The Needles—Southwest Tasmania Day 1

This week we had a three-day break at Lake Pedder in Tasmania’s southwest. None of us had been before so we were all looking forward to it and had several short walks planned.

From Hobart, we headed to New Norfolk and turned onto the Gordon River Road at Bushy Park.  After a coffee stop at Russell Falls, we resumed our journey. The Gordon River Road takes you past the Florentine, an area I am very keen to go and explore more, and into the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.  The area was listed on the World Heritage List in 1982 and covers approximately one-fifth of the area of Tasmania (1.584 million hectares). It incorporates eight of Tasmania’s National Parks, including the Southwest National Park, where we were going.

Our first stop, about 16 km from the town of Maydena, was the walk to The Needles. This is described as 2-3 hour return medium grade walk. According to the information we got from the motel, “this steep and muddy track takes you to a series of jagged rocks at the top of a beautiful ridgeline known as The Needles. It is one of the most rewarding, and seemingly unknown, short walks in the Southwest National Park.”

It sounds pretty cool, right? The description goes on to say “this steep 3 km return walk offers uninterrupted panoramic views from rugged mountainous terrain”.

Do you get the feeling it’s steep?

I’d read the description and thought the views sounded spectacular so was very keen to do this walk. The word “steep” obviously hadn’t registered in my mind, and when we got there I had to look a long way up to see the top of the hill. The walk starts at the highest point on the Gordon River Road, 651 metres, and the summit point is 1020 metres. That’s a 400-metre climb spread out of about 1.5 km. It looked fairly imposing for a non-hiker.

View from the road

The Needles from the road

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We’re going up there

As we set off it was nice and muddy underfoot. (So far, the description was spot-on.) I was grateful for having bought some new walking boots a couple of weeks ago rather than wear my old non-waterproof shoes that had holes in them when it became apparent the track was more of a watercourse than a track. The tracks I’m used to in my city-girl bushwalks come from the 60 Great Short Walks book. There were no formed paths, no duckboard over the muddy bits and no steps here. Thank you, past me, for the new boots.

It was very heavy going and I was regretting the multiple layers I’d put on in the morning to prepare for the cold. It was a sunny day and climbing was hot work once we got out of the bush and into the sunlight.

The view got progressively better as we climbed.

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Excuse the blown-out cloud there

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Getting to the top

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A  bit closer

Getting to the top was amazing and totally worth the slog. I’m a big fan of huge jagged rocks and here they were in abundance, everywhere I looked.

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Started to climb this. Didn’t finish.

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One of my favourite photos from the walk

The views off into the distance were stunning.

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Seeing for miles

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Snow!

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It was a perfect day for this walk

The sky was gorgeous and I felt a sense of having come somewhere special. The other thing was that it was absolutely silent up there. I don’t know if I can remember the last time I experienced such total silence and I didn’t want to leave. Giant rocks, blue sky, fabulous clouds and the complete absence of noise. I dragged it out as long as I could to soak in as much of this feeling as possible but we had to leave eventually.

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Stunning rocks everywhere

Going down was equally challenging because it was very easy to lose your footing and fall over into the mud. A girl we’d passed on our way up had done exactly that. I had no desire to do the same and managed to retain my footing the entire way down.

This was a fantastic way to start our trip and I couldn’t wait for the next experience.

You can find more about The Needles here.

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Day 13: Another travelling song

Day 13: Another travelling song
Ashburton, New Zealand

Ashburton, New Zealand


I can now add “cafe that offers its customers sunglasses to block out the early morning sun” to the list of places I’ve been in New Zealand. This was the Kitchen Table, just up from our motel in Dunedin, and we had a fabulous breakfast and a couple of coffees there before setting off up the highway for the final leg of our trip.

I really wanted to stay in Dunedin. There’s so much more I want to see, places to explore and things to do. And the more we travelled up the highway the more I know I have to come back to this part of the country.

Our first stop was the Steampunk HQ in Oamaru, about an hour out of Dunedin. Very cool. The ultimate trash to treasure exhibit. I loved it.

