Arthur’s Pass is a small alpine village that is nestled between the Southern Alps. The drive into town was particularly scenic, the road snakes its way through the valley and around the mountains before passing over the Otira viaduct. We stopped off at Devil’s Punchbowl, an impressive 430ft waterfall, before heading to camp for the night. This was one of the wildest campsites that we’ve stayed at so far and once night fell, we had a great view of the milky way and the starry night’s sky.
Camping in the wilderness
The next morning we scrambled our way up to Avalanche Peak. Once we had climbed out of the tree line and edged our way past a few sheer drop offs, we we surrounded by mountains and snow capped peaks. We had a quick lunch stop at the top, before heading back down the mountain and driving to the west coast. The walk took us around 4.5 hours in total, it was a tough climb, but it was definitely worth it for the views!
View from Avalanche Peak
On the west coast we visited a glowworm dell and Hokitika Gorge before driving north, along the tropical coastline, to Punakaiki. Punakaiki is a popular stop off due to the famous Pancake Rocks. These limestone formations have been heavily eroded, by the Tasman sea, for thousands of years and the layers now resemble huge stacks of pancakes. There were also some impressive blowholes along the walkway that kept us entertained for a while!
Next stop: Abel Tasman, New Zealand
Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers both descend from the Southern Alps and stretch for around 12km out to the coast (only 300m above sea level). After a brief stop off at the blue pools, we arrived in Fox Glacier town to a day of torrential rain. As the forecast was looking more promising for the following day, we decided to sit it out and wait for the rains to subside.
Thunder Creek Falls
We awoke early the next morning and started off with the terminal face walks to both Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers. For safety reasons you can only get within 200m and 750m of the terminal faces, unless you pay for a helicopter tour that is! Our next walk was the 1.5 hour circuit around Lake Matheson. This was a beautiful walk and we were really lucky to see the near perfect reflection of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in the lake.
Franz Joseph Glacier
We finished the day off with a tough 5 hour trek to Robert’s viewpoint. The path took us over 4 long suspension bridges, crossed waterfalls and streams and involved lots of scrambling over slippery rock faces. It was our most challenging walk so far and probably the most fun too. From Robert’s viewpoint we had a great lookout over Franz Joseph Glacier. We walked for around 8 hours in total, it was a great day and our legs were certainly ready for a good rest afterwards!
Next stop: Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand
Wanaka is a charming lakeside town with plenty of activities on offer. It feels like a smaller, more relaxed version of Queenstown and was particularly beautiful when we visited in May as the autumn colours were really vivid. On the drive over from Oamaru we stopped off at the Elephant Rocks, which are huge boulders that featured in The Chronicles of Narnia films. It was fun spending half an hour or so scrambling and climbing up over the rocks.
In Wanaka we hiked up to Roy’s peak which was a really steep 5 hour walk. It was probably our toughest climb so far, but we had great views looking out over Lake Wanaka and the snow capped Mount Aspiring.
We also did some back country horse riding on Appaloosa (Native Indian) horses in the stunning Cardrona Valley. Neither of us have ridden much before, but we really enjoyed it and it’s and definitely something we’d like to do again!
Next stop: Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers, New Zealand
Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in New Zealand with a staggering 6,813mm annual rainfall (compared to a mere 594mm in London). After checking the weather forecast in Queenstown and realising we had a one day window of sunshine, we decided to push on and head for Milford Sound that afternoon.
We awoke the next morning to perfectly clear blue skies and thankfully managed to squeeze on to the early morning boat trip. We cruised through the fiord, passing several huge waterfalls and the majestic Mitre Peak, before reaching the Tasman sea. The fiord was carved by glaciers during the ice ages and is now home to an abundance of wildlife including seals, penguins, dolphins and even whales occasionally cruise the waters. Despite keeping our eyes pealed we didn’t spot any sea life, but the views more than made up for it!
