After leaving Queenstown we headed north up to Wanaka where we found a room for the night. The town is fairly small but had enough to keep us going and the next morning we drove out through a huge glacial valley and farmland to the start of the 'Rob Roy' track, a 10km hike to see our first glacier. It was a beautiful walk up a valley with an amazing view at the top. After returning to Wanaka to stock up on supplies we headed further north to Fox Glacier where we had booked to do a glacial walk. Unfortunately as the clocks have recently turned back it was pretty dark as we were driving so there were lots of animals on the road and we didn't get to see the apparently amazing view of the glacier on arrival. We were pretty shattered from a long drive and had an early night to start our full day on the glacier. We have been really lucky with the weather so far that it has been dry and cold, we have been told that this region receives about 5m of rain a year and it's not often that visitors get such a clear view of and walk on the glacier. We hiked quite far up the glacier, climbing up lots of steep bits and down to passages and crevices and we both really enjoyed the day. It helped that our group were all interested and that the guide was really enthusiastic to show us more. It was incredible to hear how the glacier has changed in the past decade or so ( retreating about 250m in the past year) and also of how some tourists haven't followed safety guidelines over the years and the consequences. We had chosen to do the walk on Fox Glacier over Franz Joseph as we had heard the groups are more more intimate and less well trodden from a Dutch couple and we found this to be the case, especially as one girl in our group had done Franz and felt it was more like a production line than a tour! That said these two glaciers in the area are two of the fastest moving glaciers in the world so they are both pretty amazing!
When we returned to the town some 8 hours later we were both quite tired but decided that we needed to go to lake Matheson to watch the sunset as we don't have much longer in the area and this lake has been voted in the top 10 to visit in the world. The reflection of the setting sun on the glacier and the glacier on the lake was stunning and we have plenty of photo's to prove it!
The following morning we headed over to Franz Joseph glacier to view from the public path. It's much steeper than Fox Glacier and we weren't quite as impressed though this might have been because we didn't actually get to walk on the glacier. We headed back south to Wanaka, this time getting to stop on the way to see a few sights such as Blue Pools and Knights Point. We went back to the same cabin site and cooked up some fajitas for a nice warming tea.
After an early start we returned along the winding road to Queenstown for a quick coffee break before heading along an even windier road to the small village of Glenorchy. This village is set at the convergence of the Rees and Dart valleys which we are told are two of the most beautiful valleys in the whole of NZ and have been used in many films such as the lord of the rings for this reason. Our first activity was an afternoon of horse riding through the Rees valley. As it was Ben's first ever horse ride he was given a slow cumbersome steed named Enos whilst Gwenno was given the eager Keg. We both had lots of fun but Ben was frustrated by his lazy ride and jealous when Gwenno got to gallop off!
Surprisingly we weren't as saddle sore as expected so we headed off early on a long walk along the Routburn track to Harris Saddle and back. We passed through alpine forest right up to the top of where two valleys joined to see amazing views of snow topped mountains. This is one of NZ great walks which usually takes three days to finish. We managed to get to the highest/halfway point and back down to the car in 7 hours- we couldn't finish the walk as though it's not a long walk it would have been a 6hour return drive to get the car from the start point!
That night we were quite tired and just cooked up some bacon butties and soup before nodding off. We had planned to do 2 more short walks in Glenorchy before leaving and the first was an early morning boardwalk over the wetlands with lots of mist and views of the valley and mountains beyond. We then tried to drive to the start of the second walk to the abandoned Invincible Mine but were scuppered by a ford across the road which was far too fast and deep for our Mazda. This was probably for the best as it would have been a very steep walk and our legs were tired so we returned to Glenorchy for a coffee instead. We again returned to Queenstown to buy some last minute supplies and souvenirs before continuing south to Te Anau where we had booked two nights accommodation in a motel for Easter. Again it was a really picturesque drive down and Te Anau is a lovely little town nestled on the edge of a lake. As there are no cooking facilities in the motel we went out for tea for a change and managed to find a little Italian with a 3course deal. We were both really stuffed afterwards and could barely move to walk home!
We have been really lucky with the sunny dry weather so far in NZ especially at this time of year so we weren't too surprised when we woke the next morning to see that the heavens had finally opened- especially as we had booked to go on a cruise in Milford Sound which is the main thing that we had both been looking forward to here! As it was already paid for we couldn't back out and so we headed along the 2 hour scenic drive to Milford in the rain, stopping at a few sights on the way including the amazing and scary Homer Tunnel which is a huge, steep and narrow tunnel carved out of the rocky mountains. We were a little disappointed that the clouds were so low that we couldn't see a lot of the surrounding mountains during the cruise but we still had a good time and at least there were a lot of waterfalls following the rain. As well as these natural wonders we also spotted our first wild new zealand brown seals basking on the rocks. We had a final night in Te Anau and the West Coast before heading to the south in the morning.