14.-17.02.10, West Coast tour with Active New Zealand
Sunday – Christchurch – Okarito, hike in Arthurs Pass
The Tui trip starts in Christchurch, the main city and airport of the South Island. We’ll meet you there and head to the Southern Alps for a hike in Arthur’s Pass to Devils Punchbowl where we’ll see an awesome 430 foot (131 metre) waterfall. We then head down the coast to the beautiful seaside village of Okarito, one of the best kept secrets of the West Coast that’s all but untouched due to its location 10 miles down a one-way road from an obscure highway turnoff. There are no shops, no restaurants, no traffic and a population of only 31 people. Because of the action-packed nature of the Tui, we get much of the driving out of the way on the first day of the trip.
Monday – Heli-Hike at Franz Josef Glacier
Just south of Okarito there are two formidable glaciers descending from the mountains to the sea. In terms of scenery, this place is off the charts, and we’ll spend most of the day hiking at Franz Josef Glacier. An outrageously scenic option is to heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier itself. After being fitted with crampons, ice axes and so on, you’ll board a modern turbine helicopter and fly towards the highest peaks of the Southern Alps, landing on the glacier at 4,000 feet (1300m) above sea level. Led by specialist glacier guides, you’ll hike through the grand ice formations of the glacier, checking out its crevasses, seracs and tunnels – no previous experience required! The constant movement of the glacier means every day is different, so your guides will cut steps in the ice and make sure you make the most of the conditions. At the end of your hike on the ice, you’ll take another helicopter ride out of the mountains and back to civilisation. If time allows, we’ll also make a shorter walk around Lake Matheson. From Franz Josef, we head down the coast to Haast, an isolated West Coast hamlet, where we’ll enjoy some local fare – venison pie!
Tuesday to Wednesday – Mt Aspiring National Park
This morning we’ll drive to Makarora on the eastern side of Mt. Aspiring National Park. Then you’ll head out for a mind-blowing scenic flight into Mt. Aspiring National Park for a bird’s eye view of the lower Southern Alps, landing in the remote Siberia Valley. In the afternoon we’ll hike the Mt Shrimpton track. It’s a steep hike with a 1750 meter elevation gain, but the views from above the tree-line are well worth the effort. Alternatively you can have a relaxing afternoon and spend your time soaking up the mountain views from your accommodation in the small farming village of Makarora.
On Wednesday you’ll have a thrilling jet boat ride upstream along the Wilkin River. Then back to Makarora for a picnic lunch before taking a beautiful drive through spectacular glacier-carved valleys to the charming mountain town of Wanaka. From there, it’s a short drive over the Cardrona Saddle to Queenstown, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.
Thursday – free day in Queenstown
Today you have a free day to yourself in Queenstown, which is a great place to spend a couple of days. You’ll find all the comforts of civilisation: restaurants, sidewalk cafés, window-shopping and adrenaline pumping activities! You’ll also find some incredible optional activities here such as biking, hang gliding, hiking, white-water rafting, jet boating, skydiving, horse trekking, fishing and wine tours – it’s all here! Your guides can help you during the trip to book any of these optional activities. Queenstown is not a big place – the population is about 8000 – but there’s plenty to do.
I joined the ‘Active New Zealand Group’ as planned despite some confusion about the exact meeting point in Christchurch airport. The group consists of me and 14 Americans, but no problem with that. The two guides are young New Zealand ladies. We have been lucky with the weather so far. Although the West coast is known for its high rainfall we have had sunshine and it became very hot yesterday afternoon. We had perfect conditions for the helicopter flight to the Franz Josef glacier and walked around on it with crampons and a guide for an hour or two. Of course I had been on glaciers many times before but it was quite interesting. On the flight we passed areas of forest full of the red flowers of the rata tree. It looked like the rhododendron in the Himalaya.
The next day we had another flight. This time in a small plane with 5 seats, from Makaora around the Mount Aspiring Park. We stayed the night there at some lodges in the mountains after having spent two nights at different places on the West coast. I did not do the walk in the afternoon since it was obviously too late to get far on the 1700m climb up Mount Shrimpton and we were told the views were only from the top. Instead I enjoyed the pool belonging to our lodge. In the morning we had a ride on the Wilkin river in one of the jet boats which are so popular here. It is amazing how they can go so fast in such shallow water full of stones and rocks. They deliberately make full 360 deg. spins just to cause excitement. We then drove to Wanaka where we had a picnic lunch by the lake in the sunshine. Afterwards we continued to Queenstown, the capital of all the excitement events for tourists.