15.03.2017 - 21.03.2017 20 °C
We flew down to Christchurch from Auckland and picked up our new hire car. This time we have a young Nissan Sunny, a 2002 edition with just under 200000km on the clock. We have named him “Sonny” and he was soon put to the test as we headed west from Christchurch, up over Arthur’s Pass. The road is an impressive feat of engineering, at one point a waterfall flows over the top of a concrete overhang, which the road passes through as it twists its way through Otira Gorge. We stopped off at Otira, just over the western side of the pass. Otira consists of the “Otira Stagecoach Hotel” (where we stayed), an art gallery, a train station and about 15 small houses (not all of them inhabited). Initially I thought it was a one-horse town, as I could only see the one horse, but apparently there were five more horses out of sight somewhere else! The hotel sells itself as being a living museum, as it was built back in the 1800s (ancient for New Zealand standards) and has plenty of interesting features. Charlotte’s favourite feature was a random, very modern, electronic massage chair, which (along with the 60 inch TV) seemed to be the main entertainment for guests aside from the parrots in the lobby. While Charlotte was getting her hour-long massage, we got chatting to a couple of retired dairy farmers who live in Geraldine on the east side of the South Island. They had originally moved from the Netherlands back in the 1970s when apparently it cost a week’s wages to make a 3 minute phone call to Europe. How times have changed with the progress in technology!
From Otira we drove down the west coast to Franz Josef, stopping at a few scenic points along the way. Once we arrived in Franz Josef we did the walk up to the viewpoint across to the eponymous glacier, with Mount Cook looming largely in the background. In the evening, with the sun shining and the cloud over the mountains fully dispersed, we headed down to Okarito. This is a delightful little settlement down on the coast where we completed the “Okarito Trig Walk”, which has stunning views across to Mount Cook and the Southern Alps. We timed our walk perfectly to make it down to the beach in time for sunset.
The next morning we stopped at Lake Matheson, near Fox Glacier, which again had spectacular views across to the mountains. As this is very accessible, on the main tourist trail, there were plenty of other people out to enjoy the views, with clear skies all around. We continued south, then east, over Haast Pass. After stopping for lunch we had a real heartsink moment. Charlotte’s handbag (containing her purse, credit card, passport and drivers licence) had gone missing. We later worked out that the rubber seal around the boot of the car had come loose, meaning the boot doesn’t always close properly, leading to the purse falling out somewhere along the road. Although we retraced our steps, thoroughly checking around where we had eaten lunch and where we had stopped a short distance down the road, we saw no sign of the handbag. Uh oh!
We were staying in Wanaka for the next two nights, so our first stop was at the police station, where the policewoman said she was fairly confident that we would get it back. Thankfully she proved to be right, as the next morning we were informed that the bag had been handed in to Queenstown police station, with all the contents accounted for. According to the Sinclair Mayne view of the world, approximately 95% of people are good, with about 5% of people being not so good. Thankfully the bag must have been found by one of the “good” 95%, much to our relief!
Wanaka is a beautiful town which sits at the top of the lake of the same name. It has a more relaxed atmosphere than Queenstown and is becoming increasingly popular with tourists such as ourselves. We got dinner while enjoying the live music in Fitzpatricks Irish Pub, which was certainly cashing in on it being St Patrick’s Day! The next two days we did some spectacular walks to different viewpoints in the area. The first climb we did was to Isthmus Peak, which on a clear day supposedly offers views to both Lake Wanaka and the neighbouring Lake Hawea. I say supposedly because unfortunately the 1380m summit was above the cloud-line so we had to make do with using our imaginations instead! The next day, seeing that the sky was clear (and being gluttons for punishment), we decided to climb Roy’s Peak. This is very famous due to the magnificent views over Lake Wanaka, and we weren’t disappointed by the amazing panorama from the viewpoint. It turned out that the track continued upwards from Roy’s Peak, so we thought we would carry on until we reached another, higher summit, the 1830m Iron Peak. From here Lake Wanaka was a long, long way down. We could certainly feel the muscles in the legs by the time we got back to the car!
Resting up after lots of walking
Roy's Peak and Iron Peak
Next stop for 3 nights was Queenstown, located on beautiful Lake Wakatipu, one of the jewels in the crown of New Zealand tourism. Our first destination was the police station to pick up Charlotte’s handbag. It was definitely a big relief to get it back, and also convenient that it had been left somewhere on our route. We did a walking tour (guided around by one of the few born and bred locals) which was surprisingly good. We took the energetic route up the hill overlooking town, walking instead of choosing the lazy option of the cable car. One of the highlights of our time in Queenstown was wine tasting and a five course dinner at Amisfield Winery with dishes as diverse as Bluff oysters, venison and wild hare. This was certainly more glamorous than our takeaway from the world famous Ferg Burger the night before! The next day we tried some Frisbee golf in Queenstown Gardens, before driving out to Glenorchy at the head of the lake. It is a very scenic drive along the eastern shore of the lake which must be amazing at any time of year.
The "Big Al" burger from Ferg Burger
We have also used some of our time in Queenstown preparing for the Milford Track, which we will fill you in about in the next edition of the blog. It is renowned for being a damp part of the world so we have made sure to pack our waterproofs!