South has road trips for all

Otago Daily Times - - FRONT PAGE -

FROM Haast, the road me­an­ders along­side the Haast River with trees and moun­tains to keep you com­pany along the way.

As we drove along the river, we were struck by the num­ber of places to stop for short walks. The first of these was the Roar­ing Billy Falls. It’s about a 25­minute walk there and back and your stroll will re­ward you with a 30m cas­cade that tum­bles down over mas­sive boul­ders and into the al­most im­pos­si­bly clear waters of the Haast River.

A few kilo­me­tres up the road is the con­flu­ence of the Haast and Lands­bor­ough Rivers. Here, the road fol­lows the Haast River and takes a sharp right­hand turn up on to Pleas­ant Flat. This is a lovely spot to sit a while and take in the views of Mt Hooker, which tow­ers over the Lands­bor­ough River val­ley.

Be­tween Pleas­ant Flat and the sum­mit of the Haast Pass, you’ve also got the op­tions of vis­it­ing Fan­tail Falls and Thun­der Creek Falls. As we’d mucked around for a while at Roar­ing Billy, we de­cided to keep head­ing to­wards the top of the pass.

Just past Thun­der Creek, the road crosses the bridge at the Gates of Haast. The river here squeezes through a nar­row gorge, mak­ing for some spec­tac­u­lar views of wa­ter thun­der­ing down over the enor­mous boul­ders lit­ter­ing the riverbed.

At 563m, Haast Pass is the low­est of the South Is­land’s mountain passes. Com­pared with the neck­strain­ing peaks that sur­rounded us, it seemed even smaller than its half kilo­me­tre above the sea.

Af­ter cross­ing the sum­mit of the pass, the road drops into the Makarora River val­ley, where it crosses Kiwi Flat and Cameron Flat. There’s a quite no­tice­able sense of the land­scape here feel­ing more like the South­ern Lakes than the West Coast, which, of course, it is. This is prob­a­bly be­cause, for the first time on this trip, we found our­selves in beech for­est.

At the south­ern end of Cameron Flat is the car park for the Blue Pools, which are a half­hour walk from the road. These pools are al­most im­pos­si­bly blue and are a mag­i­cal spot — if they’re not too busy.

This is very firmly on the camper van­ner must­do list, so be pre­pared to share the place with swag­loads of bridge­jump­ing back­pack­ers.

From the Blue Pools, the road to­wards Lake Wanaka con­tin­ues along the river and the val­ley grad­u­ally opens out into broader flats as it fol­lows the path of an an­cient glacier, even­tu­ally bring­ing you to Makarora. There’s quite a bit of ac­com­mo­da­tion here, cou­pled with a restau­rant, bar and shop, so it’s a good place to stop if you’re need­ing a bit of sus­te­nance.

Makarora is also home to Wilkin River Jets. These guys have been tak­ing peo­ple out on the rivers here since the 1960s so they def­i­nitely know the best spots. Sure you can spend your hard­earned cash on the jet­boat rides out of Queen­stown, but you’ll just be see­ing what thou­sands of other peo­ple do.

With these guys, you get to ex­plore reaches of the Makarora and Wilkin Rivers that very few peo­ple get to visit. You’ll see more in a hour­long trip here than you would in half a day on other trips.

Driv­ing out of Makarora, it’s only a few min­utes un­til you reach the top of Lake Wanaka. From here it’s still 50km to Hawea, but what a spec­tac­u­lar drive it is. There are plenty of places to stop and take in the view and take heaps of pho­tos.

Af­ter cross­ing The Neck, the road traces the banks of Lake Hawea, and it’s quite high up on the lake’s edge, so the views are great. There’s a look­out about half­way be­tween The Neck and Lake Hawea town­ship that’s well worth stop­ping off at. By the time we reached there, I was itch­ing to get into my togs and jump into the lake.

It was only a quar­ter of an hour un­til we were in Lake Hawea town­ship so I had to learn some pa­tience. There was a skit­ter­ing of snow on Sen­tinel and Ter­race peaks, but that didn’t put me off. We rolled into town and I was straight into the lake — and it took all my strength not to come fly­ing back out again.

It was freez­ing. Prop­erly cold — the av­er­age wa­ter tem­per­a­ture is, I’m told, about 10degC. But the wa­ter was so clear I could see the rocks on the bot­tom of the lake and the cock­ab­ul­lies swim­ming around in the shal­lows, so I man­aged about 500m be­fore I lost the feel­ing in my feet, and boy did that make me happy.

Once I’d got my blood cir­cu­lat­ing again, there was din­ner to be found. There was only one thing for it — Sailz Cafe, Restau­rant and General Store. That’s the kind of place Hawea is — ev­ery­one here is so laid­back that they only need one stop to get ev­ery­thing that they need. Any more than that would be just too much work.

