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Queenstown Loop

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Chris (Instagram @chrishooleyphotos) and Elle (Instagram @elleidau) both have a passion for landscape and travel photography. They were yearning for a short break from the humdrum of the city life and dreary winter in Melbourne. Having travelled to South Island about 20 years ago, Elle hadn’t forgotten about the amazing landscape the South Island presented when she visited with her family 20 years ago and wished to share that experience with her fiancé Chris. They had an incredible trip and had a wonderful time making new friends along the way. You can revisit their journey through their videos on Instagram TV.

Travel

8 days


Route

Queenstown to Queenstown

km


Best Time of the Year

anytime

Highlights

  • Glenorchy
  • Milford Sound
  • Wanaka
  • Tasman Glacier
  • Lake Pukaki
  • Moeraki

The Journey

Days

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Day 1
Queenstown

We picked up our maui 2 Berth Ultima in Queenstown from the friendly staff at the office who gave us a few tips about where to stay for our first night (Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park just 5mins from the town centre - thanks guys!). The explanation of how the van operated and overall ease in which we collected the van was second to none. We drove the short distance into Queenstown and parked our van at the site, putting it on charge as we did, we went to the Queenstown lake to see where would be the best location to photograph the sunrise. As soon as we saw the lake with the snow capped mountain backdrop, we got quite excited because there are no mountains as magnificent as this back in Melbourne.

The first day was more about planning and settling down to get ready for the next day. We did a lot of this planning over dinner at Rata who served us the most delicious pork belly; we could tell straight away that we were going to enjoy the food aspect of this trip very much.

Day 2
Glenorchy

We woke up the next day and raced to the Queenstown lake to catch the sunrise but unfortunately, it was quite cloudy and most of the mountains we had seen the day before were hiding behind the clouds. We were still happy as ever watching Queenstown lighting up in the dawn light. On our way back, we decided to visit the famous Ferg Burger which had no queues given the early time of the day. We were not disappointed - it was the most delicious burger we’ve ever tasted.

The next stop was Onsen Hot Pools in Queenstown. For those who have visited the place, you’ll understand why it is so popular. We were able to sit in a private pool overlooking the canyon and Shotover River where high-speed jet boats look like tiny red toy boats. We felt so relaxed and lucky to be together in such an idyllic setting.

Our final photography spot for the day was sunset by the famous Willow Trees at Glenorchy. While there, we met a friendly face (Agata) that was living in the area. Agata felt like an old friend despite never meeting us in person before, we had a chat about everything in relation to photography, NZ and life in general and hope to catch up again with her in Melbourne.

That night, we settled right by Lake Wakatipu and our dinner was steak with roasted vegetables cooked using the BBQ that was included with our van. Even though it was a full day everything seemed so effortless and easy with our motorhome.

Day 3
Queenstown to Milford Sound

At 4 am, Elle woke up with the crazy idea of photographing the Milkyway over the mountains and dragged a somewhat grumpy Chris to get up. The timing and condition were ideal as the cloudless sky provided a very clear view of the Milkyway right across the horizon. It was worth getting up early for as we were also treated with a pink pastel sunrise with the morning light gently lighting up the snowy mountain backdrop.

Breakfast was oats with bananas followed by cups of hot English Breakfast tea. We had a big day ahead of us and as we went on our way to Milford Sound. We settled at Milford Sound Lodge and went to our destined location to shoot sunset looking over the stunning ranges. The conditions were low cloud which meant that the mountains were shrouded in fog. We loved how moody and dramatic it looked and Chris remarked how much this place reminded him of the Lord of Rings movies.

Our night finished with cooking dinner at the Milford Sound Lodge in their well-equipped kitchen. Dinner tasted extra delicious because we were having the best time and looked forward to the next day on our cruise.

Day 4
Milford Sound to Wanaka

We woke up with some bad news given that the cruise we booked had decided to cancel given the lack in numbers. We were very disappointed since we travelled a long way and Elle particularly wanted Chris to experience this cruise as she had 20 years ago. Fortunately, the guys at Mitre Peak Cruises were able to take us instead (thanks Ron and Nicole!)

