Wanaka, New Zealand

Lake Wanaka

I was about half way through a small group tour of New Zealand’s South Island with Haka Tours and so far, had spent a few days exploring Christchurch before journeying to Lake Tekapo and then on to Queenstown.

Stopping off in Arrowtown

After a busy few days in Queenstown, we were making a late morning departure for Wanaka where we’d be staying in a hostel situated right on the lake.

Leaving later than planned after some of the group’s morning excursions finished late, it was already pretty much lunch time so we made a stop at the nearby Arrowtown.

For me and a few other members of the group, this was our second visit to Arrowtown that day after we had stopped as part of our Lord of the Rings locations tour that morning.

Old West style building in Arrowtown

Then, we had mainly spent time down by the river, driving through the actual town without stopping, so it was nice to have some time to explore the pretty American gold rush-style town this time.

Whilst there, we grabbed a sandwich for lunch from a local cafe, which I followed with a boysenberry ice cream, before jumping back on board our bus to continue to Wanaka.

Down by the marina in Wanaka

We didn’t make any more stops along the way until we reached Wanaka’s skydiving centre. Braver members of the group had signed up to skydive over Lake Wanaka that afternoon.

The rest of us waved goodbye to our nervous but excited friends as we continued our drive to our accommodation and as we wished them luck we were both relieved it wasn’t us but also wishing we had the nerve to join them!

Above, and below, an autumn stroll alongside Lake Wanaka

After checking into my private en suite room at our hostel, I sat out in the common area admiring the stunning view of the lake from the floor to ceiling window. Joined by some other members of the group, we took a late afternoon stroll down to the lake and along the lakeside path before looping back to the hostel and sitting out in the autumn sunshine awaiting the return of our skydiving buddies.

That evening, we walked into town to Mexican restaurant for dinner, staying for drinks after.

Stopping to take in the view while cycling alongside Lake Wanaka

We had just one night in Wanaka but wouldn’t be departing until early afternoon the next day.

A few of us made plans to meet early to make the most of the morning and hire bikes to ride a circular route along the lake and back.

Above and below, views as I cycle at Lake Wanaka

The path along the lake was pretty flat and easy to ride along and made plenty of stops along the way to enjoy the beautiful views and take way too many photos. The lake looked beautiful in the autumn sunshine surrounded by the the golden-leafed trees.

Cycling past Wanaka’s Puzzling World attraction

Eventually, the path turned away from the lake and along the road up a huge hill and back to Wanaka town where we passed the Puzzling World attraction. It looked like it would have been a fun place to explore if we’d had more time!

Above and below, spending an autumn morning cycling at Lake Wanaka

From here it was downhill back to the lake and we returned our bikes and met the rest of the group to check out of our hostel. We just had time to grab some lunch before it was time to load up the bus and depart.

We made a stop for one last look at Lake Wanaka before continuing on to our next destination, Franz Josef.

Queenstown, New Zealand

Day 2 of my 7-day tour of New Zealand’s South Island from Christchurch with Haka Tours and we were waving goodbye to beautiful Lake Tekapo to drive to Queenstown.

Stopping at a Lake Pukaki viewpoint en route from Lake Tekapo to Queenstown

Our first stop along the way was at a viewpoint over the nearby Lake Pukaki, the largest of the region’s Alpine lakes glimmering under the sunshine and backed by snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Random stop along the road

From here, we continued on stopping at High Country Salmon, a salmon farm and one of the more random stops on our tour! We got to feed the salmon, find out a bit about the salmon farming business and make use of the cafe before continuing on our way!

At High Country Salmon

Our journey through the mountains was slowed down briefly as we suddenly found a herd of sheep running down the road towards our bus.

It was great fun watching them surround the bus as they squeezed their way past us and on down the road to their new field!

Scenery on the way to Queenstown

We made another stop at a view point along the mountain pass before arriving at our Haka Lodge accommodation for the next two nights in Queenstown. The cosy Haka Lodge was a hostel owned by the Haka Tour company. I once again had a private room although this time it wasn’t en suite.

