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
there is a lodge at milford, book as much of your accomodation as possible in advance, feb everything books out, those wanting to avoid school hols come then and those that know the weather si best. and march can still be busy... you can walk the routeburn in any weather, but there isnt much in glenorchy, just one hotel a small supermarket and a cafe.... and milford just a cafe....
Back from my trip, I had a great time! Thanks again to all who helped steer my plans last year. I'm envious of all of you who get to live in such a beautiful corner of the world! For the benefit of anyone in the future who finds this thread, here's what I ended up doing and my post-trip notes: Flew LA-Fiji-Christchurch. Fiji airport terminal under renovation during 2015, best avoided until the construction is complete. Rented a car at Christchurch. Highly recommend renting a car, the trailheads are otherwise almost impossible to reach without lucky hitchhiking, and the flexibility to avoid bad weather can't be overemphasized. First stop was Arthur's Pass, but I got rained out there. Castle Hill is an enjoyable leg-stretcher walk on the drive up. Bealey Spur is east of the main divide and I had overcast but dry weather there on my enjoyable hike while the pass was socked in. More of the same the next day, so I drove down to the west coast where it was bright and sunny, despite a forecast for heavy rain. Elizabeth Point at Greymouth was also a nice walk. I enjoyed walking around Hokitika more than Greymouth; better arts and beach. Hokitikia gorge lived up to the photos. There's almost nothing in Arthur's Pass itself, so plan to self-cater meals and bring your own amusement. Next stop was Mt. Cook. About a 7h drive down from Arthur's Pass. Blessed with 2 days of severe clear weather there. Mueller Hut/Mt. Olivier was a great hike, but very steep and parts just a rocky drainage. The only water source is at Sealey Tarns, which are really just small 10m long ponds. No shade past the tarns. Next day I did Tasman Valley out to Ball Hut on the strong advice of the owner of the backpackers. Unfortunately, this was a fairly disappointing choice. The trail is on a lateral moraine; very rocky underfoot that's uncomfortable to walk on, and of course no shade. The view of the valley never really opens up towards Mt. Cook. I also did Hooker Valley to the 2nd bridge, and think this would have been a better choice than Tasman Valley. Great views of the mountain until the drizzle rolled in. Third destination was Wanaka. I liked this town, good food and easy parking, but petrol was $0.10/L more than anywhere else. I enjoyed Rob Roy glacier hike and the livestock on the drive out, but beware of ~9 stream fords on unsealed road. The compact car I rented handled them fine at low water, but don't take a low clearance vehicle there if there's been lots of rain in the past few days. I walked out the Matukituki Valley nearly to the Cascade Hut, but never located the spur trail to Shotover Saddle. Just as well for me since the ridge was clouded over, but bring GPS/better maps if you go as it's apparently unsigned and lightly used. Note that there's cattle grazing on the valley floor, so water quality may be suspect below the forest. Also near Wanaka, Isthmus Peak looked like a good option that I got weathered out on. Roy's Peak was also on my list and recommended by other visitors at the backpackers. On to Te Anau. Started up Kepler Track from the control gates, but turned back partway up the climb due to an old ankle injury flaring up. Nothing to see below bushline, just dense forest all around. If you go and have more money than time, the shuttle boat to Brod Bay is probably worth it just to avoid the boring lakeshore forest cruise both ways and get to the climb and be above bushline sooner. Hiked Gertrude Saddle -- best hike I did on this trip! There are slabs to climb with cables on this hike. The steel cables looked ok, but bring gloves to protect your hands, and don't go if it's raining, let alone icy. Absolutely stunning view from the saddle down into the sound and Tasman Sea beyond. Made it down off the saddle and down to Milford just in time for the last shuttle boat of the sunny afternoon. Also totally worth it! Not sure if I'd recommend the Sound in low cloud/rain though. The scenery from the drive itself was also fantastic. The most interesting hiking action in this area seemed to all be at/north of The Divide. Recommend self-catering and staying at Gunn's Camp or one of the other handful of places up north off the Milford Road vs. in Te Anau proper. There's nothing in Te Anau downs, and almost nothing at Milford Sound. Last stop was Queenstown. It's a busy, touristy town. Driving is somewhat congested, and parking is tight. Make sure your accommodations have adequate guest parking. I stayed a short walk from downtown, which worked out very well. The steep descent down the Cardrona Pass into Queenstown from Wanaka is stunning, but hard on brakes! Note that Queenstown proper is 10+ minutes down Frankton Arm from the Hwy 6 roundabout. Also nice drive out and back to Arrowtown on the backroad (via Coronet skifield, IIRC?). Hiked the Routeburn from the east to Harris Saddle, and enjoyed the above-bushline section beyond Routeburn Falls Hut. Next day, hiked Ben Lomond in Queenstown, starting at the foot of the gondola. Fantastic views of town and the lake from the top, but no shade or water beyond the top of the gondola. Protip: climbing 1400m the day before 24h of international air travel does not lead to comfortable flights! Miscellaneous notes: *Hike times posted on signs/brochures were one-way and accurate for me, a 30something guy who's reasonably fit in-season, but this trip was at the end of northern winter so not really tuned up for big hikes. This is in contrast to times given in US park brochures, where I normally take 1/3-1/2 off the times quoted. Hike distances and elevation gains are hard to find. *This time of year, mornings were often single digits Celsius, but afternoons were in the mid 20s. Wind/waterproof shell and a fleece jacket with shorts worked out well. *Each valley seems like its own microclimate for clouds and temperature. Plan accordingly... *Lots of company on these popular trails in-season, so no concerns about hiking solo. *Switchbacks are the exception rather than the rule. USA hikers take note... *Don't scrimp on the sunblock, the sun seemed stronger than at comparable latitude/altitude/season northern hemisphere locations I've been at. Hats are your friend. *Petrol stations are often 50+km apart. Watch the gauge! Petrol prices were comparable or slightly cheaper at the small wayside towns vs. the bigger tourist centers. *Familiarize yourself with one-lane bridge protocol; felt like doc.govt.nz rankers.co.nz http://matadornetwork.com/trips/trekking-new-zealand-the-south-island-beyond-the-great-walks/ (see also other misc. articles) http://nzwalksinfo.co.nz/ http://www.trampingtracks.co.nz/ http://www.arthurspass.com/ http://besthike.com/
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