Given how re­laxed it is, it’s hard to be­lieve that it is only 15 min­utes away from the tourist bus­tle of down­town Wanaka — but thank good­ness it is. Blue cod and chips watch­ing the pale pink glow of sun­set over the lake was the per­fect end to a glo­ri­ous day.

From Hawea, there are sev­eral op­tions for routes you can take. Ei­ther head over the Crown Range (stop­ping at the fa­mous Bra Fence and the Cardrona Dis­tillery) be­fore drop­ping down into the Wakatipu Basin and then head­ing off on a South­land road trip.

An­other op­tion is to make your way through the Lindis Pass to hook up with the Waitaki Val­ley sec­tion of the Cen­tral Otago road trip. Op­tion three is to head back to Christchurch via the Macken­zie Coun­try.

If you de­cide to head up the east­ern side of the South­ern Alps, make sure you book ac­com­mo­da­tion in ad­vance as it is on the main tourist route and beds are of­ten at a pre­mium. Here are a few high­lights that are well worth check­ing out as you go.

There’s a back road from Hawea that will take you along the east­ern side of the Clutha River and into the town­ship of Tar­ras. The most fa­mous res­i­dent of the town is Shrek the Sheep, who, un­til he was dis­cov­ered, lived a quiet life on nearby Bendigo Sta­tion. Here there’s a Shrek­themed park with a mas­sive bronze statue of the her­mit sheep.

From Tar­ras the road winds over the Lindis Pass, where you’ll likely see an aw­ful lot of bad driv­ing and re­ally wish that you had mo­bile cov­er­age to call it in. On the other side of the pass is Omarama — fa­mous as this coun­try’s glid­ing cap­i­tal. My favourite thing about the town is Hot Tubs Omarama. These wooden tubs are filled with clear mountain wa­ter that is heated by a wood­fired burner. They’re set in lovely tus­sock­land and the sheds take their lead from a duck­shooter’s mai mai. Very cool. Or hot. As you wish.

Just be­fore you get to Twizel is High Coun­try Salmon, which is near the row­ing mecca, Lake Ru­atani­wha. Here, they breed salmon in the wa­ter of the canals that feed the lo­cal hy­dro sta­tions. You can feed the salmon (and if you do it at the right time, you can get them to splash un­sus­pect­ing vis­i­tors

. . .) and buy fresh fish to take with you all nicely wrapped and iced ready for cook­ing when you get where you’re go­ing.

My next high­light is on the shores of the spec­tac­u­lar Lake Pukaki. There, some en­ter­pris­ing lo­cals have set up H2 Ex­plore, a com­pany that takes peo­ple out tour­ing on the lake in their hov­er­craft. Yep, you read that right — a hov­er­craft. Very cool!

From Lake Pukaki, you can head up to Mt Cook Village and see if you can find the cloud piercer among the clouds. It’s of­ten hid­ing.

The other op­tion is to carry on to Tekapo, where a night tour of Mt John Ob­ser­va­tory through Earth and Sky tours is well worth stay­ing up late for. The sur­round­ing area is a dark sky re­serve so there’s very lit­tle in the way of light pol­lu­tion to in­ter­rupt your view of the stars at night. It’s mind­bend­ingly in­cred­i­ble.

From Tekapo, the road heads over Burkes Pass to Fair­lie. There’s a mo­tel at Burkes Pass that is also home to a small art gallery — to­gether they’re called Burkes Pass Ac­com­mo­da­tion and Gallery — that fea­tures the work of equine and land­scape artist Julie Greig.

Fair­lie is also home to Lieber’s pies, which can be pur­chased fresh at the source at the ex­cel­lent Fair­lie Bake­house. Ba­con and salmon pie any­one? Oh, yes!

About a fur­ther half an hour’s drive is Geral­dine, which has two stop­offs that are musts for me — and they couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent from each other.

The first is the Bark­ers of Geral­dine shop. The com­pany is well known for its jams, sauces and chut­neys that are made lo­cally. A visit to their fac­tory shop is a great chance to taste a few prod­ucts and bag some bar­gains as you go.

My sec­ond stop is

McA­tam­ney Gallery and De­sign Store, which is based in the town’s old post office. Here they show­case es­tab­lished and emerg­ing artists from all over New Zealand. With ev­er­chang­ing ex­hi­bi­tions and a fo­cus on mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary art, it’s dif­fi­cult not to be in­spired when you visit this place.

From Geral­dine, its a short hop back to State High­way 1 and about two hours north to Christchurch.


Scenery . . . The road me­an­ders along the Haast River.

Glo­ri­ous . . . Lake Hawea at sun­set.

Favourite . . . The hot tubs in Omarama

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