The South Island (III): From Queenstown to Akaroa

21 02 2012

Queenstown is the center for all kinds of action sports, including bungee jumping, hang gliding, white water rafting, heli skiing and mountain biking. Queenstown’s Kawarau Bridge was the first place in the world to commercially offer bungee jumping to tourists. Queenstown is also the entry gate to the Fjordlands in the south and southwest. With our 5-month-old baby daughter we took it easy, skipped all the high adrenaline activities and instead took a cruise on a 100-year-old steam boat on Lake Wakatipu, including a visit to a farm on the other side of the lake, with sheep shearing demonstration and tea and cake. The local caravan parkdeserves a special mentioning: The buildings and open-air facilities are scattered with industrial iron objects like steam boat chimneys and parts of old bathroom pluming, some probably dating back to the beginnings of the industrial revolution. All are lovingly and expertly incorporated in the modern structures of the caravan park. It turned out the caravan park is run by two former plumbers who collected all these objects all their life and now put them on display – brilliant!

BBQ facilities made from old heater units and water tabs – brilliant!

Queenstown is the starting point for the journey to Milford Sound, probably the most famous of NZ’s fjords. As there is only one road leading to Milford sound, the return trip realistically takes three days with our slow car. With only 4 days left till the end of our trip, we decided to skip Milford Sound and instead start the way to Christchurch from where our return flight would depart. So after two days in Queenstown we started northwards. On a sunny day we first headed eastwards towards Cromwell through beautiful windy steep mountain roads.

Roaring Meg outlook, at the Kawarau River between Queenstown and Cromwell.

In Cromwell we turned north. About half way between Cromwell and Omarama, the highway climbs up to the Lindis Pass (971 m above sea level). For us the tree-less landscape was amongst the most impressive views in New Zealand.

Road leading up to Lindis Pass, between Cromwell and Omarama.

Panorama view from Lindis Pass westwards into the Southern Alpes.

We drove on northwards on State Highway 8 and stopped for the night at the Mount Cook outlook at the south end of Lake Pukaki. On a clear day, one can see the snow covered Aoraki or Mount Cook , with 3754 m the highest peak of New Zealand. It was the training ground for Sir Edmund Hillary before he set out to climb the Mount Everest. We had no luck because clouds blocked the view to Mount Cook both on the evening when we arrived and all morning before we left again the next day. While we had breakfast, we became an attraction ourselves to in total 4 bus loads of Chinese tourists who all took the same photo of clouds before Mount Cook, but also of the weird but friendly Western couple with the cute baby in the very small campervan.
Not long after we left and headed further north in the direction of Christchurch, the sun came out again and it became a beautiful summer day.

View from Mount Cook lookout - Lake Pukaki with Mt. Cook (red arrow) hiding in the clouds. Inset is from a better day, taken from

On the way from Mt. Cook lookout at Lake Pukaki to Christchurch.

After so many mountains, the rest of the way was surprisingly flat, and on the state highway we quickly reached the outskirts of Christchurch. Here we turned east for a visit of the Akaroa peninsula, southeast of Christchurch. This peninsula is formed by the craters or calderas of two large volcanos. The road started to climb up again through hills and then mountains, and finally descended into the village of Akaroa at a bay and natural harbor in the middle of the second volcanic crater. we spend the night at the local caravan park, with one of the steepest access roads we had encountered so far.

Panorama of the first caldera on the Akaroa peninsula.

View into the second caldera on the Akaroa peninsula, with the village of Akaroa and its natural harbor in the bay in the center.

Our route on the South island in yellow, with places where we stayed for the night marked with yellow circles.