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Posts from the ‘New Year Roadie ’13’ Category

To Queenstown via the Old Dunstan Road

Summer 12/13 roadie, day 4, part 1

From Cardrona we were driving to Queenstown. This wasn’t far as the crow flies – not that New Zealand has crows but I’m sure any bird will suffice – but for once we had time up our sleeves and it was the perfect opportunity to delve into the Central Otago countryside. I’ve banged on before about loving this region of the country and this time we were able to head a bit further off the beaten track. Queenstown could wait until later.

Crown Range Road

Initially we needed to get to Alexandra, south-east of Queenstown. To get there it was a toss-up between going north back to Wanaka and then down, or carrying on through the Crown Range Road. We chose that.

Crown Range Road

Russell Lupins, Crown Range Road

LOVED all these beautiful flowers – or ‘aggressive weeds’ as the case may be

Off the beaten path

Beyond Alexandra we silenced the satnav as it was of no help and reverted to printed maps – how old school! We turned into a paved road which became a metal (gravel) road and started to wind up and over hills into the Ida Valley.

Brown landscape and fence, Central Otago

Central Otago metal road

The Raggedy Range I think. One of those vistas I love around these parts

The Raggedy Range I think. One of those vistas I love around these parts

Central Otago metal road

Driver, turn right!

Driver, turn right!

Old Dunstan Road

The main goal of the day was to drive up the Old Dunstan Road to the Poolburn Dam. The road was part of the original route called the Mountain Road taken by hardy people seeking their goldrush fortunes in the early 1860s. It was later superseded by a longer but lower-lying route known as the ‘Pigroot’.

Closed for about four months each winter, the Old Dunstan Road is best traversed with a 4 wheel drive vehicle. But we were going to see how far we could get with Mike’s 2WD car!

Old Dunstan Rd sign

The bullet holes add a certain charm

We followed the road up the North Rough Ridge, gawping at the landscape which typifies this region: schist tors and rocky outcrops peppered liberally across miles of brown grass. We were so happy to be here and tore around trying to capture the look and feel in a few simple snaps.

Stalking my next photo

Stalking my next photo

Central Otago schist

Around here the land is covered in schist rock – very dramatic and beautiful; but impossible to do anything productive with I’m sure!

Central Otago schist



Mike had set a self-timer photo but before he could run over the camera fell – so he picked it up and I improvised

Poolburn Dam

We made it intact to the Poolburn Dam. Not knowing what to expect we were fairly amazed at the sight that unfolded before us, but as there are a few photos (noo, really?) I’ll cover that in the next post.

Moa Creek

From Poolburn the Old Dunstan Road continues over the other side, but that seemed to really be for 4WDs so we decided not to push our luck. We’ll return another day with more suitable wheels! We returned the way we came, past the remains of the Moa Creek settlement established as a rest stop along the old route.

Old bus shelter at Moa Creek

Old bus shelter at Moa Creek

And this old girl

And this old girl

Moa Creek Hotel site

Part of the old Moa Creek Hotel site, today back in business as accommodation. Don’t be fooled by appearances, it sounds like a great place to stay


We drove over the Raggedy Range again, but further north this time and popped out in the little settlement of Ophir. A very very quiet place on our previous couple of visits, it actually had a bit more life to it this time thanks to the opening of a shop and a cafe. We drove through though, only stopping at the historic bridge on the way out to join the main road.

The iconic Daniel O’Connell suspension bridge

The iconic Daniel O’Connell suspension bridge

Playtime at the Manuherikia River

Playtime at the Manuherikia River

Gibbston Valley

We now headed straight for Queenstown.

The road runs through the Gibbston Valley, a prominent wine region in these parts

The road runs through the Gibbston Valley, a prominent wine region in these parts


It was late afternoon by the time we rolled into Queenstown. After checking into our accommodation, a short distance away in Arthur’s Point (quite a cool area, I’ll pick that up in a separate post), we shot back into town to visit one of Mike’s favourite shops, Quest. Then there was just enough time to say hi to the lakefront and go for a quick walk before meeting friends for dinner.


Lake Wakatipu

Among other things, we wanted to find out what the plans were for New Years Eve the following night. A 70s party boat?

