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New Zealand - Haast Country, Queenstown to Franz Josef

via Wanaka, Hawea, Blue Pools, Thunder Falls, Haast Pass

Monday 8th February 2016 Lake Wanaka, Blue Pools, Haast Pass, West Coast and Glaciers
Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier (via Wanaka)

We had breakfast in our room, then checked out and set off back to Arrow Junction where we turned off to go up the winding Crown range road (great views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables) on the highest tarmac road in NZ. The road went winding up quite steeply and we were soon in a high wilderness with few if any houses. After a while crossing the plain it was over the Crown Mountain range and down towards the village of Cardrona.
The road followed an ancient river valley between the mountains as we descended to Wanaka (Lake and town). The view at this end (and the far end) was spectacular with the Southern Alps reflecting in the turquoise waters. We had planned to have a coffee here, but it was rammed, so we continued on to Lake Hawea. The road followed the lakes along their lengths, giving us some beautiful views.
Lake Wanaka Lake Hawea
The lake was pretty and the roads quite empty until we reached “The Neck”- a spit of land joining the tops of lakes Wanaka and Hawea, where we met a large pack of sheep being moved along the road (and causing a slight blockage). The end of Lake Wanaka was beautiful, with the mountains reflecting into the water.
We had now arrived in Mount Aspiring Park (leaving Otago and entering West Coast) and began following the shallow meandering Makarora River. Soon after we came across a nice looking cafe at Makarora (Makarora Country Cafe), so we stopped for coffee and pie.
Sheep at The Neck, Makarora

Te Wāhipounamu (Māori "the place of greenstone") is a World Heritage Site covering 26,000 km2, incorporating four national parks: Aoraki/Mt Cook, Fiordland, Mt.Aspiring and Westland. It contains the best modern representations of the original flora and fauna present in Gondwana. Te Wahipounamu stretches 280 miles along the western coastline of South Island. The elevation ranges from sea level to 12,349 feet at Aoraki/Mt. Cook. Within Te Wahipounamu there is a multitude of natural features including snow-capped peaks, sapphire lakes, waterfalls, fjords, and valleys. It is home to hundreds of the world’s most active glaciers, but the main two are Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. It is the largest and least modified area of New Zealand’s natural ecosystem. And as such, the flora and fauna of the area is the world’s best modern representation of the ancient biota of Gondwanaland. The vegetation in Te Wahipounamu is diverse and in essentially in pristine condition. On the mountains there is a rich alpine vegetation of shrubs, tussocks and herbs. The warmer and lower altitude rainforests are dominated by tall podocarps. There are more rainforests and wetlands in the west, and the most extensive and least modified natural freshwater wetlands in New Zealand are found in this area. The Westland coastal plain is characterised by its high-fertility swamps and low-fertility peat bogs.

Te Wahipounamu is home to many indigenous animals and contains the largest and most significant population of forest birds in the country. The total wild population, about 170 birds, of takahe is found in a few mountain valleys in the Fiordland harbor. Along the south-west coast, most of New Zealand’s Fur Seals are found. Also found in this region are Southern Brown Kiwis, Great Spotted Kiwis, Red deer, Yellow-crowned parakeets, Fiordland Penguins, New Zealand falcons, and the pateke/ Fiordland brown teal. The world’s rarest and heaviest parrot, kakapo, was found in this region until the early 1980s. It is believed extinct on the mainland.
Having enjoyed a nice pie we set off, again following the river, into the hills of Mt Aspiring Park and Haast Pass. It didn’t take long to come into more wooded countryside on the hills and we stopped for a walk to the very beautiful Blue Pools. It was a humid 1.5km walk down, through the pristine native beech forest, across a wibbly wobbly bridge over the Makarora River and down to the most beautiful turquoise blue pool and river. Some people were jumping off a bridge into the pool quite a distance below but we thought better of it! We tried the shingly beach, but had to leave as we had a way to go.
We could see snowy Mt Brewster to the right. The road bent sharply down and left to the Gates of Haast, where the Makarora river joined the larger Haast River, which we now followed. Somewhat further on we stopped for our pies from the petrol station (Steve’s was curry and mine butter chicken), before a short walk into the forest to Thunder Creek Falls (Waterfall). Everywhere we saw signs exhorting us to watch we didn't carry didymo on our
shoes. We found out later that Didymosphenia geminata, commonly known as didymo or rock snot, is a species of diatom that produces nuisance growths in freshwater rivers and streams with consistently cold water temperatures and low nutrient levels and is an issue in NZ.

