Saturday, November 5, 2011

New Zealand Day Seven: West Coast

By the end of  an entire week in New Zealand, Bryan and I were both pretty enamored with the country. The people were unfailingly friendly, the food was delicious, the scenery was some of the most beautiful I'd ever seen, the wildlife was abundant and exciting. It would be hard to leave. But luckily we didn't have to think about that quite yet- we still had a few days to go.

We'd enjoyed our afternoon in Queenstown, and I felt that we'd gotten a good feel for the place. Since we didn't plan to do any of the adrenaline-seeking activities for which the town is known (skydiving, snowboarding, hang-gliding), we decided to head out the next morning. We took the scenic route up by Arrowtown, because we thought there was a Lord of the Rings filming site up there. Arrowtown turned out to be an absolutely quaint little historical town, but nothing there called to mind Lord of the Rings. The only thing I got really excited about was this cute red phone booth.
It's like a little house!!

We headed out of Arrowtown and followed a tip our hotel owner had given us. He said that we should drive along a road known as The Zig-Zag, which is known for great views. It turned out to be a good tip. As we maneuvered along the sharp angles of the road, beautiful vistas opened up around every corner. It was pretty fantastic.
View from the Zig-Zag
The Zig-Zag. Glad we weren't navigating it in the snow!
Yay mountains!

The guy at our hotel had also told us that we should stop by and check out the historic Cardrona Hotel. It was right on the road and impossible to miss. The hotel looked like something out of an old Western. I half expected Clint Eastwood to run out the front door and start shooting bad guys.
The Cardrona Hotel: looking awesome since 1863
This one's for my Dad. I'm sure he could tell me this car's make and model!

We checked out the grounds a little bit before we went inside. There was a tiny art gallery (literally named "The Wee Art Gallery," about 6 feet wide) across the street, but other than that, the hotel was the only thing in sight. The grounds of the hotel were pretty expansive, with old dilapidated buildings out back, along with some outdoor seating and a cozy firepit.
The buildings out back had obviously been around awhile

Finally we went inside. If the outside was well-preserved, the inside was even better. There was a bar and restaurant inside. The old wooden floors creaked as we walked on them, the walls were made of oddly-shaped stones, and the tables were worn wooden slabs. Antiques were placed all over the restaurant, and there was a fire roaring in the huge stone fireplace. It was so welcoming and comfortable in there, I just wanted to curl up in the leather chair by the fire, read a book and take a nap.
And now a picture for my mom. A very old sewing machine.

I didn't curl up by the fire and fall asleep, but we did order lunch. The food was great, but even if it hadn't been, it would have been worth it to get to sit in the restaurant and enjoy the warm atmosphere. Apparently the Cardrona is still an operating hotel as well, and it looked like a really great place to spend a couple of nights.
Vegetarian lasagna for me and bacon pasta for Bryan.
I was getting concerned that he might turn into a giant slice of bacon.

The food was great and really filling. We hung around in the Cardrona awhile, staying warm by the fire and feeling content. But eventually we pushed on toward the West Coast. Driving along Highway 6 was lovely - Lake Wanaka was on our left side a lot of the way, framed by snow-capped peaks.
Lake Wanaka from the road

We couldn't resist a stop at a beach to see the lake up close. The wind blowing off the water was chilly, but the sun was shining so it was pretty pleasant weather. I ran down to the lake and dipped my fingers in the chilly water, then chased Bryan around, trying to get him wet.
Mean fiancee

As we drove on, the road curved upwards, and we stopped again to get a view of the beach where we'd just been. It looked even better from up above.
Looking back on the beach

Usually when on a road trip, I think of the driving as the bothersome part, and all of the stops as the good part. But this was different. The driving was one of the best parts, because the views were magnificent, even from inside the car.
I wish my morning commute looked like this!
Imposing peaks

 When we passed through Haast on the West Coast, we started getting views of the Tasman Sea as well as the beautiful forested areas of the Haast wilderness. We stopped in at the Haast Visitor Information Center and got some information on where we might want to stop. Based on information we got there, we drove a little further and then stopped at the Dune Lake Walk. The walk led along a new-looking boardwalk and down to the Tasman Sea.
Didn't I tell you NZ has cool rocks? That's the Tasman Sea in the backround

When we left the beach and continued along a sandy path, we were bordered by the Tasman Sea on one side and Dune Lake on the other side. Before we left for NZ, we'd heard a bit about pesky sandflies, which are supposedly abundant. Apparently they bite and leave behind itchy red welts. This walk was the first place that we spotted any, but when they're around, they really swarm. The next day Bryan had an angry red mark on his hand that didn't go away for almost two weeks!
Dune Lake
Pretty flowers along the way

The path led to a lookout point where we could see for miles around. It looked like we were the only people on the West Coast!
Bryan at the lookout point
Looking back at the beach from the path

After our lakeside stroll, we drove straight through until we got to Fox Glacier. We took the turnoff and drove along a bumpy gravel road to a carpark, where we intended to start a hike along the Chalet Lookout Track. Unfortunately, the track was closed for construction and trail maintenance, so we couldn't do that. A couple of other trails started from the same trailhead, but the other trails were much longer and we wouldn't be able to complete them before sundown, so we turned around and decided to be content with a viewpoint that allowed us to see the glacier. We spotted the end of the 8-mile long glacier between two mountains. To my surprise, it kind of just looked like a frozen river!
See the thing that looks like a river? That's Fox!

We were a little disappointed to not be able to get closer to the glacier, but it's kind of hard to feel down when you're surrounded by such outstanding scenery. Anyway, we had plans to hike to Franz Josef Glacier the next day. We headed to Franz Josef town to spend the night. Along the way, we stopped at another trailhead and made the short walk to Peter's Pool, which is supposed to offer a view of the other glacier. The walk was short and, although the day was a bit overcast at that point, we did see the glacier.
The 7.5 mile long Franz Josef Glacier, seen from Peter's Pool

Peter's Pool is a neat little spot with a pond that's known for offering a lovely reflection of the glacier and surrounding mountains. That sounds nice, but that's not what we got. There was a gaggle of rambunctious ducks, flapping and squawking all over the place, so the water was disturbed all the time and we never quite got that great view. But I did enjoy watching those crazy ducks and reading the posted information, which informed us that Peter's Pool is named for the 8-year-old boy who discovered it. Pretty cool! A mini explorer!
A disruptive duck at Peter's Pool

It was starting to get dark by the time we came back off the trail from Peter's Pool, so we drove into Franz Josef town to find a place to stay. We stopped at Chateau Franz mostly because it was one of the first places we saw and it looked reasonably priced. It turned out to be a good choice- the rooms were pretty basic, but the price was reasonable and there was a big selection of videos to go with our old-school VCR. We headed next door to Guzzi's, where we ordered takeout from a quirky ex-fisherman type. We hung out on the tiny front porch while our foot was being made, admiring their brightly painted, tiny delivery vans and petting their obese cat. Once our delightfully bad-for-you food (pizza for me, fish-n-chips for least it wasn't more bacon!) was ready, we took it back to our room and had a tasty meal while we watched '90's VHS movies. It was a pretty great night, and we had a glacier hike to look forward to the next day!


  1. Cool! You visited so many same place as we did. We stayed overnight at Cardrona. After riding for 80K and climbing that hill, we were freezing and as we saw the fireplace, it did not require much convincing from the receptionist that we should stay.

  2. Oh man, it's cool that you guys stayed there. We were riding around in a comfortable car, and I was still tempted by their cozy fire. I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to resist if I'd biked there through cold weather!