What an amazing couple of days!
We stayed in a very cute little motel at the sea near Punakaiki and the Pancake Rocks. Those rocks look like big stacks of pancakes, with craters and holes. In high tide the water pushes into those craters and if the current is strong enough it shoots out of it into the air. Quite the spectacle and a demonstration of the amazing force of the water. We went there at sunset, so had the extra effect of a beautiful twilight sky at the horizon.
The plan was to fly over Fox Glacier and Mount Cook by helicopter. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans and the flight was cancelled. So we only got weighted (ouch!) and will try our luck with a helicopter scenic flight experience at the next place – Mount Cook at Christmas Eve!
We started the next day with an early morning hike, we hit the trail at 6.30am and walked around Lake Matheson, with unspoilt views of Mount Cook, with a perfect reflection on the lake surface. Back on the road we saw more glaciers, unfortunately all from afar. We hiked to the bottom of Fox Glacier, which has retreated massively in the last 60 years (which is rather worrying). Quite impressive though to stand at the bottom of the glacier tongue, we were itching to hike it up but there is no official trail. Also, this was the only morning it was raining so it didn’t need much convincing for us to turn around.
And then we passed Haast Pass and turned into ‘Middle Earth’. I keep saying that this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen – but my goodness, this really is. It is part of the Mount Aspiring National Park, a park of stunning and remote beauty, wilderness worthy of investigation and well beyond imagination. Simply magical: waterfalls, glaciers, lakes (lake Hawea, lake Wanaka). We put up base in a motel in the town of Wanaka, at Lake Wanaka. Surrounded by mountains, this is the perfect setting to start our exploration of the area. We went jet boating, which is such a fun way to get into remote areas of the national park. Along Matukituki River, with crystal clear and ice cold waters, we went deep into the park to the place that is ‘Middle Earth’ in the Lord of the Rings movies. We also walked through the forest where the ‘tree people’ live, and we may or may not have had a chat with a few of them. 😉
Our jet boat had a little accident, we got stranded on the shallow riverbed. All of us had to leave the boat, get into the ice cold water and help to rock the boat of the sandbank. This was an unplanned stop, but is part of the adventure – we thoroughly enjoyed this little addition, something only we did ;-). If you are in the area, it is well worth booking this activity. Contact Wanaka River Journeys and book the 4 hour tour, including boat sliding, spins and a walk through the magical and most remote ‘Middle Earth’ country.
On our way back we stopped at a mountain range to hike up Rocky Mountain, passing lake Diamond. It was a neat little hike of about 3 hours, involving some steep ascents and quite a bit of scrambling. Hooray to walking poles! We were awarded with a beautiful view of Lake Wanaka, the town and the mountains around, all considerably higher than the one we stood on top of, and a view of Mount Aspiring and the glacier.
The town of Wanaka is a beautiful little spot. Most of the townships we have been to are quite old fashioned, kind of stuck in the 1960’s. This town, however, has a good vibe, plenty of modern and quirky restaurants and cafes and shops. If you are looking for a great breakfast place, go to ‘Kai Whakapai’ along the street on the waterfront. Absolutely delicious and wonderful staff.
We had two evenings in Wanaka, now we are on our way to Milford Sounds, part of the Fjordland National Park, where we will spend two days exploring the fjords. This is said to be the most stunning part of New Zealand, and I cannot wait to get there and see it. Also because I just cannot image anything being more breathtaking and magical than ‘Middle Earth’ country (Otago Region). We just passed the oldest pub in New Zealand in Catrona, built in 1863, and the charity initiative ‘BraDrona’ raising awareness for breast cancer. 😀
By the way: my room mate has now caught a horrible cold so that her snoring has reached new levels. The past few accommodations had separate bedrooms, however, on the sailing boat today we will have to share a room again. So I finally managed to buy earplugs – please pray with me that they will drown out the worst of it! Eek!