NZ Land Logs 13, Year 2: South Island–Franz Josef Village to Queenstown
Date: Saturday, March 3, 2007
Weather Today: Bright Blue Skies with Lots of Sunshine
Location: Queenstown, New Zealand
Today was a beautiful day with lots of sunshine and bright blue skies. Our trip down the west coast from Franz Josef Village to Haast took about an hour and a half and brought us over mountains from glaciers to rich valley farm land. Haast, named after European geologist Julian Haas who was here in 1863, was once a gold mining town on the coast, but today is a center of farming-mostly cattle ranches. There were glacier views, high mountains, low river valleys winding their way to the sea, lush rainforest, and even a couple of high mountain lakes on the way south. Such diversity. We stopped at Knights Point to view the vast Tasman Sea. Often rough and stormy, the Tasman has been calm during our time here on the South Island. This area is a feeding ground for whales and sea birds, but today the only sea life we could see were seals basking on a point of land far below us on a calm sea.
In Haast we stopped at the Department of Commerce Information Center to watch a film about the area-The Edge of Wilderness. It was a bit dated, but gave a nice overview of the region. We met our only “Haastafarians”, the name the locals have given themselves, at the information center and it is obvious that the Kiwi accent gets a little stronger the further south we move. After Haast we headed inland toward Wanaka. We made our way up into the mountains and stopped at the Gates to Haast. This is a bridge across the Haast River near the top of the mountain and the river views were fantastic. We drove on and found ourselves at 563 meters in the Haast Pass which is in the Mt. Aspiring National Park. Mt. Aspiring is the tallest peak outside the Mount Cook area and it provided opportunity for more photos of beautiful snow-capped mountains.
At this point the landscape changed. We were still in high country, but the green started fading and we were in a land of yellow and brown mountains covered with tussock grass and scrub. Our next stop was the Blue Pools Walk just north of a town named Makarora. A ten minute walk through the rainforest and across a swing bridge brought us to a river with crystal clear water and large brown trout that we could watch from an overlook. As we traveled on we drove along Lake Hawea with yellow-green mountains descending straight into the lake. Again, the scenery was breathtaking and is very hard to describe in words. Hopefully our photos will capture the beauty. We reached Wanaka in much less time than the charts indicated, probably due to the “expertise” of our drivers, Alan and Mark. A. J. Foyt’s skills pale in comparison! From Wanaka, we decided to leave Highway 6 and take the shorter, but much more challenging, Crown Ridge Alpine Scenic Road to Arrowtown. In our Lonely Planet guide to New Zealand (which has been invaluable), it said that this road would twist and turn, but would be half the mileage to Arrowtown. For the most part, the road was much less challenging than the warnings and soon we were passing the Cardrona ski area and the old Cardrona Hotel. It is one of New Zealand’s oldest, built in1863. The The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook, also invaluable in our travels, says the pub inside looks suspiciously like The Prancing Pony in Bree. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stop and check this out. From the top of the mountain at 1076 meters (1086 meters according to Alan’s GPS) we had views of the River Anduin in The Lord of the Rings, the Pillars of the Argonanth, and the high hills of Dimrill Dale. Four different rivers were filmed as the River Anduin and this is the second of the four that we have visited. One meter further on there were views of the Ford of Burinen and Amon Hen nestled on the shore of Nen Hithel far in the distance. From these viewpoints, we were looking down on beautiful green fields of farms and vineyards and Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown . All around us were mountains that are not snow-covered at this time of year. We could only imagine how beautiful the scene would be with the snow. From the top of the mountain, we started our descent. This is when the real twisting and turning began. Seven hairpin turns later we reached the valley floor and made a left turn to take us to the Chard Farm Vineyard and to A. J. Hackett Bungy. This is the western end of the Central Otago wine region which is known for its great Pinot Noirs. The drive to the vineyard was a one lane, unpaved gravel road on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Kawarau River. The wine at the end of the road was much needed after that drive. From there, we retraced our steps back to the A. J. Hackett Bungy Jump center-quite an impressive little operation using the historic Kawarau Suspension Bridge for its jumps. We figured they bring in $3,000 an hour with a jump every 3-5 minutes. We watched a few jumps and decided that we would continue to be “watchers”, not participants, in this sport. We knew that the idea of bungee jumping came from a native ritual in Vanuatu, but we didn’t know that it was made famous by A. J. Hackett. In the late 1980’s, Hackett and speed skier, Henry Van Asch, were fascinated by the Vanuatu custom and after watching videos at the Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club, Hackett jumped form the Eiffel Tower. This jump in 1987 created great interest and the Kawarau Suspension Bridge became the world’s very first “bungy bridge.” It was certainly a busy place today. We enjoyed watching the jumps into the Kawarau River. This site was used as the Pillars of the Kings in The Lord of the Rings, but many of the pillars were superimposed on the real landscape. Even with the extra pillars, it was a dramatic site.
Our last stop was Arrowtown. This is a quaint little town that was once a booming gold mining town. We walked down the main street and looked at the 60 original wood and stone buildings. Alan and Helaine did some shopping and bought a beautiful wool sweater for Alan. Many of the sweaters here are made from a combination of Merino wool and possum fur. It is so very soft. We thought about making a refreshment stop at The Tap, an authentic gold town building, but again time pushed us on. We finally reached Queenstown and actually had time to relax before heading out to dinner in this busy center of New Zealand adventure. Even at 10 PM when we walked back to our cottage, the town was still buzzing. Tomorrow we will explore the Queenstown and Glenorchy areas before heading to Milford Sound. This adventure just gets better and better.
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