In the spring of 2016, Henderson Productions took an extended do-it-yourself driving tour of New Zealand. We’re excerpting portions of our trip in this blog. Both a book and plan-it-yourself itinerary are available for sale in our Shop on www.focusbyhenderson.com.
At one point during the drive from Franz Josef to Queenstown, Rick said “How many times in an hour can you say ‘Wow!’?”
We knew it was going be a long driving day and were very relieved to see the morning weather indicate we might, yet again, miss all precipitation. So far, we’d been incredibly lucky. The day we arrived was good weather except on the West Coast where we were headed. We drove through a little rain going over the mountains, but it dissipated as we arrived at the glacier leaving lovely blue skies. All the next day we were blessed with great weather – sunny and crisp but not cold or wet. Meanwhile, the further south where we were headed, there was a freak very early-for-the-season snowstorm and an Antarctic blast dropping the temps to freezing. Apparently today it crossed over the mountains and just DUMPED on Christchurch – where we had first started – leaving all sorts of concerns including to the late summer crops which were frozen out. That would include the wineries just before harvest and a whole passel of orchards with especially the apricot and apple crops in jeopardy. We thought we might clip some of that snow coming over the Haast Pass but….nope. Absolutely GORGEOUS. Up to around 50+ during the afternoon but clear and sunny and lovely for pics.
We started the day with another big breakfast while jostling around 2 busloads of Chinese in our hotel. And, frankly, we spent all day criss-crossing them in various turnoffs and vistas. And other than that group, we might not have seen more than 20 people all day until we pulled into Queenstown around 4.
Got on the road at 7:30 and by 8 were walking the Lake Matheson trail for 45 minutes for some nature time and great pic options. VERY pretty with the Mt Cook and Mt Tasman peaks on the distance, the fur/pine tree line then a flat plain with cattle and sheep farms and a little babbling lake in the foreground.
Grabbed a coffee and soda at the café and then straight south along the Tasman Sea with a few viewpoints on and off along the way. Tons of small creeks and culverts and streams each with its own one-lane bridge to either yield for oncoming or, more often than not, straight across with no other vehicles in site. And around every curve was another charming view of cattle or sheep grazing in the shadow of the Alps. We were in and out of 3 different national parks and scenic refuges. One was the Southwest NZ World Heritage Area at Knights Point on the Tasman Sea where we had fun using the binoculars to watch a seal colony wallowing along on the beach. It’s a coast very similar to Northern Ca or Oregon with high cliffs and pounding, cold surf.
We said goodbye to the Tasman and headed straight east through the little village of Hasst Junction which gave us a stretch – Rick for coffee and I for a gander at the Possum Merino outlet. Absolutely beautiful sweaters and jackets and accessories. Soft and dense. Extremely tempting. Prices were high but nowhere near the prices we discovered in Queenstown that evening! Just picked up a headband as I’d been regretting not bringing one.
Then we began our ascent over the Haast Pass through a gorge with glacial water bubbling downhill on our left and dense rainforest on the right. Further and further east we journeyed zigging and zagging through one gorgeous snow-capped peak after another. That’s when Rick asked his question. My head was spinning around wishing I was an owl or could see through the back of my head.
And an hour later we turn another bend and the geology and fauna changed yet again – first to big lovely blue lakes, then it was clearly wine country with row after row of vine-covered netting to protect against the frost. Just as quickly we were driving through a high fertile valley with orchards and apples still on the trees. We stopped at Jackson’s Orchard Farm Store piled high with fresh apricots and peaches and apples plus a big display of jams and local honey products and then another big table of nuts and dried fruits. I heard a gent ask for a fresh ice cream cone and asked for one as well. Fresh, homemade vanilla was put in a cold mixer with a generous cup or so of frozen raspberries and whipped together before being scooped into a waffle cone. Yet another reason to say “Wow”!
By now we were out of the wilderness and turned straight west to come into Queenstown before 4. We’d made good time but needed a nap!
Opted, again, to spend some time walking around and staying awake. No problem from our directly-downtown hotel to find a great burger place with NZ lamb or venison or beef burgers. (Yes, veggie was also an option) Sort of like a Starbucks with lounge tables and chairs around a blazing fireplace. Order at the counter and toss back a Speights Handle – meaning a brand of beer in a mug w a handle as opposed to a glass which is for sissies. Great conversation with a couple from Seattle who had planned two big 4-5 day hikes and gotten snowed out of the first. So, they’ve been hanging out waiting for weather to pass and can’t wait til 7 AM tomorrow morning when they’re bus leaves for the Milford Sound and a “good long 5-day hike”! We wished them luck.
What’s your experience in New Zealand? We’d love to hear your
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