New Zealand March 11 and 12

Wednesday March 11

I woke just in time to see a beautiful sunrise. The sun came up over the mountains in a blaze of orange that was reflected in the lake. I went a lovely trail run on the trails at the campsite, and then dragged Rory out of bed for a swim. We had the lake to ourselves and it was cool, but lovely. The water was perfectly calm and as I swam I looked out to the blue mountains in the distance.

 On the road, we couldn't get over the color of the rivers and streams. We were in glacier country, so the water coming out of the mountain was the prettiest shade of turquoise and just so clear.

Our first stop was in Franz Joseph. We had a picnic by the river and I got my chance to stick my feet in one of those pretty rivers. It was freezing!

 Then we hiked up to see the Franz Joseph gacier. The hike was hot, as we were in a river valley with the sun reflecting off the rock.
They do not let you cool off under the waterfall
A lot of the rocks were really smooth and in neat shapes from being compressed under the glaciers from so long. 

The glacier was worth the walk. As we moved, and as the sun shone through in different areas, it changed in color from an opaque white to a translucent blue.

It was really disheartening to see the pictures of how much the glacier has retreated in just the last 10 years. In 2008 the glacier reached nearly to the town and you couldn't easily walk up on it. Now it is a 4k drive and then a 45 minute walk just to get 250 meters away from the terminal end. The only way onto the glacier now is by helicopter.

After we climbed down from the Franz-Joseph glacier and hit the road, we passed by Fox glacier. 

Then we headed down a narrow, curvy, dirt road to Gillespie's beach, where there is a seal colony. Unfortunately, when we got out there 40 minutes later, we discovered the seal colony is a 3.5 hour walk!

So we walked down to the beach, admired the giant, gnarled driftwood, tried to play with some sheep that were wandering, and then reluctantly left without seeing the seals.

We continued south along the west coast, stopping in Haast for dinner. We went to a very funky placed called "The Hard Antler," where we were the only patrons. So we had a really nice chat with the bartender and Rory finally got his New Zealand steak. We had several DOC campsites in mind, all about an hour away, and we were worried that it might take much longer, since we'd be passing through the Southern Alps. Luckily, it turned out there was a lovely, mostly flat pass along the river right in the middle of the mountains. We spent the night right in the middle of the pass in Mt. Aspiring National Park. To the right of our van was a river and to the left were the towering mountains.

However, we were not able to walk around and enjoy the view because we finally found one thing we don't like about New Zealand. These horrible, little, vicious, biting bugs called sand fleas that are out in swarms! I guess no place can be perfect!

Thursday March 12

After a few days with a lot of driving, we took it a little easier today. I managed to outrun the bugs on my run in the morning, but I definitely noticed the altitude. I also had a run in with a possum. We both yelped and ran away. This is a runner's paradise because there are trails everywhere. Really everywhere. This morning I ran right into a possum. We both jumped up, yelped, and ran in opposite directions. We headed towards Queentown on rt 6 and it was a spectacular drive. There were immense lakes on both side, both of which were perfectly calm, reflecting the Alps towering above them.

We both just kept saying "Wow." As we came into the Otago region we came into a fertile valley with the fruit stands and vineyards on both sides of the roads. We stopped to restock our fruit supplies (this endless supply of ripe, fresh fruit still excites me) and then I cashed in some brownie points with the hubby to stop at a couple vineyards. The region is famous for their Pinot Noir, my favorite wine, so I couldn't wait. The first place we stopped Gibbston Valley had good wine (and cheese). But, since it was right on the road, and pretty fancy, it was both pricey and crowded. The second place we went, Chard Farm Vineyard, really stole my heart. It was at the end of a narrow, dirt road, that had a long drop-off to the river, so not many people braved the trip.

That meant that I got a basically private tasting and got to talk a lot with the wine maker. I even got to whip out my Italian and chat with an Italian couple that came in. I ended up getting a bottle to bring home. We had a picnic on their grass, looking out over the vineyards to the river and the mountains on the other side.

Next we headed into Queenstown. It was strange to see so many people, buildings, and cars after being in the complete wilderness for much of the past few days. Queenstown was nice, with pedestrian streets lined with cute shops and cafes. The city is right on Lake Wakatipu and we got some ice cream and admired the view as we ate.

We headed to our DOC campsite, 12 Mile Delta, on the Lake mid-afternoon. We settled the van and then headed out on a hike along the lake that ended with a very steep climb up to a look-out. I still can't get over color of the water here. It is just the prettiest shade of blue!

Hot from hiking for a couple hours, we were motivated the brave the chilly lake. These mountain fed lakes are so much colder than the ocean! The good news is that the bugs are not nearly as bad here (plus we bought industrial bug spray), so we were able to sit and have a glass of local wine while admiring the lake and mountains before dinner.