The Mount Cook and the Hooker Valley
After I arrived at Mount Cook yesterday, I meet up with Lukas to go for a little hike. Because of the winter weather we decide to go on the Red Tarn Track, which leads from Mount Cook Village a long way into the mountains. But not as far as the track is closed because of snow.
Nevertheless, we are standing in the snow on the last meters up to our ankles, good that we have proper hiking boots and the snow is no obstacle. A bit surreal is only the clothes for us. Because of the steep incline, we are in t-shirt and sweating well while there is snow on the ground around us.
In the evening we want to visit the Hermitage Hotel and try the evening buffet. According to Lukas this is supposed to be great and I am also ready to have this fun in a posh hotel. Not quite the usual backpacker budget, but in any case, worth a try.
We finish the hike; Lukas goes to the hostel and I drive to Tasman Valley for a little side trip to have a look around. Despite the winter there are still astonishingly many tourists here in Tasman Valley, maybe because the Hooker Valley Track is still closed at the moment.
Dinner at a posh hotel
Punctually at 18 o'clock at the beginning of the buffet, we show up at the Hermitage Hotel. Visibly amused and a little irritated, the waiter accompanies us to one of the first tables of the evening. When he asks us if we are guests of the hotel, we only have to laugh, as one night often costs more than one hundred euros per night. When we explain to him that Lukas is staying in the hostel and I am staying on the camping site, you can see his astonishment.
The dinner buffet with 70 NZD is not exactly cheap either, but in any case, the overall ambience is right. Delicious food and a great view from the panorama window to the surrounding mountains are only a part of the whole evening. Only the sun sets quite soon and so we can see the starry sky little by little. A great place and little light pollution.
As far as food is concerned there is a rich choice and Lukas and I use all the space available in our stomachs to try as much as possible. Especially the dessert buffet is very popular with both of us (after we have already been to the buffet more than 5 times during our normal meal). So, if you want to treat yourself to some luxury on your trip, yes, it's worth the fun!
The second night at the White Horse Hill campground
After we have filled our stomachs with food, Lukas goes back to the hostel and I drive with the van to the nearby DOC camping site. Thanks to the full stomach I can't sleep directly anyway, so I use my motivation and go out into the cold again with my camera to take some more pictures of the starry sky. A young backpacker from Singapore sleeps next to me at the campground. After we talked for a few minutes while I was taking pictures, she asks me to explain to her how she can take pictures of the starry sky. Unfortunately, she only has a smartphone, so she is not able to take these impressive pictures. Instead I send her some photos by e-mail and then go to sleep relaxed.
Departure from Mount Cook and a spontaneous change of plan
Actually, I wanted to leave quite early in the morning towards Queenstown, but then everything turned out differently. While I am sitting at breakfast a construction worker of the DOC shows up at the closed Hooker Valley Track. Because the track was closed for several months, one of the neighbours goes to the construction workers and finds out that we are lucky. Because today the track is reopened. Without much notice and not even on the DOC website.
As I have never run the Hooker Valley Track before, I change my plan, pack my hiking gear and 30 minutes later I am on my way through the Hooker Valley.
The Hooker Valley Track is impressively beautiful, although also very touristy. I'm very happy about my hat and gloves, because despite the sun you notice the winter here in the mountains.
Altogether, the Hooker Valley Track leads up to Hooker Lake and offers a great view of Mount Cook. You can get some short insights into this on our YouTube channel.
Onward journey towards Queenstown
After I have completed the track, I drive off towards Queenstown. On the way I notice that the turn signal is flashing much faster than before. After a short check it is clear that the left turn signal is already no longer in the mood. Since my safety is very important to me, I start looking for a garage. Fortunately, there is one only 100 kilometres away.
On the way to the garage I pick up a hitchhiker, Max from China. So, the journey to the workshop is also entertaining. Max also wants to go to Queenstown and I leave him on the road before I stop at the workshop. Not knowing how extensive the problem really is, Max tries to get further from there.
A mechanic looks at my turn signal and laughs, the previous owner or another mechanic has patched a cable and connected it with metal sleeves. But over time the rubber insulation has disintegrated, so the metal has caused a short circuit and grilled my bulb. Luck in misfortune, so the fault is quickly fixed and to install a new bulb costs only a few dollars.
Because of the workshop visit and the waiting time it is already afternoon by now, I rearrange and look for a Freedom camping site on the way.
Lowburn Harbour, Camping at the lake
After it is already dark, I finally arrive at Freedom Camp. Thanks to Wikicamps I discovered a great spot at the water. Now in winter there is not much going on here and I have almost free choice where to put myself.
I quickly cooked a little bit and then took some photos. The night sky with good weather is just a dream and as a photographer my heart goes out here. For hours I could photograph this starry sky (which I often do).
A quiet night and the first booked tours
From Lowburn Harbour I finally drive to Queenstown. As I have been here before, I only make a short shopping stop and then drive on to Manapouri. At Lake Manapouri there is the Visitor Centre of Real Journeys, here I want to book my first tours. I have never been to Doubtful Sound before, so I book a station wagon and treat myself to Milford and Doubtful Sound as a boat tour. Not knowing that the access to Milford Sound is not possible today, because the Milford Highway is closed because of avalanche danger.
Because the access to Milford Sound is not possible today, I only drive the short distance from Manapouri to Te Anau and book a paid pitch at the Getaway Te Anau campground. This is the first opportunity to work and at least not to let the bad weather pass by unused.
The campground is nice and the showers are good too. After all the Freedom Camping a warm shower is great.
Since it rains in the evening I cook in the van and then go to bed early. Supposedly the Milford Highway should be free again tomorrow and therefore my goal is to leave as early as possible for Milford Sound.
