10 Days in the South Island Day 6

The girls outside the West Coast Wildlife Centre Franz Josef

10 Days in the South Island Day 6 -  Franz Josef to Wanaka

Today promises to be something truly special as our journey is set to take us on what must be one of the best drives in the world.

Knights Point
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1) You can view our route map at the bottom of the page. You can zoom in and out for more detail.

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3) Place your cursor on a picture for a description of the picture.

4) There is much less traffic in New Zealand than in many other countries, and the roads are well sealed, so driving is easy, as long as you drive to the conditions. In winter, "grit trucks" patrol the highways and when there is snow or ice about, they drop fine grit onto the roads to improve grip.

I'm up around 7am and head out for my morning walk. At this time of year it's still dark, and of course pretty chilly!

Kea chewing a wiper blade

As I make my way down one of the side streets I hear a noise and find three of the native New Zealand birds known as the Kea, trying unsuccessfully to "break into" a garbage bin. These gregarious parrots are extremely clever but beware if you have a rental car. They delight in picking at wiper blades and plastic trim!

I'm soon back in the warmth of our room.

By now everyone is up and dressed ready for breakfast which we cook in our room.

We head off around 9 am and call in to the local petrol station to top up the tank. After here, there is fuel at Fox Glacier, then none until Haast, a further 120 kilometers away.

Bruce Bay on the wild West Coast

Our drive today to Wanaka is around 285 kilometers in total and will take us through Fox Glacier village, then onto Haast, then Wanaka.

The road from Franz Josef village to Fox village is very winding and the 23 kilometer journey takes about 30 minutes.

Fox Glacier village is perhaps a little larger than Franz Josef with a good range of accommodation and facilities. You will find it has many similarities to it's "twin", including a wide range of tours associated with the glacier. You can learn more by following this link to our glacier tours page.

We continue through the village and head South through Westland National Park. For the next 50 kilometers or so the road snakes it's way through native forests and then suddenly at Bruce Bay, we rejoin the coastline. We stop for a stretch and to admire the view.

Knight's Point

Back into the car, and we soon head back inland before once again joining the coast high up at Knight's Point (about 44 kilometers).

The views of the coast from the lookout are spectacular. There are also toilets here so it's a good spot to break the trip.

The main viewing platform was closed when we were there due to some safety concerns, but there are various other vantage points to take in the views.

From Knights Point we continue on another 28 kilometers to the coastal village of Haast, where we stop for our morning coffee. This World Heritage area sits on some of the wildest coastline in the country. The village is divided in two by the Haast River. If you have time, head to the beach for a look. It is littered with trees and timber washed up by the wild seas.

Playground at Haast

There's a hotel and a service station on the northern side of the river (top up the fuel tank if you haven't already done so), but we choose to head across the 737 meter long (2,418 feet) single lane bridge to the Southern part of the village. The bridge is the longest single lane bridge in the country, and just in case you are wondering, yes there are several passing bays along its length.

This remote area is an outdoor lovers paradise with numerous walks in the region, jet boating, rafting, scenic flights and fishing all popular.

We order some coffee from the local cafe and stand outside taking in the views looking towards the alps and Mount Aspiring National Park, which will shortly be our companion.

Stunning Haast River valley

Soon we're back on the road and I have to say that I've been looking forward to this day as much as any on our trip. Having driven this road many times, I find it hard to put it into words.

This section of SH6 follows a trail used by the traditional Maori people as they sought Greenstone. There simply cannot be many more picturesque drives anywhere in the world than the drive from Haast to Wanaka.

From Haast to Makarora the road adjoins Mount Aspiring National Park. After leaving the park, Lakes Wanaka and Hawea will accompany us for the rest of our drive to Wanaka.

The Gates of Haast

So, after heading out of Haast, it's not long before we meet up with the Haast River as it snakes its way through the valley. We stop for some pictures and the scenery just blows us away.

We continue on with one eye on the road and the other on the river and mountains. Ancient beech forests surround us as we climb up to the Haast Pass (564 meters high) where we cross the Gates of Haast. The river here thunders down over huge boulders and we stop (again) for some pictures. Not far away we again stop as we approach a cutting where water flowing down the embankment has frozen into hanging sheets.

