my journey to health and well being via exotic destinations

Round the world in 113 days: 53-64 the fiords, mountains and lakes of South Island



On to the Deep South for more mountains, stunning views, sunshine and sandflies! Our journey will take us from lakes to fiords via winding roads and hundreds of camper vans; in between we will continue our walks and try to get away from the crowds – it is Chinese New Year in addition to normal holidays so the major hubs of Arrowtown and Queenstown are packed and best avoided at peak times.


Doubtful Sound

But first the long drive to Makarora via the Haast Pass and the longest single track bridge in New Zealand. The pass was cut off for several weeks recently, and we see evidence of the landslides that have washed away the roads, with single track traffic lights punctuating our journey – mostly staffed by jolly ladies. En route we stop off for a walk down a shady path (it is hot) among the tree ferns to try and find the Fiordland crested penguins which come ashore to moult – but no luck, here or anywhere else in fact. It’s great to munch a sandwich on a deserted beach and escape the manic camper vans impeding our progress! Apart from the sandflies which are beginning to become very irritating.

The Wild Earth Lodge, set on Lake Makarora with breathtaking views across to Mt Aeolus, is heaven on earth! Our cottage has everything from home-made granola and brownies, to spices, fresh bread,  preserves and an outdoor bath. The two nights we are there we revel in BBQ-ing while watching the silly sheep and trying to please Cash the dog with our left-overs.


View from Wild Earth lodge towards Mt Aeolius

Divorce is on the cards the following day when Ross takes me up a precipitous, slippy, rocky, rooty path for over half an hour insisting this is the easy, flat route Pete our host had recommended. Finally – and unusually – he admitts his mistake and we find the right path, which is indeed flat and follows a river-bed but after all my exertions we can’t quite make it to the end. 15kms all told is quite enough, especially with the sandflies out in force. There were some distractions – green parakeets and the notorious Blue Pool where idiots jump from a bridge into the icy glacial waters beneath.

We have to leave our paradise, alas, and head for Manapouri in Fiordland. This is a long drive via magnificent views over lakes Hawea and Wanaka, and then over the Cardrona Pass with its adjacent ski fields. 1CFB9268-A8F1-41C8-A152-8CBF84DF0AD3C69656DB-FE93-4D6B-AD33-6969A52B97AA

More views over the glaciated valley towards Queenstown – we watch a plane landing, navigating its way through the high mountains. The road is lined with lupins of all shades – just like in Chile – and the view points have huge signs warning travellers of the ‘invasive’ species ranging from pines to possums, rats, stoats and mice, all of which have to be killed. Here as elsewhere we see swathes of hillside where pines have been poisoned  and felled to encourage New Zealand indigenous woodland to flourish again.

We feel we need to see Queenstown but an hour and half is quite enough. We do a shop, have a good Vietnamese lunch – and bump into the daughter of friends doing her gap year. But that’s the best I can say about it. It is rammed with people – all nationalities – but mainly the young as it is a party and thrill-seekers town with its rafting, bungy-jumping, bars and, for the Chinese, its mining heritage. Thousands of Chinese miners were invited to Otago from Australia first and, later, mainland China so there is a rich heritage here in the south.

The final leg takes us through more barren countryside, more like Scotland or the Lakes, with sheep-covered hills on both sides. The ‘villages’ are tiny outposts with a few houses and that’s it – apart from the densely packed livestock. Manapouri, our home for a couple of nights has only 200 homesteads and is soulless (as is our rather brown Archeron cottage)  despite its pretty location.

So far the weather has been great on this trip but we are unsurprised to wake to a claggy, Scottish type morning in this the wettest part of NZ and possibly the world, 200 days pa, with Milford Sound averaging 33 inches pa.  We head off to walk part of the Kepler Trail as it is below cloud level, eschewing a challenging and steep loop which would have given us great views (to my great relief). This is easy river walking through ferns and NZ beeches with ‘mammalian correction units’  – extermination boxes in other words – at intervals on the track. By the time we reach the Motaru Hut a couple of hours later the sun and sandflies are out in force, so we don’t tarry too long before returning.

We meet a nice couple who point out the NZ robin, and we talk birds. They direct us to a sanctuary in nearby Te Anau, where we see some threatened species. Again, another enterprise supported by local enthusiasts, open to the public.  This is Fiordland and the shop signs are in Chinese as well, as this is a popular destination for the snow-seekers (it is still sitting atop the impressive mountains circling the lake).

And now for the highlight and super-expensive part of our South Island venture – an overnight trip to Doubtful Sound aboard the Southern Secret. We are transported across the lake on a fast boat – gorgeous views as we slice through the calm water in the grey morning light – and then in a van with our fellow 8 passers – a big party of Dutch and an American couple, he asking if they get Amazon Prime  out here (honestly, some people!) – to the boat at anchor on the sound.


The trip exceeds our expectations, from the delicious fresh crayfish for lunch to the stunning views which we have  (almost) all to ourselves, certainly once the day boat has gone. We slip silently around the various ‘arms’ of the fiord  – the weather is high cloud but bright – finding seals, a white-headed albatross, a pod of 70 playful dolphins including a new-born, fishing and checking the lobster pots.

The only downer is the simply terrible sandflies: our legs are just one big welt by the end of the stay despite all the spraying and wearing trousers! But waking up to those views banishes any negative thoughts about itches. On the return drive we spot three keas by the road. What an experience, worth every penny.


