After Abel Tasman came the big drive - the journey down most of the length of New Zealand's South Island. We were relocating to the Queenstown-Wanaka area, where we'd have access to a broad swath of New Zealand's Southern Alps.
Highway to Golden Rays
We did the drive south over a total of about ten hours of driving (split over an evening and the following morning and afternoon). The landscape covered over those ten hours varied immensely: verdant river valleys; rugged, mist-shrouded coastline; soaring, snow-capped peaks; arid mountains, and huge deep-blue fjord-like lakes. If only we had had more time; so many of the sights and regions along the drive deserved many days of exploration.
In the town of Wanaka, our group split up for a few days. Five of us headed off into the Southern Alps on a three-day mountaineering expedition. Andy and Andrea took one of the vans and headed off to explore nearby Queenstown for a few days, and Lori relaxed for a couple of days in Wanaka.
Starting Aspiring Backpack
Our mountaineering expedition took place in the exceedingly beautiful West Matukituki Valley near and in Mount Aspiring National Park. As we walked up the valley to our high hut (we stayed in mountain huts both nights), we were continually amazed at how the already beautiful scenery improved with nearly every step.
The peak we had planned to climb - Mt Barff (yes, you heard that right: Mt Barff) - is a glaciated summit that requires roped travel and glacier climbing/rescue skills. Unfortunately, by the time we got to our hut just below the route, three out of our five team members were unable to continue. With only two left to execute the climb, we had to cancel the attempt (since as a general rule, I'm not comfortable climbing on a crevassed glacier with only one party of two).
Excellent Trail Infrastructure
The weather started to shift as we made our way back down to our lower valley camp, but still remained nice enough for us to explore some of the many beautiful waterfalls that cascade down the sides of the West Matukituki Valley. Early on the third day, with rainy weather now upon us, we quickly hiked back to the trailhead, where Lori soon showed up with the van and spirited us away to drier weather.
Next up, we moved an hour's drive south to the self-billed outdoor recreation capital of New Zealand - Queenstown. Situated in dramatic landscape at a bend in 80km-long Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is the hub for many nearby outdoor recreational activities, including (but probably not limited to): skiing, mountain biking, bungee jumping, trekking, climbing, sailing, and paddling. We spent the afternoon wandering the city's streets. We even had a little fun at a local downhill luge/kart run.