Enjoying the scenery along the way

After checking in, some members of the group had activities booked for the afternoon including the Shotover Jet boat ride and, for the more adventurous group members, the Canyon Swing – a bit like a bungee jump except you sit in a chair to swing from the cliff! Having not signed up for any of the activities on offer, the rest of us walked to Skyline Queenstown to make use of our free ticket to ride the gondola to the top that was included in our Haka Tours package.

Above, and below, the views from the top at Skyline Queenstown

The cable car ride to the top of Bob’s Peak is the steepest in the Southern Hemisphere. Once at the top, we spent a while enjoying the amazing views over Queenstown and the surrounding area before taking the chairlift further up the mountain to ride the Queenstown Luge back down to the viewing platforms and cafe.

Riding the luge at the top of Skyline Queenstown

After catching the gondola back down, we walked into Queenstown to meet up with the rest of the group at a local bar to share our stories over drinks and pizza.

The following day, the group once again all had different activities booked. Five of us had booked a full day’s coach trip out to Milford Sound.

Stopping to enjoy the view on the way to Milford Sound

Our coach drove us through Fiordland National Park making stops along the way at various lakes and mountainous viewpoints before we arrived at Milford Sound harbour early afternoon to enjoy a 2-hour cruise past waterfalls and stunning tropical scenery. This was a really amazing experience!

On the water at Milford Sound

After our cruise, we were met by our coach for the long journey back to Queenstown. It had been a long day but was definitely worth it.

Despite the late finish the night before, it was up early again the next day for one last tour before leaving Queenstown. Along with a few other group members, I had booked onto a Lord of the Rings tour of the area to see some of the locations used in the films.

Kawarau Gorge, one of the filming locations used in the Lord of the Rings films

Our tour was in a four-wheel drive vehicle and took is out of Queenstown to Kawarau Gorge, the location of the Pillars of the Kings in the film then out to the nearby Arrowtown where the autumn colours of the trees were just breathtaking.

Here, we went off-roading into the woods and down to the Arrow River.

Down by the river in Arrowtown

We made a stop by the river to give panning for gold a go. It was a lot harder than it looks and we came away with just one miniscule piece of gold between us!

Getting ready to go panning for gold

The final part of our tour took us high up into the mountains for more dramatic scenery and stunning views over Queenstown. Even without an interest in the filming locations for the Lord of the Rings films, this tour would have been worth taking just for the amazing views along the way!

Heading up into the mountains, and below, stunning views from the last stop on our Lord of the Rings locations tour

At the end of our tour we were dropped back at Haka Lodge to meet up with the rest of our group and climb back aboard our Haka bus to begin our journey to Wanaka.

It had been a fun few days in Queenstown although looking back on it, I feel I hardly seen any of the town itself being so busy with tours and activities. Definitely somewhere I need to return to one day!!

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

South Island Tour Day 1

Above, and below, mountain views on the way from Christchurch to Tekapo

After a few days exploring Christchurch by myself, I had joined a small group tour of the South Island of New Zealand with the award-winning adventure tour company, Haka Tours.

Having met the group for dinner the previous evening, this morning, after a quick breakfast – our tour guide had a breakfast box full of cereals, bread for toasting etc just for the group – it was up and onto the bus to begin our South Island adventure.

More beautiful scenery on the road to Lake Tekapo

Most of the group had been travelling together a week already touring New Zealand’s North Island and although everyone was super friendly, with bonds having already been formed, we straight away fell into the pattern of us newbies pairing up to sit together on the bus which did make it a bit more difficult to get to know the rest of the group at first.

Today’s destination was Lake Tekapo but first we had a very scenic drive from Christchurch.

The mountain-backed Lake Tekapo

We made a few stops along the road to hop out of the van and take photos of the stunning mountain scenery and Mount Cook in the distance and then a lunch stop at a middle of nowhere cafe for a delicious toasted sandwich.

View from the lakeshore

Arriving at Lake Tekapo late afternoon, we stopped lakeside on the way in to take photos along the lake shore near to the Church of the Good Shepherd, a small chapel built on the shore that has become an iconic landmark.

On the lakeshore, and below, the Mackenzie Sheepdog Statue and Church of the Good Shepherd by the lake.

The views across the lake with the turquoise waters backed by the snow-capped Southern Alps were just stunning and we spent longer than planned wandering along the shore and sat on the rocks taking it all in.

