|Subject: Re: me writing again, New Zealand|
I agree with Erica, about the months to visit New Zealand, but many parts of New Zealand are also beautiful during the Autumn(Fall) - April and May. Also in Autumn there are less tourists, especially in the more popular destinations, e.g. Queenstown.
>How much time should he spend visiting there? This is a very difficult question to answer, but if as you say that your son likes tramping, you could spend 4 weeks in the South Island alone, as some of the hikes are up to five days in length. Some of the more popular hikes, e.g. the Milford Track, you have to book months in advance, especially if you wish to have the use of a guide. There are many other walks with a duration from one hour to a whole day, throughout the South Island, as well as the North Island. My advice to your son is to hire a car, buy a good road map, and travel the smaller scenic roads. In some areas you can travel long distances without seeing another living soul. Some of the best walks are in the West Coast of the South Island. My wife Rachel, and I, are leaving on a four week tour of the South Island, on the 4th November. We plan to do many of the shorter hikes. Unfortunately, as discussed previously on this list, the mind is willing but the body just aint as good as it used to be. I have written a rather lengthy journal on the South Island, I can send it through to you if you would like. It contains many of these hikes, accommodation and things to see and do. It is broken down into provinces and cities and towns within those provinces.
I assume that your son will be going to Milford Sound, may I suggest that he also visit Doubtful Sound as it is less visited and much larger. You leave from Lake Manapouri, which is very beautiful in its own right, and take a bus tour over the lovely Wilmot Pass to the dock where you board the ship. You are taken out on the Sound and at some stage the motors on the boat are cut, leaving you in absolute silence, with the only noise coming from the slap of the water on the side of the boat and the calls of the native birds. You can also take an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound. The road that takes you from Lake TeAnau to Milford has some of the best scenery, in my opinion, that will ever encounter. If you are driving you tend to stop on numerous occasions, so it can make the trip quite lengthy.
Also a must is a walk on one of the glaciers. It is best that you have a guide, due to the danger of deep crevasses. They take you deep into ice caves which is tremendous. A helicopter ride over the twin glaciers of Fox and Franz Josef can be had also. Most of the operators land on one of the glaciers. There is fantastic walk, starting at the Fox Glacier, to Lake Matheson. This is also called the 'Mirror Lake' due to the usually very still waters. Mount Cook(NZ Highest Mountain) and the forest that surrounds the lake are reflected on the surface. The largest town on the West Coast is Greymouth, with a population of 10,000. Just south of Greymouth is a replica of a 1860's gold rush town, named Shantytown. Set amongst native bush Shantytown has 30 period buildings, including a banks, church, general store, barber shop, and a livery stable. There is a working saw mill plus you can try your hand at panning for gold. A bush steam train plus buggy rides operate daily. Although this is obviously built as a tourist attraction it is still well worth a look.
There are also some great walks in Central Otago where a lot of our early prospectors toiled long and hard, panning for gold, to strike it rich. There are still a lot of old derelict machinery dotted around, and that plus the scenery makes for some good photography. When I last visited Queenstown I took a four wheel drive through Skippers Canyon. What an experience, there are places where you have canyon walls on one side and sheer drops on the other. I really enjoyed this. There are two roads that you not allowed to take a rental car, one is this one and the other is a road, well really only a track, out of Mount Cook. I also went on a jet boat ride on the Shotover River - what an adrenaline rush. I was too chicken to attempt the Bungy Jump though. LOL. The small town of Arrowtown is just 20kms from Queenstown was another one of those gold mining towns that sprung up when gold was found in the 1860's. A three hour walk to the old gold mining town of Macetown, now a ghost town is well worth the effort. Also worth a visit is the the settlement built by the Chinese gold miners who settled in Arrowtown from 1868. Many buildings have been restored.
Dunedin, the main city of the Otago Province, is very proud of its Scottish ancestry, in fact I believe Dunedin is the old name for Edinburgh. Dunedin has some fascinating old buildings including a castle(Larnach Castle). It also has the distinction of having the steepest street in the world - Baldwin Street. At the steepest section the gradient is something like 1 in 2.90. Every year during Dunedin's Festival they have a foot race, commonly known as the Baldwin Gutbuster. There is also a fantastic train journey through the Taieri Gorge. The trip leaves from the magnificent railway station, built in 1904, in the Flemish Renaissance style. Its beauty is more than the facade, as a look inside will tell. Dunedin is also home of the Penguin Palace which is an effort to save the Yellow Eyed Penguin from extinction. To experience, observe and photograph, there is a unique system of hides and tunnels. This is well worth a looksee. Another area that is really worth exploring is the Catlins. This scenic route starts at Balclutha, 80kms south of Dunedin. This is fantastic - great scenery, waterfalls, huge caves, lighthouse, fossilised Forest and there is an area where you can observe the extremely rare 'Yellow eyed Penguin'.
Canterbury, the province where I live has its share of attractions to. One of the top ten rail journeys in the world is the one taken from Christchurch through Arthurs Pass and ending up in Greymouth. It is an especially scenic when there is still some snow on the tops. This can be done as a return journey in one day. Christchurch, the main city in Canterbury, has many attractions which keeps the visitor busy for days. The Arts centre is centred in the historic buildings of the original Canterbury University. The weekend features art and crafts, international food fair, and top local entertainment. Why not take a leisurely punt down the river Avon which runs through the spectacular Botanical Gardens. These gardens have won many awards and are among the top six rated gardens in the world. In fact Christchurch was rated as the most beautiful city in the world, in 1999. A trip to the museum can tell you a lot about the history of this province and you can get there riding in one of our restored trams. The International Antarctic Centre, near the airport was voted as the top NZ attraction 1997/98 and a visit will tell you why. It is an all weather indoor attraction where you experience real life Antarctic conditions first hand. You can get tremendous views of Christchurch by taking the Gondola. A day trip can be taken to the French settlement of Akaroa where all the streets have French names. There are many little bays that are encountered along the way, with incredible views. Kaikoura, 170kms north of Christchurch, is where you hire a boat, or join a tour and do some whale watching.
The Marlborough Sounds is a labyrinth of bays, coves and campsites. This area will surprise the traveller with its wildlife, native forests and its history. The small towns of Picton and Havelock are the gateway to the Marlborough Sounds. There is a spectacular winding road between Picton and Havelock, along the Queen Charlotte and Pelorus Sounds, offering amazing scenic views. Picton which is set deep in Queen Charlotte Sound is the base for diving, fishing, dolphin watching, sea kayaking, scenic flights and walks including the amazing Queen Charlotte walkway. I have driven on only a few of the small winding roads that meander through the sounds, but what I have seen makes me want to go back for more. We plan to spend some time in this area during our trip later this year. Well I think I have waffled on long enough. I have only just scratched the surface and I have only covered the South Island. I hope this helps in some small way. Please excuse my spelling and bad grammar, for I have done this in a hurry and have not really had time to proof read it
Regards, Richard Bloomfield.(New Zealand)