From here we retrace our steps to Arrowtown and chance our luck at the renowned Amisfield winery where we are lucky to get a table for a late lunch. It’s a surprise menu of the highest quality. The wines aren’t bad either!

We are staying three nights here in a quaint studio above a garage, but although small it’s arty and comfortable. Arrowtown was the centre of the gold rush in 1862, precipitated by the leaking of the discovery and recovery of 1000kg of gold in a few weeks. It was just lying in the river! The fascinating museum documents the town’s history and particularly  that of the Chinese who came to seek their fortunes to send back home. It features, along with Hokitika, in Eleanor Catton’s Booker-prizewinning The Luminaries, which I must now read again.

True to form we do another big walk  – a long slog up Sawpit Gully, which was an old mule/mining track with old tailings and stonework littering the path as it snakes up through the gorge, beside the river, with its foxgloves, lupins, marguerites, achillea and, higher up, wild hydrangeas and roses. It is hot, hot hot and up, up, up! The view from the top across to Lake Hayes is worthwhile and the descent is not too arduous. Altogether 4 hours and 10.6 kms.

A more leisurely day follows doing wine tasting and admiring the countryside round Gibbston; particularly like Chard Farm estate where we had a bottomless tasting with Harry the cat, before going to watch the bungy jumping.

On our way to Dunedin we drop in on old friend Judy from Hampstead subaqua days who lives in Alexandra with her two kids. She has arranged a picnic outing to Poolburn dam where they filmed the Riders of Rohan battles. The plan is for the kids to catch crayfish for lunch (they do) and then to do a bit of paddle boarding. We are way off the tourist track here and it is a lunar landscape whose peace is shattered by a couple guys on souped-up quad bikes racing around. We stop at Ophir, another old mining settlement with several of the buildings intact and in use, including the fine Pitchers Store, where we have a bite.

On the drive to Dunedin in the dusk – more amazing scenery along the back roads via Middlemarch – we continue listening to the podcast about Dr Raja Ignatova, The Crypto Queen, founder of OneCoin, who disappeared having stolen Euros 4 bn. We love driving to our podcasts – oh and watching Sex Education on Netflix at night. One of the best things I’ve seen for a long while.


Moody views by the Poolburn Dam

Dunedin – Edinburgh in Gaelic – is rather a pleasant surprise. We are staying in St Clair in Majestic Mansions, an 1880s block built to accommodate the recently-rich (from mining and its related trade activities ). The Esplanade is rather like Budleigh Salterton in its grandiose seaside resort style, plus a saltwater pool and a gorgeous beach. The main city has a collection of fine old buildings and a great Museum chronicling the settlement of Otago by the Wee Free renegades led by William Cargill, and a strange Chinese garden to commemorate the Chinese community. It is a dead as a dodo as the students are all on holiday.

But we’re here to visit the Otago Peninsula, home to albatrosses and penguins. After a glorious loop walk overlooking the ocean in brilliant sunshine, we head for lunch in Portobello (all the names are Scottish here!) before boarding the Monarch, an old fishing trawler that takes us out to see the seal colony (lots of furry pups) the shags (endangered species) and the albatrosses. We see three types – the royal northern, the southern and the white-headed (as in Doubtful Sound).

At the Albatross Centre we learn about these remarkable birds, with wing spans of up to 3.2 meters, who can live as long as 60 years, though 30-ish is more normal. We all know from David Attenborough they mate for life, but did you know once fledged the youngsters don’t set foot on land for 5 years – they take off for Chilean waters where they hang out fishing, and then continue round the world (like us) and return to start the process of looking for a mate which can take 2-3 years, during which time they disappear again for the winter. The sanctuary at Taiaroa has 35 breeding pairs guarding eggs, with a total of 170 birds on the island for the summer months. We get amazing views of the birds on the nests and flying (these are Ross’s photos). We are also amused by the raucous and endangered red-billed gulls whose chicks are desparately chasing their mothers for food, cheeping away, while the mothers do their best to ignore them. But no penguins!

And so our time in New Zealand draws to a close. We have done almost 4000 kms by car, walked at least 100kms, seen old friends, drunk great wine, eaten some really delicious food and stayed in some wonderful places. There has been  no particular favourite landscape – it has all been stunning in its own way. Huge thank you for Missy & Logan and Maree & Nick for helping us plan the trip and for hosting us all up north.  It’s been fantastic! And now off to French Polynesia….


View from Taiaroa Head

In no special order my favourites places to stay have been (mix of facilities and views)

Wild Earth Lodge, Makarora

Kaeppeli’s B&B, the Coromandel

Split Apple Beaches & Bays, Marahau/Kaiteriteri (Abel Tasman)

Craggy Range vineyard cottages, Hawkes Bay


The Shed Te Motu, Waiheke

The Oyster Inn, Waiheke

Craggy Range restaurant

Amisfield bistro, Arrowtown

Mekong Baby, Aukland

Rock Ferry, Blenheim



Author: vickyunwin

I am a writer and traveller. Our darling daughter Louise died on 2 March 2011, aged 21 ( and I started writing as therapy. We never know how long we have on this earth, so I live for every November 2013 I was diagnosed and operated on for a malignant soft tissue sarcoma in the calf, followed by 6.5 weeks of radiotherapy, so am embarking on a different kind of journey which you can follow here. I also have another site with my blueprint for health and well-being.

2 thoughts on “Round the world in 113 days: 53-64 the fiords, mountains and lakes of South Island

  1. Enjoying very much your Posts! Highly interesting and amazing. Stunning photos of birds and flowers. Kitty

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s