This was going to be a long day, beginning with 3.5 to 4 hours driving to Christchurch. It was to end with our 10:00 pm flight from Christchurch that would arrive in Brisbane at 11:00 pm to be followed by immigration processing and a drive across the city. We decided that a sleep in and 9:00 am start was in order.
We scheduled our departure for 8:00 am and were on the road a few minutes after that. Majella and I had wakened and rolled over to snooze. We were finally roused by my phone alarm at 7:00 am. That left us time for showers and a relaxed breakfast before bundling bags into the car. When Majella collected keys for return we were missing one of the three. That required a couple of minutes wait until the office opened at 8:00 am to sort out the $10 charge. Then we were back on the road.
The clouds that had rolled in yesterday were still around so it was a grey morning. We hoped they might clear by the time we reached Aoraki Mt Cook.
Our path was through Frankton and along the Kuwarau River gorge road. Along the way we refuelled and then stopped at the A J Hackett Bungy Centre on the old bridge. The opening time was 9:00 am so when we arrived soon after 8:30 am there was no action. We were able to walk down onto the bridge for photos of the river and installation but no more. I was reminded that, had we followed the original plan proposed by our tour guide, we would have had more chance of seeing jumpers.
We paused again at Roaring Meg for photos of the Kuwarau River pouring through the gorge. At the end of the gorge road we passed through Cromwell. We had seen a few signs for fruit sales as we neared the end of town and and stopped at a juice and cider making establishment to buy some fruit as we drove out the far side of town toward the Lindis Pass road.
As we drove up the valley we stopped once to look more closely at the low yellow flowering plant that covered the hillsides. We assumed it was another variety of the yellow broom we had seen covering hillsides elsewhere on our travels. Further along the broom disappeared from the hills and the roadsides and flats by the stream were covered in lupins. We stopped for photos of those too before climbing the range to the summit through the tussock covered hills.
We had always intended stopping at the summit lookout but as we approached it we encountered an escort vehicle for a house being trailered up the other side of the pass. The summit car park was a convenient spot to wait for it to pass while taking more photos.
As we headed down the other side toward Omarama the lupins reappeared. We paused along the river valley where people had been building cairns and shapes, mostly letters and names, from the many small rocks that lay about on the ground. Majella had been harbouring an urge to do it since we had happened across the area on our trip with Pat and Laura Ryan. She had her way.
By this time we were seeing occasional flashes of blue sky ahead and were hopeful that conditions might be at least fair for mountain peak spotting. We stopped at Omarama for coffee and snacks. There was a store next to our coffee stop and some brief shopping followed before we headed north again.
We passed by our accommodation at Twizel and drove the extra 63 km to Aoraki Mt Cook. Not far beyond the start of the drive up Lake Pukaki we stopped at Peter’s Lookout to see what we could of the mountains. We could see snow clad mountains but the tops were hidden by clouds with a few patches of blue sky to give us hope that it might clear.
We drove on to the Mt Cook village. There we took a quick look at the Edmund Hillary Centre and spent some time in the information centre. About that time the clouds lifted and we were able to see the peaks. Helen was especially pleased because she had been there twice before many years ago but both times it had rained and she was unable to see the peaks. We enjoyed lunch and the magnificent view outside at the Old Mountaineers Cafe.
After lunch we drove to the Tasman Glacier viewing area. Glen, John, and I walked to the top of the hill to see the glacier and its lake. Helen came part way up and went for a look at the ‘blue’ lakes which were actually brown. Majella, Debbie and Mum waited below for the 30 minutes it took us to get up, take some photos, and get back.
By then, though there was sun on the mountains near us we could see rain falling down the valley. We drove back to Twizel to check in at our accommodation through some light showers with the mountains disappearing into the mist behind us.
Check in was quick and easy. We dropped our bags and headed for the High Country Salmon, just south of Twizel. We spent a few minutes feeding the salmon and then bought some to cook for dinner. On the way back through Twizel we picked up some salad ingredients and beverages to go with the meal.
Mains for dinner was pan fried salmon accompanied by wedges roasted in the oven, salad, and garlic pita bread. That was followed by cheese with some fresh raspberries and strawberries we had picked up this morning. It was all washed down with New Zealand wine.
