Friday, February 22, 2013

New Zealand - Wanaka (Day 13)

This was one of my favorite days, even though more than half of it was spent hiking through sheep poop. Yes, that's right. The beautiful and ridiculously challenging hike documented in the photos below also happened to be through farmland where many sheep reside. We literally walked through sheep poop the whole hike. There was no getting around it. BUT it was an incredible day full of views, sunshine, hiking....and sheep poop. 

The day started out with a beautiful sunrise over Lake Wanaka at our campground. Looked like it was going to be a clear, sunny day! If you know me at all you know that I love sunshine. Well, beware...the sunshine is strong in New Zealand! I don't burn very easily and this day I burned. But part of that is because the hike was twice as long as we thought it would be (with zero shade).

Sunrise over the lake

The hike was Isthmus Peak, right smack in the middle of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. And the sign read 8km, so we had assumed that was round trip (which was dumb of us because the Department of Conservation is pretty good about saying "return" if they mean "round trip"). To clear things up, this hike is 16km and will take you 5-6 hours to complete. The reward for hiking straight up for 8km (almost 5 miles up) was 360 degree views of the lakes and mountains beyond. Really truly incredible!

Finding the trailhead is a little tough. There is a trailhead sign visible on the left side of the road if you are driving north on Highway 6. There is no official parking, so you need to park in one of the pullouts on the side of the road. If you pass the little knob of land jutting out into Lake Hawea and start turning west, then you've gone too far.

There is a little marker where I think we parked, but it's hard to see. 

Once you are on the trail, it's up, up, up for two and a half hours or so. Close to the beginning, it's so steep that I had to hold on with both hands to a fence on my left side to make it up the hill without falling backwards. Then it gets more manageable, though still challenging. And although it's steep, the trail is wide and you aren't hiking along cliffs or anything. The best part is you have views the whole way, first of Lake Hawea, then of Lake Wanaka, and then of both and the Southern Alps are there all along as well. 

Lake Hawea

Happy sheep

Serious climbing

We would turn corner after corner thinking this must be the peak. Remember, we thought this was an 8km return hike. We were thinking an hour and a half or so to the top, but it ended up being almost double that. 

The views from the top were totally worth the climb. 

We nearly had to jog down the mountain, because it was so steep. It's just easier on my knees that way. Plus, we were running out of water and I could feel my skin burning. Man, what a hike! We were so tired by the end of it, in that way only a long hike (and for me a long run) can make you feel. Tired but oh so happy and relaxed. We took a long dip in the freezing cold Lake Hawea before heading to Wanaka for dinner. We chose The Landing because they had fish and chips and outdoor seating. They had quiet seating on their balcony with umbrellas so we didn't get anymore sun and views of the lake and town. Had my favorite Monteith's beer (that I hadn't had a chance to try at their brewery), the Summer Ale. Refreshing after the day we'd had.

Downtown Wanaka. I want to move here. 

And if that day wasn't enough, we happened to drive an hour along the most beautiful road I've ever been on as the sun was going down: Cardona Valley Road/Crown Range Scenic Drive.  Holy crap! There were so many lupines along this road of all colors. I've never seen such a thing. And then to turn the corner to see the sun setting on the valley that holds Lake Wakitipu in the distance. was magic.

If camping is allowed up here (a pull out at the top of the ridge), I'd camp here. I don't recommend the holiday park in Arrowtown, mostly because it was a parking lot. Facitilites were nice, but who needs facilities when you have this view!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

New Zealand - Haast Pass (Day 12)

Day 12 ended up being a longer day than we had planned, because we wanted to make sure to see Lake Matheson before we continued on. We woke up and it was still really cloudy, so we weren't sure if there were going to be any reflections on the lake (and this the main reason people go here). We decided to hope for the best, and take the walk around the lake. It's only about a 5 minute drive from town, so silly not to make it work.

I would say (based on pictures I've seen online) the reflections we saw were maybe were a 5 out of 10, 10 being the most incredible reflections you ever saw with clear mirror images of the mountains and sky above. The clouds were breaking away while we were there so it made for some interesting reflections of the sky, even if we didn't get to see all the mountains reflected. The walk is definitely worth doing, and there are several spots to stop and appreciate the view.

After our walk, we continued to head south out of Fox Glacier and towards Haast Pass. We stopped to take in the coastal views and have some lunch at Knight's Point Lookout. The lookout provides gorgeous views of the rugged coast and I could almost feel that there was nothing between me and Antarctica (the freezing winds may have helped with this feeling). We took our time watching some stupid American family (sorry but it's true and hard to believe a family from another country would have made as much of a scene) feed white bread to a very aggressive flock of seagulls. It was particularly amusing to watch other tourists' reactions to this absurd scene. Honestly, they were lucky to leave with all their eyes intact, because these seagulls were nasty!

Photo taken from the car. The whole country is this gorgeous!