The drive to Milford Sound
In the afternoon we walked the 3 hour track to Key Summit. The path took us up through the forest to a picturesque little tarn that reflects the surrounding mountains. We also had a great view of Lake Marian, which we had hoped to walk to the next day, but true to the weather forecast the rains came and we decided to move on. We were very lucky to have seen Milford Sound on a beautifully clear day!
Next stop: The Catlins, New Zealand
Queenstown is well known for being the adventure capital of New Zealand. The beautiful alpine town offers everything from bungee jumping and paragliding to jet boat riding and also becomes a ski resort in the winter months. We were quite tempted by the 134m high Ben Nevis bungee jump, but decided to save our funds for another adventure later in the trip. Maybe next time!?
Whilst in Queenstown we hiked up the Ben Lomond track. We took the gondola up to the start of the track and after around 3 hours climbing we reached the summit and were rewarded with a panoramic view looking out over the lake and mountains. A perfect place to have a quick lunch stop and rest our tiring legs!
Paragliders soaring about Queenstown
Views from Ben Lomond track
The following day we drove the scenic route from Queenstown to a little place called Paradise. As we weaved our way along the lake’s edge, we were constantly amazed by the views. This has to be one of our favourite drives so far!
The drive to Paradise
Our camp that night was in a really remote spot about 11km (and 5 deep fords) down a gravel track past Paradise. We had hoped to get some food in when we passed through Glenorchy, but we soon discovered that their local store was more like a garden shed with a few cans of beans. Thankfully we had a few supplies left in the cupboard and didn’t go hungry!
View from our campsite
Next stop: Milford Sound, New Zealand
Mount Cook is the highest peak in New Zealand standing at 3,724m and is snow capped all year round. The drive to Mount Cook is spectacular; the snow capped peak and surrounding mountain ranges encompass the beautifully blue Lake Pukaki. It took us around 2 hours to drive from Lake Tekapo with multiple stops for photos!
We walked the popular Hooker Valley track which took us around 3 hours. We crossed over several suspension bridges, passing tarns and vantage points until we reached the ice cold Hooker Lake at the base of Mount Cook. We spent the night camping in a beautiful spot, surrounded by mountains, at the starting point of the trail.
The next morning we headed south towards Queenstown and stopped off briefly at the Clay Cliffs. The sharp pinnacles and ravines have been formed by the natural erosion of the gravel and silt layers. It makes for quite a dramatic landscape and although the weather was a little gloomy we had fun scrambling around these towering cliffs.
Next stop: Queenstown, New Zealand
Hsipaw (pronounced see-paw) is a small town in the Shan State of Eastern Myanmar. It is a great place for organising trekking to nearby minority villages. We took the incredibly bumpy, but enjoyable, train ride from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw. The journey takes 7 hours and passes over the Gokteik viaduct which was built in 1900, during the British colonial period, and stands at an impressive 100 meters high!
Our first day in Hsipaw was dampened by rain, making trekking seem a lot less appealing. Thankfully when we awoke the following morning the sun was shining, so we booked on to a 2 day 1 night trek through Mr Charles’ guesthouse. We joined 6 other travellers and trekked through the countryside passing several traditional Palaung and Shan villages. Each tribe speaks a different language, so learning a new ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ for each village soon got quite confusing. The cute village kids played games such as ‘throw the flip flop’ while the women continually went back and forth collecting heavy loads of fire wood. Not an easy task!
Drying Rice Noodle
Our guide was quite concerned about the presence of Shan Rebels in the area. At one point we even had to backtrack to avoid a village where the rebels may have been. When we arrived at our homestay at dusk, the owner didn’t seem too keen to let us stay. After shouting at our guide for a good few minutes (possibly over how much she would be paid) we were finally given the approval to come in. We spent the evening sharing stories and jokes around the campfire before retiring to bed for a well deserved sleep.
The second day was much easier walking, we hitched a ride on top of a logging truck for most of the way. Maybe not the safest form of transport, but it was pretty fun. Our final stop was at the hot springs which was great for relaxing our aching muscles before heading back into town.
Next stop: Inle Lake, Myanmar