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For people travelling to New Zealand and interested in an outdoors adventure, the Department of Conservation’s Fiordland Great Walks are often a Must-Do experience as they not only wind past lakes and waterfalls, through beautiful mountain valleys or coastal vistas in remote locations, they are also well organized and structured offering incredible experiences and memories to share with family and friends.
If a Fiordland Great Walk – either the Milford Track, the Routeburn Track or Kepler Track is on your To Do list for your New Zealand travels, you are not alone. The secret is out and in many cases, you need to arrange your travels around your walk dates due to track availability. The trick is to plan well in advance and great news – these days you have multiple transport options!
While the car relocation option has been around for about 10 years – it is still the new kid on the block compared to the bus, however it is gaining popularity as clever travelers realize the benefits are too good to refuse. So, to help with your track transport analysis, here are 5 reasons to have your car relocated when doing a Fiordland Great Walk.
1 – See and do more!
Most people don’t realize that securing those golden (hut) tickets is just one of a few tasks required when creating the best (flawless) travel plans. As well as nailing hut tickets it is also important to plan your transport and itinerary well in advance to maximize your time and experiences. This applies to the each Fiordland Great Walk in different ways – so lets explore each of these briefly:
Instead of leaving Milford after your walk/at the end of the day (as most visitors do), would you rather stay and enjoy the dramatic scenery with tranquility? Not many people get to stay here overnight and if you want to – I suggest booking in advance!
Also, (for those with a motorhome/tent) on the way out of Milford there are plenty of camp sites operated by DOC which are great value and in stunning locations! There are a lot of things to see and do along the Milford-Te Anau Highway which is a lovely stretch of road to spent some time, but I’ll get into that later.
You may know already that one end of the Routeburn Track is 325 Km drive from the other – even though you are only walking 32kms through the mountains! This poses for interesting logistics issues for some. But really it is simple – integrate the Routeburn into your itinerary so you don’t have to back track or waste time/money.
DID YOU KNOW: The Divide is near Milford Sound. So instead of basing yourself in Queenstown and visiting Milford as a day trip (and sitting for 8 hours on a bus!) and then next day starting your Routeburn hike – you can save an ENTIRE DAY by doing one then the other. Visit Milford Sound (and perhaps cruise out to the Tasman Sea!) nice and early in the morning (BONUS! You will be there before the buses/people arrive!) and then start the Routeburn Track at the Divide around midday or early afternoon – this is the time most people like to start the Routeburn Track anyway.
When you finish at the Routeburn Shelter (near Glenorchy and Queenstown on the other side of the mountains) you can visit Paradise/Kinloch/Glenorchy at your leisure – even stay another night relaxing in the mountains before returning to busy Queenstown. (Ask us about DOC campsite locations or local B&B options with hot pools!)
As the Kepler Track is a loop and also rather close to Te Anau you don’t necessary need transport at all. However, there is another entry/exit point to the track as well and a lot of people like to use the Rainbow Reach exit to walk the Kepler Track in 3 days rather than 4, cutting of the last 10 kms (scenery is more of the same, so no Biggy missing it). This can save you an entire day to spend elsewhere if you are on a tight time schedule.
The transport issue is – the last day can be a rather long 22kms and it is hard to know if you will catch the last shuttle bus after three days hiking. If you rather skip this uncertainty, arrange for your car to be at the end of the walk so you can drive away when you finish walking – and that leads me on to the next tip!
2 – Flexibility & Independance
Now this is a nice little luxury. There are so many uncertainties that go hand in hand with your first Fiordland Great Walk experience. Ie. What will the weather be like? How hard will it be? What will the track be like? How long will it take me to walk? How often will I want to stop for a photo? How long will I want to spend at the hut? It’s nice to not have to worry about these questions in advance when choosing bus transport times.
With car relocation, you have freedom to start and finish the track when it suits you; not according to the bus schedule (or with everyone else on the bus).
Choose your own start time and reconfirm this with us in advance (so we know when to collect your car) and fit in as much or as little as you want on the way to the track.
If you have your car waiting for you at the end of the track, you don’t have to hurry on the last day to meet the pre-arranged bus or wait around for others to finish the walk before you start your onwards journey. This leads me into the next reason for car relocation: It is so nice at the end of the track to crack a cool beverage which you previously stashed in your car, not to mention skipping the stinky bus ride with everyone else who has been walking in the same hiking clothes for 3 days!
