook 3700 meters. We chose the hooker valley track - 11 km round trip to get to Lake Hooker and the base of Mt Cook. The whole trek was pretty easy since it followed a gravel pathway surrounded by amazing glacier mountains, gorgeous hills and a powerful river. My goodness, where do I start. The views were amazing from every angle. While the peak was cloud covered for the majority of our walk to the base, it was splendid from every angle. We reached the lake and had ourselves a picnic, let the kids climb rocks and play, and just took in this perfect landscape. It is one of the most popular walks in New Zealand and we were there on a Sunday so it was a bit crowded. But there seemed to be a bit of respect to the mountain as everyone was very quiet and just enjoying the scene. It felt like something out of a movie.
Mt Cook location
On the way back we decided to stop by the river and admire the spectacular scenery and at one point, when Leo was jumping from rock to rock, his foot slipped and he ended up in the river, hahaha. Poor guy got so scared, he cried a little but Mila told him to shake it off :) As we were leaving the National Park, the clouds parted and we were able to see the one and only, beautiful peaks of Mt Cook. Words cant describe that unreal view, we must have stopped the car 5 times to snap photos so just look at the pictures (honestly, even pictures don't do justice!).
As we were driving back home, we made a quick stop at an Alpine Lavender Farm. It was located right off the main road, in the middle of the mountains! You could smell the lavender as soon as you opened the car door. We bought lavender flavor ice-cream and enjoyed the taste and scent of it! Mila was in heaven, after all our little tomboy loves ice-cream and flowers :)
It is hard to believe that we have been in New Zealand only two weeks and managed to do and see so much. We are once again running at a very fast pace and sometimes, it catches up with us. We’d had some very long car rides and have already driven 2,800kms here. While we are definitely tired and our tank (and budget) is running on empty, moments like this only confirm that this journey was the right decision; we are healthy, young and physically fit to do these things with two little kids, on very limited sleep : ) I really do not think we would be able to explore as much as we have 30 years from now. Therefore, we are so thankful and lucky to live our life to the fullest and get to know this amazing world!
We’re staying in the town of Alexandra, which is at the heart of Central Otago. We chose it since it was budget friendly and there aren’t a lot of AIRBnB rentals in this region. Queenstown, at the heart of exploration, can run upwards for $400, night. Alexandra has a lot of charm, it is an old gold rush town that boomed in the 1800s and now is a popular Holiday destination for its gorges, rivers, water sports, and wineries. In fact, Lonely Planet recently chose Central Otago as one of the top 50 wine destinations in the World! We have perfect views from our house, right across from the river with a mountainous backdrop.
Since the last week was very intense we decided to slow down a bit. In the morning there was no rush and craziness, we took our time with breakfast and instead of getting ready, we watched Moana! I have a feeling our Troll days maybe be fading away :-) In the afternoon we took a one hour drive to beautiful Lake Wanaka. On the way there we stopped at Dam Good Fruit Orchard where we were able to pick our own cherries from the tree. Leo and Mila loved climbing the latter, more than actually collecting the fruit :) Once we got to Wanaka, Leo and Mila ran around the playground for a while, and Rick and I enjoyed gorgeous scenery around us. Our fridge was running empty and instead of cooking dinner we decided to have a small barbecue at the park. We took another 20 min drive to Lake Hawea, another stunning place for the lovers of water sports. We have not had meat in a very long time and I must say that I kinda enjoyed the taste of grilled cheeseburger! Fitness post be damned!
Lake Wanaka Location
The following day we planned on driving to Mt Aspiring National Park and doing another 10k hike to Rob Roy glacier…but…that never happened! We were a bit tired of driving and just decided it’d be best to spend a day hanging out at our house. The truth is that the best way to see New Zealand is by camper van. This country is stunning but its also remote. The distances between different attractions are quite lengthy, plus, there are no 2,3,4 line highways but rather one way in and one way out, so very often you are driving for much longer than expected. Nevertheless, we made it a great family day. Rick went to a local warehouse store and bought a fishing rod! Leo has never been fishing (and neither has city boy Rick) so this was a perfect opportunity, especially since our cabin was right by the river. The other day Leo found a long stick and pretended he was fishing, but now he has a real fishing rod. Although we did not catch any fish and had to use youtube video for some instructions regarding setting up the equipment, it was so much fun! So far, we added a car, immersion blender, yoga mat, christmas tree stand and a fishing rod to our collection :) Hopefully we can fit it all in our two already fully stuffed suitcases. We also caught up with blog work (I’m not charging you to read this yet), naps and homeschooling for Leo. It was definitely a low key day but much needed…
The following day we woke up to grey and rainy sky. Since we already planned on going to Queenstown, after breakfast we packed our crew and headed there. Queenstown is a really cool town, right on lake wakatipu surrounded by The Incredibles. It kinda reminded us of Bergen in Norway. There is a main strip stretched along the water where you can find restaurants, bars, pubs, stores and other goodies. There are boutique hotels and high end stores. The overall vibe was hip, a young crowd, lots of families and people from all around the world. We strolled around for a bit, grabbed a delicious ice-cream at the Patagonia Chocolate Store and visited a local playground. Leo and Mila had a ball chasing birds and running around. In the afternoon we drove to Chard Farm winery, located right across from the world famous bungee jump bridge - Kawarau Bridge. The winery was ok, very busy and kinda small but the views were stunning.
