After our super exciting time at the glaciers, we had a couple of quieter days ahead.
The first village after Fox Glacier is called Haast and 120 km south along the highway. Haast is a tiny village near the coast with the first petrol station after the glaciers and a few shops. We were sad to learn that we missed the weekly market and a Whitebait festival by merely two hours. From then on the road lead us inland and into the mountains along a big river valley. It was quite windy and very forestry. Waterfalls of all sizes came down the mountains everywhere.
Due to low clouds we didn’t get much of a mountain view, but it was still a nice drive. We stopped at The Roaring Billy waterfall which was impressive and high and full of water thanks to the recent rainfall. The scenic Haast pass highway wound itself up the valley and around mountains and together with the clearing clouds provided us us an abundance of great views. We also stopped at the Thunder Creek falls but left out the Fantail falls and the Gates of Haast falls. Another famous stop along this road are the blue pools just north of a place called Makarora. An easy path lead us through beautiful mossy forest and across the Makarora river to where it is joined by the Blue river. Coming down through a gorge and over some falls, the river forms some deep pools which, at the time of our visit, were more green than blue but still very pretty. On the way we had a photo shoot with a Fantail, who flew around us very closely to catch some of the sand flies we were attracting.
Our next goal was Wanaka, but since it was surrounded by pricey holiday parks, we decided to stay at Boundary Creek; a simple DoC (Department of conservation) campsite on a very windy peninsula in Lake Wanaka. We were lucky enough to find a sheltered spot, but like us the sand flies sought refuge in the cooking shelter. The best bit of this site are the stunning mountain views. They were even more impressive with half the mountain tops covered in snow.
Wanaka is a nice but fancy holiday town. It felt very touristy to us and the main activities included water activities like kayaking, taking photos of the lake and the mountains and shopping. Blessed with a glorious sunny and warm day we treated ourselves to some fantastic ice cream from Patagonia and soaked in sunshine and views on the beach. Originally, we wanted to walk up to Roys Peak right next to the town, but the mountain was closed of due to lambing for the whole of October.
The cheap campsites near Wanaka had bad reviews on Campermate and so we decided to treat ourselves a bit and stay in a holiday park, where we made full use of the facilities.
For everybody not travelling from Wanaka to Queenstown with a caravan, we recommend using the old Cardrona Valley road. Windy and quite steep in places, it is a very scenic and relaxed drive. Before heading straight into Queenstown we stopped in old and historic Arrowtown. The high street still features old buildings in settler/colonial style, even though they house normal/modern shops, many of them selling wool products. Even though very pretty, the centre is small and entertained us only for like an hour.
Queenstown is something like the capital of the southern half of the island and probably the adventure sport capital of the entire country. There seems to be nothing adrenaline seeking visitors can’t do. With big DOC and i-Site offices and more tour companies than you could need getting information was super easy. After a wander around town and another treat of Patagonia ice cream, the made our way to Twelve Mile Delta campsite (one of two DOC sites). We found it to be huge (in summer it can hold up to 500 people) and with lots of ramparts and hedges dividing it into sheltered corners which was great news for tenting. From there we enjoyed following the Robs Cove track along the lake shore.
As we had lived in Glasgow and only an hour from the fascinating Loch Lomond before our adventure, trekking up Ben Lomond next to Queenstown was a must. The ever changing spring weather was on our side and the sky was only partially clouded when we started the steep ascent through the forest. This hillside is also criss-crossed with mountain bike tracks, but they are all separate from the walking trails. This first section was also the steepest so when we cleared the forest after an hour we were already really high up. The rugged and rocky peak of Ben Lomond dominated the valley and looked very dramatic. From then on the gradient reduced and walking became a bit easier.
At this point we had the ‘pleasure’ of witnessing the DOC’s love of poison: in addition to the ubiquitous kill traps and animal poison dropping they started poisoning entire stretches of forest consisting of invasive trees. Instead of chopping them down and utilising the wood they leave vast areas of dead trees standing (very pretty!). Adjacent empty hillsides were left unattended and un-reforested with the resulted in gorse growing absolutely everywhere (also great for the wildlife).
Anyway, after just under two hours we arrived at Ben Lomond Saddle and where overwhelmed by the impressive chain of snow-covered mountains on the other side in addition to the Remarkables behind us. With so much snow around we slowly and carefully started our ascent to the summit. So far the path was all dry and easy to walk. It was not until got close to the summit that we had to traverse two small snow fields. After that we all of a sudden reached the 1,742m high summit and were blown away. Literally (almost) by the gale force baltic winds and figuratively by the jaw-dropping vistas all round. The views made the tough walk totally worth it and we were super happy about climbing our second Ben Lomond.
After only a short break we descended again; out of the reach of the wind and back to warmer realms. Back down at the saddle things were getting busier. A lot more people came walking up than we had seen before. About half of them were not properly equipped for mountain trekking and just came up in jeans and trainers. We assumed that they took the easy way by taking the cable car and then walking across. Now that the sun was out the snow was melting and turned the a few hundred metres of path into a small stream. The rest of the descent was easy and fast. Before we knew it we were back at the middle clearing and from there it was a short distance back to the car. Overall it took us just under 6 hours which is at the fast end of what the signs say (6-8h).
After all this workout we deserved a treat and so we drove into Queenstown and went to Fergburger for an early dinner. Usually this small place is super busy and people queuing outside, but we got straight in without waiting. Zoë picked the venison burger with brie and boysenberry and Matthias chose the beef burger with crispy bacon. Both were juicy, delicious and big and definitely worth the money. We found out that on a good day in peak season this place sells up to 2,500 per day! Just insane!
During the night we got woken up by strong gusts of wind bending our poor tent inwards to a worrying degree so we ended up taking it down and slept in the car. When we woke up to rain in the morning we were glad about the nightly move as the tent was still dry. We had discovered the previous day that the Fergbaker sold giant pretzels and we could not resist so we went and got this for breakfast together with a rich hot chocolate.
After some shopping we escaped the rain into the cinema to watch the latest Johnny English.
Once back outside we found rain and wind a lot stronger and so there was no point to hang around. With a re-stocked food box and topped up tank we continued our journey south to Te Anau. To our great surprise the rain turned into snow less than half an hour into the drive. With everything covered by up to 10 cm of snow sleeping in our tent was not really an option and we upgraded to a budget cabin in a holiday park. The heated common area was a great place to chill and wait for the road and weather conditions to improve. We even met the Belgian couple from our couchsurfing in Fielding again!