After our cruise we made the drive back from Milford Sound and went straight through to Wanaka where we made it just in time to shoot the sunset at the Wanaka Tree which has become very popular with photographers. We had a great time shooting here despite not having the best sunset for it -  such a peaceful place to be. After that we decided to treat ourselves and have dinner at Kika, a local restaurant in the town, where we had the most beautiful lamb shoulder and also tried Kumara for the first time, a yam native to New Zealand. There was so much food that we ended up taking some back to our van ready for dinner the following night!

Day 5
Wanaka to Lake Tekapo

Day 5 started nice and early with a sunrise shoot back at the Wanaka Tree and this time we did get see a little colour in the sky as the sun rose and lit up the lake. We were taken aback yet again at how peaceful and calm Lake Wanaka is and there were only a few other photographers there as well as people on early morning walks. It was a pretty cold morning so as soon as we were done at the lake we headed off to Alchemy for a nice big bowl of coffee and a toasted sandwich. No matter where these Melburnians visit, you can guaranteed coffee will be involved before too long! 

Energy reserves replenished and with a nice warm feeling after our breakfast, we made the drive to Lake Tekapo which was to be our next stop on the journey. The drive was stunning with mountain views and the drive through Lindis Pass where we stopped to take in the view, and yes get some more photographs! There was no snow at Lindis Pass when we went there which admittedly made the drive much easier and the view was still just as breathtaking.

We arrived at Lake Tekapo in the early afternoon and checked straight into the Lake Tekapo Motels and Holiday Park. We were checked in to our powered site by Seb who was also a photographer and he spent a lot of time with us telling us about all the fantastic places to take photos in the area and also giving us some hints on the good places to eat. Meeting people like Seb is what makes travelling so special and whilst we weren’t able to get to do everything on the list he gave us we appreciated it so much and it gives us our next itinerary Lake Tekapo!

That night we cooked the remainder of the lamb shoulders and kumara from our dinner at Kika and then headed out to do some more astrophotography; this time at the Church of the Good Shepherd. The skies are so clear at Lake Tekapo and combined with the lack of light pollution we had the best time shooting the milk way again; in fact, the sky was so clear the first shots we took were perfect!

Day 6
Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki via Mt Cook

After a great nights sleep in the Lake Tekapo site we headed out to Mount Cook after a lazier start to the day than we’d had previously and what started out as a misty morning turned into an amazing and bright clear day as we drive close towards the mountain. We had arranged to meet up with our photographer friend from Melbourne (Jake) at Mount Cook for a hot drink as he was also on holiday at the same time and on the way made a pit stop to the Tasman Glacier where we walked the Glacier trail to the top. It was a tough walk up but the views we were rewarded with were nothing short of spectacular and made the climb up worth it.

That hot drink was much needed at this point so we made our way straight to Mount Cook Village where we met with Jake and got hot chocolates and tasty muffins. After have a great catchup with Jake and convincing him to make Lake Tekapo his next stop we went back to the Tasman Glacier and this time took the Tasman Riverwalk to go and get photographs on the edge of the river. This was our favourite location for our photography on the trip and the conditions we had were perfect, the water was like glass and helped us to capture the stunning reflections in the water.

Sunset was upon us by the time we had finished shooting and we then made the drive back towards Twizel where we had seen a freedom camping area on the shore of Lake Pukaki; chasing the pastel pink sunset as we drove was nothing short of heaven and before long we were at out campsite where Chris fired up the BBQ to cook some steak whilst Elle prepared a delicious spicy noodle soup inside the van.

We were both so tired after such an amazing but long day that it was off to sleep quickly after ready for our next day.

Day 7
Lake Pukaki to Moeraki

Our freedom camping days were our most enjoyable and waking up to our view of Lake Pukaki was amazing, even better sunset was turning out to be really nice so we quickly jumped out of the van with our cameras for half an hour. After warming up again in the van we headed off to refuel the van and then take the drive to Moeraki. We stopped in nearby Twizel on the way for fuel and then headed off; we hadn’t been driving long when we saw the High Country Salmon farm which our friend Agata had recommended to us. Well, what could we do except take a brief stop for some amazing salmon? We both had the Gravlax and cream cheese bagel which was simply delicious and we also picked up some premium salmon belly sashimi for lunch too. We both love our Salmon and sashimi so yet again we were in food heaven!