Ice near Haast Pass

From the Gates of Haast we continue on to Makarora. There are several short walks along this stretch of road with some of the more popular being the Blue Pools (1 hour return), Thunder Creek Falls (5 minutes return) and Fantail Falls (5 minutes return). More information can be found by following the link to the Department of Conservation website.

Soon we leave the confines of the forest behind and head out into the open near Makarora. Makarora is located near the head of Lake Wanaka, which along with nearby Lake Hawea, were formed millions of years ago by the movement of two ancient glaciers. Two arms of the glaciers joined at a narrow piece of land called "The Neck".

Makarora is popular as the starting point for several multi day walks into Mt Aspiring National Park. Again, you can find a host of information on the DOC website.

Lake Wanaka from SH 6

Just South of Makarora Lake Wanaka begins and we are blown away by the its beauty.

For the next 20 kilometers or so it sits on our right hand side, framed by towering mountains capped in snow.The road here sits high above the lake and there are various spots to stop and take pictures.

We approach "The Neck", and just as Lake Wanaka disappears, Lake Hawea comes into view on our left. Unbelievable!

If it's possible, Lake Hawea is even more spectacular than Lake Wanaka. SH6 winds its way up and down along the shoreline and we stop again for some pictures.

Lake Hawea from SH 6

Eventually Lake Hawea comes to an end as we approach the turnoff into the village. We continue on for another 17 kilometers to our destination, Wanaka.

We've stayed here many times over the years and it's one of our favorites. Although Wanaka has grown significantly, it's still a little less hectic than Queenstown, but no less picturesque.

It's around 1pm as we head down the hill past the golf course into town. Dave and I decide to check in to our motel then head out for a game of golf. After a morning in the car, the girls will be keen to get rid of us for a while.

Our accommodation for the night is at The Moorings. It's a beaut lake front motel, a minute or two walk from the town centre.

Lake Wanaka from The Moorings

We check in and meet our friendly host Peter Sutherland. Peter and his wife Jenny have only been here for a short time, but its good to see that the motel has lost none of it's sparkle since our last stay several years ago.

Our rooms are not quite ready so Peter invites us to park the car and go and have some lunch. We walk through the park to town and grab a bite to eat from one of the many cafe's. By the time we head back to The Moorings, our rooms are ready.

Our studio rooms are modern, clean and warm. And best of all, they sit high above the road with uninterrupted views over the lake and mountains.

We can highly recommend The Moorings. If you would like to check availability please click here.

Wanaka golf course

We unpack then Dave and I head to the golf course for 9 holes. The girls decide to head into town.

The course sits high up above the town and the views, just like everywhere else here, are awesome. We hire some clubs and a cart and head to the first tee. It's hard to concentrate on golf in these surroundings, but we hack our way around 9 holes in around one and a half hours. The course is challenging with something for golfers of all levels, but it's worth playing just for the views.

After the game we have a couple of beers in the clubhouse before heading back into town to meet the girls at one of the local pubs. After a couple of drinks (we try the local ale) we head back to our motel for a short rest before dinner.

It's around 7pm when we head off to the town centre for dinner. The shops are located across the road from the lake and there are several pubs and restaurants looking over the lake.

Lakefront in Wanaka

We decided to eat at the Lake Bar in Ardmore Street. It was packed with people but we were quickly shown to a table. The service was good and the meals were large and delicious. Highly recommended are the "Green Lipped Mussels and Prawns" and the "Fiordland Fare Game Venison". Mouth watering. And all washed down of course by some New Zealand wines and beers.

Our visit to Wanaka this trip was fairly rushed so we didn't have much time to take in the sights. But there is so much to do here. With two world class ski fields nearby (Cardrona and Treble Cone), trout fishing, jetboat and lake cruises, magnificent walks and much more, there is never any shortage of activities to keep you occupied. A special mention for the young and young at heart is Puzzling World. The maze will "amaze" you and the selection of interactive puzzles and displays will keep you occupied for hours.

You can find out more about Wanaka here.

After tea we head back to The Moorings for a good nights sleep.

Tomorrow we are off to the "Adventure Capital" Queenstown. Can't wait.


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