We have enjoyed another fabulous week in the best country in the world. After seeing the Franz Josef glacier, we drove down the road (well, snailed along its twists and turns) to Fox glacier, which was equally impressive. The town itself was smaller than Franz but had a great laid-back feel to it, despite there being lots to do. We spent our first day walking around the beautiful Lake Matheson (2 hour return loop) which gave us reflective views of Mt Cook (highest mountain in NZ at 3754m) and Mt Tasman. The thing I really love about NZ is the diverse landscape on offer all the time; you can spend a morning viewing a glacier surrounded by a rainforest, then drive down the road to the beach and then turn around to see a lake with mountain vistas. It really does have it all.
Last Friday we made the epic journey from the glacier country down to Wanaka. It was the most stunning drive of my life, just beating the Coromandel drive. Although it took us nearly 5 hours, the scenery was breathtaking and we had to stop every 10 minutes to take another photograph. We encountered the region’s beautiful twin lakes (Wanaka and Hawea), Mt Aspiring National Park, dramatic valley views and rugged costal backdrops. By the time we reached Wanaka, we were seriously excited!
Wanaka is at the southern end of Lake Wanaka, 100km north of Queenstown. It is much quieter than Queenstown, but still has a lot to offer travellers, and I decided after 2 hours here that it is my favourite destination so far. There isn’t much in the way of history or culture and the bar-hopping party animal would be bored senseless, but for those who love the outdoors, great walking and cycling, scenery and adrenaline fuelled activities, you need to come to Wanaka.
We found a wonderful campsite by the lake and have parked ourselves here for the past week. The site (which I remember visiting 4 years ago), has a log fire, underfloor heating, free internet, a spa and sauna and sky TV. Luxury indeed! Whilst we have been here, we have made friends with some of the locals and become well acquainted with the hiking trails around the lake and in the mountains. We have spotted wild deer and moose (although Philip thinks they were elk) and some huge birds. We have been spending our days mainly cycling and walking which has been fantastic, especially as the weather has been glorious. We have had pure sunshine for a week! The days have been bitterly cold though, with frost on the ground for most of the day and snow in the mountains. Despite that, the ski fields still haven’t opened so we are crossing our fingers that it is going to dump soon so we can get some snowboarding in.
Last night we treated ourselves to an evening at the cinema, although this was no ordinary cinema. A national treasure, cinema Paradiso is a small place in town that puts on arty flicks as well as blockbusters, but the seating is in the form of sofas, beanbags and even a converted car! We were allowed to take drinks and delicious food in with us, and the film stopped at half time for pizza and warm cookies. It was amazing! It was even cheaper than most normal cinemas so the evening was a real bonus. We need things like that in the UK!
I will be leaving Wanaka with a very sad face tomorrow. I have loved our stay here and I kind of wish that I was staying here for the whole winter ski season. It is a truly fabulous place. However, we will be on our way to Queenstown tomorrow to experience the end of ‘winterfest’. Philip will be in his element as we will be going to watch a snowboarding competition on Sunday and the whole festival is dedicated to snow and winter activities. We won’t be spending long there though, as we will be returning there for a week at the end of our trip when we will be meeting up with Phil’s parents. So on Monday, we will be heading south towards Milford sound and then on to Dunedin.
Have I whet your appetite for a trip to New Zealand? We have heard from people that tourism is down 20% here at the moment due to the Christchuch earthquakes, and people are a little worried that it won’t pick up in time for the world cup. So if you were thinking about visiting NZ, please do come now!
That is all for now.
Over and out,