 Knight's Point Lookout
We continued on our way along Haast Pass, the lowest pass that crosses through the Southern Alps, and made several short stops along the way. We stopped and took short walks to Roaring Billy Falls, Thunder Creek Falls, and the Blue Pools. All three are worth the stop, and good opportunities to stretch the legs. We took some time at Roaring Billy Falls to skip stones (that were perfectly rounded and smoothed because they were part of the riverbed).  

 Haast River 

 Allyson skipping stones at Roaring Billy Falls

Thunder Creek Falls

 Blue Pools

Lake Wanaka

By the Blue Pools, it was getting to be late afternoon and we were getting tired. We were tired of driving but pushed forward to Wanaka. The views of both Lakes Wanaka and Hawea along this road are ridiculous! It was hard not to stop at every turnout for another picture, but we were both hungry and ready to get out of the car. 

We finally made it to Lake Outlet Holiday Park. I highly recommend this campground! It's a little crowded (or was during spring/summer), but totally worth the view of the lake and the wonderful facilities. We enjoyed (well I, at least, enjoyed...Ally tolerated) a dip in the freezing cold Lake Wanaka, after a nice dinner watching the sun make it's way closer to the horizon. Another great day was about to end. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

New Zealand - Glaciers! (Day 11)

The day before, we learned that the forecast for this day was rain. I just kept hoping that it was going to be a typical New Zealand day: some rain, some clouds, some sun, some wind, some cold, some hot. Well, it wasn't. It was pouring rain, cold, and super foggy when we woke up and stayed that way the majority of the day. Unfortunately, this was the day we planned on taking a helicopter ride up onto Franz Josef Glacier (I, right?!) We had a feeling we were not going to hear good news when we arrived at Franz Josef Guides, and we were right. They weren't taking anyone up on the glacier today.

At least rain doesn't mean ugly, with rain forest and mist and random waterfalls popping up everywhere. This picture was taken from the car. 

So...we were forced with a choice. What do we do the rest of the day? Do we hike the glacier valley in the pouring rain? Do we wait out the rain and hope it clears up later? Do we head on and skip the glaciers because we have technically seen glaciers in Glacier National Park in Montana?

We went up to the parking lot at Franz Josef Glacier because we figured we could brave the rain and hike the glacier valley walk. However, when we got there it was raining even harder and we saw a few people coming back just drenched. We had to consider the fact that we were staying in a campervan and wouldn't really have a ton of space to "dry" our clothes (like they would dry hanging in the campervan on a super damp day anyway!)

So....change of plans. We drove back into the little town and decided to splurge on a private hot pool at the Glacier Hot Pools. This was fancy and such a good choice! Great way to get warm and then we got a free (super nice) shower out of it too! I'm not sure I'd recommend the public pools. They seemed a bit crowded (probably because everyone else was stuck in the same situation as us!)

After relaxing in our private pool, we decided to continue down the road to Fox Glacier and check into a campervan park. We found a really nice, quiet little spot in Fox Glacier Campervan Park (part of Fox Glacier Lodge). It was very convenient to town (we walked to dinner), biking distance to the glacier, and a super close drive to the start of the glacier valley walk. By the time we checked in, it had started to clear up. I wouldn't say it was clear, but it was basically done raining. We decided to head to Fox Glacier and check out what all this fuss is about!

The drive into the valley was my favorite part of the day. There were signs that said "this is where the glacier was in 1900, 1920, etc." A sad story, but an interesting one nonetheless. There were waterfalls everywhere because of all the rain. It was just a spectacular valley, like it was right out of Land Before Time. The walk to the glacier is easy (and therefore a bit crowded), but totally worth it.

The warning signs were a little scary. I guess this one means "beware: flash flood area"?

 Stating the obvious: Rock Slide Area

 Terminal face of Fox Glacier. Probably the closest we'll ever be to a glacier. 

 You don't typically think glacier and rainforest in the same thought. But here, that's exactly what you get. Fox Glacier is 13km (8.1 miles) long and ends only 300 meters above sea level. 
 The beautiful valley 

After the valley walk, we took a quick detour to check out the 70 m long suspension bridge over the Fox River that was built in 1929. It was a little scary, especially considering how fast the river was rushing that day.

 View of the Fox River and the road from the suspension bridge. 

We shared a delicious (totally not gluten free) pizza at Cafe Neve while sitting outside (a little cold but it was the first sun we'd seen all day!) We saw the food the people next to us had ordered and looked really good too. They seemed to have a good selection of wine, desserts, and coffee too. Definitely a good pitstop on your way through Fox Glacier.

For those of you who thought I was kidding. Possum were introduced to New Zealand in the hopes of beginning a fur trade industry. You can buy possum/merino wool clothing in almost any gift shop. However, the possum has become quite a pest in the country and there are efforts to eradicate them.

Our plan was to do Lake Matheson at sunset, to catch the reflection of the mountains in the lake at sunset; however, we weren't going to get a sunset or see any mountains that evening. We decided to give it a shot in the morning instead, before heading on through Haast Pass to Wanaka.