I’d love to have been able to have spent more time in Oamaru as well, but we couldn’t, and our next stop was Timaru, for lunch.

We’d originally planned on staying in Timaru today on our way back to Christchurch, but we hadn’t been able to find any accommodation. It seems like a lovely town, and we wondered if it was to Christchurch what Batemans Bay is to Canberra because it’s a similar distance away.

We’d spoken about Teppanyaki with Kramstable a few days ago, and he thought it sounded really cool. Eagle-eyed restaurant spotter me saw a Japanese Teppanyaki bar while we were driving round the town, so we decided that would be a great idea for lunch. It was really good. Well spotted me!

About an hour up the road is Ashburton, where we’d managed to find a motel room for the night. On the way those apparition-like mountains reappeared totally out of the
blue. There must be few places on the South Island you can’t see them.

Going to Ashburton meant a longer drive than we’d wanted today, but on the plus side we’ll have more time in Christchurch tomorrow, the last day of our holiday. It’s hard to believe we’re this close to going home. We’ve seen so much and done so much, and missed so much!

We had dinner in the motel and are currently making sure we don’t have any excess beers to take home with us!

Day 11: On the road again

Day 11: On the road again
Dunedin, New Zealand

Dunedin, New Zealand


We left a very cold Te Anau in the morning to arrive in a very warn Dunedin mid-afternoon.

We took the 94 hghway back to Mossburn, where the turn off to Queenstown is, and continued through Lumsden (where we had coffee), Gore and Balclutha, where we stopped for lunch. We stopped at a cafe, where the meal prices were pretty much the same as pub lunches, the meals weren’t as good and there were more pre-school children in the room.

Leaving Gore we finally lost sight of the snow-topped mountains that we’d been seeing for the past week. Where it seemed unreal to be seeing them for the first time last Monday, it was kind of strange to leave them behind today.

We arrived in Dunedin at about 3.00 and checked in to the motel. Where we are is just outside The Octagon, has a lounge room and two bedrooms, much to Kramstable’s delight.

We went for a walk and it felt weird. Everywhere else we’ve been has been over-run by tourists. Dunedin is a much bigger place with a lot fewer tourists, and I felt really obviously out of place. It’s also only the second place on our while trip we’ve seen someone smoking.

We found a nice old bar that had beer on hand pumps, and the owner’s young daughter came over to Kramstable and offered him some toys to play with. We tried a couple of beers we hadn’t had before and then headed back to the motel before going out for dinner. All I’ll say about that is since when do you have to pay extra to get real Parmesan cheese on a pasta dish.

We’re looking forward to exploring the city some more tomorrow.

Day 7: Queenstown

Day 7: Queenstown
Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown, New Zealand


Wanaka, like Greymouth, was a stopover on the way somewhere else, but somewhere I could quite happily have spent more time. Today we had to get to Queenstown, which was only about an hour away, for another two-night stay.

Our motel had the worst design feature ever: a window in the wall between the bed and the bathroom, so if anyone goes into the bathroom in the middle of the night and turned the light on, it wakes sleeping people up. What were they thinking?

We had breakfast in the motel cafe, and then checked out. We went for a walk by Lake Wanaka, and Kramstable found the playground.

Slabs’s workmates told him we had to go to Arrowtown on our way to Queenstown, so that was our first stop. The views on the road down the mountain were spectacular, and we could see Queenstown in the distance. It was like coming into our Queenstown except the town was further away, the hills were higher, there was snow and there were trees! Stunning drive.

It’s a cute little gold rush village with lots of little boutique shops and cafes. We’d heard there was a brewery there, but couldn’t find it. We asked someone in the shop where we thought it should be, and she said there had been a brewery but it had closed and the owner had moved to Invercargill. So to the people who maintain the http://www.beertourist.co.nz website, it needs an update!

The lady in the shop said if we like craft beer we should go to the Fork and Tap Ale House up the street, where you can do tasting. For $14 you can choose four of the 17 craft beers they have on tap in a tasting paddle. Four from 17! How tough a choice!

