Our 9 Great Walks in 9 Weeks trip started with picking up a car from Volkswagen in Auckland (thanks so much to VW!) and then needing to be in Queenstown within 10 days for the start of the Routeburn track. We were determined to stop at as many of the top destinations along the West Coast as we could and create a guide to all the points of interest along the way.
This trip is over 1,600 kms long (with no detours) and takes nearly a whole day of driving! But boy is it worth it. The hardest part of this road trip is actually driving for long enough to get to Queenstown as we kept pulling over to see mountains, glacier lakes, rugged coast line, stunning forests and all those scenic viewpoints.
On the section between Haast and Wanaka (approximately two hours of driving) we stopped about 30 times and it took us about five hours (I'm not even joking)!
These kinds of stops are what make a great road trip and we'd put it up there as one of the best road trips we've ever done. If you ever get the chance, put it on your list. Here's our shots to show you just why it should go on your road trip bucket list.
Distance from Auckland: 176km (approximately 2 hours)
Come on, you didn't think we'd actually visit New Zealand and not see Hobbiton did you?! You can only visit Hobbiton as part of an organised tour, which lasts for around two hours.
You'll see all the major sites from the film, think Bag End and the party tree and then a perfect re-construction of the Green Dragon inn where you end the tour with a free tankard of ale or ginger ale if you prefer.
Where to stay: The Hobbiton Hideaway in Matamata. This place was immaculate, cosy and an absolute bargain. You'll be 10 minutes away from Hobbiton, making it ideal for an early tour to avoid those crowds. We took the 8.40am tour and were glad that we did as it got busier and busier as the day went on.
Road trippin from Matamata to Hokitika
After Hobbiton, it was time to make a bee-line to Hokitika on the South Island. The journey would encompass nearly 1,000km including a picturesque ferry between Wellington and Picton. There were also plenty of view stops on the way :-)
Distance from Matamata: 977km (nearly 15 hours)
After a long day's drive, we arrived just in time for sunset. Head out to the aptly named "Sunset Point" to get some incredible views...... with a bonus beached pirate ship (it's definitely a pirate ship).
Where to stay: We stayed at Kokatahi Hotel, a clean but basic hotel that's pretty close to Hokatika Gorge. For $90 NZD a night it's a bargain! The owner was really friendly and there's as much DIY free toast as you like in the morning.
We chose it based on price and also proximity to the gorge which we wanted to visit early to avoid the crowds.
Our first taste of the natural wonders of New Zealand was at Hokitika Gorge. A place where the glacier melt has turned the water a milky pale blue. It's a beautiful way to start the day and we suggest you go early to avoid the crowds. We arrived at 7am and were only narrowly the first visitors.
Unfortunately, we can't help you avoid the sandflies. They're evil and persistent (I have about 15 bites that are still with me nearly a week later!). Take repellant.
Distance from Hokitika: 134km (1 hour 40)
After a short but sweet overnighter, it was time to head to Franz Josef, just a couple of hours away. We went here for a close up of the glaciers and weren't disappointed. We did have two days of near constant rain, but on the third morning the skies cleared for a brief time where we were able to...
JUMP ON A HELICOPTER AND LAND ON THE GLACIER!
Sorry for the overexcitement, but I'd never have thought we'd do that, especially after the torrential rain we had. It was magical and I hope these shots will help to show just how amazing it was. It is pricey but it is a memory that will last a lifetime.
Having previously done a half day glacier hike here the most noticeable difference with taking the helicopter is that you can get to the pristine white section of glacier, on the half day hike we were still down on the more white-grey section. Both are well worth doing if time and money permits.
After you've finished a hike or helicopter trip and especially if it is rainy there is no better place to spend the afternoon than the Glacier hot pools. There are three different baths which sit at temperatures ranging from 36 to 40oc. They are open air but have cover so we found it the perfect place to while away a rainy afternoon.
Where to stay: Accommodation in Franz Josef (especially in summer) is expensive and hard to come by. We stayed at the YHA and had a private room with ensuite for $150 NZD a night. It was comfortable, clean and perfect for those busy days seeing the glaciers, trails and hot pools! Not what we'd call good value but cheaper than most other options we considered.
Driving to the Haast Pass
Distance from Franz Josef Glacier: 200km (2hr 30)
If you're going to drive anywhere in New Zealand, make it the stretch between Franz Josef and Wanaka. The road is spectacular, taking in the Haast Pass, Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. It was here where we just couldn't help ourselves stopping every five minutes to take in the views.
If you're able to make it through in one go, then we will assume you were travelling by night : )
Where to stay: If you can, stay in Makarora, the setting is just stunning. We stayed at the Makarora Mountain View Studio, a great room with kitchenette, situated in a stunning valley. It's a great starting point for an early visit to the Blue Pools.
Haast Blue Pools
Haven't had your fix of blue yet? Then this stretch of the West Coast Road Trip should help. We got to Haast Blue Pools at 7am, thinking no one would be there and they weren't (possibly because it was 6c and no one in their right mind would swim in those temperatures).
Despite the freezing cold (and this was in the summer), we'd recommend going early before the light enters the valley and casts reflections on the water. When the sun is behind the mountains, you can see all the way to the bottom of the pools.
Lake Wanaka & Lake Hawea
Distance from Makarora: 23 km (about 20 minutes)
The short stretch of road between Haast and Wanaka continues spoiling you with views, and we found ourselves stopping at five viewpoints along the way! The water colours are dazzling on a sunny day and you soon realise that in this part of the world the water is bluer than the sky.
Where we stayed: We stayed at Sara's Studio, gorgeous little private space in the most picturesque setting, and a bargain for Wanaka. It's only 5km from the town centre but is quiet and peaceful with the most lovely hosts.
That Wanaka Tree
Ok, so we did it. You have to! Can you seriously go to New Zealand and not shoot "That Wanaka Tree" (as it's been aptly named on Instagram). It was certainly not the experience we expected. We knew there would be a lot of people, but never expected a pianist. We laughed at first but then found the beautiful music was the perfect accompaniment to the subtle sunset over beautiful Lake Wanaka.
The Rob Roy Glacier Track
Little did we know before doing it, but the Rob Roy Glacier Track is one of the best day hikes we've ever done! Just 60km outside of Wanaka (along yet another fabulous stretch of road), this trail has it all: mountains, glacier, river, forest, waterfalls and stunning scenery at every turn. We've written a whole blog post on this gorgeous track if you would like more details.
Distance from Wanaka: 55km (50 mins)
The old mining town of Arrowtown always makes for a pleasant stop, with boutique shops and quaint cafes, it's a historic town that fights to keep its character. It looks even more spectacular in the Autumn when all the leaves on the trees start changing colour, but we certainly weren't complaining about the blue skies and greenery!
Distance from Arrowtown: 21km (20 mins)
Our final stop before starting the Routeburn was beautiful Queenstown. It's somewhere we've both been to multiple times but always love coming back. It's got a lot busier and more popular in the 14 years since we first visited (back then the main st never had traffic), but the iconic view of The Remarkables mountain range still blows us away.
Where we stayed: If you're heading to Queenstown, look no further than M Gallery St Moritz. It has stunning views, incredibly comfortable rooms and is a stone's throw from the town centre.
It's the perfect place to relax after a hectic road trip and take in the glorious views of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains.
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Have you been to New Zealand? Done an epic road trip you recommend? Let us know in the comments below!