Continuing to follow the Haast river we began to leave the snowy peaks (Mt Macfarlane/ Shattered Peak right, Mt Diomede/ Victor/ Nerger left) behind as we came to the forest covered West Coast peaks, waterfalls around every turn. The steam/ mist was streaming off the mountains here as we headed towards where the Haast River met the sea (at the small settlement of Haast).
We crossed the estuary over a long low bridge and began the winding coast road, gently up and down on the “Wild West Coast”; 600 km of bush, rainforest and podocarp trees. Steve needed a comfort break so we stopped briefly at the Knights Lookout Point (yes, pretty view of the Tasman, a small beach and islets), before we headed inland through the forest. The road was undulating through wet countryside- we passed several small lakes (Moeraki, Paringa), but virtually no settlements. We crossed a number of wide rivers until, unexpectedly we were back on the coast at Bruce Bay. The bay was wide and rugged with huge rollers. Then it was back inland through the humid hills and wide river beds (the Karangarua was the largest). Finally it was over Fox River and we arrived in Fox Village (the Fox Glacier was only just above it). Shortly after we were there, in Franz Josef Village. The
glacier is the main attraction in Franz Josef and what makes it unique is that this 12km glacier flows through lush temperate rainforest, finishing just 300 m above sea level. You can walk along the valley floor to the glacier’s terminal face without a guide, but must take a licensed tour to get any closer than 100 metres of the glacier. Our apartment, the Weka Apartment (see the eponymous bird below) in Punga Grove was lovely, backing onto the forest. We said we were going to the Hot Pools for a nice dip and they gave us a free token. Nice! Glacier Hot Pools http://www.glacierhotpools.co.nz
Nestled in lush rainforest beneath mature 30m tree s, Glacier Hot Pools is a haven of tranquility and perfect relaxing experience after travelling. Ranging in temperature from 36 to 40 degrees centigrade, and covered by giant sails for protection from the elements, the 3 pools are in perfect synergy with the environment. Entry is for 90 minutes. The three main pools have been named by the local Maori tribe, the Te Runanga o Makaawhio. They are Te Puna Mahaki- Pool of calmness; Te Puna Makoha- Pool of tranquillity and Te Puna Marino- Pool of serenity. It was especially nice to hear the sounds of the forest birds behind us.
After a very nice dip we were hungry as we’d had very little to eat, so we walked to the historic Alice May restaurant. The white walls and exposed rafters were decorated with riding tack, farm tools and similar historic artefacts, while wooden floors, wagon wheel bar stools and a fireplace added to the decor. The food was straightforward and tasty. I had a delicious venison burger and Steve had a lovely venison Bangers and Mash staple. A glass of local Hawkes Bay Syrah for me and a pint of Monteiths for Steve complemented it perfectly. Even better was a reduced bill for eating before 7pm (and the tax was about to be increased on food that evening). The history of the restaurant (as on their information booklet) was interesting. Alice May Parkinson was one of 12 children born to George and Isobella Parkinson in the back country of Hawkes Bay. Alice May worked from age 14 in domestic service and after she turned 20, as a pantry maid / waitress in a hotel in Napier. She fell pregnant to her lover but after the baby was stillborn he rejected her notwithstanding his promise to marry her. After an altercation Alice May drew a revolver from her raincoat pocket and shot him 4 times before turning the gun unsuccessfully upon herself. She was tried and sentenced to hard labour for the rest of her life by the New Zealand Chief Justice. The socialist Feminists formed a release committee for Alice May and gained widespread popular support. Alice May became a household name with public meetings held in Auckland and Wellington and petitions circulated New Zealand requesting her release from jail in 1915. 60,000 people signed the petition and after 6 years in prison Alice May was released in 1921 into the care of her mother. Alice May married Charles O'Loughlin and had 6 children. Jennie O'Loughlin is their grandchild, and the pub is dedicated to Alice May and her son Bryan O'Loughlin www.alicemay.co.nz
49920164512_dd2a1f00b9_o.jpgWhen we got back we were sitting outside enjoying our bottle of wine, when a possum wandered up and had a snuffle at some nuts I had left out for the birds. Now, the Australians (and us) think possums are cute and in Australia they are protected. The New Zealanders have a very different view. They regard them as nasty interloping pests who are harming native wildlife and should be destroyed and preferably made into jumpers. (Despite this our driver in Christchurch had a pet possum she had saved after her husband killed its mother and she said it made a great pet!). The rainforest atmosphere was completed by the singing (!) of frogs.
weka-willowbank-christchurch_49919671756_o.jpgWeka (also known as Maori hen or woodhen) is a flightless bird of the rail family. It is endemic to New Zealand, with four subspecies. Weka are sturdy brown birds, the size of a chicken. As omnivores, they feed mainly on invertebrates and fruit. Weka usually lay eggs between August and January; both sexes help to incubate. It is a popular bird in NZ, with a penchant for collecting shiny objects.
The Brown Tree Frog, sometimes referred to as the Whistling frog is thought to have been a single introduction when a few frogs and tadpoles from Tasmania were released in Greymouth by W. Perkins in 1875. It is now widespread over South Island. Brown tree frogs are light brown, with a white stripe. The belly and throat are cream and thighs undersides are bright orange. The eardrum is easily visible, which separates this species from native Leiopelma species. The fingers and toes have expanded tips (suckers) for climbing, and webbing is absent. The characteristic call is cricket-like, a high-pitched trill repeated 5 or 6 times, “weeeeep-eeep”, not much like a whistle! These frogs are unusual as they can breed throughout the year. New Zealand’s four native frog species are small, nocturnal, and hard to spot. Three live on land in moist forested areas, and one is
semi-aquatic, on stream edges. New Zealand's native frogs have several unique features:
● no external eardrum
● round (not slit) eyes
● don't croak
● no tadpole stage; embryo develops inside an egg, and hatches as a fully-formed frog. The young are cared for by their parents - eg, the male Archey's frog carries his offspring on his back.

Posted by PetersF 19:56 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new glacier island south zealand wanaka haast franz_josef hawea blue_pools thunder_falls

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