Alastair Calder took a group on our ‘South Island Great Walks Explorer’ tour in April.
Arriving into a stunning autumnal Queenstown the group feasted on a welcome dinner at the iconic Eichardts hotel right on the lakefront then set off early to Milford Sound enjoying the “8th wonder of the world” with the absence of international visitors. Staying at the eco-friendly Milford lodge where friendly Weka tapped on the window, we were up early the next day to stand on the shore of the sound watching the sun creep up over Mitre Peak before walking 10km of the Milford track with not a cloud in the sky.
The next day, just out of Te Anau we walked a day on the Kepler track through stunning Beech forests, a green carpet of moss underfoot as the Waiau river flowed beside us all the way to nearby Lake Manapouri.
Our journey continued as we travelled back to Queenstown to join our thrilling cruise up the Dart River. Our jet boat pilot maneuvered us skillfully up the braided Dart at the headwaters of Lake Wakatipu always surrounded by majestic peaks with Mount Earnslaw the most dominant standing guard in front of us. This was where many films are shot including much of “The Lord of the Rings “ We learnt of the history and resilience of the gold miners intertwined with the history of early Maori. The area is an untouched natural wonderland.
Queenstown offers a variety of tramps some better known than others and the next day we hiked the 8km Mt Crichton Loop Track. Our walk took us up into the heart of Queenstown’s gold mining past. We walked across a large sluiced canyon following the river gorge up to Sam Summers historic miners hut. We stood and marveled at the resilience of the miners hacking a path for water to flow through the sluicings.
Another drive back to Glenorchy on one of the great scenic roads of the world and onto the famous Routeburn Great Walk. Our walk was back along the track to the Routeburn Falls hut where we enjoyed one of our many delicious picnic lunches. Recent overnight rain had created interesting waterfalls as we hiked along the glaciated river flows of the Routeburn River. We saw and heard much bird life, the local inquisitive Robin often our companion .
Leaving Queenstown with a recent dusting of snow atop the Remarkables range we travelled north to Aoraki/ Mount Cook and a two night stay at the famous Hermitage hotel overlooking the ever-changing mountain.
Our penultimate day was to be yet another highlight as we walked the 11 km up and back the Hooker Valley to the glaciated Hooker Lake. We crossed long swing bridges over the green grey waters of the Hooker while above us Mounts Cook, Tasman, Sefton and Jellicoe stood watch. We gazed in awe of the several glaciers unfortunately often in various stages of retreat evidenced by the ice bergs twisting and popping in the Lake.
This tour has to be the perfect way to experience our country’s Great Walks staying in great accommodation and supported by knowledgeable enthusiastic guides and with a wonderful group of like-minded people.
We will be running this tour again in November with John and Rosanne Matheson leading the group. See our website here for more details