We started Day 6 of our New Zealand family vacation with a short walk to the car rental outlet in Queenstown. In exchange for a copy of Mr. GeoK’s international driving permit and an imprint of his credit card, they handed over the keys to a Toyota Highlander, which easily swallowed our 4 carry-on sized roller bags, 4 backpacks, 4 camera bags and a picnic lunch. And just like that, we were on our way to the very small town of Franz Josef.
Things didn’t go quite as smoothly the rest of the day. Why? Two main reasons:
- Despite my best pre-trip research efforts I didn’t come up with a properly ordered list of points of interest. So we drove right past about a third of the stops on my list, mostly because the signs are only about 350 meters ahead of the turn off and by then it was too late!
- The driving itself took a lot longer than we expected. That’s not to say we were completely unprepared; we started the day thinking it would take about 5 hours to travel the 350 km to Franz Josef (without any sightseeing stops). But between the winding roads with unbanked corners, the single lane bridges, the fantastic scenery that compelled us to make several unplanned photo stops as well as stopping at five of the spots on my list, it was a full 8 hours before we pulled up at our hotel in Franz Josef.
Crown Range Road / Cordrona Valley Road – In Alberta, range roads are generally unpaved, perfectly straight roads between prairie farms and ranches. The reality of the Crown Range Road couldn’t be more different. This crazy, zig-zag ribbon of pavement is part of one of two routes connecting Queenstown to Wanaka and is the highest sealed road in New Zealand. The views from the lookout were fabulous.
We stopped a few more times before we reached Wanaka, to find a geocache, check out another viewpoint and when we spotted a fence covered in bras!
Lake Country – At Wanaka we joined Highway 6 (the other route from Queenstown). The beautiful turquoise waters of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka were the scenic highlights of this stretch of the drive.
Haast Pass – The DOC (New Zealand Department of Conservation) has several downloadable brochures that describe more than two dozen short walks, half-day hikes and scenic stops along the Haast Pass. I estimate it would take a couple of days (at least) to see them all, so we selected just a few locations, starting with the short walk through silver beech to a swing bridge overlooking the Blue Pools at the mouth of Blue River.
Not much further along the Haast Pass we pulled into the very crowded parking lot at Fantail Falls.
K stayed in the rental Highlander at our next stop – Thunder Creek Falls. In the throes of another growth spurt, K decided the chance to eat his picnic lunch was more appealing than the chance to photograph another waterfall. The rest of us made the short walk down to the 28 meter high waterfall. In addition to the expected conventional images, we came back a couple that were purely fun.
A short time later, it started raining, so we made only two more quick stops along the Haast Highway before reaching Franz Josef.
We stopped long enough at Knight’s Point to find a geocache. And we stopped a little longer at Bruce Bay, where we enjoyed a bit of time on the beach, watching the waves and enjoying the line of trees curving along the shoreline.
Lack of time and too much rain kept us from stopping at a few spots we really wish we’d been able to visit, especially Haast Pass Lookout Trail, Lake Matheson and the Fox Glacier. What do you think? Are there any other “must see” places that we missed on our drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef?