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trip report: New Zealand – Tasman Glacier viewpoint, Christchurch, & getting out, January 2020

About 3 weeks after I boarded the plane on Christmas to meet up with Mark in Australia, it was time to go home. Again, I typically stick the contents of our transit in a paragraph at the end of a long report, especially since getting out & heading home always seem less exciting than getting getting in. But here is my attempt to highlight the transit part of travel more as I include it with a short hike to wrap up our trip. Looking back now as I write this, we should have never left the island.

This is the eighty entry of our Australia and New Zealand trip series covering our travels home from New Zealand. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.


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1 planning & research
2 trip report: getting in to Cairns, Australia
3 trip report: diving the Great Barrier Reef
4 trip report: Sydney & travel to New Zealand
5 trip report: diving Milford Sound & Queenstown
6 trip report: Rees-Dart Track in Mt. Aspiring National Park
7 trip report: Mueller Hut in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
8 trip report: Tasman Glacier viewpoint, Christchurch, & getting out
      8.1 Blue Lakes & Tasman Glacier Viewpoint in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park 
            8.1.1 hike information
            8.1.2 report
            8.1.3 final impressions
      8.2 Christchurch
      8.3 getting out
final impressions, New Zealand top 5, & budget

trip report: Tasman Glacier Viewpoint & Blue Lakes in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

We pick up our trip back at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, where we completed an additional short hike before making our drive back to Christchurch. This time in the Tasman Glacier drainage.

hike information

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At the trailhead, there are water fountain, shelter, and toilets since this is a short and popular hike. A few steps from the trailhead, we came to our first junction and took the left for the Tasman Glacier viewpoint. The right path is the Tasman Lake Track.

For the next quarter mile to the viewpoint, the trail inclines at roughly 16.4% gade to gain the moraine on wide trails or stairs. Along the way, we pass the next junction with the left heading for the Blue Lakes and the right heading up to the viewpoint, we took the right first. After a few stairs, there was a view upon the Blue Lake with a information placard. 

Shortly after that, we come to a view of the receded Tasman Glacier and Tasman Lake.

After chilling here for a while, we backtracked to the previous junction to head toward the Blue Lakes, which are actually green. This is because these lakes are now cut off from the glacier and are green from algae growth.

At the second lake, we continued to follow the along the right bank as the official trail seemed to end here.

Similarly we continued on along the left bank for the next lake though I remember thinking the right might have been easier for one of these. 

After the lake, we continued on a use trail of sorts until we junctioned onto the dirt road leading to the Ball Hut Route. We followed it back to complete a loop.

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final impressions


The rating below are based on an unevenly distributed scale of 1-5. For full description of the ratings and the categories, see the explanation here.

views/experience: 3. This was very little work to see a glacier, although it was from a good distance away. The Blue Lakes on the other hand weren’t that interesting. Still overall, worth the stop while visiting Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.

difficulty: 1. Short and easy hike hike.

technical: 2. We kinda went off the official trail for a short section from the end of the Blue Lakes to the dirt road on the Ball Hut trail. To be fair, the disused trail was on the OSM. So this navigation is why I’m giving this a 2 rating. However if you stick to the official trails, this is a 1 rating. 

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Even though we spend more time there than we wanted, similarly to all my city reviews, I only have a surface impression. The main reason we ended up hanging around Christchurch was because Meg picked up a sinus infection or something similar on her way to New Zealand and United did a good job of losing her luggage enroute. 

Unlike Queenstown, I found Christchurch was much more a real city rather than a tourist town. The highlight of our time around town was walking around the downtown area and along the Ōtākaro/Avon River (Christchurch City Council) that winds through the many green spaces and culture districts.

map by the Christchurch City Council

Like a major city, there are plenty of restaurants to explore. Places we visited included Monster Chicken (tripadvisor) when Mark and I were starving after driving in from Queenstown, Zen Sushi & Dumpling (tripadvisor) when Meg and I walked around the small farmer’s market after her flight and before check in at our hotel, Ramen Ria (tripadvisor), and Best Turkish Food Co (tripadvisor) for lazy dinners. They were all satisfying, but not anything worth writing more about. 

There are plenty housing of all price range and amenities. Meg and I decided to splurge and stay at the Hilton Doubletree Chateau on the Park (tripadvisor) for a few night using my Hilton Points (30000 Hilton points per night, USD$135 Frequent Miler Reasonable Redemption Value equivalent – RRV). My Diamond status via the AMEX Hilton Aspire Card (Frequent Miler) provided us with excellent and free breakfasts. The hotel was located right off the large green space in the middle of Christchurch. We ended up there for two nights while waiting for Meg’s luggage and for her to recover. I didn’t mind the downtime since Mark and I had didn’t take much time off while traveling and the Doubletree was very nice. For comparison, we also checked out IHG’s Crown Plaza Christchurch (tripadvisor) after returning from Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park using my IHG points (25000 IHG points, USD$142 equivalent, old USD$0.057 per point valuation via Frequent Miler RRV) and a NZD$15 parking fee. It was centrally located in downtown and everything was decent, but it didn’t have the same resort like feel. Rather than a second night there, we headed over a nice local motel (Strathern Motor Lodge – for USD$80.92 that had a kitchen so we could make our own food and take advantage of they many supermarkets. 

In all, I liked Christchurch and through it was a pretty cool city to live in. Perhaps we should just have stayed had we known what 2020 had in mind for the world. 

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getting out

Our journey back to home beginning with an early morning reposition flight from Christchurch (CHC) to Auckland (AKL). The reposition flight cost us USD$202.07 for 2 tickets including 1 checked bag. It would have been cheaper if I didn’t book last minute, but this trip was booking all within a few weeks before we left the states.

Even though our main flight from AKL to Los Angeles (LAX) was in the afternoon, the early morning flight was the cheapest, gave us plenty of transit time from the domestic terminal to the international at AKL, and we were able to use our Priority Pass (via credit card, see details at Dr of Credit) to access the Strata Lounge at AKL (point hacks) once the check-in countered opened for our flight. Lunch at the lounge was nice and we were able to get some work done, probably more than was originally planned as our American Airlines flight was terribly delayed for roughly 4 hours due to a tail wing mechanical issue, every time with American. I guess don’t really have much to complain about since this award flight sale  (Frequent Miler) was the genesis for our trip since 2 tickets only cost us 12000 American Airline miles (USD$156 equivalent via Frequent Miler RRV) and USD$70.5 in fees. Plus, we ended up going back to the lounge and having dinner. 

The flight itself was on an Boeing 787 with economy being a 3-3-3 configuration. Once we were on our way, we also lucked out having a whole row to ourselves so even the overnight flight wasn’t that bad. We were able to get this by selecting an aisle and window seat leaving the middle open. The flight was uneventful as I was asleep for most of it.

When we arrived at LAX the next… er technically same day and earlier, I was glad I built in more buffer time our last repositioning flight from LAX to Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) on Southwest Airlines. We were able to take our time, grab a free meal at Rock & Brews (yelp) with my Priority Pass once again (via credit card, see details at Dr of Credit).

Our repositioning flight on Southwest cost us 6290 SW points (USD$88.06 equivalent via Frequent Miler RRV) and USD$11.2 in fees for both tickets since we have the Southwest Companion Pass (Frequent Miler guide). The flight was uneventful and with a last Lyft ride, I was glad to be home.

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