I discussed my favourite hikes on the North island of New Zealand in part one and two of my New Zealand's Best Hikes series. Today it's time to head South! Starting at Abel Tasman National Park, moving on to Franz Josef Glacier and finishing at Paradise Valley near Queenstown. Three incredible hikes, and many many hours of hiking-fun ;) Want to know how long it took us to complete a 36.6 kilometer hike? Keep reading!
Abel Tasman National Park Coastal Track
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of New Zealand's Great Walks. If you walk the whole track, it takes about 3 to 5 days to complete it. Since we only planned on doing one-day hikes we left early in the morning for a full day hike in the national park. To save some time, I strongly advise you to make use of a water taxi, which can drop you off and pick you up at any point you like. We made the mistake of not booking in advance, but we were lucky there were two extra places on a water taxi leaving at Kaiteriteri (one of the three starting points). In the end we only used the water taxi in the morning and walked all the way back to Kaiteriteri.
Our water taxi took us to Torrent Bay, with a little detour to see the Split Apple Rock and the baby seals on Adele Island. Make sure you bring a towel and wear shorts or trousers you can roll up, because the water taxi drops you off in shallow water, so you have to walk to shore.
Without a real plan, we decided to walk north and only turn back after lunch time. When we reached Bark Bay (where we had lunch on the rocks) we decided to head back since it was still a long way. Although the track itself was quite easy (not too much climbing and very well-maintained), this was the longest hike we did during our trip. Again, we had a fast pace and only stopped for short breaks. The final few kilometers seemed to last forever!
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track provides a perfect mix of secluded sandy beaches, sea, forest, streams and jungle so you never get bored of the sights. Next time I would love to do the 3 day hike, and reach the more northern part of the track which is less busy apparently. Must-do!
Our hiking route in Abel Tasman
> Water Taxi from Kaiteriteri to Torrent Bay via Split Apple Rock and Adele Island
> Torrent Bay walk to Bark Bay (7.7 km)
> Return: Bark Bay walk to Torrent Bay (7.7 km)
> Torrent Bay walk to Kaiteriteri (21.2 km)
> Total: 7 hours, 36.6 km
Lunch break at Bark Bay
Franz Josef Glacier - Alex Knob Track
This was the track from hell, as I like to call it. Actually is wasn't as bad as it sounds, because it was one of the most special hikes we did, but in the moment it wasn't that much fun. The weather at Franz Josef Glacier can be quite changeable, so one day it will be sunny and the next few days rain. Because we didn't have the luxury of time to wait a couple of days, we had to see the glacier with mist and rain. Since the helicopters weren't flying (the most common way to see the glacier), we decided to walk a track which would take us to a high point with supposedly a magnificent view of the glacier.
We left in the morning with good courage, all of our waterproof clothing and some snacks. The weather couldn't have been worse. The rain was pouring down, non-stop. We told ourselves that we could always turn back at any point (since it was a one-way track, not a loop), so we started. After 30 minutes, every single layer of clothing was completely soaked, even with my rain-proof coat. Even our backpacks were soaked, with our phones and camera inside! (spoiler alert, they all survived)
The track itself was already difficult on its own, with many rocks, branches, fallen trees etc, but the rain had turned the path into mini-waterfalls. So I hopped and skipped from rock to rock, trying to not get my feet too wet but I gave up after an hour and just walked through the streams.
As we walked the track, we only met one couple at the very beginning who had decided to turn back. It probably wasn't the wisest thing to continue, since the weather conditions weren't ideal, the track was difficult, we were unexperienced and we didn't tell anyone where we would be going that day. Thankfully nothing went wrong! It never stopped raining so it was really tiring, I wanted to give up, and I was losing hope that we would see the glacier from the top of the mountain (1303 meters). Once we reached the the mountain top, the jungle turned into shrubs and grass, and we were wrapped in thick white clouds. We couldn't see a thing and it was freezing cold since we were soaked and there were cold gusts of wind. When we reached the top we quickly ate our snacks for some energy and started our descent. I couldn't wait to get back down to the car and take a hot shower.
The descent went really quickly, although the rain was still pouring down. But even though the conditions weren't ideal, this was a really special hike because 1) we were literally the only ones on the track 2) the mist and rain added a really mystical feel to the hike 3) it was challenging and kind of fun to climb rocks and trees as if we were kids 4) it felt like a victory to have reached the top 5) I felt like a real hobbit walking through natural tree tunnels.
It's only now that I see this on the DOC website: "This track is for experienced and well-equipped trampers only".. so you can already guess this was a tough one and a little bit reckless on our part. The track both ways is 17.2 km in total and the suggested time is 8 hours but we did it in 5 hours, so if you have a fast pace it can be easily done in less than 8 hours. I would definitely do it all over again, but maybe with some nice weather next time so we can actually see Franz Josef Glacier!
Walking on the side of the track which had turned into little waterfalls.
The blue-est mushroom you'll ever see
Paradise Valley - Rees Dart Track
Paradise Road starts in Glenorchy, which is a 30-40 minute drive from Queenstown. Far away from the rather loud attractions of Queenstown, you'll find the place where they filmed parts of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies. Not nearly as touristy as Hobbiton, because Paradise Valley cannot by reached by camper van or tour bus, so many people don't make the effort to come this far.
It starts with the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy, which so is incredibly scenic you can't help stopping several times to take photos. Lake Wakatipu has a mesmerising shade of petrol blue, which is even cooler when the clouds and surrounding mountains are reflected by it.
From Glenorchy it's 20 more kilometers to Paradise, following Paradise road. The first 8 kilometers are sealed, the last 12 are not. This is where you might encounter some issues if you don't have a decent car (don't even try with a big camper van). You'll drive by farmland, the private Arcadia homestead (whoever lives here can say they actually live in Paradise!) and Diamond Lake before crossing some rivers while entering the beautiful beech forest of Mt Aspiring National Park. We left our car right in front of the last big river (not sure we could have made it across), and walked the final part to Chinaman's Bluff Car Park, where the Rees-Dart Track starts.
This is actually 4-5 day track, but we only did about 5 hours in total. You really feel like you're in paradise, as you walk through mossy beech forest, past waterfalls, through wind-swept grassy fields and past the icy grey Dart River, with incredible views of the mountains. Apart from two very courageous mountain bikers, we didn't see anyone else on the track. While the very popular 3-day Routeburn Track is just a few kilometers away, I would definitely recommend doing this one instead, since it's less crowded and probably just as beautiful. Because the track is less known among tourists (we got the tip from a local), it felt like a more special experience than the busier tracks. Paradise on earth!
The road from Queenstown to Glenorchy.
The rivers you'll need to cross by car to reach the track
The start of the Rees-Dart Track
When your feet hurt you go Hobbit-style-barefoot! How could I not in a forest like this?
Lunch break by the Dart River, getting absolutely killed by sand flies so that didn't last very long.
I know this was a lot of text to read through, but I hope I made up for it with the many photos! These three tracks were all so special they deserved some extra explanation. There are thousands of hikes to choose from in New Zealand, so I hope I'm making the choice a little easier with these posts. Also check part one and part two of my New Zealand best hikes series if you haven't done so. Alex Knob and the Rees-Dart track were the least busy tracks we did up to this point, so if you like being surrounded by beautiful nature only and you're pretty adventurous, I highly recommend them! Stay tuned for part 4.