Stopover in a gold rush hotel

Summer 12/13 roadie, day 3, part 3

The Cardrona Valley is accessed by the Crown Range Road, an alpine pass that connects Wanaka and Queenstown/Arrowtown. It’s a very scenic road though treacherous in winter, and gave Mike some practice with snow chains on our last winter break here.

Along the road is the blink-and-you-miss-it settlement of Cardrona. Memorable for its historic looking hotel (a guaranteed photo-puller), you might otherwise wonder why such a place exists. Maybe it services the ski / snow fields that branch off both sides of the road nearby – but it doesn’t have the hallmarks of such a place, like a gas station, supplies shop or gear shop.

Cardrona Hotel

The answer is gold, discovered in the valley in 1862. It spawned two settlements in the valley though the lower of the two was wiped out in the massive South Island floods of 1878. The upper village, Cardrona, actually named for a village in Scotland, is where the settlement is today. It’s hard to imagine there were a few thousand residents, four hotels, four butchers and several other businesses. A large percentage of the prospectors and workers were Chinese.

Eventually the gold traces dwindled and people moved away, leaving the valley in the sole hands of farmers until the skifields arrived. Of the very few buildings that remain from the gold rush days, the Cardrona Hotel is the main one and where we would be staying the night. We were looking forward it, having experienced the bar a number of times over the years but not the accommodation.

They have a brilliant outside fireplace - great to sit around with a beverage after a day on the slopes

They have a brilliant outside fireplace – great to sit around with a beverage after a day on the slopes

We were last here during a winter storm a couple of years ago, staying nearby to go snowboarding. I loved being in Cardrona when it was carpeted and draped in white – so beautiful. We enjoyed this summer-time stay though I would love this region any time of the year.

Tomorrow we headed to Queenstown, taking a not-so-common longer route and it proved to be one of the highlights of the trip.

Sea, lakes, waterfalls and bloodsucking mossies

Summer 12/13 roadie, day 3, part 2

We continued south-west on the Haast Highway, popping out at the coast briefly before the road wound back inland.

Motorhomes, West Coast

A common sight around these parts

Bruce Bay

Named after a paddle steamer called Bruce which brought in gold miners and explorers way back when, it’s hard to picture this remote area being home to 2000 people during the gold rush. With about six permanent residents now, the only rush these days is from inquisitive people exiting their vehicles at this popular photo spot. As well as being a rugged windblown (well it definitely was that day) beach, it has lots of driftwood and amazing pure white stones. There’s also an interesting ritual of writing messages on rocks.

Bruce Bay, West Coast


Bruce Bay

Lake Paringa

This stop was memorable. Not for the natural treasures which this scenic reserve contains, but for the mosquitos, dozens of the little buggers. A few people had been staying in the Dept of Conservation campground judging by the tents, and we wondered how they had coped. Needless to stay we didn’t linger for too long. However, it was a beautiful and peaceful place. Like most major lakes in the South Island, Paringa was formed by glaciers a very, very, very, very long time ago.

Lake Paringa

Lake Paringa

Knight’s Point

Where the highway pops out at the coast again there’s another stopping opportunity. As well as some great views of dramatic coastline and native bush (which we did appreciate through the wind and rain), a plaque at Knight’s Point commemorates the 1965 milestone when the final section of the Haast Highway was completed nearby, which for the first time established a road link between Otago and Westland.

Knight's Point, West Coast

View from Knight's Point

Ship Creek

The small river Tauperikaka acquired a new name when part of a ship was found washed up on the beach, believed to be from a shipwreck off the coast of Australia. Loved this stop – there are so many fantastic natural features to race round with a camera after. Must do the walkways next time, there’s one to a lake and another through the ancient kahikatea swamp forest.

Ship Creek, Westland

Ship Creek, Westland

Ship Creek beach, Westland

Kahikatea swamp forest, Ship Creek

Thunder Creek Falls

We steered back inland again, pausing for a bite in Haast Junction and a mosey through the visitor centre-slash-museum, before continuting toward Haast Pass. This is the lowest of the passes that cross the Southern Alps and forms part of the boundary between Otago and Westland. There’s a truck load of potential stopping points and walks through here but we limited our activities to things that could be done without too much faffing. A five minute return walk fitted the bill nicely.

