The fourth trip to New Zealand #04 – Travel stories

A boat tour in the Doubtful Sound

So, after I only got to know the Milford Sound until now, it's time for the Doubtful Sound today. From the campground in Manapouri I drive only a few minutes to the visitor centre, where the boat trip is supposed to start in the morning.

When I arrive and check in 15 minutes before leaving, there are already some other people there. On the first boat both tours that start on this day go together over Lake Manapouri. So, we are about 70 people in total, which I find quite impressive for the off-season. The boat tour over Lake Manapouri is uneventful, after all I don't get seasick. At the visitor station on the other side there are exciting models of the existing hydroelectric power plant and the construction of the same. Funnily enough, the power plant was originally built for the aluminium factory in Bluff and still gives most of its energy to this factory. Normally you can also book a tour of the hydroelectric power plant, but this is not possible at the time of my visit due to reconstruction work.


Wildlife in the Doubtful Sound

Wildlife in the Doubtful Sound


The trip over the Wilmot Pass

From the visitor centre at the west arm of Lake Manapouri we take a bus over the Wilmot Pass. On the way we stop at a lookout point and enjoy the view. Unfortunately, the weather is only partly with us, so there are countless clouds and rain again and again. Doubtful Sound is extremely rainy and sunny dry days are rare.


Doubtful Sound and the only sun that day

Doubtful Sound and the only sun that day


After the bus ride we reach the actual Doubtful Sound after (about 2 hours after departure from Manapouri). The boat is waiting for us and we are allowed to board directly. Fortunately, a selection of warm drinks is free and the crew at the bar is in a good mood.


The actual trip across the Doubtful Sound takes 3 hours and leads along the Doubtful Sound to the open sea before we head back to the harbour. On our way we see dolphins, have a lot of wind and some stronger rain showers. Unfortunately, the sun doesn't show up once and so many of my photos are not as beautiful as I would have liked. At least the filming has become something and so I can cut a short video about the Doubtful Sound.



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The Doubtful Sound is indeed much quieter than the Milford Sound. Here there are only two tour operators and accordingly few boats. As in Milford Sound there is no mobile phone reception, so there is always time to concentrate on the experience and the prevailing silence.

You can read more about Doubtful Sound vs. Milford Sound in the article on our blog.

Recommended post:  Doubtful- or Milford Sound which one to visit - Backpacking tips


Doubtful Sound and rain clouds

Doubtful Sound and rain clouds


Personal summary of the Doubtful Sound

In summary, I think the Doubtful Sound is great and a wonderful experience. If I had to choose between the two sounds, my choice would be the Milford Sound.

But those who are looking for silence and less tourists are in good hands in the Doubtful Sound and have a great experience with the day trip.


Continue towards Queenstown

From Manapouri, we go back in direction to Queenstown. Since I underestimate the travel time, I end up in Lumsden at the Freedom Camp at the train station. With a nice backpacker couple, I have a nice dinner and fall into bed early. Tomorrow morning, I want to go to Queenstown and see if I can catch the great starry sky again.

The next morning when my alarm clock rings at 3am, the previous exhausting and impressive day pays its toll. So, I turn around and prolong my sleep until 5am, hoping that this time of day is not too late to drive to Queenstown.

When I am on my way to find a nice spot at Lake Wakatipu, I stop next to the road at the Devils Stair Case.


Sunrise at Lake Wakatipu

Sunrise at Lake Wakatipu


Unfortunately, the sunrise is already in full swing and I don't see any stars anymore, but I can see how a pale blue turns into a new day and the mountains start to shine in sunlight.


While my cameras record a time lapse, I have breakfast and plan my further day. Up to now I have always skipped Queenstown, so this time I decided to do a little more in Queenstown. Beside the surrounding mountains there are some smaller hikes and ski areas to which I want to pay attention this time.



