Cycling Along the Clutha River – Wanaka

If ever there was a destination born for cycling, it would have to be wonderful Wanaka.  With numerous outstanding trails starting right in the town centre, they’re simple to find and easy riding for novice cyclists who just want to enjoy the stunning scenery.  Of course, if you’re into serious mountain biking, or want some big air then head for the jump park or the surrounding hills for amazing options. For a gentle pedal power trail that is family-friendly, the bike track that starts from the marina, around Eely Point and Beacon Point and along the Clutha River outlet is a winner.

Lake Wanaka lakeshore cycle trail

In most places the track is a metre wide and hard packed dirt, with few obstacles to watch for which makes it easy to admire the stunning lake views from the many vantage points along the way.

Clutha outlet track Lake Wanaka

The mighty Clutha River, starts at Lake Wanaka and flows out to sea past Balclutha (between Dunedin and Invercargill), disguising itself as Lake Dunstan and Lake Roxburgh en route as it provides the power through the series of hydro dams along the way.

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Once the cycle trail leaves the lake, it meanders along the contours of the Clutha River with numerous vantage points to pause and soak in the views.  Allow an hour from Wanaka township to Albert Town, where you can return via the public road to Wanaka.  Otherwise, just retrace the trail back to town.

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Racers Edge offer bike rental.  They’re located right on the waterfront, central Wanaka town.

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Icebergs in New Zealand

This outstanding scenic boat trip is possibly one that is not immediately associated with New Zealand, but if you’re travelling in the vicinity of the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park during your New Zealand vacation, it’s a trip not to be missed.

With the Tasman Glacier receding over the last few years, a 5km long glacial lake has formed at the terminal face.  At fairly regular intervals, large chunks of ice carve off the terminal face and float as icebergs down the entire length of the lake.

From a distance the icebergs look quite small against the backdrop of the Southern Alps, but once up close to them and realising that 90% of their bulk is under water, their true dimensions become quite astonishing.

The scenic boat trip to view the icebergs begins at The Hermitage Hotel with a short bus transfer to the carpark nearby the glacial lake.  From there it is a 20 minute flat walk along a gravel pathway to the floating pontoon where the cruise boat is moored.  With everyone aboard, the boat gently cruises around the icebergs and, being small and agile, is able to get within touching of the ice.  Care is taken not to nudge the icebergs as they can roll over unexpectedly.   Newly carved icebergs are the most turquoise blue, but they turn brilliant white within a few hours. Depending on wind conditions, a newly carved iceberg can float the length of the lake in a single day.

After ample time to visit several icebergs, the boat speeds up the lake to the terminal face.  Here the sheer gravelly ice wall of the Tasman Glacier is stunningly majestic.  It looms high above the boat, quite intimidating, but because of the risk of an unexpected ice carving off the terminal face, the boat keeps a respectful distance.

Photo opportunities abound during this trip.  The majestic snow-capped Southern Alps provide the most dramatic backdrop.  As well there are outstanding views down the Tasman Valley towards stunning Lake Pukaki.

Each scenic boat takes 10 people and there are a maximum of 4 boats on the lake at any one time.  Wear comfortable walking shoes, sunglasses are an absolute must and, depending on the weather, wear warm layers of wind and rainproof clothing. A cosy beanie hat is also recommended.  At the pontoon, before boarding the boat, a secure bin is available to stow personal belongings not required for the trip i.e. day packs etc.  Allow 3 hours and be aware that the trip doesn’t operate during the winter when the lake is frozen!  During the summer reservations are essential as space is limited.

This is an outstanding trip, on the gentle side of “adventure”, with plenty of opportunities to get the most amazing photos.  The remote alpine scenery is out of this world.   It’s definitely worth including in your New Zealand self drive road trip.

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Tongariro Crossing, North Island, New Zealand

Tongariro Walking Tracks

The Tongariro National Park, is located in the central North Island and offers an abundant array of outstanding hiking trails, including Taranaki Falls.

A generous area of the central North Island, 78, 618 hectares to be precise, is the Tongariro National Park.  The nearest towns are Turangi, National Park and Ohakune, plus the small alpine village of Whakapapa which is located within the Park itself.  A mecca for skiers in the winter, during summer Whakapapa transforms into a hikers’ heaven, with a multitude of excellent hiking trails on offer.

Tongariro Crossing, North Island, New ZealandThe most renowned of the walking tracks is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, 19.4km one way and a good 6-8 hours hike.  It can be walked unguided but to get maximum enjoyment from the trip, joining a small group with a guide is an excellent option.  Local transfers are taken care of and you can be confident that all safety precautions are being adhered to.  The region’s weather is highly unpredictable and it can rain or snow any time of the year. The guides have state-of-the-art communications to ensure any adverse weather changes are known sooner rather than later.

If a full day hike is a bit beyond your timeframe, the Tongariro National Park offers a multitude of other great options, one of which is Taranaki Falls Walking Track.  This is a 6km loop track, starting and finishing from Whakapapa village, that takes approximately 2 hours.  The upper and lower tracks which form the loop offer outstanding views of Mt Ngauruhoe’s symmetrical volcanic cone, the older more eroded summit of Mt Tongariro and massive Mt Ruapehu.  The terrain ranges from tussock and alpine shrubland, mountain beech forest and the small river gorge of the Wairere Stream.  Keep ears and eyes open for small native birds who inhabit the area.

The Taranaki Falls are approximately halfway around the loop and offer generous reward for your hiking efforts.  Tumbling some 20 metres over the edge of a lava flow, they are truly magnificent.  The Department of Conservation has kindly erected some welcoming seats where you can relax and absorb the dramatic landscape!

Tongariro Crossing, North Island, New ZealandWhen we walked the track we took the upper track to the Falls and returned via the lower track.  Speaking with other hikers who walked in the opposite direction, it seems walking the upper track first is better in terms of the uphill incline being better graded.

Taranaki Falls is an outstanding hike for those with moderate fitness and limited time.  Check hiking conditions at the visitor centre at Whakapapa Village before setting out, take water, snacks, extra clothing and be aware that volcanic activity can occur with little or no warning.  Check the local volcanic alert status at the visitor centre.

So when you’re planning your New Zealand vacation with some hiking in mind, create or choose a New Zealand itinerary that offers time in this spectacular region.  WithKiwiCombo Pass most self drive itineraries can be modified to ensure you have hiking time.

Queenstown Skyline Gondola

The Great KiwiCombo Pass. See New Zealand your way!

Queenstown’s Skyline Gondola is a “must do”. And doing it early in your Queenstown visit will give you an excellent overview of the region’s geography.

The Queenstown Skyline Gondola is an excellent way to get a bird’s eye view of Queenstown resort, Lake Wakatipu and surrounding mountains.  By doing it early during your stay, you’ll get a good overview of the region’s geographic features which will help you find your way around.

It only takes a few minutes by gondola to ride the 450 vertical metres from the base station to the Skyline complex on Bob’s Peak.  If you can, ride up and down with your back to the hill so you get the primo views across the lake to the Remarkables Mountains, Cecil Peak and Walter Peak.

The Skyline complex is open 365 days, 0900 until late.  As well as offering stunning vistas from the viewing platforms, the complex also…

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