The height of these falls doesn’t break any records but does indicate the level of the glacier when the Haast River was formed a hundred or so centuries ago. And just the short walk-in alone was worth it.

Thunder Creek Falls walkway

Haast River at Thunder Creek Falls

Thunder Creek Falls, Haast Pass

Gates of Haast

We drove over the single lane iron bridge at the Gates of Haast. While fairly impressive in itself, I spied a glimpse of white water below, so we veered into the carpark up the road and I scuttled back. Here the Haast River narrows and drops and water thrusts over the massive boulders in the riverbed. A tramping track departs from here and goes below the bridge which would have been cool to investigate – but Mike was back with the car and we still had much to do.

A couple of k’s up the road I unfortunately wasn’t onto it enough to be ready for the wee old explosives hut at the side of the road which harks back to when the road was being built.

Gates of Haast bridge

White foxglove

Fantail Falls

Pining for the hut visit and photo that wasn’t, I was somewhat placated by another waterfall stop. This involved another short walk through masses of lush greenery and across a dry part of the riverbed. Just visible at the foot of the falls are the concrete foundation remains of a water wheel used during the construction of the Haast Highway.

Fantail Falls fern frond

Fantail Falls, Haast Pass


Lake Wanaka

We crossed the highest point of Haast Pass and again I was caught on the hop for we sailed on by without stopping for a look and a compulsory photo or two.

‘Twas not long before we were at the northern tip of Lake Wanaka – not an end I think I’d seen before. I’m more acquainted with the southern end where the Wanaka township sits. This is NZ’s fourth largest lake, sitting in a narrow but long glacier-carved channel, and is flanked by mountainous peaks. You can imagine how gorgeous this area can look in winter.

We stopped a couple of times and the strong wind was a blessing as it prevented any lurking mossies from being able to settle on our succulent flesh.

Northern end of Lake Wanaka

Northern end of Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka northern end

Southern shore of Lake Wanaka

Southern shore of Lake Wanaka

Lake Hawea

Nearby and running parallel with Lake Wanaka is Hawea. Back when glaciers ruled, the lakes were connected by ice over a pass now called The Neck which the main road traverses. Today they are part of the massive hydro-electricity network in the lower South Island and the level of Lake Hawea was artificially raised in the 1950s to allow more water to be stored. Like its neighbour, the southern end of the lake is where the township is.

Lake Hawea from The Neck

Lake Hawea from the Neck

Western arm of Lake Hawea from the Neck

Western arm of Lake Hawea


We were almost done. After a well-deserved beverage in Wanaka we drove into the historical Cardrona Valley for our overnight stop.

Fox Glacier (and a look back to 1995)

Summer 12/13 roadie, day 3, part 1

The day dawned wet and grey. Damn. But the rain wasn’t by any means beating down on the roof so Operation Fox was still on.

Glacier Country is a compulsory stop on any trip down the West Coast. Many people ‘do’ both glaciers but we just did a drive by of Franz yesterday with the intention of making a bit more of an effort with Fox today.

Not much would be happening without coffee though so upon checking out we went to see what was open in town. It was only around 7.30am but when we walked into the cafe adjoining the main glacier tour booking office the place was pumping. The many different kinds of tour were in hot demand and the evening before we overheard that everything was fully booked for that day including $400/seat heli tours. Maybe the weather had scuttled those though.

Anyhow, no problem for us as we were doing the budget version: walk as far as we could without a guide. I did this once before, almost 18 years ago, and I was really interested to see how much had changed since then. My memory from then was not crystal clear and I didn’t locate my photos before the trip but they did materialise in time for this post.

One flat white and one soy mocha acquired, we drove the few k’s to the carpark.

