Wednesday, 23 November 2011

New Zealand Tour, 20th September 2011. Wanaka to Franz Josef Glacier

The weather today was perfect, cold but sunny, the air crystal clear, I felt like visiting Milford Sound again so that I could see it on a perfect day. Many companies run flights from Wanaka to both Doughtful and Milford Sound and the cost is a lot less than in Queenstown. Instead, due to time limits, the plan is to drive towards The West Coast towards Franz Joseph Glacier, about 250km away.
Following the SH6 we passed through Albert Town following the Hawea River. According the tourist literature, Queenstown is livelier than Lake Wanaka and Lake Wanaka is livelier than Lake get the picture. If you do want a holiday spot nestled in spectacular Alpine Scenery, with a very laid back atmosphere and a magnificent lake all to yourself then Lake Hawea is the place for you. The Lake is a deep blue, as opposed to Lake Wanaka’s turquoise, at one point, called ‘The Neck’, this is the narrow isthmus separating the lakes, you can see both lakes to compare the colour of the water in them. Magnificent!

We followed the Makarora River towards the Haast Pass. The Haast Pass Drive has a lot of rain forest and waterfalls. Firstly we stopped at Blue Pools, here there is a short walk over a swing bridge to a fenced viewing point looking over a very deep, very blue, glacier fed, crystal clear river with large Brown Trout in it. A little further on was a short walk to the Fantail Falls. Thunder Creek Falls was next and full of tourists from a tour bus. This was followed by Roaring Billy Falls and a waterfall that is not signposted from the road, Depot Creek Falls. 

At around lunch time we got to the Munro Beach Track, this was an easy 45 minute walk through thick and very cold rainforest to the west facing gravel beach. The elusive Fiordland Crested Penguins live on this beach, but we were too early in the day to see them.

Munro Beach
The Coast Road, or SH6 was spectacular. Along with the tour buses we stopped to take photos at Knights Point, Bruce Bay, Maori Beach and finally Lake Matheson. Lake Matheson is 5KM west of the Fox Glacier township and famous for reflecting a near perfect image of Aoraki Mt Cook. it is a tiny lake, well protected from the wind, its brown waters are very still, so provide a perfect mirror for the mountains above. Here you can walk round the lake to get the best view of Mount Cook Tasman reflected in the lake. The walk is an easy one hour circle round the lake. Late afternoon is the best time of day to see the view and that was when we arrived! we were also lucky as it was a perfect day.
It was getting late as we drove through the town of Fox Glacier towards Franz Josef Glacier Vally Track. Here we walked to the edge of the Glacier and I was not particularly impressed with what I was looking at, a pile of very dirty ice!

It was late when we arrived at The Rainforest Retreat. This large campsite has 56 gravel sites for Campervans, as well as Cottages, a Lodge and a Motel. It has an on site Bar, Restaurant, camp kitchen, TV lounge and toilets and showers. For the amount of campers on the site there were not enough Toilets and Showers (the men’s were in a porta-cabin) and the Kitchens were very busy, as was the Hot Tub. Also, this sounds daft, but the campsite is, as its name states in the rainforest, and the rainforest is very cold, so the campsite was cold. I did not really like it, but cannot tell you why!
To end the day we went to the Glacier Hot Pools complex and relaxed in the pools. It was the end to a fantastic day, the weather had been kind to us and we had driven through some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen.