Blue's Boots

Andrea's adventures on the trail…

New Zealand 2019

20190215_090131I finally got to New Zealand!!!  The Milford Track, the Abel Tasman Track, and Tongariro National Park have been on my to-do list for many years. And I saw and did so much more than those 3. There are many photos here, so please grab a cuppa coffee or tea, plunk a fuzzy cat or dog on your lap, sit back, and enjoy the ride.  I sure did!!!

(If you’re short on time, I suggest looking at the Milford, Abel Tasman, and Tongariro photos.)

Queenstown   |  Te Anau   |  Doubtful Sound   |  Milford Track   | Abel Tasman Track Part 1 | Kaiteriteri  |  Wainui Falls and The Grove Scenic Reserve   |  Harwood’s Hole and Lookout   |  Abel Tasman Track Part 2  |  Rotorua  |  Waiotapu Geothermal Area  |  The Squeeze and Waikato Riverjet  |  Rotorua Redwoods Treewalk  |  Tongariro Alpine Crossing  |  Rotorua Canopy Tours Zipline


I survived the 13.5 hour flight from LAX to Auckland, and then to Queenstown on the south island. I dove right in to adventure… First was a Shotover Riverjet boat trip that was better than any roller coaster. 😊 That’s me in the second row on the left.


Then I headed up the Skyline gondola above Queenstown to take in the incredible views of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables mountains.


Te Anau on the south island is the gateway for the Milford Track. I was so excited to pick up my permit… Yay!  I’ve been dreaming about doing this multi-day backpacking trip for years.



I spent some time walking the trails around Lake Te Anau and happened upon a bird sanctuary that was a lot of fun. New Zealand originally only had 3 mammals – 3  species of bats; all other animals were birds, insects, and a few lizards. There were no predators to speak of and because of that, many native NZ birds are flightless. When humans came to the islands, unfortunately predators came with them in the form of rats and stoats (weasel-like critters), and it’s estimated that 40% of all NZ bird species are now extinct since humans arrived on the islands. My favorite bird there is the beautiful blue takahe, which was thought to be extinct until someone found a couple of them in the mountains near Te Anau in 1948. Since then, the population is back up to about 350 through a breeding program and a predator-trapping program. I also fell in love with the little owl called a morepork owl, because that’s what it sounds like.

DOUBTFUL SOUND, Fiordland National Park

Doubtful Sound: I had an extra day in Te Anau before heading out on the Milford Track, so I did a day cruise in Doubtful Sound. This place absolutely stole my heart.

Doubtful Sound is one of the most gorgeous, peaceful, and serene places I’ve ever been, and I’ve traveled the world my whole life! To get there first requires a boat ride across Lake Manapouri and a bus ride on a gravel road over a beautiful mountain pass before getting to Doubtful Sound itself. The wilderness is rugged, any further and you’d be headed to Antarctica. It had rained the day before, creating 100s of waterfalls cascading down the cliffs into the Sound. Weather for our cruise could not have been better – the hanging clouds made the mountains even more beautiful.

At one point the skipper of the boat cut the engines and generator. He asked everyone to put away cameras and cell phones, and to be still and quiet. Then he said, “Just be in the moment, take it all in.” It was a profound and serene 5 minutes, reminding me to always take a few minutes every day to JUST BE.

MILFORD TRACK, 33.5 miles

Milford Track: Wow! Now I understand why this is considered one of the best multi-day hikes in the world. I’ve seen some amazing things, but this topped them all. On the Milford Track you are required to stay in the 3 huts along the way, there is no tent camping allowed. There are guided trips available, but I opted to be an “independent” hiker carrying all of my own gear/food. I’ve never much been one for guided groups.

Day 1 – Glade Wharf to Clinton Hut, 5.0 km. The first day starts with a bus ride from Te Anau to Te Anau Downs, where a boat then takes you across Lake Te Anau to Glade Wharf.  From there it’s a very easy 3-mile stroll to spend the first night at Clinton Hut.

Day 2 – Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut, 16.5 km. The hut ranger woke us up early and told us to be on trail by 7 am to get thru a flood area because of the rain overnight. Even with starting the day’s hike early, at several spots the river had flooded the trail and I was wading thru water up to my hips. I gave up on rain pants and changed to running shorts, no point in trying to keep dry in that much water! I don’t have many photos from this day because I had to keep phone and camera dry. The rain made this drenched day very worth it, though, because there were literally 1000s of waterfalls.

The majority of the trees in Fiordland National park are Beech trees, and because of the climate and rainforest and ruggedness of the terrain, they are old and huge and absolutely beautiful. I loved seeing the different flora and fauna, very different than the temperate rainforest I’m used to at Olympic National Park in Washington State.

Because of the rain and flooded trail, a few people had the soles of their shoes/boots completely detach. Even when the sun came out at Mintaro Hut in the afternoon, none of our boots dried out. We used the helicopter landing platform to get as much as we could dried out. We kept guard because we were told that the Kea parrots in the area like to steal things, but I never saw a single one.

