critique my Feb./Mar. 2015 itinerary
I'm planning a 2-2.5 week visit in Feb. or early Mar. 2015, and would appreciate getting some local feedback on my planned itinerary. I'm an early 30's male and will be traveling solo mostly via rental car. Lots of tramping/scrambling experience in the major mountain ranges here in the States, but no technical work on ice/snow. Calibration: a 16km out-and-back day tramp with 600m elevation gain is "easy/moderate" for me; 25km with 1000m gain is a full day that will leave me tired and sore but smiling. No problems with altitude / hiking above 3000m. This will mostly be a tramping trip for me. On my trip I'm looking to emphasize "can't miss" tramps and "only in NZ" landscapes/seascapes and experiencing NZ culture. Not interested in cities or touristy gimmicks; wildlife is nice but not something I'd go out of my way for. Here's the current plan, day by day: 1: Fly into Queenstown. Relax and buy groceries. 2: Out and back tramp Routeburn track from the east. Hoping to start early and make Harris Saddle / Conical Hill before turning back. 3: Drive to Te Anau. Kepler track to Luxmore Hut; spend night. 4: Tramp out the way I came. Night in Te Anau. (alternative, LONG day trip to TA and spend nights 3-4 in Queenstown also) 5: Drive to Mt. Cook Village 6: Mt. Cook area -- Mueller Hut? 7: Mt. Cook area -- Hooker Valley? 8: Drive to Arthur's Pass 9: Long dayhike out of Arthur's Pass, TBD 10: Drive to St. Arnaud (Nelson Lakes) via Greymouth to see a little of the coast. 11: St. Arnaud area -- dayhike Angelus Ridge? 12: Drive to Motueka; dayhike Mt. Owen enroute 13: Kayaking in Abel Tasman 14: Kahurangi NP -- dayhike Mt. Arthur? 15: Drive to Nelson and return car, fly to Wellington, bus to Tongariro area 16: Tongariro Crossing 17: bus to Auckland, fly back to the States in the evening Lodging nights totals: Queenstown (2) Te Anau area (2) Mt. Cook Village (3) Arthur's Pass (2) St. Arnaud (2) Motueka (3) Tongariro area (2) Questions: 1) Seems like a lot of driving around and changing lodging. Anywhere worth skipping in favor of spending more time somewhere else? In particular, getting to Tongagiro seems like a pain. Is it worth it, or should I save it for next trip and just fly back to Auckland from Nelson? 2) What spots am I missing? Wanaka / Haast Pass / Mt. Aspiring NP? I'm intentionally skipping the west coast glaciers -- seems hard to do them and Mt. Cook on the same trip, and I wasn't all that impressed by the other glaciers I've seen lately (Glacier NP, USA and Jasper NP, Canada). Catlins and Kaikoura both seem too out of the way for this trip. 3) Comments on my Feb. / early March timeframe? When will typically have the best warm/sunny late summer weather on South Island? 4) Somewhere in the middle I'm going to need to buy groceries and do laundry. Mt. Cook Village, Arthur's Pass and St. Arnaud all look tiny. Any recommendations for where to take care of these errands? Ideally on Day 8, between Mt. Cook and Arthur's Pass. 5) Big picture, what am I missing / what looks silly about my plan? Thanks very much! Skyliner at the foot of the southern Sierras, California, USA
Sorry Bradley1 but St Arnaud to Marahau, Abel T. is only about 1.75 - 2 hours. 120 k on good roads. I drive it often. Arthur's Pass to St Arnaud maybe 3.5 - 4 hours, 300 kmish again on fairly good roads.
Again, fantastic feedback. Thanks so much everyone! Looks like I have some replanning to do. Re: Mt. Owen: I was looking at the approach from the south via Sunrise peak listed as 7h on the DOC brochure Waynowski linked to. Is that unrealistic? My usual pace is about 4km/h including climbing up to 120m per km. Deepriver, thank you for the reminder about weather. I'm well-accustomed to scrubbing trips and turning back due to thunderstorms over here. "The mountain will always be there." More days in the best places helps with that flexibility, and I will work on finding a solution that's a little more focused.
The south of Mt Owen is apparently not for the faint hearted! ie Not for older trampers like me or inexperienced non-NZers unfamiliar with our conditions. (Lots of karst limestone up there with fissures etc. all over the place.) As for DOC times - I have found around here that their times on easier tracks are quite accurate however on the more 'hairy' terrain they are way less than what us older folk can manage. By the way, on the easiest tracks like the Abel Tasman I can usually do them in a bit more than half what they say! Oh dear! I've just looked at that brochure and gather that you are assuming the track times are return???? Those times are one way! And you will note it says for the southern approach - "route". This means little or no evidence of a track. There may be cairns and traces of track but there may not be. Do NOT UNDERESTIMATE what this infers. In other words you need to have good navigation skills, possibly in zero visibility, and high levels of skill in moving through NZ terrain. Not to mention going by yourself is really asking for trouble and the least you should carry is a PLB (personal locator beacon), overnight gear, shelter, etc. etc.. The brochure says "Southern - This is the most difficult approach to Mt Owen, challenging and requiring a high level of fitness and experience." Believe it, it's true! Actually a handy hint is - do not underestimate NZ tramping, it may be more difficult than you are used to. (But it may not be, either, I don't know.)
