Five days if you are in a rush, at least a week would be better!
Be prepared for gravel roads all through the Catlins and some challenging roads to get to free camping spots. If you have an older vehicle watch out for overheating on the way back from Milford Sound, there is a reasonable incline for a long way and as we found can be pretty tough on an older van.
This area is very ‘untouched’ compared to a lot of the other regions in New Zealand. The roads take you through silent beaches, dense forest and stunning mountain landscapes. Paradise for anyone wanting to get off the beaten track, not to mention you could drive for hours not seeing a single car other than your own.
- Get out on a boat into the sound. It is expensive (I was hesitant) but it is 100% worth the money. Juicy is the cheapest and they provide you with all you need, if you want something a bit more luxury there are many other options. If you plan a bit ahead you ca often find deals on http://www.bookme.com or http://www.treatme.com , but beware of booking too much in advance – the weather can very unpredictable and it may be worth waiting to ensure you get an amazing day (although I’m sure either way it will be an amazing experience).
- There is only one way in and out through the Homer Tunnel. This tunnel took around 19 years to construct starting in the 1930s. If you are into history and engineering check it out here !
Gertrude Saddle Hike
- Do not miss this! Be prepared with good walking attire and a good eye for spotting the cairns!
- One of The Great Walks in New Zealand. Normally this is a hike done over 2-4 days in one direction. Bookings for huts and campsites for you to be able to do this fill up months in advance so if you would like to do the hike over several days don’t mess around! An alternative is doing what we did, hike halfway and then hike the same route back in one day. Starting from the Glenorchy side this is a stunning route and free… However to do this you will need quite a reasonable level of fitness (it’s 32km with 1250m elevation). Check out more info here!
- A quiet town next to a stunning lake surrounded by magnificent mountains. The highlight here was getting out on the lake on the Faith in Fiordland sailboat. It was a great experience, and you can tell the group of guys that run it are passionate about what they do. Check it out here!
- Stand by the petrified forest and watch the penguins surf in at dusk. You may even spot some dolphins!
Day 1: Dunedin → Slope Point
Heading out of Dunedin early in the morning to start off the uni holidays, and our first road trip together. Who would have thought this was the beginning of the Birds With Wheels. With Sheepie packed up with surfboards and hiking gear we headed off down to the far far south.
First up the Catlins! Heading straight to Kaka Point for some surfing, Elric the teacher, Kristen the student. The ice cold water demands a pretty hefty wetsuit so I didn’t last too long with a thin summer one. But the beach was gorgeous for a wander around while Elric caught the waves.
A wander to Nugget Point was,up next to see the unique rock formations seen in countless grams. They definitely make for a great shot!
Finally the southernmost point of New Zealand – Slope Point. The rugged cliffs give a kind of ‘end of the world’ type feeling, very apt for the far south.
Weir Beach Reserve was our free camp for the night. Being in a self contained vehicle has many advantages, being able to get off the beaten track and stay there for free is ideal. The road we took into the campsite was a bit of a mission (mud, large ditches, overgrown bush either side), so if your vehicle can’t handle it best to take the longer route on the easier road!
Day 2: Slope Point → Monowai
The next morning we headed off to Curio Bay. The Petrified forest on the beach at low tide is pretty cool to see for anyone interested in a bit of geology, or for laypeople like us wanting to see something unique. Basically it is a fossilised forest that was buried by volcanic mud millions of years ago.
Curio Bay is also well known for it’s wildlife. If you wait out until dawn you may catch the Yellow-eyed penguins surfing onto the beach. Or the rare Hectors dolphins playing in the bay!
After this quick journey through Southland it was time to head to Fiordland. Monowai Campsite was our spot for the night. Arriving late we didn’t get much of peak at what we would wake up to. But I think this is truly where our journey began…
Day 3: Monowai → Te Anau
We woke early to fishermen getting out on the lake. With a tea in hand we sat in our camp chairs looking out on this amazing view. Surrounded by dense forest calling us in we decided to take one of the many tracks around the lake.
These tracks truly feel untouched, and we didn’t encounter a single other hiker though the 30km of bush we bashed through. Truly off the beaten track, out of GPS signal completely and playing ‘find the orange marker’ to attempt not to get lost in the surrounding forest. A PLB would probably be a good thing to have around this area. The return journey was a race against the dark. But we made it back to the car just in time to head off to our next destination. With only one week of uni holiday’s we needed to push through fast!
