Tuesday, February 28, 2006 - Okarito to Wanaka, Including Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

Wow, we slept great last night. We had a very comfy queen-sized bed for once rather than a double, plus we were exhausted. By the way, nice cushy towels were provided by the lodge, as well as a piece of candy on each pillow. Things were definitely looking up lodging-wise.

#########

Kotuku Lodge

When we got up, the sun was brightly shining on the mountains. Beautiful! Cindy told us last night that if we got up even at 5:00 a.m. and could see the tops of the mountains, to go hiking at once, because when the clouds roll in (and they always do), the mountains are obscured for the rest of the day. No way were we up at 5:00, though, but we pushed out the door around 8:30.

#########

Okarito Beach, well after sunrise

The Okarito Trig Walk takes an hour and a quarter or so round trip on a steep incline with lots of stairs to a ridgetop affording stunning views of the Southern Alps, the Tasman Sea, and the Okarito Lagoon all from one spot. It's a nice walk through the bush, and Cindy recommended we do it even if the Alps were obscured, but luckily they were not. Without a doubt one of the best views in New Zealand!

#########

Southern Alps from the Trig

#########

Okarito from the Trig

We only saw two other people on the hike. We got to the top of the Trig Walk as they were leaving, and they were good enough to snap our photograph. Ten minutes after we arrived, the clouds started forming near the top of Mt. Cook. We'd made it just in time! Mt. Cook, elevation 3,754 meters (12,316 feet), is the highest peak in New Zealand.

#########

Us with the Southern Alps

Returning to Kotuku Lodge, we pushed the standard checkout time of 10:00 a bit and didn't get going until 11:00. Cindy and Rainer hadn't actually stated the checkout time, and the place was pretty laid back, so we figured it would be fine. The maid guy was cleaning all around us by the time we left, but he said no worries. At the other hostels we had to put up a NZ$10 or NZ$20 key bond, and if you checked out late, they kept it! They can't do that here: No key, no bond.

#########

Kiwi crossing

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers descend from the Southern Alps to just 250 meters above sea level, extending through the lush rainforest. This is one of only two places in the world where glaciers reach below the rainforest tree line. (Argentina is the other.) There are 140 glaciers flowing from the Southern Alps, but these are the most bizarre and easily accessible, and thus the most visited.

Less than a half hour down the road we arrived in Franz Josef. Boy, I'm glad we stayed in our secluded little Okarito last night and not this place. Skipping the tourism in town, we went straight to the glacier, where we took the 20-minute round trip walk to Sentinel Rock to view the mighty river of ice that is Franz Josef Glacier.

#########

Franz Josef Glacier

Twenty-five kilometers further and we arrived at Fox Glacier, taking a short walk to Glacier View. If we'd continued the walk, we could have gone to the terminal face, but it's roped off so you can't climb onto the glacier unguided and kill yourself. No, that can only be done with a paid guide. So we just looked at it from afar. We weren't really up for another big hike just yet.

#########

Fox Glacier

Continuing south, we pulled off at every stopworthy place we could find, and there were many. Lake Paringa and Lake Moeraki are gorgeous, crystal-clear lakes surrounded by forests of interesting native flora. The lakes are beautiful but cold, reminding us of the lakes in Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks.

#########

Lake Paringa

#########

Lake Moeraki

Knights Point, 137 meters (450 feet) above sea level, is one of those overlooks where you can't help but take way too many photographs. The view is spectaular along the coast and over the Tasman Sea. Down below, hundreds of elephant seals, a remarkably unattractive animal, can be seen basking in the sunshine.

#########

Knights Point

Just past Knights Point is the tiny community of Haast, where we turned inland over the mountains, towards Queenstown. The route over Haast Pass through the Haast River Valley is green and forested and loaded with waterfalls. We hiked to the base of three of the waterfalls, the furthest hike being only ten minutes one way.

#########

Haast River Valley

#########

Jana at Thunder Creek Waterfall

Across the pass, the forests give way to lush grasslands, and the road hugs the large lakes of Wanaka and Hawea. Mt. Aspiring, 3,033 meters (9,044 feet), the highest mountain outside of the Mt. Cook region, towers overhead.

#########

Lake Wanaka

#########

Lake Hawea

5:30 p.m. We stopped an hour shy of Queenstown tonight, at Wanaka, population 3,500, the first town of any size since Franz Josef. I had made reservations at the Purple Cow Backpackers hostel for an ensuite room, and we sprung a few extra bucks for a room with a lake view (NZ$68). It was awesome! Like many of the other places, there was no towel or soap, except for one lonely little hand towel, but by now we were used to it. The kitchen facilities were clean and well organized, coin-op Internet was available in the lounge, and our room came with a clock radio and SkyTV. South Island hostels beat the hell out of North Island hostels.

Dinner was at Red Rock Bar & Grill, excellent steak with green peppercorn sauce, mashed potatoes, and steamed vegetables for NZ$19 apiece, tender and delicious. Wanaka had lots of eatery options but few palatable, so we lucked out. We found the name of the place in a tourist brochure, but it was filled mostly with locals. The balcony had a nice view of the town and the lake. The menu was very limited, but we got what we wanted. With all the cattle we'd seen in New Zealand, we were eager to sample a steak. Surprisingly, we'd seen almost as many cows as sheep. Of course, we didn't make it to the Christchurch area, where that ratio would probably change. We'd also seen quite a few deer ranches. The fences don't seem overly high. Why don't they just jump them and leave?

After supper, we took a quick walk through town. A liquor store that we explored sold booze in bulk if you brought your own container! Non-bulk liquor was pretty expensive. All imported, you know.

We went back to our room and turned on the SkyTV. It only got three channels. Oh, well. Tom watched the New Zealand version of "Cops." These people need to get some real crime if this show is going to make it big. Tracking down criminals for their speeding tickets is just not my idea of action. I nodded off early, and Tom went out and used the coin-op Internet.

 

Continue to Day 17

Australia & New Zealand Journal Main Page

Tom Goetz's Homepage

Sign our guestbook

View our guestbook