With the rest of the drive complete we arrived in Moeraki and checked into the Moeraki Village Holiday Park before heading off to our location for sunset photography, the Moeraki boulders. Now we had seen the boulders many times on Instagram but nothing can really prepare you for how spectacular it is in person. These boulders which formed inside the coastline then eventually broke off onto the beach are spread across a small section of the beach and vary in their size. There are some that have even cracked open like dinosaur eggs. Shooting here was so much fun, Elle stayed in her boots to protect her feet whilst Chris rolled up his jeans and took off his boots. Both approaches we only mildly successful with us both not being able to feel our toes afterwards until we got warm in our van again.

As it was our last night in New Zealand we decided to splash out on a final meet and we had been recommended (by Seb back in Lake Tekapo) Fleur’s Place. I’m sure we don’t need to go into details on who Fleur is as she is a New Zealand institution and to say her restaurant lived up to its reputation is an understatement! With a delicious entree of a variety of fresh breads and dips we then shared a trip of freshly caught fish fillets and a bowl of New Zealand’s famous green-lipped mussels prepared in a white wine sauce. We topped this off with a beautiful creme brûlée and a delightful conversation with Fleur herself. Fleur is such an inspirational person and we highly recommend a visit to her restaurant if you are near Moeraki.

Day 8
Moeraki to Queenstown

With our holiday all but over it was time to take the drive back from Moeraki to Queenstown and hand back our van. It was a very bitter sweet moment as whilst we were looking forward to home and being with our family again we had really fallen in love with both New Zealand and our van over the previous week. The temptation to stay longer was immense.

Before we handed back the van however there was enough time to meet up with two more friends, Glenn and Roz who had arrived into Queenstown from Melbourne the day before. We had arranged to meet them at Ferg Burger as we had enjoyed it so much on our first day. We had also seen the Sweet Bambi burger on the menu which was a wild Highland deer burger with brie cheese and wanted to try it. Once we had met with Glenn and Roz we ordered one each and it was delicious!

After saying our goodbyes to our friends we dropped off the van where the excellent maui staff dealt with the return swiftly, efficiently and with some great friendly conversation. It was still a while before our flight home so we had time head back into Queenstown for a wander around. Wandering around this beautiful time was the perfect bookend to our trip and we felt very fortunate to have had such a wonderful week together exploring.


Recommendations

Where was the best view? 

There were so many along the way. Probably on the way to Milford Sound would be our favourite, being a Lord of the Rings fan, Chris immediately commented that it reminded him of Isengard before our van entered the tunnel through to Milford Sound. Elle’s favourite view was Lake Tekapo, there’s nothing more pretty than the glacier blue watered lakes.

Where did you stop for a picnic?

Almost everywhere we freedom camped! It’s usually lake views from Lake Wakatipu to Lake Pukaki to Lake Tekapo.

Where was your favourite place/town visited and why?

Wanaka. It’s hard to explain but it just has a good feeling with every part of it. Whether it’s the live music at restaurants or the calmness sitting at the lake's edge.

Top highlights?

For Elle, jumping into Lake Wakatipu at 4am in the morning was an exhilarating experience. She recalled that it was definitely refreshing and dares anyone who would do the same in winter! Chris’s highlight was seeing the glaciers at Tasman Lake and the Moeraki boulders. Very different scenery but incredible in its own way. The glaciers were phenomenal to see in person and it’s ever-changing.

Best café for coffee? 

Alchemy in Wanaka, which was very homely and comfortable. We were told Big Fig cafe was also a favourite of locals, which we will try next time!

Did you have a favourite Holiday Park you stayed in and why?

Milford Sound Lodge for Chris and Lake Tekapo for Elle. Both because of their amazing facilities (private shower rooms, spotless laundry facilities and modern kitchen).

What would be your top tip for other campervan travellers?

We know it’s boring but definitely get no-excess insurance coverage for when you’re travelling. It does cost a bit extra but so worth it. It is so important to be prepared and get the right package with your booking.

Can you share a recipe from something you cooked in the campervan? 

We had several! Our favourite will have to be the spicy noodle soup with fresh vegetables and steak (cooked using the external BBQ). It was so warm and the best remedy on a cold winter night! Another one would be lamb shoulder, bacon, sprouts and purple kumara soup (a dish we recreated using leftovers from Kika).

What is your greatest memory of the whole campervan holiday?

Our greatest memory would be the Tasman Lake glaciers and watching these icebergs slowly move across the crystal blue waters.