We checked the Dept of Conservation information boards

We checked the Dept of Conservation information boards

Fox Glacier

Off we go…

Fox Glacier valley

A long time ago the glacier flowed through here. To appreciate the size of those cliffs, look at the little human ants on the river bed

Rocks, Fox Glacier

Moss, Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier


Fox Glacier

Flower, Fox Glacier

Flowers, Fox Glacier

Glacial ice in the Fox River

This was as far as we could go on our own - you need a guide to further

This was as far as we could go on our own – you need a guide to further


And now for the flashback…

Fox Glacier 1995

Me in front of Fox Glacier in 1995. Compare the vegetation line here with the previous photos to get a feel for how the glacier has receded over the last 18 years

Fox Glacier 1995

You could get pretty close back in 1995. A few incidents and a couple of deaths put paid to that

Drizzing rain returned for the 20ish minute walk back, where we found this guy darting about the carpark.

Kea, Fox Glacier

A kea, the world’s only alpine parrot and renowned for their intelligence and curiosity

Happy with that expedition, we rejoined the highway and continued south.

Down the West Coast to Glacier Country

Summer 12/13 roadie, day 2

The day began in very holiday-like fashion with a dip in the hotel’s pool (Mike) and spa (me) next to where another guest was being bossed around by a trainer in the gym. “Madness”, I thought as I concentrated on staying as still as possible.

We didn’t lounge about for too long though as there were a few k’s to cover today. Armed with takeaway coffees we hit the road, happy we’d soon be reacquainted with the South Island’s West Coast.

To get there we drove through the Tasman region south of Nelson. Every now and then I would emit a gasp or squeal and over the course of the trip Mike would come to recognise this as meaning Hayley has seen an abandoned and decaying building. I always feel a strong urge to investigate and snap these and we could have stopped a dozen times – but we actually only stopped once.

Abandoned house, Tasman

Oh how I love thee

We drove through country which has experienced big earthquakes, stopping to top up tummies in the small town of Murchison. Here and nearby there were two 7+ quakes in 1929 which permanently changed parts of the landscape forever.

Murchison main street

Meet small town NZ (in 2006 the population of Murchison was less than 500). By all accounts a great base for river and tramping activities, we just scoffed a quick bite and scuttled on through

Cue the Buller Gorge which follows the Buller River for a good chunk of its 170km length, where it eventually spits out into the Tasman Sea.

West Coast roads, South Island, NZ

The Buller River

The Buller River


Foxgloves were a common splash of colour across the countryside

Foxgloves were a common splash of colour across the countryside

One lane bridges are a common sight around parts of NZ and we experienced many on our trip. This was another one lane feature: a 19th century solution for making a road go around a vertical cliff. Just blast a slice out of it – easy peazy.

Hawks Crag in the Buller Gorge

Hawks Crag in the Buller Gorge

We eventually emerged onto the coast road. I’m glad it wasn’t a bluebird day as that wouldn’t have fitted my perception of this part of the world.

West Coast, NZ

Hi, West Coast

Before the overnight stop the main planned break was at Punakaiki (poo-na-ky-kee), famous for its Pancake Rocks. I visited here 15 or so years ago and since then the facilities have been transformed to include cafes and souvenir shops. I don’t feel it’s been overdone, provided they leave it as it is now, and the walkway loop through bush and flax to the rocks is beautiful.

The limestone rocks have two main features: pancake-like layering and blowholes. The rocks themselves are very dramatic and wonderful to look at. Unfortunately we were there at low tide so there was no, er, blowing.

Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki

The Pancake Rocks

Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki

I did develop a bit of a craving for pancakes after visiting

Some rocks are slowly succumbing to the powerful forces of nature

Some rocks are slowly succumbing to the powerful forces of nature

I don't think I've ever seen so much flax in one place

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much flax in one place

Not far away we stopped again to avoid raging at the chronically dawdling motorist in front (if you’re going to take your time that’s fine, but for god’s sake let others past). But I would have pulled in here anyway. Beside State Highway 6, alongside the coast and looking inland to roughly where the event took place, is the memorial for 19 miners who died in 1967 when gas exploded in the Strongman Mine.

Strongman Mine Memorial

Strongman Mine Memorial

We arrived in Glacier Country and the town of Franz Josef. Time was not in abundance so we hadn’t planned to visit the famous local glacier. But we did decide to drive as far as we could in the hope of at least seeing it.