By 6:30 pm we had finished dinner and relaxed with conversation. Majella had concocted a series of awards for various activities rewarded with Cadbury chocolates. The travellers presented her with a CD of sounds of New Zealand in appreciation of her efforts as tour guide.
Some members of the group had been finding car travel on winding mountain roads less than pleasant so a day in and around Queenstown with minimal driving was welcome. We woke at our regular time, around 6:00 am, but, despite having slept on the sofa bed in the lounge room, we lay in for a while longer before rising and showering. By the time we had done that the others were up and about.
We ate breakfast together and talked about the day. Our major targets were the Shotover Jetboats and the gondola up the mountain in Queenstown itself. Glen and Debbie had expressed interest in the Shotover. We had done it with Pat and Laura in 2008 and John had done it some years ago but we thought others might need to see what was on offer to make a decision. We put the Shotover to the top of the list for the day.
After breakfast we climbed into the Estima and headed for the Shotover. We arrived there about 9:00 am and Glen ascertained that the earliest they could book was 9:45 am. We headed to nearby Cavell’s, part of the same business, for coffee (or hot chocolate or mochacino) while we waited.
I drank my coffee and then headed out to look for a place to grab some pictures of the ride. I finished down on the lowest level beside the river. The midges were a nuisance but I managed to avoid being bitten in the hour or so that I was down there. Shortly after 9:30 Glen and Debbie were down there to get their gear and briefing and then they were on their way. I managed to catch some good action shots of smiling faces as they rode for about 30 minutes. By 10:15 am the ride was done. They had a ball!
We headed back to town and up to the departure point for the gondola. John dropped the rest of us there and went to look for a park. It was a while before he returned, having parked in a yard where he could get most of the day for $5. The street parking was packed solid.
Some of us enjoyed the ride up in the gondola more than others. Once there we spent some time looking at the bungy area but it was a slow day for bungy jumpers. We did see two but it seemed that one may have been staff rather than a customer. We wandered around to look at the luge where there was a good deal more activity.
John had already decided that he wanted to ride the luge and Majella decided to go along too. They headed down to catch the ride. I followed for photos from that angle while the others stayed above to watch and catch photos from that angle. Majella and John collected their helmets. Majella was disappointed that all the helmets in her size were red – that was not a good match for her blue outfit. Boarding the chairlift to the top of the luge run looked like fun but, according to Majella, the ride itself was not all that exciting but rather sedate.
Majella was keen to fill in the rest of the day with a Fergburger for lunch and a visit to the original bungy site – not necessarily in that order. John and Helen fetched the car and drove us into town. There was a long queue at Fergburger and parking was impossible. We decided against that and headed for the supermarket where we picked up the makings for lunch. Along the way we decided that we did not need the 24 km each way trip to the bungy site since we would pass it in the morning on our way to Twizel. We headed back to the unit and ate lunch.
Mum had a rest while the rest of us wandered up the street in couples at our own paces. Majella and I had ice creams at Patagonia and walked to the Botanical Gardens before heading back. We checked out the Bath House Cafe which had been built in honour of the coronation of George V and had a varied life since.
We got back to the unit shortly after 4:00 pm. Sometime after 5:00 pm we all walked into town where we bought and ate our Fergburgers. By that time the queue had diminished considerably and the wait was just 15 to 20 minutes for food to be cooked. The burgers were large and tasty.
After dinner we took a walk along the waterfront before returning to the unit for evening drinks and photo of the day. Winner today was Debbie for the photo she took of Glen wearing his award at lunch time today.
Estimated driving time from Franz Josef to Queenstown was about 4.5 hours but we expected stops for photos and refreshments to extend that by an hour or two, making an early start desirable. We scheduled an 8:00 am start but woke early, had breakfast and managed to beat our mark by almost 30 minutes.
We had planned to pause at Lake Matheson near Fox but before we reached Fox Majella discovered from her Lonely Planet guide that the walk around the lake took an hour and the spot with reflected views of the mountains was at the far end. We decided to skip that excursion.