On the way to Queenstown I first turn off towards the Remarkables and the ski area of the same name. At the bottom I pick up a young female skier who is looking for a lift to the top. As I have never driven the track before, I torture my van up the serpentines. Behind me several of the ski buses and a few other cars gather, but my van is simply not made for serpentines and steep mountains.


View on Frankton and Queenstown Airport

View on Frankton and Queenstown Airport


The view on the way down is great, so I stop at a lay-by and enjoy the view of Queenstown Airport in Frankton and the surrounding mountains.

From there I relax and make my way back down to the valley. Next, I drive up the opposite side of the mountain to Coronet Peak and the smaller ski area. Also, here a hitchhiker is waiting in the valley who would like to go skiing on the mountain. The parking places at the top of the mountain are either with costs or quickly full, that is why many people park their car in the valley and then either use the buses with costs or just a lift.


Frankton Library Queenstown

After I have had enough experiences and photos for today, I decide to go to the library for a short time despite the good weather. As my experience from previous years with libraries in Queenstown was rather negative, I decide to try the new library in Frankton this time. Unfortunately, it is visible here, too, that backpackers are only moderately welcome. At least there are tables and electricity, but the WLAN costs a fee after the first 30 minutes. Nevertheless, it is cheaper than using your mobile phone. It's a pity to see these limitations appearing in more and more libraries and the old charm fades away. A shortcoming of mass tourism in New Zealand?


Looking for a campsite in Queenstown

Since I don't have any idea for a place to sleep in or around Queenstown yet, I check Wikicamps and find a nicely located DOC campground at Moke Lake. Like all DOC campsites in Queenstown it costs 15NZD per person and I decide to visit the site. Shortly before sunset I arrive there and notice that the site is beautifully situated between the mountains. A jewel in my opinion and big enough to accommodate many campers even in the main season.

In the evening I take advantage of the opportunity to take up further time laps and go to bed early, tomorrow I want to go on a hike with two other backpackers.


Hiking on the Queenstown Hill

The Queenstown Hill is actually not a real mountain at all, the name hill is a good description. In the morning I meet with Anja and Katrin at the beginning of the track. Together we walk the trail to the first lookout point, have a short break and then start the second part of the climb. At the top we enjoy the view and have a little break with muffins and muesli bars.


Hiking Queenstown Hill

Hiking Queenstown Hill


All in all, ascent and descent together take about 2,5 hours for us and we don't hurry. Because what is one in New Zealand for, if not to enjoy nature.


After we have finished the hike, we spontaneously decide to try another Fergburger. Anja and Katrin are already convinced, I have never been there and want to see for myself if Fergburger is also something for vegetarians. So, we drive with the van to the lake, park and walk back to the city.


Fergburger in Queenstown

When we arrive, we are lucky, no queue and we can order directly. Our waiting time is 10 to 15 minutes, but it feels like the burgers are ready much faster. The system at Fergburger seems to be working well and we look for a place at the water to try our burgers in the sun.


Fergburger Queenstown

Fergburger Queenstown


Insider tip for the partly long queue at Fergburger. The menu is available online as PDF and orders are also accepted by phone, so you can get your burger much faster depending on the workload.


The Fergburger for vegetarians (there are two different ones after all) are delicious and I as a confessing mainstream avoider can definitely say that I have eaten much worse burgers. Especially the patties I like and the sauce is delicious. I didn't think I would go there for a burger after so many years of travelling in New Zealand. And all the better that they convinced me to do so. Thanks to both of you for that!


The road to Wanaka

From Queenstown I drive towards Wanaka in the afternoon. On the recommendation of Kerstin and Christian I chose Freedom Camp on the Pisa Conservation Area for the overnight stay, a bit exposed but with an excellent view from the mountain towards Queenstown. The steep road takes its toll and so I drive comfortably towards the campground. By the time I arrive the sun is already setting and we are at the top of the mountain pass with only 3 vehicles. It is relatively windy and thanks to the winter quite fresh. But with sleeping bag and two blankets it is bearable.