Day 3 – Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut, 14 km.  MacKinnon Pass -1600+ feet ascent, 3100 feet descent.

Even though there was sun at Mintaro Hut the day before, my boots never dried out, so as soon as I put them back on my socks and feet were soaked again.

The climb from Mintaro Hut to MacKinnon pass was rocky and sometimes steep. Clouds were starting to form above so I hurried and I was the first person to the top, where there is a beautiful stone memorial to Quentin MacKinnon, who discovered the land route from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound. From there the 360-degree views down the Clinton Valley where I had come from and the Arthur Valley where I was headed toward were spectacular. Others got to the top very shortly after I did, and we had about 15 minutes for photos before clouds and rain came in.

From there it was another 10 minutes to the top of the actual pass, and visibility was almost gone by this time. A few minutes later I came to the MacKinnon shelter – perfect timing, because it was time to get into full rain gear. The descent from the pass to Dumpling Hut is about 3100 feet of elevation loss, a very rocky and uneven trail, and not easy in totally soaked boots and socks in the rain. But so beautiful and so worth it!

I decided to not do the side trip to Sutherland Falls (an extra 4 km, and the 5th tallest waterfall in the world) because my feet were not doing well at this point, though I had no idea a few of my toenails were coming off. I was the first person to the hut, and it felt amazing to get my feet dry after a very soaked 19 miles over 2 days. Time for some well deserved rest and a cuppa hot tea.

Day 4 – Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point – 18 km. Then a boat to Milford Sound, and bus back to Te Anau.

I decided to hike the final 11.5 miles in my Teva sandals because I couldn’t bear the thought of another day in wet boots (still not dry!), and my toenails were not happy. This day was mostly flat, a few rocky parts but overall a very nice smooth trail. I was the classic PNW socks-and-sandals person today! It was a beautiful, sunny rainforest hike , mostly in shade but several openings with stunning mountain views. I saw several wekas on the trail, they are fearless and very inquisitive birds.

It was an amazing 4 days, but I was happy to finally get to Sandfly Point at the end. At Milford Sound we had time before our bus back to Te Anau, so of course we had to celebrate with a cold beer… I don’t think a beer has ever tasted sooooo good!

Word of Advice: Some people may cringe at this, but I honestly would have done much better wearing a pair of lightweight, non-waterproof trail runners than my waterproof hiking boots. At least that way my shoes would have dried out a bit more and I wouldn’t have ended up with foot and toenail problems. Since there’s a good chance (a really good chance!) that you’ll be in water over your ankles while doing the Milford Track, the concept of “waterproof” shoes is not going to work. If anything, they’re harder to dry out when they do get wet, and it’s not fun to hike multiple days in a row with soaking wet feet.  Just my thoughts….

Thank you to Natalie, Emilia, Dave, and Alec for sharing the journey with me and for being my Milford Track family – Keep on adventuring!!!


Abel Tasman Track Part 1: I decided against doing the 50+ mile, remote Heaphy Track because my feet were fairly wrecked after the Milford Track. Instead I did an overnight trip at Abel Tasman National Park to Whariwharangi hut, taking a boat from Kaiteriteri to Totoranui on Wilson’s Shuttles, and hiking north from there. On the boat we passed Split Apple Rock, the Awaroa Estruary that I would be crossing the following week, and Adele Island, home to protected NZ Fur Seals.

Whariwharangi Hut is an old farmstead that has been converted into a DOC hut. I had the beach there to myself (well, me and a zillion sandflies). It was a much easier hike on my feet than the Heaphy Track would have been, and it was a good decision. Wekas (NZ native birds) were everywhere, along with the infamous sandfly.

It felt so amazing to have sunshine on my skin, I could feel the vitamin D in me!  And to think that at this same time Seattle was snowed in, while I was walking barefoot on the beach 🙂 It was so peaceful watching the sunset in solitude on the beach… I crave time alone and I definitely got it here.


Kaiteriteri: At this point Fran had also flown to NZ, and we had a lovely and much needed visit with family in Little Kaiteriteri, with some of the most superb sunsets and sunrises I’ve ever seen. I walked miles around the area, went swimming in the ocean, and we had a nice kayak trip. So beautiful 🙂


Wainui Falls & The Grove Scenic Reserve: After a beautiful and very curvy drive from Kaiteriteri up and over the Takaka Hill and down into the Takaka Valley, we hiked to Wainui Falls. Even though there had been a drought going on for quite a while, this river valley is lush and beautiful, and the waterfall at the end is the icing on the cake.

The Grove Scenic Reserve is an odd and curious rock outcropping, exactly the kind of place I love to explore.


Harwood’s Hole: Anyone who knows me knows that I love trees and rocks. The hike out to Harwood’s Hole on Takaka Hill was exactly how I love to hike. Harwood’s Hole is New Zealand’s deepest natural vertical shaft (no, I didn’t go down it!). The hike to the opening is through beautiful forest and rock formations. We got to see more NZ native birds as well, including a fantail. We spent some time with a very inquisitive and bold robin who posed for us.

