Family Fun on New Zealand's South Island

Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
Trip End May 2010

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Flag of New Zealand  , Otago,
Monday, February 15, 2010

Before getting into our latest saga, it should be said that a high pressure system appearred over New Zealand's South Island towards the third week of January and lasted through the middle of February, giving us a solid three-week window to explore various mountain areas of the South Island.  Talk about great luck! 


Hunting Adventure in the Southern Alps

Yet again, the Dongler Duo, Det and Sally Kunz, joined us for some fun and adventure on the South Island.  Sally had arranged for Det to go hunting for (Himalayan) tahr and chamois, two introduced species of ungulates. 

Ben - target practice

For many years, New Zealand's Dept of Conservation (DoC) has been keeping these animals' numbers in check.  The Himalayan Tahr was introduced to New Zealand some 60 years ago primarily for the purposes of sport. Apart from a small herd in England, this was the first time tahr had been liberated outside their native range, but they quickly adapted themselves to their new home and their numbers increased rapidly. Although they have not dispersed as far as chamois, which were liberated in the same area a little later, tahr occupy an important part of the Southern Alps, extending from the Landsborough River in the south to the Waimakariri River in the north. Prized as a trophy by sportsmen, tahr have nevertheless increased to such an extent as to cause damage to the alpine flora, resulting in increased erosion and soil loss. Since 1937, attempts have been made to control them, initially by shooting and later by poisoning; the DoC avidly encourages the hunting of these animals.  Tahr is a goat-like ungulate that roams near the tops of many of the Southern Alps mountains, so this meant we had some climbing ahead of us before we even got a chance at one of these somewhat elusive creatures! 

Donald of Cardrona Safaris took us north of Wanaka where within only a few hours of roaming around the hillside, we had spotted a mature bull tahr.  We put on the sneak, which involved scrambling up steep scree, while battling the ever-present and aptly named spear grass. Our goal was to climb higher than the tahr in an adjacent basin, then silently descend on 3rd-class terrain (think steep!) until we were in shooting range. 

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Det and Donald scoping (aka glassing) the hillsides

Det scrambling up steep scree and avoiding spear grass whenever possible

We were able to solidify a position about 120 yards above the male tahr, but from our new perspective, we immediately noticed their were four tahr bulls together.  We scouted the four bulls, determining which bull was the largest--the bull who happened to be lying down and thereby making him obscured and a harder target to hit-- and proceeded to set up for a shot.  As one would imagine, tahr can move over this precipitous terrain as nimbly as mountain goats, so one really only gets one shot! 

Ben set up for his shot, breathed deeply and then... lost confidence, second questioning whether he should wait in hopes of this largest bull standing up and thereby making a better target.  Minutes passed and Ben thought better of this idea and set up for his shot again.  Again he
withdrew!  This went on for about 20 minutes until Det gave Ben a healthy dose of "get-er done!" and Ben took his shot! 

Dust flew and the bulls jumped and tore off in a flash, but Ben had hit the largest bull. We trimmed the meat and headed down to get back to the truck before nightfall. 

Ben with tahr

Excuse the sentimentality, but hiking down out of New Zealand's Southern Alps, surrounded by mountains, glaciers and streams in the long rays of the summer sunset with Ben's pop was truly a memory never to be forgotten. 

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Father/son duo

We spent the next two days chasing and being outwitted by chamois, an antelope like animal that has been introduced to New Zealand.  We were blessed with good weather but we were sufficiently worked by the time we finally got our chance at a "chami".  Again, it's a one shot deal with chamois, and Det shot and hit from about 250 yards.  

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Hunting chamois takes you into some pretty, but steep! country

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Boys with chamois

Det and Donald pointing the finger on who's going to cook dinner

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Det at 65 is still tearing it up in the mountains!

Fjordland Exploring

Meanwhile, Lindsey and Sally were off on our own adventure down in New Zealand's southwestern Fjordland.  We explored all along the Te Anu--> Milford Sound highway, from deep fjords to impressive mountain-top vistas.

We were based out of Te Anu for our Milford expedition. We had a lovely run the first evening from our hotel to Lake Te Anu, followed by a chilly cool-off in the lake.

This trip was a really unique bonding experience for Lindsey and Sally with lots of time to enjoy the hobbies we both love: chatting (sometimes until late like girls at a sleepover!), eating and drinking good wine, and just getting out there to see sites and exercise.

We drove along the breathtaking and famous Te Anu-Milford Highway early morning to catch the first cruise on Milford Sound. This is highly recomended as it's cheaper, the sound is less crowded, and the water on the sound still has that morning glassy surface, reflecting off it some of the world's most beautiful surroundings. In many ways, it reminded us of fishing in northern Vancouver Island.

Peaks on the highway to Milford Sound. The windy road was nice and clear first thing in the morning! In this shot, you can see the hanging forest, which holds in the glacial lake at the upper U-shaped valley.

