Queenstown was our next destination at six or so hours away with time for a few stops along the way. The drive would take us through the Haast Pass, past some of the larger lakes and over the highest sealed road in New Zealand. It was a drive I had been particularly looking forward to.
We set off nice and early as the clouds hung low on the mountainsides. We were hoping that the good weather would follow us and that the sun would burn the clouds away. As we drove on that’s exactly what happened and the drive lived up to all my expectations. The first major sight on route was the Haast Pass, a great big valley completely surrounded by mountains of the Southern Alps in the Mt Aspiring National Park. As the clouds had cleared the peaks with their snow caps looked amazing.
Along the way were a number of waterfalls and we chose to stop at Thunder Creek. As it had been dry it wasn’t quiet a thunder, more of a rumble, but the falls were pretty cool. One thing I haven’t talked about yet is the sandflies. At Haast and then again at the waterfalls they became a real nuisance. Unlike mosquitoes they don’t carry disease but they do bite. You feel a little nip before you see them. Also they are pretty docile so a quick slap and they are dead. Thankfully for both of us, the bites last for a half an hour and then die down without too much itching. However I’ve seen fellow travellers who are not so lucky with blotchy legs and arms covered in bites.
We made our next stop at the Blue Pools, a nice walk through the bush to a pool of water which was blue. The pool was blue but paled in comparison to the water we’d seen at the Hokitika Gorge a few days earlier. As it was near the roadside and on the 101 things a Kiwi must do in New Zealand it was pretty busy. I personally thought it was over-hyped.
Lake Wanaka was our next stop for a quick scout around before heading to Lake Hawea. I’d seen a place for lunch on the map off the beaten track, meaning that you had to go along a dirt road for 20km. As we turned off up the road it looked promising, the lake looked beautiful. Halfway along I wondered whether the detour would be worth it along a very unkempt road. It was worth it, at the other end was an idyllic spot to have lunch.
The place was wonderful, the lake looked peaceful and the water looked really inviting. After a bit of lunch I jumped in and went for a swim. It wasn’t the warmest water but after a while I forgot about that and the swim was wonderful. I eventually had to drag myself out, as we still had a fair way to go before we got to Queenstown and needed to get back on the road.
The drive along the lake proved to be too magnificent and I had to stop a few times to capture the view. It was such a warm and still day and the reflection in the lake was amazing. Sometimes it’s really hard to keep your eyes on the road. In this instance it was lucky that Jono was driving.
We’d decided to take the Crown Range Road for our final bit of the drive as it took us to the highest sealed road in New Zealand at 1121m. Pretty high! It also passed the town of Cardrona, a ski resort in the winter which I was interested to have a look at. We didn’t stop and I didn’t see any signs of skiing paraphernalia like chair lifts so I wonder how the skiers get to the top of the mountains. I think it may have been hidden away down some side road.
The view from the top really felt like standing in the clouds. I could see Queenstown in the distance and the winding road that would lead us there. The excitement levels on my part were high as it looked so picturesque, the town perched on the side of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by the Remarkables mountain range.
Queenstown was given its name because it was stunning enough to be fit for Queen Victoria. We spent 4 nights there and I did fall in love with the place. It’s small but has a real buzz about the place. We also stayed in the best accommodation we’ve stayed in our trip, a beautiful apartment with great views. It was so luxurious that sometimes it was too easy not to go exploring for the day.
We did however pack in a fair bit in the time we had in Queenstown and also just chilled in the buzz of the place. Queenstown is renowned for being the adventure capitol of New Zealand and you can get an adrenalin fix in many different ways. The two activities we’d earmarked on doing were the Luge and the Shotover Jet.
A gondola ride got us to the Luge track. As we rode up we knew the view was going to be stunning, the day was clear and you could see for miles. I really want to see it at another time of year; I wonder if it feels the same or if the great weather we were having made the difference.
I’d had my first encounter with a Luge in Singapore. Compared to that Queenstown’s Luge was the Daddy. We had three pretty relaxed runs down the track and even got ourselves co-ordinated enough to get a picture together at the bottom. So impressed were we at our skill that we ended up paying for it!
The Shotover Jet was a less relaxed affair. It’s a boat propelled by two jet engines which the pilot using to full effect to scare a dozen people or so down the Shotover River. On arrival at the site you are given a poncho and life jacket and then take your seat in the jet boat. Once there a brief safety chat by the pilot which in essence says hold on and then you are off. The speed is immense and the manoeuvrability is amazing. Full 360 degree turns at high speed and hair-raisingly close to jagged rocks at the river sides. I loved it.
We did also venture out of Queenstown to Glenorchy and Arrowtown. Both were interesting for different reasons. Getting to Glenorchy was an hour’s drive hugging Lake Wakatipu. As we turned one corner my breath was taken away by the scene I saw in front of me. The mountains we shimmering in the afternoon light and just looked amazing.
Arrowtown was a living piece of history. It’s been restored to it’s heyday as a gold town with all the old buildings. Very touristy but pleasant all the same for a quick visit to get a feel for what New Zealand may have been like once upon a time.
The trip around the South Island for me was getting better and better. I’d seen some of the best scenery I’d ever seen and Queenstown had been a real gem. What was to come was supposed to be even better but I couldn’t imagine how.