Haast to Wanaka South Island 14th to 16th November 2007.
25 Nov 2007
This morning we woke to brilliant sunshine and wall to wall blue skies, just the day to take the drive over the Haast Pass. This 88 mile section of SH6 is described as a spectacular, scenic road linking Haast with Wanaka and climbs to a height of 563 meteres above sea level, making it the lowest of the three road passes over the Southern Alps. Most of the road was built in the 1930's depression when up to 400 men were employed on a work for dole programme. The onset of the World War II curtailed the project until the 1960's.
Jeff felt his arm was much better and he would have a go at driving, so safely installed in our respective seats and our $1 'Walks Along the Haast Highway' booklet to hand we set off. As we left Haast the highway snaked along -side the Haast River and each turn brought a different view which seemed more spectacular than the last one. We were pleased there were plenty of pulling over stops which we could take photo's from, but we soon realised this journey was going to take us quite a time at the rate we were going. Our first real stop was at the Roaring Billy Waterfall where a short bush walk through silver birch and podocarp trees with some lovely ferns, brought us to the banks of the Haast River. Across from where we were was a lovely waterfall, with the recent rainfalls in the area all the waterfalls were in full spate. On our way down we met up with two couples out on a holiday from Leeds and touring around NZ in motorhomes. It was Jeff's Yorkshire accent that they had recognised as being from 'God's own country' as they described it. We were to meet up with them at a couple of stops during the morning when we were pulling in to see the views.
A few miles drive up the road we reached the Thunder Creek Falls and once more we met our Yorkshire friends and a coach load of Japanese tourists all jostling to get the best picture of these falls. A further short distance up the road we came to the Fantail Falls, but this time we had them all to ourselves. It was nice just wandering about on the river bed with just the sound of the falls and the birds singing. Each walk to the falls had been nice and easy, through forests areas and of varying lengths, so when we pulled up at the next stop, the Haast Pass lookout we were feeling very cocky about our walking ability. The path sign indicated it would take 30 minutes to get to the lookout so off we trotted. We turned the first bend on the track and were faced with quite a steep path. We puffed our way up to find the next bit even steeper.
My strategy on steep hills is head down and count out 100 paces and stop for a breather, on this path it was dropping down to around 50 paces per breather, I did not often put my head up as I was not too keen on what was in front of me. I sometimes think that some of our ideas are quite silly, this path was in my top 10 of silly ideas. We found a seat about half way up and I was so relieved to see it I took a photo of it. We eventually made it to the top and on checking my watch we had done it in the 30 minutes it stated. We were both surprised at that as we felt sure we had been really slow. Before admiring the views over the area I used the well placed seat to recover. Soon it was time to tackle the steep descent, which was even worse than the climb up. On the way down we met several groups of people puffing their way up and all eager to ask how much further. We both felt sorry for the them, as there was not going to be enough room on the seat to accommodate them all.
We had now reached the top of the pass and the road so far had been through thickly forested areas. When we resumed our journey we were driving through open tussock and scrub area which afforded us longer views of the mountains surrounding us. We stopped for a late lunch at Cameron Creek at the head of the Makarora Valley. After lunch we took the 30 minute bush walk to the lookout for views over the valley, before driving a short distance to the Blue Pools. Another 30 minute walk including a fairly long swing bridge took us to the mouth of the Blue River. The water was a lovely shade of turquoise blue and crystal clear, we were told that brown trout can often be seen swimming here but today was not one of them. It was a lovely place and we found a stone to sit on and just enjoyed the scenery around us before returning to the van. The journey back was beginning to tell on my legs and they were getting slower and slower but I'm glad to report I made it back.
We had passed a nice DOC (Dept of Conservation) campsite but had thought it was too early to stop so had carried on to the Makarora Wilderness Camp. Apart from its stunning views that was all that was positive about it. I feel that we have been using words to describe the views we are seeing as stunning, wonderful, great etc and perhaps we are using them too much, but that is exactly as it is.
Next morning we awoke to the mist surrounding the mountains, but it soon cleared and we could see we were in for a lovely day. So on the road again to our next wonderful view. We did not have to go far when we came to another DOC site right on the edge of Lake Wanaka, we kicked ourselves for not driving that little bit further last night as this would have been a great place to have camped. Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea are the region's centrepiece lakes separated by a small spit of land and both surrounded by awesome mountains. SH 6 travels down the side of Lake Wanaka before turning into the spit of land and coming out on the side of Lake Hawea and travelling down to the small town of Hawea.
We reached Wanaka at about lunch time and passed Puzzling World on our way in. We had read in our guide book that if you did nothing else at least call in and view the toilets. Well that was an offer too good to miss so we pulled in to the car park, had some lunch and set off in search of these toilets. Jeff went off to the left through the door marked gents and I went to the ladies on the right only to meet up on the other side in a sort of Roman style bath house. There was a big 3D mural on the end wall which gave you the impression you were in the picture. Apart from the toilets, Puzzling World has a giant maze and 4 illusion rooms. The maze was one of the best that we had been in and we must have been there over an hour and a half trying to find our way around and then to get ourselves out again. It is a place where you can make a lot of friends, as you keep passing the same people going in different directions looking for the way out.. This evening whilst we were walking down the main street of Wanaka we met a gentleman who said "I see you got out of the maze". In the café at Puzzling World, the tables all have wooden puzzles on them to frustrate you whilst having your coffee.
Sufficiently 'puzzled out' we headed into Wanaka and found a camp site within walking distance of the town centre. We walked in along the lake side with a NZ couple from the camp site who, are in a hire van, trying out motor homing for the first time. If they like it they hope to buy their own. We felt old hands as we walked along chatting to them. Once at the town centre we left them and went shopping and find a bank, then on our way back stopped for a drink at a bar with views over the lake to the snow capped mountains. On our way out we noticed the following written on the floor, "When the French colonise a country they build fortresses, the Spanish build churches and the English build grog houses". The waitress wondered what we were laughing at and when we told her she said "I walk over that every day but have never noticed it"
We returned to our van, cooked our tea and watched the sun set over the lake. Beats working any day.