From the end of the west coast, to where the Southern Alps begin, is the Haast pass. The town isn’t worth stopping for, although we filled up on petrol here before the oncoming stretch of emptiness. The Haast pass is a pretty little stretch of road with various walks. We stopped at the blue pools to stretch our legs and see the glittering water.
Franz Joseph & Fox glacier
Undisputedly one of the most mesmerising natural formations on the planet, glaciers are the result of specific landscape conditions, constant precipitation and thousands of years of slow graft. They are rivers of ice, barrelling down mountains, carving up the earth and feeding the land. It’s heartbreaking to know, but most glaciers are receeding due to global warming, melting faster than the ice can be replaced. See a glacier before they’re all gone at Franz Jospeh or Fox. Get on a helicopter-hike, climb through ice tunnels, or jump around on soft fresh snow. Out of your price range? Use good old man power to get you up to one of the surrounding viewpoints. The six hour route up to Alex knob is challenging to say the least, but the view is spectacular. Start early, bring plenty of sustenance and crack on.
New Zealand has a lot of lakes, but here in the southern lakes district, you’ll find them to be gargantuan, pure and plentiful. Lake Wakatipu is round by Queenstown, Lake Hawea quietly sits by the side, but it’s lake Wanaka that’s centre stage. It’s Wanaka, with its soft curves, dark blues and deep hues that has stayed so strongly in my memory. The Alps skirt around it, like bunting pinned to the sky and the sun throws down bright sprinkles of light. In summer, it’s a glimmering paradise, in winter, it’s a snowy dream. Coming from the north, the road traces the east of the lake, with a great DOC campsite right on the water, and finishes in Wanaka town at the south end. It’s worth staying two or three nights here, and when you see it I’m sure you won’t need much persuading.
In town, we found Patagonia chocolatier and ice cream parlour, in between hours of reading on the grass and swimming in the water. Town also has bookshops, markets, restaurants, tattoo shops, craft shops, a park…. If I could live anywhere in New Zealand, it would be here.
Between the Southern Alps, Fjordland, Southland and the Lakes District, is Queenstown. It has become the capital for adrenaline, giving access to lake Wakatipu and the mountains at the same time. The town is nice, complete with a waterfront promenade, a stream and friendly locals. Plenty of shops make it a good place to stock up, or replace your gloves that fell into the drop toilet abyss last week.
Want some thrills? There’s lots to chose from as well as many budgets, so again, avoid the tour offices hungry for a sale, and go to the public info point. Skydives are huge here, with the view and price tag as you’d expect, but a cheaper thrill can be found at the canyon swing. For the truly mad there’s the Nevis bungy jump, that stands at 134m, ready for you to fall off head first. No thanks. Mountain biking, rock climbing, jet boating, escape rooms and fishing are among the many other things you can get involved in.
Wanting an experience, but not too sure about the full drop-out-of-a-plane, we opted for a paraglide. I’ve always wanted to do one, and usually only stare in awe at the gliders above but now it was my turn. James and I were driven up into the hills with our pilots and team, strapped up and told to run off the hill. The wind caught my chute and gently quipped me off the ground. Wow. It’s so quiet, so still, like floating through a dream. Heart thundering and scream inducing it was not, it was exhilarating for the free feeling it gave me. We soared above pine forests and mountains, up there with the birds. My pilot, Juan Pablo, even let me fly it for a bit. At the end, we did some whizzy tricks and spun to the ground. I will definitely be doing that again.