Deepriver, thanks again, I will take your advice seriously. I have a healthy respect for the number of foreign tourists who have come to grief visiting NZ, and will play it safe to avoid joining their ranks. The biggest difference I can see already is the variability of the NZ weather. I'm used to forecasts being reasonably accurate the night before, and only dealing with the occasional afternoon popup thunderstorm that's over in an hour. Will definitely throw my winter kit in my daypack and get proper raingear before my trip. My local hikes are dirt singletrack at 1200m, but every chance I get I'm up in the Sierras at 2800m or so picking my way across blocky granite fields. I enjoy the challenge of rough and strenuous tramps, but recognize that up is the easy part (and optional, unlike the return!) and know my limits.
think, tree roots and lots and lots of mud and hard to find trails in thick forest on anything but the most popular tracks... you go to the west coast the forest is basically thick jungle...
Accuracy of weather forecasts is a whole new debate, but generally, they're pretty solid 3 days ahead. But, you can walk into rain, that turns into hail, sleet, snow by evening, be knee deep in snow on a mountain pass the next morning, come over the top into the next valley and be back into sweating in a t-shirt by afternoon. They can tell you it's coming, but the weather can be very changeable depending on your geography. NZ is a long, narrow strip of North/South running land, influenced by the Australian desert & Antarctica. The mountainous divide highlights the difference between West & East Coast weather. Hence, the need for flexibility in itinerary (as you are already aware of), and the risk of thinking you MUST proceed to plan regardless of the situation confronting you. Dirt track & scrambling ?. Yeah, you'll be in your element on the Eastern side of the South Island.
Flights and hire car are booked <grin!>, into Christchurch and leaving out of Queenstown. How's this look for a revised itinerary, night by night: 1: Land Christchurch, grocery shopping, and recover from jetlag there 2-3: Arthur's Pass 4-6: Mt. Cook Village 7-9: Wanaka 10-12: Te Anau 13: Milford 14-16: Queenstown The only big driving day left is day 4, from Arthur's Pass to Mt. Cook. Any places to stay in these towns you can recommend? Just looking for clean and quiet and a hot shower, nothing fancy. The huts look very tempting, but I'm concerned about booking them, then getting weathered out and struggling to find a place to spend the night in town at the last minute. Or will rooms be so plentiful in late Feb / early March that I shouldn't worry? I'm getting soft in my "old age" and don't want to sleep in the car... I'm thinking about swapping night 12 from Te Anau to Milford to give me 2 each. I'm also wondering about staying in Glenorchy rather than Queenstown to be closer to the trailheads. But both Milford and Glenorchy look like very small towns ... am I going to be bored if the weather is too rotten for enjoyable tramping and I'm stuck in/around town? Thanks again for all your helpful advice!
forget about arthurs pass. you won't see anything there that really compares to further south and if the weathers bad when you get there , it will be a wasted trip , its just a hell of a lot more driving,,, scrub it and spend more time further south... if the weather is bad at mt cook, just do the walk to hooker lake and head south sooner....
milford can be done in a long day Ive done it as a day trip from queenstown and back Which is also what most tour buses do. From Teanau its 3 hours less driving time so you will have time for a boat tour (not cheap) NZs most dangerous land animal lives at Milford Your bound to meet her. The Fiordland sandfly. I hope you dont mind using deet based insect repellent.
YHA is probably in all those places. Check out the availability on-line. I don't think there is overnight accommodation in Milford, unless you book the overnight boat ride ?. Makes it a nice casual trip from Te Anau. There's plenty to stop and look at. Check in 2pm ?. They cruise you out to the end of the Sound. A wee explore by kayak or outboard motor dinghy, then they feed you. Sleep-over on the boat. Cooked breakfast. Cruise back to Milford. Otherwise you're sandwiched amongst the bus loads of Chinese tourists, day tripping from Queenstown & back !. https://www.realjourneys.co.nz/media/120555/RJ_Vol9_101%20U_Thumbnail.jpg "Milford Wanderer Overnight Cruises" Possibly more of interest on your itinerary schedule in Te Anau than Glenorchy ?. Maybe take the Glow Worm trip over the lake ?. Big bottle sandfly dope is a must. Like Geeves said. Those things are man eaters !. Honestly ?. 50% chance of rain in Milford. Just means all the waterfalls will be at their best.
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