A blog about travel, books and navigating your twenties in one piece

Sunday, 3 March 2019

New Zealand 2019 Travel Diary // Queenstown, Wanaka, Lake Matheson & Franz Josef Glacier

After quite a few days in the Te Anau/Fiordland National Park area, we had a lot to fit in before the 9th February when we needed to be in Blenheim as we had tickets for their annual Food and Wine Festival. During that time we saw both some of my favourite places and probably the most underwhelming places I've seen on this trip so far.

I'll stop rambling and get straight to it...

QUEENSTOWN :: Queenstown is somewhere that pretty much everyone has heard of. It's the adventure capital of New Zealand and a classic pitstop for most travellers. I'm not in the slightest into extreme sports so there was no bungee jumping for me but it was still a lovely place to explore. Compared with what I'd already seen of New Zealand, Queenstown felt hugely crowded and it really is buzzing as people describe. It's a really beautiful place and we spent our first afternoon there just having a wander around it, stopping at Cookie Time for amazing milkshakes, having a walk around the Queenstown Gardens, and going for a drink at Perky's bar, which is a floating bar on the lake. No more lazing around after that though as we spent our other day in Queenstown doing the Ben Lomond track. It was boiling but gave us such incredible views so it's well worth doing. I stopped at the saddle and headed back while Liam did the whole thing - it's worth knowing that there are different options depending on how much you're wanting to hike. Aside from that, we didn't have anymore time in Queenstown sadly as there were more places we wanted to fit in before Blenheim. I liked it and could have spent more time there but I have to say it didn't wow me as much as some other places in New Zealand have. The fact that it was so packed and busy felt a bit to me like it wasn't really New Zealand which might sound strange but when the majority of what I've seen of it is small towns and vast spaces of land this was unlike any atmosphere I'd felt so far!

GLENORCHY :: Part of the reason why we only spent a day and afternoon in Queenstown is because there are a couple of quaint little towns near it that we wanted to visit. The first was Glenorchy. It's a really nice little town with a good feel to it and things to do in the surrounding area, we visited the Diamond Lake and a tiny place called Paradise which I think you can't really describe, it's somewhere you have to just see and you get the feel of it that way. It's also a good place to get access to the Routeburn Track which is one of the great walks of New Zealand. It takes 2-4 days to do it in full which unsurprisingly I didn't jump at the chance of doing but we did one of the day walks, to the Routeburn Falls Hut which was beautiful and one of Liam's favourites we'd done so far. So I'd say that if you're in the area Glenorchy is definitely worth stopping off at, even just for one day.

ARROWTOWN :: The other little town we wanted to visit near Queenstown is Arrowtown. Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town where many Chinese settlers lived in the gold rush in the 1860s. It's one of my favourite places we've visited and has such a great feel to it. We went to the museum, learning all about the history of the gold rush there, visited the farmer's market, and chilled by the Arrow river in the sun, taking dips in the river when we got too hot. We then went out for dinner at The Fork and Tap which did lovely food and drinks and had some nice live music. One of my favourite ways to explore somewhere is just to spend a day walking around and relaxing because I think that way you can really get a feel for the place and nothing is rushed and that was definitely the best way to spend a day in Arrowtown.

WANAKA :: After Arrowtown we headed to Wanaka which has such a stunning lake and was one of the standout places for me. On our first day we did the Isthmus Peak Track which was probably my favourite hike we've done. It was quite tiring but I plugged in my headphones, caught up on some podcasts including Dolly Alderton's Love Stories podcast with Stanley Tucci (definitely one of my favourite episodes ever), and the five and a half hours actually went pretty quickly. The view at the top was truly breathtaking as well which made the whole thing worth it, even the crazy wind that didn't stop the whole way down. We did the walk aiming to be at the peak at sunset and it was really beautiful at that time and not very busy so if you're considering it I'd recommend doing it at a similar time. After Isthmus Peak we decided we'd definitely earned a day of rest so the following day we relaxed by Lake Wanaka, had a walk around and had some pastries from the Wanaka Bakery which to be honest I'm still thinking about now - boysenberry danishes will always be a good idea. And that was all the time we had in Wanaka, short but very sweet!

LAKE MATHESON & BLUE LAKES :: After Wanaka our main aim was to get up to Blenheim pretty quickly, stopping in a couple of places on the west coast on the way. We breezed through the township of the Fox Glacier, deciding not to stop and do any walks around the Fox Glacier, and instead just stopped to do a walk around the Blue Lakes and Lake Matheson. The Blue Lakes are really beautiful and definitely worth a quick walk around or, if you're Liam, a quick jump into from a bridge. I think it was freezing judging by his reaction and something I wasn't in the slightest interested in doing myself but it was fun to watch him go for it. Lake Matheson, in the right weather conditions, makes for one of the most famous pictures of a New Zealand lake. If the weather's right, you get a perfect mirror reflection of the mountains that's just stunning. (Seriously, have a look on Instagram and you'll see exactly what I mean.) When we went unfortunately we didn't have those perfect conditions so, while it was still beautiful and I'm glad we stopped there, it was a bit underwhelming and not as amazing as some other lakes I've seen in New Zealand. That area did give us an amazing view of the Fox Glacier though at the lookout point, just down the road from Lake Matheson. That again needs good conditions for you to be able to get that view as we saw it the next morning and you couldn't see the glacier at all for clouds, but if you've got a clear day I would just go there rather than doing a walk to the glacier to be honest as the view was great.

FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER :: The next day we headed to Franz Josef Glacier and did the main walk to view the glacier. It was cool (no pun intended) but I again wasn't wowed by it. I do think it's worth seeing since the walk isn't very long, and if you've got the budget and the inclination you can do helicopter rides over the glacier to get an amazing look at it, but for me it definitely didn't stand out compared with some of the other places I'd recently seen.

So there you have it, a real mixed bag of our journey up to Blenheim - some of my absolute favourite places and some of my least favourite places from the trip so far. I think I've got one more post to share to get you up to date with our travels up to now and then before you know it we're off to Australia and my three months in New Zealand will be over!

Disclaimer: Liam has very kindly let me use some of his photos in my blog posts so I just wanted to highlight that not all of these beauties are my work!

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