Cuba and New Zealand travel blog

Lake Hawae and the Southern Alps

Lake Wanaka

The typical one lane bridge

Stacks everywhere

Fantail Falls

Almost as tall as TJ


Tasman Sea

Falls on walk to glacier

Franz Joesph glacier

Our Ross Beach container room

efficient use of space

Lovely big deck

Ross Beach


The queen bed pods



The Bruner Suspension bridge

Bruner Canyon






Our guide Mike

Beautiful gorge scenery

High water can come to the top of the rocks

Queens Garden


Huge Atlas Cedar from 1890

Bunya Bunya 1892

Symbol of NZ .. the Silver Fern

View from our Airbnb

We are off pretty much on time heading out to the coast and up to the Glacier Highway. We have a short breakfast stop on route and then head along the windy road between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea in the Mt Aspiring National Park. Our route takes us to the Southern Alps or Ka Tiri Tir O Te Moana. While I thought the initial part was windy when we get out to the coast then the road really gets windy.

As we head north the traffic starts to get busier. Down south we saw practically no one now it is hard to get a parking spot at some of the vistas. There are plenty of campgrounds but no picnic tables. Seems like everyone just sort of randomly park in the campgrounds.

The shores of Lake Hawea are craggy and surrounded in cloud so we can’t always see the top of the Alps. The scenery reminds me of the lower Rockies and there is some snow in the higher crevices. The lake looks very cold and there is certainly no one on it.

The homes along the route, few and far between, are modest bungalows. In fact, that has been the case in all the little towns. The homes are very small for the most part, looking like they could be no more than 2 bed & 1 bath.

From here we follow the Haast River till it meets the Tasman Sea. Continually windy and narrow it makes for a slow go. Add to that almost all of the bridges, and there are many, are only one lane, so you are slowed to make sure it is safe to cross. They truly have not spent a lot of money in NZ on their road infrastructure.

We stop at Fantail falls, one of the few places we can find a parking spot. It is only a few hundred meters in and on the edge of the river is an interesting view. All along the river bed and on the logs and on the beach, people have put stacks of rocks. All different shapes and sizes. Not quite Inukshuks just stacks but there are hundreds of them. The falls are lovely, and it makes for great pictures.

We now turn onto the Glacier Highway along the sea. For the last 20 km I have heard a hissing sound from the back. Finally, Jan mentions she hears something too and we alert the front. We are just pulling into a lookout and pit stop and when we open the doors, we realize what the noise is.

Cicadas, those grasshopper type animals that bury themselves initially for sometimes up to 17 years. Then they come out in huge numbers. We can’t see them in the trees, but boy can you hear them. It is a loud constant chatter and we continue to hear them all the way up the north and into the interior of the South Island.

This road is so windy that we actually have to ask John to slow it down a bit on the curves. It is really jostling us around in the back and making Jan & I a bit nauseous. Finally, we are back to less curves more farmland and after a long 6hr drive, we arrive at the town of Franz Joseph.

It looks like a typical ski type town with lots of restaurants and hotels. After lunch at a small café and some of the same food we are getting to not look forward to, we are off to see the Glacier itself. Sadly, low clouds have rolled in and despite a 45min walk into the glacier we do not get great views. The very top the mountain is covered in cloud.

A bit disappointing for sure but still interesting. As you walk along the path, they have posted information including various spots where the glacier was in different decades. While in the past it receded and then grew again now it only recedes. Up to, in fact, 5 meters a day. And Trump says there is no climate change!

Along route there are plenty of falls, so we get some great pictures. Despite the disappointing viewing it is great to stretch our legs after the long drive. Also, we now we have another almost 1 ½ hr drive to our night spot at Ross Beach.

This turns out to be a fun spot. Right along the sea with nothing in either direction as far as the eye can see. We are staying in container rooms. Each twosome has their own container or pod as they call them. They are fully equipped, well appointed and cleverly designed. Each one set in a private hedged area with large decks.

Ours has the two twin beds at right angles to each other. A small table with two stools in front of the kitchen which has small fridge, microwave, one hot plate, sink and storage for dishes. Beside the tables is a stand with glasses, toaster and coffee maker. Behind that is room with toilet, descent shower and very small sink.

They are really fantastic, and we enjoy a glass of Chardonnay on our deck before heading over to Jan and Bob’s pod. They have the longest and largest with the bed separated from the rest of the space. A couch and full kitchen. Therefore, dinner is being held at their place tonight. It is lovely enough to eat outside but as the sun sets, we head inside to avoid getting bit to death by the sand fleas.

I am still trying to recover from the sand flea bites in Cuba … the last thing I need is more bites. But sadly, some of them get us before we get inside … buggers!

Friday morning, we are off to Nelson which is up on the north end of the South Island. Travel today takes us through flat farming lands on one side and the mountains of Victoria Forest Park on the other. The scenery very much reminds me of the Fraser Valley. Today we see more cattle than sheep. As we travel along the grey skies start to be replaced by blue ones.

It is pretty quiet in the van as most of the gang is sleeping. Rich misses the turn at Inagnahua Junction, and we travel about 15 minutes in the wrong direction before Bob realizes that the river is on the wrong side of the car. Oh well we end up at a lovely café in Berlin for a coffee and muffin along the river. Before we turn back around toward the towns of Murchison through once again, windy mountain roads.

This is the Brunner Range and we stop at Murchison for lunch. Once again it is the same old fare so not too exciting. But the afternoon is about to get a lot more exciting. On the last leg of our drive to Nelson we stop at Brunner Canyon for the suspension bridge and 5 of us decide the Jet Boat trip is a must. John and the other gals decide against, mostly as the girls weren’t about to go over the suspension bridge.

It is 40-minute ride with our guide Mike and very exhilarating. We race through rapids coming incredibly close to the canyon walls. When Mike twirls his fingers in a circle it signals, he is going to put us into a full spin. Water crashes over the sides of the boat. Good thing it is a sunny and hot day. So much fun.

Mike shares some of the stories of the early days of gold panning in the river. Today there is still plenty of gold to be had. We pass by a small tunnel where gold miners dug out with pick axes hoping to divert the river, then close it up so it would go dry and the gold would be easy picking. Unfortunately for them the plan didn’t work because the tunnel got clogged in a log jam and had to be abandoned.

We have a short 1-hour drive left and when we arrive in the picturesque town of Nelson, we head to the Queens Garden. Created in 1892 for the 50th Jubilee of Nelson it contains some giant trees. The Atlas Cedar planted in 1890 and the Bunya Bunya from 1892. This one looks like a giant Monkey tree. Here we see many more of the silver fern that are the symbol of New Zealand or Aotearoa as the Maori called it.

Our stay tonight is in an Airbnb owned by David and Suz, a couple in the late 40’s, early 50’s. It has a stunning view of the sound and it a large home. Gail and I have what appears to be an add on up a set of stairs. Unfortunately, a fair way from the nearest bathroom. The place is very nice and the couple lovely. But it is a bit strange as we are literally living with them. In fact, when we come back after dinner, they join us for drinks. I think this is what they want, to meet and chat with different people.

We take a cab into town with a plan to go to a restaurant called Urban. But we have to wait for a table and so we have drinks next door at the Sprig and Fern pub. When our table is ready, I head over to hold it and after scanning the menu quickly realize that it is Asian Fusion and not likely to be what everyone wants. We quickly decide to go back and grab our bar table and eat there instead.

Back for nightcaps with the owners, as I had found a liquor store kitty corner to the pub. Amazingly (NOT), at the end of the evening we have a wine and beer shortage! Tomorrow we will head off for our two nights in Picton and our last days in the South Island.

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