For the record my beers were:
Hefe by Tuatara (Bavarian Wheat Beer – 3 stars)
Dr Funk (a very citrussy sour beer by Doctors Orders and Funk Estate – 4 stars)
Old Ale by Tuatara and Pomeroys (a joint brew – 3.5 stars, very bitter)
A Great Justice Coconut Porter by Kereu (yum! 4 stars)

After lunch we drove the final 12 kilometres (I think) to Queenstown, found our motel amongst the throng of tourists that were all over the streets, and settled in for an afternoon of washing. The motel has great views over Lake Wakatipu, which is probably the best thing going for it. Basic as it is it’s clean and seems relatively quiet.

Tomorrow we’re hoping for the forecast rain to hold off (again) so that we can do some fun outdoor things, as well as some indoor things that Kramstable is looking forward to, including a haunted house, which he’s been talking about all trip.

Day 5: Flying high

Day 5: Flying high
Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Fox Glacier, New Zealand


We’d picked up a brochure for the glacier helicopter flights from the motel reception when we checked in last night. The motel has a deal with one of the companies, so their prices were a little cheaper than quoted in the brochure. We looked at the flight we thought we’d like to do and worked out it would cost $760 for the three of us to do a 30 minute flight.

We ummed, we ahhed. We asked if anyone else had done it and whether it was worth it. We realised it probably something we’d never get the opportunity to do again. We agreed it would be great. But it wasn’t something we’d factored in to the holiday budget and it was a lot of money.

It looked fantastic, but we decided we couldn’t justify it, no matter how amazing it would have been.

So first thing in the morning after breakfast (about 10.30), we set off on the short drive to the Fox Glacier car park. There’s a sign a couple of kilometres back from the car park that shows where the glacier was in the 1750s. A long way from where it is now.

The walk to Fox is shorter than the walk to Franz Joseph, and we’d learned form yesterday that it wasn’t going to be cold at all, so we didn’t over-layer. Fox has the same moonscape-type landscape as Franz Joseph, and it’s a weird feeling knowing you’re walking over a landscape carved out by ice that has long since melted. It’s like a massive valley, and part-way along you can see where the path used to go. It’s since been closed off and re-routed due to a rockfall.

Although the distance to the glacier viewing point is shorter, what they don’t tell you about is the long, fairly steep climb you need to do over the last 400 metres or so to get there. It’s made all the more difficult by a lot of “No Stopping” signs in that section. (I mean do you know how hard it is to take a photo while you’re still moving over rocky terrain?)

The path goes up to 200 metres from the face of the glacier, so a bit closer than you can get to Franz Joseph, so you really don’t get to see a lot. I didn’t get the feeling it was made of ice because it was really dirty. Still the whole place is pretty surreal.

While we were there we started talking to a woman who said she’d been on the chopper ride earlier and it was totally worth the money, she told us what they’d done and seen on the 20 minute flight, (doesn’t cost $700) and we both began to doubt our earlier decision not to go. Then I remembered my Mum had given me an extremely generous early birthday present for our trip, so we decided that the flight could be my birthday present. Dilemma solved! Thank you Mum 🙂

Called in to the helicopter booking office when we got to town and they had had some cancellations, and had a flight we could potentially go on, subject to our weight being compatible with the other people who were already on the flight. Oh, and subject to the weather being OK. It had been a beautiful morning, but was clouding over and starting to look like the flights wouldn’t go ahead.

We were booked in and were told to come back closer to the flight time.

We went up the road to the glacier viewing pint (which gives you a better view of the glacier than the 30 minute walk), had lunch (the less said about that the better), bought some wine (as you do) and went back. It was still touch and go as to whether it was all going to happen, and it was going to be the pilot’s final call. After a safety briefing, we got on the shuttle bus to the helipad and were told it was all go! Hurrah!

We were with another family of three, and I got the prized front seat with the lady from the other family on the way up. It was just amazing! We flew up the glacier and landed near the top on the snow. We didn’t get the beautiful blue skies that you see in the brochures, but wow! What an wonderful experience. We got out for a few minutes and threw snowballs, took some photos and just basked in the spirit of the place, before it was time to get back into the chopper and fly around some more before heading back to Fox.