Sundown from Pisa Conservation Area

Sundown from Pisa Conservation Area


The next morning, I drive from the campground the small piece to Cardrona and am impressed by the Bra Fence. A fence full of bras and with the message to collect money for breast cancer research.


Wanaka and the Wanaka Tree

I have breakfast comfortably in Wanaka with a view of the Wanaka Tree. Despite the winter there are some tourists on the way and they all want only one thing, a photo of the Wanaka Tree. Especially for Asians the Wanaka Tree seems to have a special meaning, because they seem to be in the majority. Funnily enough I rediscover a group of four travellers at the Wanaka Tree, who already were with me on the Doubtful Sound boat tour.


Meeting others at the Wanaka Tree

Meeting others at the Wanaka Tree


I say a quick hello and we take some funny photos at Wanaka Tree before they leave and I drive to the library in Wanaka to finish my work.

After a long day in the library I drive to the Red Bridge Freecamp and enjoy a quiet night.


The Wanaka Tree

The Wanaka Tree


Departure towards the west coast

After a quiet night with a lot of sleep I drive to Lake Hawea, have breakfast with a view of the lake and then continue comfortably towards the west coast. The west coast is a gem and even though I have already spent a lot of time there, there is still a lot to discover for me.

At the Gillespie’s Beach I move into my night accommodation and have a short exchange with the other backpackers there. Together we watch an impressive sunset at the west coast before I go to bed early again. The many intense impressions of the last days take their toll.


Sundown at Gillespies Beach

Sundown at Gillespies Beach


At Gillespie’s Beach there are still remains of an old bucket wheel excavator with which gold was formerly mined and I look at these rusting remains the next morning. A bit hidden in the green, they are still easy to find thanks to the signs. It's a pity that I had not applied for a drone permit for this area, here would have been a super nice place for it.


Old remains from the gold mining area

Old remains from the gold mining area


Hokitika and the Arthurs Pass

From Gillespie’s Beach I drive to Hokitika around noon and sit down in the library again. The vast amount of photos takes more time than I thought at the beginning of my trip.

In Hokitika I watch the sunset and from there I drive to Arthurs Pass.


Sundown in Hokitika

Sundown in Hokitika


The temperature drops significantly and I prepare myself again for a very cold night.


According to the weather forecast it should be a fresh -6°C, hopefully my sleeping bag and blankets will be enough.


When I arrive at Arthurs Pass, I take the DOC camping site directly at the station and check in relaxed myself. In the morning a young lady comes to check if everyone has done their check-in.

At night it froze and my windows on the van froze from the inside.


Ironically, even a mouse didn't like the cold night, so I have a new fellow traveller since today. The little mouse rustles, but always hides when I search for it surprisingly well.


Bridge at the Arthurs Pass

Bridge at the Arthurs Pass


Arthur's pass back towards the east coast

Today I made another appointment with the two backpackers I had already met in Queenstown. In the evening we meet in a small village called Rakaia. In the local pub, after all there are even two different pubs, we meet for a nice chat and a cool drink. While we are absorbed in conversation another backpacker comes and talks to me. After he saw my jacket he wanted to know if I really am this Project New Zealand. Funnily enough his girlfriend follows me on Instagram and so our round is spontaneously extended by two additional people. At this point best regards to Tine and Gerrit (nexthop2 on Instagram).

Spontaneously I can sleep with them in front of their house at their current workplace, so I don't have to search for my sleeping place even late at night.


The last day alone

Today is Sunday and I am invited by two other backpackers (Dominique and her boyfriend) for delicious pancakes, an opportunity I can't miss.

At noon we drive together in two vans towards Christchurch. The two want to spend their day off in Christchurch and I make another small detour to Terry and Isabella where I already stayed in the guest room at the beginning.

After a delicious dinner at Terry and Isabella's, there is fast food and burgers, I meet Dominique and her boyfriend again, this time in Christchurch on the beach. The next morning, I have to get up early because I have to meet a new fellow traveller at the airport.


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.


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