New Zealand South Island Tour – Makarora WestHiking . New Zealand . Outdoor Recreation . Travel . Worldwide Travel
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Recommendations for Your New Zealand South Island Tour: Makarora West
New Zealand South Island Tour – Makarora West. Once you leave Queenstown, drive up between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea for spectacular views of both lakes and Mt. Aspiring National Park to the West. We highly recommend the reasonably-priced and comfortable A-Frame accommodations at the Makarora Tourist Centre, just below Mt. Shrimpton and adjacent to Mt. Aspiring National Park. The Tourist Centre is a great place to relax and recharge before heading up the coast, and it’s just about halfway between Queenstown and Fox Glacier. Nature walks through the podocarp forests, the centre’s restaurant and café, and quick access to the blue pools and Mt. Aspiring National Park make this our number one recommendation for the first part of your itinerary.
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New Zealand South Island Tour – Makarora West
Driving from Wanaka to Makarora West
It’s always hard to adjust the first day and night when traveling across timezones halfway around the world. Lucky for us, Michelle found a small cabin for our first night in Makarora West, a nature preserve and tourist centre just North of Lake Wanaka on the highway that winds and bends and curves around the West Coast of the South Island.
That’s one of my favorite drives in the South Island, from Queenstown to Wanaka, between Lake Hawea and Wanaka, and then finally around the Northern tip of Lake Wanaka into the lush forests leading to the West Coast. There’s something primal and dark and beautiful about that section of road as you wind deeper into the coastal range. We left Wanaka at dusk, the sky glowing above the lakes. The girls had done well not to fight too much on all the long flights and now another two-hour drive North long after their normal bedtimes, but they had reached their limits. Loud crying turned to muffled moans and then they both drifted off to sleep as we drove off into the darkness.
The Best Wilderness Accommodations: Makarora West
When we got to Makarora West, we pulled in to the lodge just off the main highway, which didn’t exist until after a pioneering family decided to build the accommodations and tourist park in the 1960s. The New Zealand government carved out the highway and connected utilities, and today the plot sits right next to wilderness preserve etched with scenic trails and gravelly riverbeds. We circled a few cabins before we arrived at our cabin for the night: a rustic, A-frame cabin with red and white exterior and matching decor. The girls woke up when we pulled up to the cabin, our headlights reflecting off the windows and giving off a kind of Blair Witch Project vibe. Neither of them wanted to stay, but it was after 10, and they didn’t have a choice.
Inside the cabin, we found 5 soft beds and a fully-outfitted kitchen and bathroom, all under the steep pitch of the A-frame roof. Renn woke me up early when a giant bumble bee who had evidently also been sleeping until then decided to buzz around her head, sounding like a small drone as it hovered and dove. (That’s something interesting about New Zealand: there are no natural predators on either island, so flightless birds and other creatures have thrived in the sort of dystopian native bush). I told Renn she was lucky to see such a cool, massive bumble bee up close, but she wasn’t impressed. Nyah thought it was neat.
New Zealand South Island Tour – Hiking Makarora West
Once we recovered from the trauma of the bumblebee, we got ready for our first full day in New Zealand. And what better way to start off the day than with a nature walk through native bush, complete with the deafening sound of crickets and frequent visits from inquisitive fantail birds who would flit down to branches right next to us and hop around while the girls cooed with excitement.
Makarora West and the Department of Conservation have maintained easy-to-walk trails leading away from the tourist centre and cabins. We quickly moved from meadow clearings into young forests and then into older growth forests further away from the highway and development. The girls climbed on fallen trees and ran down the trail, their shouts of excitement drowned out by the din of insects overhead. We’re planning a much longer overnight backpacking trip in Abel Tasman National Park, but this was a great short walk through podocarp forest to get us all a little more acclimatized.