All I can say is that this was completely worth it, and I can’t believe it took us so long to make a decision. It’s cool walking up to the glaciers, but that’s nothing compared to the chopper flight. It’s expensive yes, but it’s not like you do it every day. So do it!

The weather was on the turn when we got back and they’d already told us we were the last flight of the day, so we felt very lucky to have got on that flight.

Our final activity of the day was a walk at Lake Mathieson, which we’ve seen gorgeous photos of. We could have done the 90 minute circuit around the lake, but we were tired, the weather wasn’t great for walking, and it was getting late, so we walked to the first look out, took some photos and went back. Not soon after we got back to the motel it started to rain, so it was clearly a good decision.

On the way back I realised what it’s been about the mountains that have blown me away. They just rise from nothing. There’s flat and then there’s mountain. There’s no in-between stage. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before.

What a fantastic day!

Day 4: More ways to get yourself killed in NZ

Day 4: More ways to get yourself killed in NZ
Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Fox Glacier, New Zealand


For most of our trip we’ve tried to make sure that following the longer driving days we have two nights at the next destination. This wasn’t the case this time, because we wanted to get to the glacier region early on, so today was another three+ hour drive, from Greymouth to Fox Glacier. It’s about 200 km, but the roads are windy and there are plenty of scenic spots along the way where it is Absolutely Necessary to stop and take photos.

We had breakfast in a coffee shop in Greymouth. Slabs asked for a large coffee. They offered him The Bucket, which he gladly accepted, with a triple shot of coffee. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a larger coffee than this.

Today’s destination: Fox Glacier. Slabs had a couple of workmates recommend this as the place to stay, rather than Franz Joseph, so we decided to go with that advice. The plan was to arrive at Franz Joesph at about lunch time, do some of the walks there in the afternoon and then go on to Fox to stay the night. We’ll then have all of tomorrow to explore Fox Glacier and the surrounding area and not have to pack up and move onto the next place.

The trip out of Greymouth was another surreal drive, with snow topped mountains on one side of us and the ocean on the other. It seems impossible, but we can see it, so it has to be real!

We arrived at Franz Joseph at about lunch time, and had a quick lunch at one of the cafes. For a tiny town, it’s very busy and extremely noisy, with helicopters in the air all the time taking people up to the glacier. The only access to the glaciers is by helicopter; you aren’t allowed to walk up there, so they are constantly on the go. I think the noise would drive me mad if I had to stay there, so I’m grateful for the advice to stay at Fox instead.

After lunch we drove up to the start of the walk to Franz Joseph and set off on the walk to as close to the glacier as you’re allowed to go on foot. It’s basically a moonscape surrounded by mountains. Lots of white rocks and not much else for the 45 minute walk to the base of the glacier.

Oh, and signs telling you to beware of rock falls and ice falls. So add those to avalanches as things that can kill you in New Zealand.

We’d been expecting it to be cold and had dressed accordingly, but it wasn’t cold at all and my backpack was rapidly filled with discarded layers. Poor Kramstable had thermal leggings on under his jeans and ended up very hot and uncomfortable.

Even though you can’t get close up to the glacier, it’s a pretty amazing sight, but also sad and scary to see how much of it has gone in the past 7 or 8 years.

We passed Kramstable’s fans from Pancake Rocks going up to the glacier on our way back, which was pretty funny. We decided not to do another walk but to head straight to Fox and check in. This was a good decision, because it started to rain very soon after we left.

From Franz Joseph to Fox was a relatively short drive, and we checked into our motel right away. As soon as we arrived we knew we’d made the right choice of places to stay. Fox is so much smaller and quieter than Franz Joseph, and our motel has the best views of the mountains. We have a small apartment, with two bedrooms and a long, high window in the lounge room that we can see the mountain peaks from. It’s amazing!

We sussed out the village and identified potential eating venues, and by the time we’d done that it was time for dinner anyway. We had a nice meal at one of the bars, though our meals took a long time and we suspected a mix-up in orders somewhere. Other than that it was a pleasant evening, a short walk back to our motel and it feels good not to have to be packing up tomorrow and heading off again.