On our way south to Haast we stopped for photos by Lake Moeraki and at Knight’s Point lookout. The lake surface was smooth and we hoped for reflections of snow capped mountains but the angle was not right for that though we did capture some reflections of the hills across the lake. At the lookout we had a last good look at the rocky coastline and Helen spotted some moving specks that we took to be seals on the beach across a small bay.
Haast was our planned coffee stop. It is the only real opportunity between Fox and Wanaka and we also intended to top up fuel before attempting the Haast Pass road to Wanaka. As we pulled up Majella noticed they were advertising whitebait patties and had to have one. I declined the offer of a second from the server and was surprised when the charge for our two coffees and patty came to $21.50. I’m not a great lover of fish and thought that $12.50 for some tiny whole fish that arrived embedded in scrambled egg was a bit rich.
Our assumption that we would find fuel in Haast proved incorrect and we had to backtrack 3 km to Haast Junction to buy some before heading up the Haast River toward the pass. The river wound through a broad valley backed by snow capped peaks and with waterfalls punctuating the slopes. We stopped for photos a couple of times along the flat section of the valley before the road headed up the slope as the valley narrowed. We parked in the space above the bridge at the Gates of Haast to view and photograph the rapids. The better viewing was below the bridge on the lower side but we decided not to risk the walk across the narrow bridge even though the traffic was infrequent. We did grab some quick shots from the bridge.
At Fantail Falls we parked and took the 2 minute walk to the falls. The path in was level and mostly concrete, probably to handle the volume of walkers. We spent some time on the rocky river bed admiring the falls and surrounds. Some built small cairns and John and Helen spent some effort on perfecting their intended entry for the photo of the day.
Not much further up the road we crested the pass and began following the Makarora River down the other side. The countryside gradually became clearer on the drier eastern side of the range but there were still patches of snow visible on the tops of the peaks even as we approached the head of Lake Wanaka.
We drove along the edge of Lake Wanaka and then crossed the isthmus toward Lake Hawea. We stopped there to enjoy the view and catch some photos of the lake. There was a man flying a drone with camera and remote viewing goggles. John could not resist the urge to check it out and try the goggles – probably looking for ways to cement his lead in the photo of the day competition.
Lunch was eaten at Puzzling World on the edge of Wanaka. We ate in one of the booths with puzzles and then checked out the Romanesque toilets before going outside for photos staged with the leaning tower on the front lawn.
After driving along the Wanaka waterfront we took the road down the Cardrona Valley and over the Crown Range toward Queenstown. Peaking at 1076 m this is the highest sealed road in New Zealand. Just before we reached the Cardrona hotel we came to the (in)famous Cardrona bra fence. We had chanced across it in February but this time Majella was prepared with her contribution. It took some time to reach it from Wanaka and we began to wonder if we had missed it. When we got service on the iPad I searched for it and Majella discovered that it had been removed again in July 2014. Fortunately some brave souls have begun to rebuild the collection but this time on a fence within the entrance to the property and probably immune to objections based on interference with public roads. Majella was pleased to make her contribution to the efforts of the sisterhood.
We stopped at the crest of the range for photographs of the vista toward Queenstown and then drove on to Arrowtown. We found a park close to the main street and walked in. Majella and Mum sat in the shade while I went for ice creams (hokey pokey, of course) and the others explored the shops. Refreshed by ice cream we drove into Queenstown, passing by the Shotover jet boats, to find our accommodation at Lakeside Apartments. We are in a 3 bedroom apartment for our 2 nights here with a view directly over the lake.
The lounge area has a glass roofed area that would be welcome in winter but was a bit warm at this time of year. The air conditioner eventually cooled it down while we rested until the sun outside was lower. Shortly before 6:00 pm we headed out to town, a reasonably short walk, to collect some provisions for the evening. We settled for a simple meal of hot dogs. Nobody needed anything fancy after our night out in Franz Josef last night. We washed the dogs down with red wine and other beverages for those with different preferences and followed them with Turkish delight and fudge.
Finishing dinner at 7:15 pm left almost 2 hours until sunset at 9:00 pm but that allowed those who needed an early night to turn in. Before doing that we had time to view photos. Winner of photo of the day was Glen for a photo actually taken by Debbie on his camera.
