We moved from the west coast to the southern lakes area where there are lakes galore surrounded by high, snow-capped mountains. Everyone says this is a highlight of New Zealand and everyone is right. We began at Wanaka, a quiet town on a large lake ringed by mountains providing great opportunities for dramatic sunsets and sunrises.
We took advantage of the good weather to venture further into the mountains, driving up the scenic Matukituki valley to the track to Rob Roy valley. We then followed up this valley across a landslip with a huge rock still hanging precariously above to the point below the headwall where we could admire towering views of the glacier hanging above and dropping chunks of ice. Next to this was a high waterfall dropping metres straight down into the valley. We sat with the other walkers eating lunch and being amazed at the spectacle.
Another day, another walk. This time we climbed a small hill for a panoramic 360 degree view of lake on one side and mountains on the other. Such a great reward for not too much effort. We moved across to Queenstown area, skipping quickly through the crowded tourist town to find a delightful campsite by a little lake ringed again by mountains. We took a walk that we had done previously with our children 10 years ago and enjoyed so much we repeated. It led to a little cabin used by a miner and preserved as well as a delightful stream with a number of waterfalls.
We drove down Lake Wakatipu and past Glenorchy to stay at Kinloch with a wonderful view of a dramatic sunset across the lake. We then took what could be our hardest day walk yet. It was only about 8km but we climbed over 1000m in that time. The track began by gently zigzagging and then decided it would never get to the top that way and straight up the side we went. Just when we were breathless, the trees abruptly stopped and we were scrambling up through grass, across scree and clambering up rocks to finally reach the ridge top. It was then a gentle amble to the high point apart from the screaming, ferocious wind that threatened to blow us off again. Was it worth it? Of course because we got the most fantastic view! The Rees and Dart valley on either side draining to Lake Wakatipu and snow covered mountains disappearing into the cloud at the other end.
We saw some different gold mining areas. Bannockburn was mined by sluicing away the alluvial gold leaving a denuded landscape reminiscent of Monument Valley and Bendigo was reef mining with vertical shafts all over the place including one monster that went down 200 metres. The miners used the rocks they dug out to build their houses, sometimes beautifully crafted without the use of mortar.
We found out that the Fiordland Great Walks could be walked before the end of October and we would only have to pay $15 a night instead of $54. We would have to do without flush toilets and gas cookers but we normally do without those things. There were also a couple of bridges removed from the Routeburn that were in avalanche paths but it was too good an opportunity to miss so we headed for Te Anau. We stopped to admire the brave or foolhardy people who were bungy jumping on the way and then took advantage of the many DOC campsites in the Eglinton Valley on the way to Milford Sound.
We were waiting for good weather to begin the walks and got a bonus of a beautiful day at Milford Sound. We drove in and enjoyed the perfect reflections but didn’t bother with a boat ride. We instead took a walk to a hanging lake perched in the mountains.
We knew we had a miserable day to sit out before a good run of weather to begin the walk. Lake Gunn provided a contrast in moods from one day to the next.
We had a glorious day to begin our walk. We climbed up to Key Summit which gave us a view down into three different valleys and across to lots of different mountain ranges. We then sidled around one of the ranges underneath Earland Falls and dropped down to Lake Mackenzie, a beautiful green lake studded with moss covered rocks, ringed by forest and with unique mountains reflected in its calm surface.
Another clear day greeted us for out big day climbing over the high point of the walk. We began by climbing up above the lake and then sidled high up the Hollyford valley side to Harris Saddle. This led to the large Lake Harris before we descended to the top of Routeburn Falls overlooking the steep drop to Routeburn Flats.
A red sky presaged a change in the weather. We rushed to get back across the pass before the rain and managed to make it back to Lake Mackenzie in time. We were heading back to overcome the 360km difference between the two ends of the walk. The cloudy and foggy weather caused a different focus on the close view and the alpine plants as the dramatic views of the previous day were hidden. Lake Mackenzie looked very different in the rain.
The last day brought us better weather again and the surprise of ice at Earland Falls wherever the spray had hit.
We had a grand meal out in Te Anau, showers and washing and then set out again on the next day to walk the Kepler Track. Luckily the first day was very easy as we followed the river and then the lake shore through a beautiful beech forest, sometimes carpeted with moss and other times a sea of ferns.
The second day saw us following a valley upstream through more forest and across side streams, often a path of destruction during rain storms. We came to a lovely hut on the edge of the forest and walked to where the burn tumbled over a cliff side.
The next day was the high point of the trip, literally and figuratively. We climbed up through the forest to an icy ridge and then climbed it on a series of steps before we continued along the tops with our track sidling the high peaks but giving us glorious views. The snow covered mountains gradually emerged from cloud and we could see an arm of Lake Te Anau far below. The alpine plants were beautiful and even the toilet at the shelter had a grand view.
We arrived at the hut that was perched on the tussock covered hills with a superb view and windows to take advantage of it. A side trip took us to Luxmore Cave and a visit from a clowning kea capped off the day.
The sunrise was beyond beautiful with the valley below being filled with cloud and the golden grasses gradually coming alive in the morning sun, all overseen by snowy peaks. It was a shame to leave but the weather forecast promised change and we hoped to be off the mountain before then. We steadily zigzagged down past the limestone cliffs to arrive at a serene Lake Te Anau. The afternoon rain cause it to lose its placidity but it was restored the next morning with a fresh coating of snow on the mountains including over the Kepler Track, by now far above us.