Driving into Franz Josef

Hi, Franz Josef

A British explorer in the 1850s had named the glacier Victoria after the British Monarchy at the time, but he didn’t register the name (nor any others he came up with – doh!). So the following decade, Austrian explorer Julius Von Haast was able to claim it, and so it was named after the Emperor of Austria.

The glacier is a few k’s pleasant walk from town, or you can drive/bus further up the valley and from there walk for 40-ish minutes.

Franz Josef Glacier carpark

Or if you’re like us, just see what you can from the carpark

Closer up view thanks to zoom lense

And you can see a bit more with a zoom lense

The glacier is currently 19km from the sea and they reckon it would have extended to the coast about 15,000 years ago. (Damn, just missed it.) Now it’s retreating – there are some great comparative photos in this article (make sure to use the ‘slider’).

Less than half an hour’s drive away is the town of Fox Glacier where we were booked for the night. We checked in and given it was already early evening, zoomed off down the road to Lake Matheson, renowned for gorgeous mountain reflections. And not of just any old peak, but NZ’s highest, Aoraki / Mount Cook, and its neighbour, Mount Tasman. I was quite excited as I’ve seen Mt Cook only a couple of times before, AND the low cloud that was lurking had decided to clear, AND it seemed to be a fairly still evening.

We found the carpark (with large fancy souvenir shop and restaurant) and path. Another beautiful walk through bush took us to the first lake/mountain viewing point… and rats. The air was not as still as we’d thought. Reflections just weren’t to be and so there wasn’t much point continuing further around the lake. The expedition wasn’t a total loss though.

No glassy reflections but a view over to Mounts Tasman and Cook all the same

No glassy reflections but a view over to Mounts Tasman and Cook all the same

Here also

Here also

Mt Sefton, I think

Mt Sefton, maybe

By then the need for dinner was becoming urgent. Back in town, as we worked through our meals, we eyed the lastest forecast. There was some wet stuff on the way – we just hoped it wouldn’t bugger up plans to see the Fox Glacier in the morning.


I have located my photos/negatives from a 1995 trip to the South Island and this is the photo I took of Franz Josef Glacier from the carpark. It’s hard to relate the general situation as it is now to how it was almost 18 years ago.

Franz Josef Glacier in 1995

Franz Josef Glacier in 1995

And we’re off! Nelson via the Marlborough Sounds

Summer 12/13 roadie, day 1

After months of willing the year to finish and holiday to start, it was finally d-day. With an early (but not rudely so) ferry time we were up sooner than felt natural after the activities and consumptions of Christmas and Boxing Days. We dropped off Mike’s boys and made a beeline for the ferry terminal.


By the time we’d parked and made our way in, it was apparent that a seating frenzy had taken place and we were left to pick over the carcass. I guess the 27th is when every man and his dog not already on holiday makes their move and to add to this, the weather was keeping everyone indoors. My demeanour started to wrinkle but after a couple of circuits we located seats in the cafe and staked out there for the three hour journey.

The grumpy weather made it not the calmest of sailings. I started to regret the mince pie I ate onboard for breakfast* and while I didn’t deteriorate further, Mike had to go up for fresh air to address some growing feelings of dodginess. Luckily that worked. Once out of the Cook Strait though the ride got much smoother.

*trips down south tend to involve a bit of pie eating

Out of the rough stuff and in the  Marlborough Sounds

Out of the rough stuff and in the Marlborough Sounds

The Marlborough Sounds are a collection of drowned river valleys at the northern tip of the South Island. They formed about 10,000 years ago, give or take. Boaties flock there and in fact many places are only accessible by water.

Once off the ferry in Picton we found Queen Charlotte Drive which would take us west to Nelson. Enter the first ‘new territory’ for me on this trip (I’m almost ashamed to say, given the relative proximity to Wellington). The road winds through bush as it follows the Queen Charlotte Sound, providing opportunities now and then to pull off and admire the beautiful views.

