After five fantastic days in Queenstown, we – slightly reluctantly – jumped back in the Beast and headed north. Our drive would take us up the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island from Queenstown to Motueka at the northern tip.
Our first afternoon of driving was an unexpected treat. In beautiful sunshine we stopped by at Arrowtown – a little mining town which had a gentile Wild West feel about it and some pretty streams a short walk from town.
Our drive then took us up the Crown Range Road, which is highest main road in the whole of New Zealand at 1121m. The road isn’t for the faint hearted though – a series of hairpin bends entirely unsuitable for a giant camper van. Thankfully, Pat took the wheel for this one!
After such a nerve wracking drive we were ready for a drink! The Cadrona Hotel was an unexpected delight – 151 years old with an actual mineshaft in the cosy bar (thankfully covered with thick glass!), a great beer garden and delicious Emersons Pilsner beer on tap. I’ve never regretted volunteering to be Designated Driver so much.
Our first stop for the night was Lake Wanaka – a pretty spot overlooking the giant lake. The following morning we took a hike up nearby Mt Iron – a steep 90 minute hike but with some great views to reward the effort!
The west coast is littered with little walking trails, and we stopped at the Blue Pools on the way to our next stop. A quick 20 fifteen minute walk from the main road, the Blue Pools are deep, crystal clear glacier-fed pools within a river. Never ones to turn down an unexpected dip, Craig and Pat were straight in. Did I mention they were glacier fed? This makes them cold. The (manly) screams echoed through the forest, scattering wildlife for miles.
Our third stop on the journey was the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers. Alas, at this point the weather had turned and, despite teasing us with flashes of sunshine (or at least, dry weather), the rest of our drive north was pretty much a dank, foggy mist. A terrible shame, as I hear the West Coast is stunning in nice weather, which takes place on approximately two Wednesday afternoons in February.
The Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers sit companionably a few kilometres away from each other. I’ve always associated glaciers with inaccessible, snow-capped mountains, but these glaciers actually end near rainforest!
Once upon a time you could take a guided hike onto the glaciers but, due to recent rock and ice falls, this is no longer possible. The only option to reach the glacier itself now is by helicopter, which was simply beyond our budget. It is possible to walk to a viewing point at Fox glacier though, which we did just in time for some ice to fall from the face of the glacier in a deafening CRACK.
After paying our respects to the glacier, our final two days were spent heading north, with an overnight stop at Westport to break up the journey and visit their smelly resident seal colony!
Those last two days were pretty uneventful really. I guess this happens on any driving trip, but the weather meant we weren’t really in “explorer” mode. We stopped at Pancake Rocks – a series of limestone rocks so badly eroded by the sea that at high tide the water shoots out from “blow holes”, as if a giant whale was hiding underneath.
Oh, and I also got stuck in my hoodie for about ten minutes, which I feel some strange need to share with you. Hoodies are tougher to operate than they look, you know. That’s Craig’s rather low-rent washing line in the background and me having hysterics, in case you were wondering.