3 – Fresh clothes, food and drink
Yip, this is another luxury. No stinky bus trip and no sitting in wet clothes and hot hiking boots for an hour or so on the way to your belongings. Clever walkers prepare fresh clothes, and finish line treats; in fact, we have seen many examples of creative thinking to keep chocolate or beer cool and out of the sun for a few days in the middle of summer!
Being prepared with food/clothes/gear is especially important for a comfortable night if you are staying in Milford or camping along the way back to town.
4 – Make the trip your own - stop along the way!
Driving yourself to and from a Fiordland Great Walk means you can make stops along some of the most beautiful drives in the world
This goes without saying, and I have also touched on it a little earlier – but it’s is so important it deserves to be a reason in itself! Without exception, the roads which lead you to the start and take you from the end of the trail wind through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. You are going to want to stop and capture the moment in your own way. Isn’t this one of the reasons you want to come to New Zealand in the first place?
Also, as well as magic photo moments, there are also many, many short walks and detours you can take along the way. Not to mention delicious coffee/snack stops!
Your freedom/independence is priceless in my opinion and scenic photos through a bus window (showing the person sitting next to you in the reflection) are often just a waste of battery and memory space – trust me on this…
5 – Car relocation is great value for money – especially for groups
Last but not least – the cost. It always comes into the equation somewhere, right? We all have different ideas when it comes to ‘it’s worth it because…’.
The cost of car relocation is on a per car basis, rather than per person basis (for the bus). It can be hard to compare apples with apples due to different factors involved with car relocation compared to the bus. To the extent of which car relocation is value for money depends on your trip itinerary, how many people in your group, how much time you have for your trip, and how much you value flexibility, independent and private transport convenience.
Due to scale and how many cars are relocated each summer, we can keep the cost down to be great value – especially considering the amount of time required to relocate each and every car. If you are counting dollars, you have to consider the relocation fee, fuel and car hire fees (however these have often already been planned for and you will have the car anyway, right?) If you are adding the rental car cost into the equation, the bus may well be cheaper for a couple.
Are you considering of the cost of a car sitting in a carpark ‘unused’ for 3 days – let me ask you these questions: Are you planning to see and do things on the way to the track? What time are you planning to start the track?
In most cases on the Routeburn Track, you are away from your car for 1 full day and 2 half/partial days – or even less! Meaning you are not actually ‘wasting’ 3 days of car hire while you walk the track and by the way, we need half a day to relocate it as well so your car isn’t sitting in one place for very long at all.
So, if you are considering a car transfer as your Fiordland Great Walk transport, you may have a few questions. Don’t worry, questions are common. Read on for some answers.
Car Relocation Frequently Asked Questions
Can you relocate rental cars for Fiordland Great Walks?
Yes, most of the cars we relocate are rentals! We work with all popular agencies to add our drivers details to your rental agreement keeping all t’s crossed and i’s dotted. The one camper brand who make things difficult is Apollo. We rarely relocate any Apollo branded campers.
How do we swap keys?
We provide you with a metal lockbox about the size of your hand to keep your car key safe with your car. You pick up the box near the start of your walk, and drop it off near the end – no backtracking required (of course!)
Are the car parks safe?
The car park is a public place and anyone can come and go – it is quite a busy place most summer days! None of our customers have had any issues with carpark security but there are no guarantees. Best practice whenever locking and leaving your car is to keep belongings out of sight (where possible) to avoid temptation. As we are locating your car – it isn’t sitting on one place for the entire time, and often stays overnight at our drivers private residence during the relocation.
How much does it cost?
The cost varies depending on the relocation required. All prices are available on our website – find specific Fiordland Great Walk details here Routeburn Kepler Milford or select the car relocation tab on our book now page. INSIDER TIP: We have relocation/cruise combos which offer huge savings.
Is it true that you run over the track once you finish relocating a car?
Often, yes! That is how it all started for us, relocating a car to enjoy the run/walk over the track back to the start. This is only for the fit and able! These days there are so many cars to move, that we are often driving cars in both directions – which is why it is cheaper to get your car relocated if you start at the Divide car park. (Most people walk the other way – due to the layout of the DOC map and booking system.)
You are still likely to see our drivers/runners on the track – they are very friendly, say hello!