Motel accommodation by the lake and below, the view from my room

From the lake shore, we were taken into the small town where or accommodation for the night was situated. Those in shared dorm accommodation were staying at a lakeside hostel while the few of us who had upgraded to private rooms were staying at a lovely lakeside motel. My room was comfortable, well-equipped and had a patio with stunning views across the lake.

As the sun went down, the mountains across the lake were bathed in a red glow.

Managing to drag myself away from the view from my patio, I met with the rest of the group early evening for surprise trip to Tekapo Springs Hot Pools. The sun had gone down and we relaxed in the hot pools under a spectacularly star-filled sky – Lake Tekapo is part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve and is well-known for it’s starry skies!

Sunset at Lake Tekapo and below, watching the sunrise the next morning.

From the Hot Springs, we were taken back into town for dinner. Our guide had made reservations at a local Japanese restaurant but there were a coupe of us who were not fans of this cuisine so instead, we went to an Italian restaurant next door for a delicious pizza before wandering back to our accommodation.

The next morning was an early start but I couldn’t complain when it meant being up in time to watch the sunrise over the lake! Taking one last look at the beautiful view, I waved goodbye to Lake Tekapo and joined the rest of the group on our Haka Tours bus ready to continue our journey through South Island, New Zealand to our next stop, Queenstown.

Christchurch, New Zealand

Having decided upon taking a 7-day tour of New Zealand’s South Island with small group tour company Haka Tour, I set off on my journey from London Heathrow to Christchurch via short stops in Dubai, Bangkok and Sydney before finally landing 35 hours later. While I was not looking forward to such a long flight, I found it went a lot quicker than the longest flights I had previously taken to Australia, maybe helped by all the stops breaking the journey up; but I was still exhausted when we landed and the last thing I needed was to find my suitcase damaged and split open as it came round the conveyor belt at Christchurch airport!

The earthquake damaged Christchurch Cathedral

Customer services were very apologetic and offered to loan me a temporary case while mine was sent to be repaired but said that as it was a holiday weekend for ANZAC day, I would have to return to the airport in 2-3 days to collect it once it was fixed. I explained I was departing on a tour of the island and wouldn’t be in Christchurch then to be able to return to the airport and after a few calls, they agreed to give me a similar suitcase there and then.

A Christchurch tram passes by

It took me a while to repack and transfer everything from one case to the other and by the time I was ready to leave the airport, I’d abandoned all my plans to use public transport into the city and instead hopped straight into a taxi to take me directly to my Ibis hotel.

The temporary Re:Start Mall

It was afternoon when I arrived and with my room ready to check in straight away, I set my alarm for a quick nap before dragging myself out into the city. Finding my way to the Cathedral Square, I had my first glimpse of what was left of the cathedral, severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake.

An autumn stroll along the river

Hoping to find somewhere to eat in the city, I continued to wander through Christchurch but the city was like a ghost town with little about and failing to find anything I wanted to eat, I returned towards my hotel via a walk through Re:Start Mall, a temporary shopping area replacing stores damaged in the earthquake with stores in shipping containers, then along the river and once back, ordered room service before having an very early night to catch up on my missed sleep.

The Chalice sculpture in Cathedral Square

Having seen a leaflet advertising it in the reception of my hotel, I decided to take a walking tour of the city the next morning. There tour was free and there was no need to book, I just needed to be in Cathedral Square, by the Chalice sculpture, at 10am to meet the guide. 7 of us turned up for the tour, a mixture of solo travellers and couples and we were taken around the city hearing about it’s history and the ongoing repercussions of the 2011 quake.

The eerie, ghost town feel to the city made much more sense having heard the stories of the city’s struggles to rebuild and how many people and businesses had moved out to the suburbs to restart.

Above and below, art work covering up earthquake damage in Christchurch

There was still uncertainty about what would become of the damaged Cathedral and we were taken past the temporary ‘Cardboard Cathedral’ being used int he meantime as well as shown the 185 Chairs earthquake memorial with one chair standing for every life lost in the earthquake. The city was also covered in street art and murals trying to cover up the damage and we had plenty of examples pointed out to us.

Rebuilding, art work, car parks and empty space – Christchurch still recovering from a devastating earthquake

Mentioning to the guide that I had struggled to find anywhere to eat in the city with even cafes serving snacks and breakfast being thin on the ground, he took the group to the C1 Espresso, a cafe with a quick bites menu of sandwiches, fries etc., for lunch.