The famous Milford Sound shot, taken of Mitre Peak

The second highest waterfall in New Zealand. The highest is also in Milford Sound, seen along the multi-day track.

More mountainous views from the sound

Among the several impressive stops along the highway (don't miss the Chasm!), we stopped just outside the Homer Tunnel to take a pre-lunch hike. We headed up toward the lowest point on the left ridgeline.

The ladies enjoying the beautiful weather on our hike up

Another day hike we highly recommend is the Key Summit hike, which starts at the beginning of the Routeburn Track, a Great Walk, and splits off after about an hour to Key Summit. This 3-4 hour return hike rewards you with a (as all the track descriptions remind us) 360-degree panorama of peaks that follow the Routeburn and Hollyford tracks. It was quite a site.

There was a cool steel representation plaque made at the summit of the 360-degree view that included the peak names and other major features. For all you Emily's out there, this one's for you!

And here's the real Emily Peak and Emily Pass

Sally in the lush greenery

We had such a blast, but were anxious to get back to our boys and hear about their chamois hunt!

Mt. Cook National Park

We rented a van for our travels around the South Island from Jucy Rentals, which was a bit tight but allowed Det and Sal to sleep comfortably in the van while Ben and Lindsey slept in their tent outside.  It worked out well and was way cheaper (like half the price) than renting a smaller car and staying in motels/B&Bs.

We all reconviened in Wanaka and headed North to New Zealand's highest and most famous mountain, Mt. Cook.  We hiked various days hikes around the Mt. Cook area and shared many fascinating conversations with park rangers and volunteers! 

One of the most amazing moments, was watching a paraglider sore on a thermal from the valley floor with the Cook range in the background, eventually to gain enough elevation to sore over us high on the trail to the Mueller Hut! 

The fam posing in front of NZ's longest glacier, Tasmen Glacier, and the peaks of the Malte Brun range

Sally working out at elevation!

We'll miss you Mt. Cook!

The team at the summit of some mountain (above the Mueller Hut) with Mt. Cook in the background

Castle Hill

From Mt. Cook, we stopped for a fun afternoon of bouldering at Castle Hill; the hill was so named because of the imposing array of limestone boulders in the area reminiscent of an old, run-down stone castle. Castle Hills features five areas with around 250 climbs and well over 1000 boulder problems. The quality of the Limestone and the ability to climb virtually all year make the Castle Hill climbing area very popular through the year.

Lindsey stoked to be at Castle Hills under perfect skies

Ben, Lindsey and Det exploring the rocks!

Bouldering mate!

Arthur's Pass and Nelson

We left Castle Hill and journeyed over Arthur's Pass, making several stops (and a few short hikes) in Arthur's Pass National Park on our way to the town of Nelson where we visited the owners of Cardrona Safaris, John and Anna Scurr. The park is very disctinctly split by the main divide of the South Island. The eastern side is typically drier and consists of beach forest and wide riverbeds, while the western side contains dense rainforest. Much of the geography was formed by ancient glacial action, forming flat bottomed U shaped valleys. In the middle is a high range, consisting of large snow covered peaks and scree slopes. 

We camped near Arthur's Pass at a wonderful lake. Det and Sal enjoying an afternoon swim!

Det and Sal enjoying the views near Arthur's Pass

Det and Sally in front of Devil's Punchbowl waterfall

We spent a wonderful night with Don and Anne from Cardrona Safaris and had a fabulous dinner at the Boatshed Restaurant on Nelson's waterfront!

Abel Tasmen and Paynes Ford climbing

Cicadas are present all over the northern part of the South Island and they make a tremendous noise (sort of like loud, high-voltage power lines) wherever there's forest cover.

Det peaking out in Abel Tasmen National Park

Swimming near Paynes Ford

Lindsey and Sally on the beach in Abel Tasmen National Park

Sally doing some beach bouldering!

Wine Tasting near Blenheim and Christchurch

We finished off our trip on the South Island with some lovely wine tasting in the Marlborough Sound, an area famous for its whites and unique pino noir, and a visit around Christchurch. 

The famous Christchurch Cathedral
Lindsey and Sally in their element! 

The wine country around Blenheim is quite stunning and the number of wineries is quite staggering!

Saying goodbye to Detchef at the Auckland airport!  We're all styling the big backpacks on the back and "small" backpacks on the front! 

More great photos from hunting and Fjorland:
More shots from Mt. Cook area:
Castle Hill:
Remaining South Island Photos:
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Sikorsjyi on

Great stuff... Thanx for sharing... I wanna be there...


cuzcaryl on

rock on! thanks for sharing you're journey!!!

Krista on

so freakin jealous it's just not funny! NZ is the BEST place on the planet. I think about it every day. Ben, your mum is awesome!!!!!

Linda--Sal's friend on

Great photos and trip. wow, so many great hikes. Now, Sal how did you set-up for the beach bouldering shot--it looks tricky.

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