Peel Forest & Rafting Take 2

Peel Forest would fall under “off the beaten track” and very on brand for Stray. It is a small community in the Canterbury Region of New Zealand close to Christchurch. It is located near the Peel Forest Park Scenic Reserve, the Rangitata River, and part of the Southern Alps. This entire area was used in a lot of the scenery for the Lord of the Rings movies. Flowing from the Alps to the Pacific Ocean the Rangitata River was the main highlight of this one-night stop for us. When we first arrived and checked in we had super sunny weather and headed to the lake. Some people were brave enough to go swimming in the glacial water. I was fine with being their photographer. Only Stray passengers were staying on property so we had the lodge essentially to ourselves. We had a group dinner that night (the last of the trip) and spent the evening playing cards. We were treated to a lazy, sleep in morning as Christchurch was the next stop and only a two-ish hour drive away.

Most of the group drove to Christchurch in the the afternoon, but six of us stayed behind. We were the adventurers and going to take on white water rafting on the Rangitata River! I almost didn’t sign up for this activity as I already had a rafting excursion earlier this trip in Rotorua. One of my friend’s had done this rafting trip a couple of days before I arrived in Peel Forest and the pictures looked amazing. I also had such a great time the first go that I figured I would love it again. And finally, a couple of the people I’ve gotten close with were also doing it so it would be fun rafting with some friends. All of those reasons lead me to try it and I’m so happy that I did.

This rafting was completely different from Rotorua’s. Mainly, the length of the tour, in time and distance, was much longer. The distance covered rafting on this trip was almost 10 times as long. The water was also icy blue and wider than the other rafts. It was also colder given that it comes from a glacier and all the layers we wore were needed (swimsuit, undershirt, thermal, wetsuit, wind breaker jacket, and booties). The other rafting experience leads up to a huge waterfall whereas this didn’t have a waterfall, but massive rapids (ranging from grade 2-5).

I sat upfront on the raft and I absolutely loved it. I was the only one in our boat that had rafted before so it was nice having an idea of what I was doing. Our guide was really knowledgeable and the entire team, and there were a lot of them, was so friendly and professional. After rafting we had the chance to shower and were greeted to a BBQ lunch to enjoy as a group. I really would recommend this excursion, especially if you are bored in Christchurch and want to go out for a day trip.

Accommodation – Rangitata Rafts Lodge

The lodge and the rafting is all in one place/company and they are the only operators out here. I think if you have a big group and you rent out the entire lodge that is the way to go, but if you are traveling solo or with just another person camping or just a day trip out here would suffice.

Franz Josef – Seeing Glaciers

Just when I thought New Zealand couldn’t get cooler I was proven wrong. We went from sailing in the sun to mountains and glaciers in one day’s drive. The township of Franz Josef is in the middle of the rainforest, but it also features a massive glacier. It’s is the weirdest oxymoron. Each year the glacier is “retreating” further, i.e. getting smaller, and they placed plaques throughout the walk so you are able to see how significant of a change has taken place. I’m not sure how anyone can say that climate change isn’t a thing while seeing first hand the drastic change that has occurred in just a few years.

The only way to actually access the glacier is with via helicopter. They had scenic rides available to get a bird’s eye view of the area or you could actually access the glacier and do a heli-hike or heli-climb. I was scheduled to do a heli-hike the morning after we arrived. Unfortunately, the clouds that day were not in our favor and they cancelled all flights for safety reasons. We were told this happens 70% of the time and so I guess the odds were not in our favor. We persisted in trying and went to another company and even a neighboring glacier, Fox Glacier, to do the hike there, but no luck. Although, we were disappointed I was extremely impressed by how careful the companies were – it really wasn’t about the money to them. Not being able to go on to the actually glacier was a bummer, but that day consisted of two hikes/walks and seeing the two glaciers – Franz Josef and Fox. It’s not every day you can say you saw two glaciers. 

So I’m adding Franz Josef to my list of places to revisit. 

Accommodation – Rainforest Retreat 

Possibly one of my favorite accommodation stops to date.  There were great vibes from the second we walked onto the property. We were greeted warmly. We had the option to choosing your own roommates. The first night they had a great pizza party deal – I didn’t partake, but everyone that did enjoyed it. Our second night another Stray bus was coming in, as well as a Contiki tour, so it was going to be a party night. We treated ourselves to dinner at Moonson and then had a couple of drinks to pity ourselves for the heli-hike cancelations that day. It was a great night and the best part was just walking back to our rooms. 

The Rainforest Retreat also had a hot tub and sauna to use. It was a nice getaway spot that I would recommend. They had private little cabins, hotel rooms, and of course the backpacker geared dorm rooms.