There was time for those who had the energy to indulge in an evening walk along the lake shore to town. Mum and Helen were feeling tired and decided to relax and then turn in. John, Debbie, Glen, Majella and I walked the short distance toward town and onto the wharf area where we admired the sunset over the lake and took some photos. Debbie, Majella and I visited the Ice Bar for cocktails at -5ºC. John and Glen decided to skip that but walked up town and met us afterwards with news of a Christmas tree they had seen. We walked back to see that, pausing to watch a street entertainer, and then strolled home. By that time it was after 10:30 and the sun was gone but there was still enough light to see where we were walking.
Helen, John, Majella and I walked up the street to see the glow worms last night. It was a short walk but worth doing to see the pinpoints of light in the dark forest. That was just after sunset and we headed back with the little light that was left.
This morning was to be a relaxed start. The drive to Franz Josef was short – less than 2 hours – and we had no schedule to meet. Majella had been interested in the forest walk on our last trip but we missed that on the way south that time. This time we thought about it briefly and decided that platforms in the tree tops were not suitable for some members of the party so that was off the list. In the meantime some observer of local television had noted the advertisements for the local sock factory which made the merino/possum socks we had seen in the stores. That went on the list and its 9:00 am opening time set the agenda.
We were awake shortly after 6:00 am. Others complained of being awakened by a train going by outside out back windows in the wee hours but I missed that one entirely. There was plenty of time for breakfast and a quick trip to the supermarket by some to pick up provisions for lunch before we needed to be away. I spent some time fiddling with photographs from yesterday.
Shortly before 9:00 am we headed into town (I was designated driver for the day) and found the sock factory. I did buy some woollen (no possum) socks and Mum bought gloves. We picked up fuel and headed south toward the glaciers.
Enroute we stopped briefly at Pukekura to check out the bushman’s centre and road kill restaurant. Nobody was hungry at that hour and we rolled on down the road.
We were booked to stay at JAG Alpine Retreat, just north of Franz Josef. After some delay with road works we reached there just after 11:00 am but that would be too early to check in so we headed into town for coffee at the 88 Asian Fusion restaurant in the town centre. We had been there in February and had fond memories. The carrot cake we remembered was not available but we had coffee and other treats. Majella and Debbie took that opportunity to book themselves and Mum onto a helicopter flight over the Fox glacier at 1:30 pm. We had reasoned that the walk to either glacier would be too much for Mum and that the only way she would see the glacier would be from above via helicopter.
After coffee we headed south to Fox, planning to eat our picnic lunch before dropping most of us at the glacier car park and letting the fliers head off. Picnic spots were in short supply along the road but the turn off to the Fox glacier view site indicated there were facilities there. We headed up the mostly dirt road to the viewpoint which was high enough and well positioned to allow a clear view of the glacier. There was no picnic table there so we went further up the road to the parking area where we found one and ate lunch.
Debbie took the driving from there and dropped Glen, Helen, John and me at the Fox Glacier carpark at 1:15 pm before heading off to catch their flight. We walked up to the glacier and arrived back just as they returned about 2: 15 pm. Helen had some hesitation about the last stages of the walk up the hill to the view point but was encouraged by another walker coming down who assured her that she had done the hard part. She made it.
From Fox we drove back to Franz Josef and checked into our accommodation – beautiful, well-appointed cabins with views to the mountains. Mum, Glen and Debbie decided it was time to relax but Helen, John, Majella and I headed back to tackle the Franz Josef glacier walk. That was well worth the effort. The weather was much better than it had been on our February trip when Warwick, Jim and I were well saturated by rain on the same walk. This time we had bright sunshine and excellent views of the glacier. Parts of the track to the final viewing area were over ice buried under glacial rubble and in one area there was an arch of ice melting away.
Back at JAG we showered and rested. Our lift to dinner at Blue Ice Cafe was the stretch Hummer. Mum was a bit shocked by that and we all enjoyed the novelty. Dinner was pleasant as expected – venison, fillet steak, chicken and fish around the table with a good New Zealand red wine and white for Helen and Mum. We shared desserts before summoning the Hummer for the return trip.