Queen Charlotte Sound - kinda makes you want a boat

Queen Charlotte Sound – kinda makes you want a boat

Lunch stop in Ngatuka Bay

Lunch stop in Ngatuka Bay

Mad cyclists (and we'd come across many like them) pausing to enjoy the view

Mad cyclists (and we’d come across many like them) pausing to enjoy the view

However with roads like this there are minimal opportunities for overtaking. Popular tourist route that it is, you should not be surprised to find yourself behind drivers with the warp speed of a snail. Nonetheless, the language in the car did at times get very colourful.

It’s roughly a two hour drive from Picton to Nelson, technically a city and renowned for sunshine and hot temperatures. Or if you don’t want all the faffing in ferries and cars, you can fly there. Resigned to the fact that we would be meeting cloudy and not sunny Nelson, we arrived at our hotel at the base of the Monaco Peninsula at one end of Waimea Inlet. With not much time available, I promptly set out for an explore, finding a walkway beside the estuary.

Waimea Inlet and estuary at low tide

Waimea Inlet and estuary at low tide

Waimea Inlet

Waimea Inlet walkway

Waimea Inlet walkway

Waimea Inlet walkway

I went back to get Mike and car and we headed out without any particular agenda. We drove around Monaco Peninsula, an inspired choice as it happened due to its quietness and quirkiness.

At low tide on this side of the peninsula the road involves a short section of driving over sand

At low tide the road involves a short section of driving over sand

4x4 not required (and if we did have an oops, we had a little bit of time to plead for a rescue before the tide would have caused problems)

4×4 not required (and if we did have an oops, we had a little bit of time to plead for a rescue before the tide would have caused problems)

Very happy to see this place! A welcome coffee stop, looking out over the inlet

Very happy to see this place! A welcome coffee stop, looking out over the inlet

Waimea Inlet

The main reason we stayed where we did was to visit friends. Amanda lives nearby and her sister Tracey was staying. The girls and I went to the same country primary school and many, many, many moons later, it was Amanda who introduced Mike and I. It was great to see them and their families.

Pick the sisters!

Pick the sisters!

And that was it for our stay in Nelson. We must go back as there’s so much more to see. But next up we had a date with the mighty West Coast.

Christmas in pics and summer road trip preview

Christmas marks the start of the main holiday season in NZ where most people look forward to a break, be it short or long, in beautiful summer weather. (Though as many will attest, the weather doesn’t always hold up its end of the bargain.) Mike and I don’t have a regular holiday routine at this time of year, as I’m often blatting up the North Island to see my family while he stays in Wellington to be with his, plus there’s usually other trips planned during the year that we need to save our leave days for. This year things are a little bit different and we are going away – and ‘keeping it Kiwi’ as the saying goes. This is our fast and furious plan of attack:

  • Take our car on the ferry across to Picton at the top of the South Island.
  • Drive to Nelson. First time visit for me there! A quick scramble of sights and will also catch up with friends. One night.
  • Drive down the fabulous West Coast to Fox Glacier. Haven’t been there in donkey’s. Weather permitting, we’ll see the glacier. One night.
  • Drive to Queenstown-Lakes District down in my favourite part of the country (and world for that matter!). One night in the Cardrona Valley, which in winter is one of the big places to go for skiing, boarding etc.
  • Carry on through to Queenstown. Here we’ll do a mix of outdoor activities and catching up with friends. Two(!) nights.
  • Early start – better not overdo New Years Eve – to get to Manapouri for a cruise on Doubtful Sound. Really looking forward to this. One night.
  • We head to the Catlins in the far south-east corner of NZ. Another first for me and also the furthest south I’ll have been to in my own country. Two nights there, albeit in different places.
  • Then a blat straight up the east coast to catch the ferry, pausing overnight near Christchurch.

Unfortunately the forecast has not been very promising. For this we can thank, at least in part, the remnants of Cyclone Evan, which battered Samoa and Fiji recently and which has blown and piddled its way onto our fair shores.

So far it hasn’t amounted to much so we might be in luck. I’ve been looking forward to going down south for months and I’ll be disappointed if it’s going to be a wash out. But it will still be great visiting my favourite island.

Meanwhile here in Wellington we were very lucky to have a superb Christmas Eve and Christmas Day days. Here’s a summary in photos.

To regular readers of this blog, thank you, and I wish you a fantastic 2013.

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