The Milford Highway and a roadblock
After I woke up with the sunrise, I check the track situation for the Milford Sound. According to the New Zealand Road Authority, the closure is to be lifted at early noon. Anchored in German thinking, I read from it a time between 11-12 o'clock, but this will be explained later.
The drive from Te Anau is smooth at first, but already a few kilometres after I left the city (don't forget to fill up the tank!!!) there is a small detour that leads past an information booth. At the info house I am pointed out to the currently still continuing closure, here it is already spoken of early afternoon for the lifting. Because I had expected the closure, I think nothing of it and drive on until I arrive at the barrier. Better said I arrive at the traffic jam, because of course there are many others who had a similar idea as me. Beside the tourists and some employees, there are also half a dozen tour busses that are also waiting impatiently in the barrier. When I arrive there, it is already 12 o'clock and my thought of an early lifting of the blockade evaporates.
Nature at the Milford Highway
As I have enough food with me, I don't think anything of the longer closing time and as it doesn't look like the closing time will be dissolved soon, I start to get out of the car and chat with the surrounding tourists, as many others do. At least the Milford Highway workers are friendly and relaxed and willingly give information about the current status. Meanwhile a small Kea dives on the obviously pleased with the traffic jam. Besides hiding in the trees, he enjoys flying from car to car. Some take out their cameras and use the opportunity to take pictures, because the Kea is a rare bird in New Zealand.
An unexpected meeting in Milford Sound
After the roadblock was really lifted at 15 o'clock, I drove directly to the campground at Milford Sound to secure my place because I didn't book in advance. After this is done, I drive to Milford Sound and take the chance to take some nice pictures of the sunset in Milford Sound. At the terminal I meet Christian and Kerstin, because they also wanted to go to Milford Sound and until we meet at the terminal by chance, we have never really seen each other except on Facebook. Funny that I recognized them random at the terminal.
After a nice chat we meet for dinner at the campground, because they also stay there.
A night at the Milford Sound
Since I have been in Milford Sound every time I have been on a trip, it is my fourth trip to New Zealand after all, I decide to set up a camera at the harbour after dinner and photograph the starry sky in Milford Sound.
Despite all my doubts I hide the camera well and drive back to the campground. Do everything important and 3 hours later I drive to the harbour again to collect my camera.
Boat tour on the Milford Sound
As announced earlier, I had booked a tour with Real Journeys, which is supposed to take place today. Also, the highway is open again and the tour starts comfortably just before noon. So, I use the morning in Milford Sound and take some photos and videos. From the breakwater at the harbour I watch the ships leaving the harbour and curse the ubiquitous sand-flies, because they are very annoying. Long clothes help against the beasts, but as soon as you stand still for a longer time it's over and the sand-flies sit on every available part of the body without covering.
The tour with Real Journeys is impressive, as beside the captain there is an own nature guide on board. He explains a lot about the Milford Sound and the animals that can be observed. After nearly 3 hours the boat tour is over and I drive back to the camping site. All the photos and videos I took I want to transfer comfortably in the lounge of the campsite and get as much as possible done before it gets dark. For hours I sit there and sort the photos of the last days and today's boat tour. Even if you quickly think that running a website wouldn't be much effort, it is still something different than a holiday in New Zealand.
The last evening at the Milford Sound
The campsite is home to a family of Kea birds. And every evening they have fun chasing off careless tourists for food or other interesting items. An exciting spectacle and a good opportunity to watch the animals. I leave early in the morning because my goal is to see the Chasm in the morning, preferably without other tourists.
When I arrive at the Chasm, there are only a few Keas besides me. With these I spend an hour, films and photographs and make perfect use of my time. When the first other tourists show up, I walk the short distance to the Chasm. A unique rock formation from which an interesting shape was cut out by the rushing water. The water masses fall a good distance down and the water causes a considerable noise level. Through the fern and moss-covered forest, I walk back to the parking lot. Just now the first tourist buses arrive and the Keas flee into the surrounding forest.
Overnight stay in Manapouri and a beautiful starry sky
After the Chasm I drive back to Te Anau in one go, refuel and buy some food. Then I drive on to Manapouri and check in at the local Manapouri Motorhome & Caravan Park. The pitches are mostly empty and as I don't need electricity, I am all alone on the smaller pitches without electricity. The advantages of travelling in winter, less tourists and generally lots of space in most places.
Tomorrow I will go to the Doubtful Sound, after that I can finally make a fair comparison if we would rather recommend the Milford or the Doubtful Sound.
Travel period and interesting facts
Our fourth New Zealand trip took place from 15.08.2019 – 13.11.2019. Without much planning but with a lot of knowledge we explored New Zealand in our own van and got many updates to already existing knowledge. So, we can continue to be a relevant and important source of knowledge for you as a New Zealand interested person. If you want to get information about New Zealand, this blog is available for free.
Questions, comments or unclear points about this article
Do you have a question or comment about this article? Then write us a comment and we will answer it comfortably here in our blog. Thanks a lot.
Ask us anything
We run this blog so you can have a great time in New Zealand. All the articles and videos are free for anyone.
If you want to ask an individual question about Newzealand, your working holiday or anything else around travelling New Zealand, then this is your chance.
Even it always looks like holiday, this website and the project is a fulltime business. So you can support us with any question if you'd like.
Simply click the button and ask us, in exchange for your answer you can give what you value our time.
If every visitor would support us with 1€ per year, our business would be up running for long times. Therefore we count on your support!
A big thank you from the depth of our hearts. Julian & the team of Project-Newzealand