The cafe had an interesting way of serving fries to the tables sending them through pneumatic tubes rather than the serving staff bringing them over!

Above and below, autumn in the botanic gardens

After lunch, I said goodbye to the group and took a walk to the city’s Botanic Gardens then visited the Canterbury Museum before collecting my luggage from my hotel and moving to the nearby YHA to meet my Haka Tours group. Having arrived from completing their tour of the North Island, the group were just checking in to the YHA and the few of us joining just for the South Island leg of the tour were introduced before we all went out for food at a nearby Mexican restaurant.

Above and below, visiting the Canterbury Museum

The group was made up of mainly Brits, a few Canadians, an American and one Australian varying in age from early 20s to mid-30s and despite most of the group having already spent a week together travelling the North Islands, I felt immediately included and knew we were going to have a good week together exploring the South Island.

Glad to have upgraded to a private room for the trip, after dinner, I headed back to the YHA and my room to again catch up on my sleep before our early start the next morning to begin our South Island adventure starting with a visit to Lake Tekapo.

New Zealand’s South Island

Touring the South Island with Haka Tours

Needing to justify my idea for a long haul concert break Down Under to a city I had been to many times before, I decided instead to make my trip a New Zealand vacation with a stop off in Melbourne for the concert on the way home. I’d never visited New Zealand before so it would be somewhere new to explore before joining meeting my Melbourne-based friend in her home city for the gig.

I’d be travelling solo until I reached Melbourne so decided a tour would be the best way to see what New Zealand had to offer in a relatively short time – I had 2 weeks in total which was to include the 2 nights in Melbourne. After researching and reading through various itineraries, I realised I’d only have time to see one of New Zealand’s two islands and South Island seemed to come most heavily recommended.

There were a variety of options aimed at solo travellers including Kiwi Experience, a flexi-travel option where you weren’t tied down to specific travel dates but still had a ready made, mapped out itinerary, the use of a tour guide and the chance to meet fellow solo travellers along the way but deciding this was aimed more at younger backpackers in their early 20s than someone in their mid-30s, I instead opted for the award winning New Zealand small group tour company, Haka Tours.

The adventure travel company got rave reviews and catered for a more open age-group than the 18-38 tours I’d done with Trek America so I was hoping there’d be at least some 30-somethings in my group and it wouldn’t just be hard-partying youngsters!

The groups were slightly larger than the 13 maximum on Trek with Haka buses catering for groups of up to 20 passengers but even at full capacity, this sounded like a better option than the groups of 50 herded around by companies such as Kiwi Experience and Contiki.

So I found a 7-day tour of South Island on Haka’s website which fitted in with my other travel plans and even left me with a few nights between the end of the tour and the gig in Melbourne which I decided to spend in Adelaide, one of the few Australian cities I hadn’t visited yet, and decided to take the plunge and book it.

Having recently come off a Trek America Tour across the Southern States of America with one hostel too many for my liking, I decided to take Haka Tours up on their offer to upgrade to private rooms on their tour. While I didn’t really mind hostel life too much, this at least gave me peace of mind that I could get an early night without being disturbed by any night owls in the group as well as meaning I’d have an en suite at some, although not all, of our accommodations over the week.

The tour was to start in the city of Christchurch. Haka Tours owns some of it’s own hostels, including one on the outskirts of Christchurch but we were advised that as this was full with another group at the time of our departure, we would instead depart from the more central Christchurch YHA. I booked a night at the city’s Ibis hotel for my first night in the city then would move to the YHA for the night before the tour began.

The tour’s itinerary sounded really exciting with stops at Lake Tekapo, Queenstown, Wanaka and Franz Josef before returning to Christchurch via a ride on the TranzAlpine train.

Activities for each stop could be booked in advance on the Haka Tours’ website and there was so much to choose from, I couldn’t fit everything I’d have liked to do in! I stayed away from booking the more adventurous activities like bungee jumping and skydiving and instead plumped for tamer activities including a full-day tour to Milford Sound from Queenstown.

With everything booked and my onward travel plan to Australia sorted out, I was excited for my New Zealand adventure to begin…