Another early start today. This morning, weather permitting, we'll be going on a 2 1/2 hour heli-hike excursion to the glaciers with "The Helicopter Line - Franz Josef". A 10 minute heli flight for a landing on the Franz Josef Icefall and then a 2 hours guided hike amongst the glacial ice formations. Brrr ...
After our icy encounter, we'll have a 5 to 6 hour drive ahead of us, through the "Gates of Haast" and the magnificant Southern Lakes region (Lake Wanaka, Lake Hawea) towards the alpine adventure hub, Queenstown. We'll be staying at the charming B&B, Queenstown House, hosted by Louise Kiely. We're planning to take the gondola up to Bob's Peak for a panoramic view of the magestic Remarkables mountain range and Lake Wakatipu. Later we'll probably stroll around town, hopefully meeting some locals and/or fellow travellers.
For our next day in and around Queenstown, we've scheduled a guided day trek with Ultimate Hikes. Their "Routeburn Track Encounter" is part of the famous 3-day "Routeburn Track". This day walk is ideal for people who sadly have little time to "go slow and savour".
Nope, didn't happen. It was pouring down.
We did do a "cinematic heli flight" over the glaciers, but it really wasn't worth the time hanging around waiting for the first screening of the day (around 10 am, about 30 minutes, very loud music, motion in shots too fast and flashy - dizzy, got a slight headache). Had a coffee and some breakfast in the cafeteria.
We did do a few shops in Franz Jozef and got the "Driving Scenic New Zealand" (Dave Chowdhury) guide here.
As we couldn't see it from the air, and we passed them on the road to Queenstown any way, we stoppped at both the Franz Jozef and Fox glaciers and did the walk (half-way) down to the glaciers, in the drizzle, through some magnificent 'rain' forests (Franz Jozef Glacier Walk , Fox Glacier River Walk - 40 minutes). There are lots of waterfalls, small and big, thumbeling down of the mountains, through the thick rain clouds. It must be very beautiful in sunny weather. We didn't go all the way down to the actual glaciers, as the walk would take too much time. We returned on the path the moment we could see the glacier. (And yes you could see the glacier, although on the picture above it is kind of difficult.)
So we needed to get a move on. In the end, now we know, it is a very long (in time), but very interesting trip down to Queensland. It's only 420km, but it does take 7-8 hours to get there! You pass Lake Paringa, pass through the 'Gates of Haast' (an awe inspiring name and scenery, and how LOTR) and Mount Aspiring NP, beautiful Lakes Wanaka and Hawea (see panorama on homepage), Lake Dunstan, the Remarkables to get to Queenstown at Lake Wakatipu.
You cannot and must not just pass through! Stop and take some of the short (loop) walks! Like the Thunder Creek Falls and Fantail Falls walks, Blue Pool walk, and some beautiful scenic stops.
As the weather had improved during the day, every turn is awe inspiring. You cannot help but keep filming, and keep taking pictures of the beautifull lakes, and forest, and mountains...
But a word of warning! Stop only at the designated stopping places on the side of the road, on gravel! Another turn, another beautiful lake (lake Moeraki). And, again, we stopped, on the side of the road, on the grass. The wet grass...
Yes, we were stuck! The wheels kept spinning, and we didn't get nowhere. Or rather, with every try, we slipped closer to the lake side... Radz got out of the car, and I put the car in reverse and Radz started pushing the car backwards. Radz was wearing cream coloured trousers... :)
and got totally splattered in mud and grass, looked silly, but the car was clear of the lake now, and we were back on track.
We had a lunch stopover at The Salmon Farm CafÈ for some salmon filled bagels, and a toilet stop.
Highway 6 is good traveling all the way to Wanaka (didn't spot the famous "bra fence" though). From there, the trip takes you around the edge of Lake Dunstan, which was formed behind the Clyde Dam. Radz felt really silly and decided to change clothes in one of the public toilets en route (very clean, as they all seam to be in NZ and Oz). From Cromwell on, we took the scenic route through the Crown Ranges. It's unsuitable for caravans and can be slippery and icy in winter, but the views from the top are stunning and it's 30 minutes shorter than State Highway 6. It are windy roads through beautiful hills with typical "red tussock grass". At the end there are some very steep hairpin bends when near Queenstown.
It is late, as we drove almost 8 hours between Franz Jozef and Queenstown, no time to detour via Arrowtown.
We check in at the Queenstown House, a wonderful guesthouse with an Irish atmosphere (Bernie!), took a quick shower and met some of the other guest during an evening drink with wine and cheese. At the guesthouses there is typically a certain time each evening for the guests to meet each other and exchange travel stories.
We went into town looking for something to eat. Queenstown is a charming little town, a gorgeous setting amidst the towering mountains and beside lake Wakatipu. Apparently it can be very busy in winter, as it is the wintersports hotspot of the south island. Sadly, every resto/bar seems to close very early! 21:00 and we only managed to get a "left overs" dinner at Vudu's. Radz also managed to buy a Vodaphone pre-paid phone card for our mobile. Always comes in handy to call the guesthouses ahead, or make some resto reservation or something.
07:15 early breaky. Bernie quickly explained where everything is for the next morning when we will be leaving very, very early.
07:45 pick-up at guesthouse by Sandi from Ultimate Hikes for "Routeburn Track Encounter" day walk with a small group. The Routeburn Track is located in the southwest of the South Island. It extends between the head of Lake Wakatipu and S.H.94, the Te Anau - Milford Road. More info.
Our first stop was at quirky Glenorchy cafÈ, had delicious cookies and coffee.
We then set off towards Mt Aspiring NP (drove past the "Paradise" sign, Shotover River).
It had snowed overnight, and it was a bit chilly. The walk started off very relaxed but soon took up pace and after lunch in the valley it got quite steep. But at the end of the climb a gorgeous view over the valley.
A major landslip cleared part of the forest (birch trees have a shallow root system, not much topsoil, a granite rockface underneath, and dangerous during floods). We got a little hail in the afternoon. It was never really cold but very changeable weather in the mountains, so wear clothes in layers.
Got back to Queenstown centre and fellow walkers had tipped us that we would need "snow chains" in our car next day for the drive to Milford Sound (because of avalanche risk). No snow chains could mean possible fine of 750 NZD (390 EUR). We checked with NZ Rent-a-Car office, nope, they take snow chains out or cars when season is over... now what?
We bought a LOTR film locations handbook in Ultimate Hikes office, JJ bought a Routeburn track T-shirt.
We were extremely tired, but very satisfied we made this daytrip.
Jean-Jacques Halans ©2003