The South Island (II): From Franz Josef to Queenstown

20 02 2012

The road from Franz Josef led southwards, mostly through mountains with dense forest, but occasionally also along the coast of the ocean, the Tasman Sea. We had a tea break at Bruce Bay, but then quickly packed up and fled as this place turned out to be heavily infested with sand flies – little flies causing painful bites which then turn into small blisters three or four days later, so stay with you for several days. We had stocked up on sand fly repellant, but seeing that we were trying not to get the stuff on our little one, we ended up not using it and rather tried to avoid or escape.

Tree fern forest, south of Franz Josef.

Tea break at Bruce Bay, south of Jacobs River.

The coast here forms the northern end of the South West New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage Area which stretches out to the southern end of the South Island and covers a strip about 100 km wide along the southwest coast, including Mount Cook in the north-east and Fjordland with Milford Sound in the south. The photo below shows part of the coast line as seen from Knights Point, a bit north of Haast.

View onto the Tasman Sea from Knights Point look-out, 25 km north of Haast.

At Haast the road turned eastwards, away from the coast, and followed the Haast river, up a wide valley flanked by high mountains formed a long time ago by glaciers. After about 70 km the road turned south towards Lake Wanaka. Here we spent the night on a DOC camp site (Department of Conservation). These sites are not manned and feature only basic toilette and kitchen facilities and one is asked to leave a small amount (here NZ$ 6 per person) as a contribution to keeping them up.

The Haast River valley, about 40 km east of Haast.

The next day we continued southwards and soon reached Lake Wanaka. The road runs for a long time along the bank of the lake before it turns off eastwards and almost immediately bumps into another very large lake, Lake Hawae.

Towards Lake Wanaka.

Lake Wanaka.

After another 30 km, we arrived in Wanaka and had a late breakfast, then followed an advice of Bevan from Classic Campers and did not take the major road to Queenstown, but an older road which goes up along the Crown Range and over the Crown Pass. At 1076 m above sea level this is apparently NZ’s highest sealed road. It was the way the first sheep farmers and soon afterwards gold diggers took to enter the regions in the south, in the 1840ies. Amazing landscape on the way up from Wanaka, and then great views when the road descends in tight, steep serpentines towards the small town of Arrowhead and then Queenstown. Below is a panorama shot – does not quite do justice to the amazing view it was, but perhaps gives a first idea. This view actually really reminded us of Middle-Earth in The Lord of The Rings, which was shot all over the place in NZ, so perhaps also around here. We finally had a coffee break at Arrowtown, a beautifully restored small town, and arrived in Queenstown in the evening.

View from Crown Pass, between Wanaka and Queenstown.

Panorama view from Crown Range road towards Arrowtown.

Our route highlighted in yellow.


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