MY NEW ZEALAND TOP 5
Middle Earth!!! With just 20 short days in New Zealand, there was no time to waste. Each day was filled with adventure. Thank you to my partner in crime/travel buddy extraordinaire, Max for driving on the left side of the road, skinny-dipping in the lakes, and hiking everyday! Here are just a few of my travel highlights. Cheers!
#5 Rob Roy Glacier - Mt. Aspiring National Park
It is all about the journey. Rob Roy glacier hits my top 5 list of New Zealand activities because the process of getting to the trail head combined with the views of the Glacier sums up a bit of the daily New Zealand experience. Driving to the Raspberry Creek car park at the base of the Mt. Aspiring National Park area is quite entertaining. The last 30 KM of road is winding, narrow, gavel, and complete with severely bumpy cow grates. Much of the road runs straight through farms. Constant concentration while driving in necessary to be ready to break for cows and sheep. The last 10 KM of the road get even more exciting as the road dips in and out of plenty of creeks. According to a sign, the last 10 KM is only suited for travel in "fair weather." The road comes to a dead end at the Raspberry Creek car park which is still carved out of the surrounding farm land and just a short distance from the trailhead. From the car park to the trailhead a series of gates and small ladders travel through fields of livestock. In classic New Zealand fashion, one is simply expected to be smart and not get in a fight with a cow or a herd of sheep. One finally reaches the trailhead at the swing bridge leading hikers across the Matukituki River. From here the hike is a short 10KM return and relatively flat. The views of the glacier and adjacent waterfall are a sweet reward for the entertaining journey.
Stats: 11.2 KM Out and Back - Elevation Gain 495 M (1,625 ft)
#4 Ben Lomond Peak - Queenstown
Standing on the crowded streets of Queenstown it is easy to look up past the sky line gondola and see Ben Lomond peak. Once one sets foot on the trail the hustle and bustle of Queenstown is left behind. The trail starts at the base of the skyline gondola and switchbacks up the steep hillside. At several points before the top of the Gondola, the path intersects the mountain bike trails. Once past the gondola, the views open up and every turn reveals more splendor. At the summit, the 360 views will knock you off your feet. And if you are lucky, the Kea birds may pay a visit. This hike easily makes the top 5 list. Shout out to my bestie Nicki for her company and contagious smile!
Stats: 15 KM out and back - Elevation Gain - 1,450 M (4,757 ft) Peak - 1,748 M (5,735 ft)
#3 The Milford Track - Te Anu Downs to Milford Sound
The longest recorded drought on the Milford Track is 5 days... or so I have been told... and I 100% believe it. So chances are that on this 4 day hike you will get WET. Yet that doesn't stop the permits for the hike from booking out six months to a year in advance. Even "Gortex" doesn't keep hikers dry on the Milford, yet the track is worth being drenched.
The hut system is awesome on the track. Each hut is equipped with bunk beds (sleeps 40) and gas stoves for cooking. The hut rangers keep you informed on weather. Fellow hut goers are awesome people and quick friends.
Starting from Te Anu Downs all hikers take a 50 minute boat taxi to the beginning of the track. The first day only covers 5 kilometers of walking before arriving at the first hut. The next three days are filled with waterfalls (including New Zealand's tallest fall, Southerland Falls), dramatic views (most notably the views from the top of McKinnon Pass) and lots of rain. On the fourth day the track finishes with a short boat taxi taking you back to mainland. Once back on land, one can turn around to see the iconic view of Milford Sound.
Stats: 53.5 KM - Elevation Gain 1,154 M (3,786 ft)
#2 Isthmus Peak - Wanaka
At the beginning of our trip, Isthmus Peak was not even on our hiking radar. After doing several other hikes in and around Wanaka we still had not heard much about Isthmus Peak and so we planned on skipping over the hike. But then we drove by the trailhead. Looking up at the hills we knew we had to stop. With less than 5 other cars parked at the trailhead of Isthmus Peak, we questioned if the endeavor was worthwhile. We discussed the hike once more and threw a few granola bars and water into our day pack before setting out. Isthmus Peak is a quiet killer! The twists and turns of the hike offer dramatic views around every corner. From the top you look out over not one but two lakes, Wanaka and Hawea. The hike is even more enjoyable due to the lack of people (not that I don't love all fellow hikers). The solitary journey is magical and instantly became a favorite.
#1 The Mueller Hut - Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
It is pretty crazy to think that we almost left New Zealand without spending a night at the Mueller hut at the base of Mount Cook. Due to less than ideal weather (rain and snow) Max and I bailed on our original plan to head to Mount Cook. As the trip continued and the misty weather persisted near Mount Cook I felt certain that it was best to make other plans. With little time left in the country I checked the forecast one last time and to my surprise there was a small break in the weather. After a quick deliberation Max and I decided to toss our other plans aside and spend our last couple of days in the country in the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.
The hike to the Mueller hut hike is awesome and one heck of a work out. If you are a fan of stairs this hike is for you! And if you are not a fan of stairs it is time to pretend, because your efforts will be rewarded. The hike promptly starts with 2,000 stairs. YES, that's right 2,000! Add a full backpacking pack to the mix and you are in for some serious fun. Once the jot on the stairmaster is complete, one arrives at the common rest spot Sealy Tarns (A tarn is a small mountain pond). After Sealy Tarns the fun continues. For the second half of the hike there are no maintained staircases, yet the steep uphill climb continues. The DOC orange markers keep hikers moving in the right direction as the trail disappears into a general scramble amongst the shrubbery and rocks. The final steep portion of the hike passes through a field of large boulders before finally ascending a small 50M section of loose gravel scree near the skyline ridge. Once on the ridge hikers enjoy an amazing view of Mt Cook and the surrounding glaciers. The Mueller hut is just south 1 KM further along the ridge-line. Once at the hut 360 views are gained allowing hikers to gaze upon glaciers, NZ tallest peaks, glacially carved valleys, huge cliff faces and thundering avalanches.
At the hut Max and I shed our packs, claimed our bunks, and relaxed over a cup of tea. We then set out to complete the true Mueller hut experience by climbing to the top of Mt. Ollivier (the first peak young Sir Edmond Hilary ever climbed!). The top of Mt. Ollivier is marked by a large Cairn. With our new friend in tow (fellow hut mate, Christian) we reached the summit Cairn in under a half hour. We climbed down just in time to catch the sunset from the hut and pop our mini champagne bottles in celebration.
The best part about staying at the Mueller Hut is that not only did we get to enjoy the sunset, but we also enjoyed the stars, the sunrise, Max's spectacular bed head, and a morning brew before descending the trail.
Stats: 10.5 KM Out and back - Hut Elevation 1,805 M (5,922 ft)