After Harwood’s Hole, we hiked up a short side trail to an expansive lookout over the Takaka Valley. The rocks here were sharp and jagged and striated, but very worth scrambling over to see the valley we had been in the day before. It was a perfect picnic lunch spot in the sunshine.


Abel Tasman Track Part 2: Fran and I spent 3 days/2 nights on the Abel Tasman Track, boating from Marahau to Bark Bay to start our hike. Because Marahau is very shallow, boats are taken out into the water by tractor to get deep enough. I’ve never been on a boat, on a trailer, pulled by a tractor, in water before.


A boat being hauled by a trailer into Marahau Bay

We spent our first night on the beach at Onetahuti campground. It’s a beautiful long beach looking out to Tonga Island, but people had tents pitched almost on top of each other and it was more crowded than what I’m used to. We put our tent between two piles of brush so we didn’t have neighbors right next to us. There was a nice cooking hut at the campground with running water, which was very convenient.

The next morning we packed and were moving early as we had to cross the Awaroa Estuary during low tide. The estuary takes about 20 minutes to walk from one side to the other and there is no high tide track, so it has to be crossed within 90 minutes on either side of low tide, or you have to wait for the next low tide.  Even at low tide we were in up to our knees in several spots.

The second night was spent at at Waiharakeke campground, which was by far our favorite, mostly because we had the beach completely to ourselves. The campground is nestled back in the trees a bit, but not having a crowded area was wonderful. We found a small sea cave, collected shells and rocks, read in the sun, watched a lot of sea birds, and I was stung by my second wasp and many more sandflies.

On the third day we had a lazy morning. We had to track down a bunch of shells we had left drying on our picnic table, because a weka thought it would be fun to steal them during the night.

We packed up and hiked to Totoranui for our boat trip back to Marahau.Abel Tasman is such a beautiful coastal area, the waters really are that amazing blue color, and temps were perfect. It was lovely hiking through the forest with palms, manuka trees, tree ferns, rimu trees, so many plants that I don’t know the names of, birds everywhere, and beaches around every corner.


Rotorua: We stayed in Rotorua on the North Island for 9 days, as a central base for a lot of fun adventures and visiting with extended family. Fran did a wonderful job of driving on the wrong side of the road. We visited the Waiotapu Geothermal area, went on a Riverjet trip to the Squeeze, visited the Redwoods Treewalk, did a bit of upside down yoga on a zipline, and went up the Gondola and had so much fun on the luge tracks up there. We also spent 2 days at Tongariro National Park and did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – spectacular!!! And this is also where we discovered BurgerFuel… NZ has the best hamburgers!



Waiotapu Geothermal Area: Fran and I visited the Waiotapu geothermal area, it’s like a mini-Yellowstone. Steam vents, bubbling mud pools, thermal springs, the Champagne Pool, and the craziest bright lime green water I’ve ever seen. I should have been a geologist….


The Squeeze: The next day we took a Riverjet trip on the Waikato River, going 90 km an hour with a lot of 360-degree donuts along the way. Our favorite part was going thru The Squeeze, a slot canyon wading thru the most wonderfully warm thermal water to a lovely waterfall and above that, a soaking pool. Mother Nature is amazing!!


Redwoods Treewalk: There’s a forest of California redwoods in Rotorua that was planted 118 years ago, and because of the climate they grow faster there than in California. The Treewalk is a series of suspension bridges and platforms that are held up by slings that don’t damage the trees. It’s so peaceful and magical being able to walk up in the canopy of these incredible trees. I have to put in a good word here for one of my favorite books, The Wild Trees by Richard Preston – read it!

TONGARIRO ALPINE CROSSING – Best dayhike I’ve ever done!

Total distance hiked: 13+ miles.  Elevation gain 2510 feet, elevation loss 3690 feet.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing: It’s hard to find words for this dayhike in Tongariro National Park. This is where Mordor and Mt. Doom (Mt. Ngauruhoe) from Lord of the Rings was filmed. It’s the longest day hike I’ve ever done, and now tied with my all time favorite hike to date, The Subway in Zion National Park, Utah. Incredible doesn’t explain the “wow” of this hike. The weather gods were on our side, thank goodness! There are 3 craters, South Crater, Red Crater, and Central Crater, as well as pumice and lava fields and spectacular lakes. Immense is the only word I can think of to accurately say what this day felt like.

Almost 13 miles, over 3000 feet cumulative elevation gain and at least 3500 feet descent, a crazy downhill over slippery pumice, craters, volcanoes, active steam vents along the way, tarns with amazing colors, Mt. Doom, and some of the most beautiful and desolate volcanic scenery I’ve ever seen. My knees hurt. Would I do it again? Absolutely!!!


Rotorua Zipline: I love ziplines… everything about them! Rotorua Canopy Tours runs an excellent zipline in a virgin old-growth forest just outside of town. Only a small percent of original old growth forest remains on the north island, and we were able to get up into the canopy of it. Our guides were funny, helpful, and wonderful people. They even let us get creative and flip upside down 🙂

All in all, my #1 bucket list trip.  Phew!!!  I think I’m out of adjectives…

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