It’s moving day again…after seven days spent in the Central Otago region we were heading towards the north west coast of the South Island. We had a lengthy 7 hours of driving ahead of us, so we decided to break it up with what else, a hike! Once again, we were in awe of stunning views of the west coast…it was a sunny morning with a good visibility, you could see for miles and miles beautiful mountains and mirror like lakes. As soon as we got to the other side of the mountains the landscape drastically changed. It was much more green with a wet tropical climate.
Our first stop was made after about 4.5 hours of driving, at the Fox Glacier. When we got out of the car the temperature showed 12 C, so much cooler, with a drizzle. We got our rain coats out, hats and rain cover for Mila’s carrier and hit the track leading to the glacier. Fox Glacier used to be huge…we saw few signs marking its size and in 1945 the whole pathway leading to the current glacier, used to be the actual Fox Glacier - about 4kms of ice melt in 70 years, crazy! The distance to the glacier from parking lot was about 1.6km with an uphill road for the last 200 meters, so a descent workout for all of us (well, not for Mila, since she has the best seat in the house). Once we got to the top we were about 400 meters away from the glacier - that’s where the viewing point was at. There were tons of warning about not getting too close to the glacier since it can collapse at anytime. It actually move at a rate of 5-8 ft per day. It was a quite cool experience since it was our first time seeing a glacier up close.
Right after Fox Glacier we drove to nearby Lake Matheson, which on a clear day and still mornings, reflects like a mirror Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. Unfortunately, once we got to the lake (1.2 km one way), it was cloudy, however, the scenery was still spectacular. What’s even more surprising, the whole pathway leading to the viewing point stretches through a rain forest - you would never expect that in New Zealand. Leo is going to an interesting phase right now…he wants to win every hike/trek that we do (he wants to be first across the finish line). On the way back from the Lake Matheson he literally sprinted! I followed him the whole time but all I could see was his blond her in between bushes moving like a crazy rabbit, haha. Everyone I passed kept telling me that they tried to stop Leo but he told them that he was a winner and could not take a break. If he keeps improving his pace at this rate, we will qualify for the Olympic in 14 years : )
Map of our Road Trip
By 7 pm we made it to a town called Hokitika, located on the west coast of South Island. We rented a house on AirBnb for the next two nights and plan on exploring this area for the next two days. Once again, it was a long day of driving but we were able to break it down a little. Luckily, both Leo and Mila are used to this long road trips and almost never misbehave (ok, so thats a bit of a stretch since MIla is going through her terrible 2 phase) : ) Nevertheless, we were all pretty tired and after some home made chicken soup, the four of us hit the sack…
We diverted our plans for the next day. We were going to drive the Arthur’s pass through the heart of the Alps and hike at AP National Park. But after a full day driving, we decided to explore Hokitika. It’s a small village, right on the Tasman Sea, but it has a nice vibe with restaurants and bars along their main street. We walked to the ocean, and actually met our first Americans in very long time (Thailand?). It was a tour group, mostly of retirees who were on a 17 day NZ adventure. We spent some time talking to a lady from San Francisco, it was nice conversation. After town, we found a playground for the kids. Leo continued his marathon training. Instead of playing at the playground, he ran 3 laps around the track! I’m telling you, future Olympian in the making.
Afternoon naps were in the cards for all of us, then we head to Lake Kanere where there was a singing bridge over a gorge. The walk was only about 15 minutes and gave us a great view of the milky blue waters in the gorge.
Now 3 weeks into our New Zealand adventure, we’ve pretty much covered the entire South Island. It is such a beautiful and diverse piece of land, from picturesque coast views, to stunning mountain backdrops, crystal clear rivers and blue lakes, there’s a bit of adventure everywhere you turn in South Island. I met a woman from Queenstown who says, every time she travels, she marvels at the airplane ride home when she see’s this beautiful land from above. Tomorrow, we’ll drive the rest of the coast all the way up to Nelson where we’ll explore the beautiful Sounds, waterways, and beaches of the northern part of South Island.