We drove from Hokitika down the west coast to the glacier region, not too long a drive, a couple of hours with stops.
Though the weather had started nice it was getting quite grey by the time we got there. At Franz Josef there is a small town, mostly catering for tourists and just after that the entrance to the Frans Josef Glasier park itself. It was pretty busy here, there is an easy 25 minute walk to the glasiers terminal face, though the girl walking it in a tight leather skirt seemed to be struggling. The glacier itself is pretty impressive, pouring through the valley like a giant frozen tidal wave. We took in the view, then went back to have our lunch in a little light rain looking up at thegrand views from the car park.
Then on to our accomodation in Okarito, a room in a shared beach house. We did a walk up the hill (much steeper than we had expected) to an amazing lookout over the coast, then went for a walk along the amazing stone beach there. Okarito is 30 minutes from any shops, so there is nothing to do there, no phone signal, no TV (so we missed the last episode of Sherlock dammit), but we chatted to our fellow guests and caught up on the laundry.
Next day was pretty grim, we went to the Fox glasier a little further up the road, you couldn’t get that close to it but we saw it from a distance in the gloom, so we went back to our accomodation early and chilled out, we thought we would have the place to ourselves but late in the day a couple of South African ladies and a young German couple turned up (how selfish).
Next day we had a long long drive to Wanaka through the Haast pass. Two and a half hours in we stopped at a look out on a hill, only to discover that I had left my bag, along with the camera I had bought in Singapore, back at our accomodation. I couldn’t ring them as there was no signal, so we made our way back to Okarito, two and a half hours in the heaviest rain I have ever driven in and no mobile signal anywhere! Fortunately the bag and camera were both by the door where I left it. Five hours later we find ourselves back at the lookout, this time with camera in hand – not our best day.
However the drive into Wanaka through the Haast pass and the 2 lakes to the North of Wanaka was nothing short of Phenominal, and we saw a rainbow on Lake Haweia which we wouldn’t have seen if we had passed by there earlier.
Next day we re did the Haast Pass to see the waterfalls, rivers and mountains we missed the day before, it was pretty grey up in the mountains, but it statyed bright and sunny all day at the lakes, 30 km can make quite a difference.
Some of the sights on the Haast Pass
Next day we went to lake Wanaka to see the most photographed tree in the world (apparently), then walked the steep track up Mt Iron for views of the town and the mountains, very spectacular, but busy with tourists.
After that we went to a lavender farm, played Petanque (2 games all in case you’re wondering), and had a cup of tea with some lavender ice cream – highly recomend it.
We then headed the scenic route to Queenstown, along the Crown Range Mountains where the road reaches over 1100 metres above sea level. The views were astonashing, and so was the drive, like something from a top gear special, as you came down from the mountains through tight twisty bends and hairpins in the bright sunshine, I dont think I stopped smiling for hours.
A quick stop in Arrowtown, a very beautiful small old mining town, now gentrified and a popular spot with the tourists, especially Chinese tourists as there was a large population of Chinese miners working here during the gold rush of the 1800s.
We then drove through Queenstown and the worst traffic we had seen since Auckland and onto our next 3 night stop in Kingston. This was another airbnb, and this time a converted double garage. A beautiful place, in a fantastic setting, surrounding, definitely one of our favourite stops of the whole trip.
Kingston is the home to a disused steam railway and the Kingston Flyer, you could wander around the yards and have a really good look at the stock, and while we were here it was sold to an anonymous buyer, so hopefully this will be up and running again soon (or for when we come back).
We drove up to Glenorchy, another amazing scenic drive, with a terreific walk across the marshland and onto the mountains and more fantastic weather.
On the way out of Kingston we took a walk up the Shirtail Track as far as we dare, after 20 minutes walking the track dissapears and you litterally are walking through bush, a bit much for us!
Then we headed south to Te Anau, and our date with Milford Sound!