There are not any free campgrounds very close to Te Anau, and as we knew we wanted to spend a bit of time here we decided to splash out on a paid campsite. A deal on CamperMate led us to Te Anau Kiwi Holiday Park. A nice spot with well needed hot showers, a place to cook and a warm room to play cards.
Day 4: Te Anau
Elric had managed to find a deal online for a trip out on Lake Te Anau in the ‘Faith in Fiordland’ sailboat. It was an amazing trip for the day, sailing around the lake, drinking champagne, eating hors d’oeuvres and chatting to the sailors. You can tell the guys who run this trip are passionate about sailing and the boat we sailed on called the Faith. All money raised from the day trips goes into restoring the boat, and the journey is well worth the money! A bit of luxury for sure!
Day 5: Te Anau – Gertrude Saddle Hike
We knew we wanted to go for a hike so randomly chose one that we thought looked pretty cool with a nice view. I’m not sure we expected how amazing this would be. Scouring the rock faces like spiders, sometimes following the cairns, sometimes finding our own way up. And once at the top the view is stunning! It was also a beautiful clear day when we were there so we were able to see the full way through the valley. We could have stayed up there forever. Pretty jealous of the couple we saw hiking down with their tent, I don’t think this is technically allowed, but it would have made an amazing camping spot…
Day 6: Te Anau → Milford Sound → Lake Hayes
It was time to head of to Milford Sound! We were lucky enough to choose a perfect day for it, not a cloud in the sky… As it is a common visiting spot for tourists the prices of boats to get on the sound are pretty high. I was definitely hesitant to fork out the money, especially as what we had already seen was amazing. However it was clear straight after leaving the dock that it was worth the money. Steep cliffs shooting out of the water on either side of you take your breath away, and we even got to see a dolphin riding the waves of the speed boat. I’d love to go back to see Doubtful Sound too, and do the Milford Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.
Time to leave out luxury camping accomodation and head to Queenstown. The road back from Milford Sound was a bit of a challenge for Sheepie, but after a bit of a break to cool down we were back.on the road! We arrived late at Lake Hayes Reserve free camp but found a spot in the busy campground for the night. Being one of only a few free campsites near Queenstown it is a busy one!
Day 7: Lake Hayes → Queenstown → Little Stony Creek
As usual Queenstown was bustling with tourists. It’s a stunning place, but the town is always a bit to packed with people, and traffic… It’s the surrounding area that is really truely amazing.
One thing Queenstown does have is some pretty good food spots. Ferg Burger of course, you need to call to order though or potentially wait in a line for hours. One of the less known places is Taco Medic, it used to be just a trailer a little out of Queenstown but is now located down a little alleyway in the center.
Leaving Queenstown we headed off around the lake towards Glenorchy. A picturesque drive, especially on this clear evening. Parked up at Little Stony Creek free Campsite we set up our chairs by the lake and drank wine out of mugs watching the sunset. A beautiful and perfectly quiet spot for the night. Just don’t try and park on the stony beach, you will get stuck…
Day 8: Routeburn Track
Early rise for us before sunrise to head out to the Routeburn Track just out if Glenorchy. We planned to do as much of the Routeburn as we could, hiking/jogging to half way or so, then coming back the same way to the car. We made it just past half way before deciding to turn around and race the night home, again. Pretty full on day but an absolutely stunning hike. Dense forest followed by a dry, rocky landscape hiking through the saddle, followed by a view of vast mountain ranges. An easy walking track with some swing bridges thrown in makes for a good jogging track too. Overall we hiked around 35km with 1300m elevation in just over 8 hours (with a bit of a pause in the middle for some food of course), so a pretty perfect day hike!
Exhausted after a big day it was time to head back to uni life. After a quick shower in Glenorchy and a phone ordered Ferg Burger on the way home it was time to head back to Dunners.
And with that the Birds With Wheels were born…
The app you need: To find free (or cheap) camping spots download CamperMate – a great app to find everything from camping spots, to showers, to wifi hotspots and information centers! (or go to http://www.campermate.co.nz)
Not to forget: Insect repellent, rain jacket, sun screen, PLB for isolated hikes