My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “Blue Pools”

Spring Roadie – From the Lakes to the Coast

With so much choice, it’s hard to pick the best drive in New Zealand. I love so many of the South Island’s roads and mountain passes, we’re really spoilt for choice here. From Wanaka, the road to the west coast via Haast Pass is one of these great drives with so many places to stop at on route. I’d previously driven as far west as the Blue Pools, but beyond that was a small part of the country that I’d never been to before. At the time, nearly 6 years since arriving in the country, I’d already crossed off a large percentage of it, and this was another little section to finally cross off the list.

A short drive from Wanaka, the views start almost immediately with the arrival at the neighbouring Lake Hawea with its small and quiet little settlement of the same name. There was a haze in the air, meaning the view wasn’t as sharp as I’ve previously seen but the lake was still a brilliant blue and by the lake side the water was crystal clear. Flanked by mountains, it is a beautiful vista, and my brother and I took a short walk along the lake side before stopping at the dam at the entrance to the village. It was so peaceful, with few people here compared to Wanaka and with little development here either. Only a handful of people were milling around, so our view of the blue lake under the blue sky was one of tranquility.


Continuing along the highway that flanks the lake side, there are a few places to pull in to appreciate the view. The main one is about two thirds of the way along, but it can get quite busy, especially when a coach turns up. From several of these, it is possible to appreciate the length of the lake. These are the trips where I wish I lived nearer as I know there are so many hikes that could be done in the area. Passing a couple on the way, we stopped at the first of two lookouts at the Neck, the narrow isthmus that splits Lake Hawea from Lake Wanaka.


Crossing to the other side, we said goodbye to Lake Hawea and welcomed the equally beautiful sight of Lake Wanaka again which the road follows for some distance. Again there are some great view points along this road, and we stopped first at a boat ramp and then at the Boundary Creek campsite which was very busy. At this point, we were oblivious to the time pressures of this drive. We hadn’t hurried ourselves to leave, and with the beautiful sunny sky above us, I was stopping left right and centre so we could take lots of photographs. Although my brother had planned the route, he’d given me plenty of leeway with where to stop each day, and determined as I was to show off the country I now call home, I was taking every opportunity to do so. This meant a very leisurely morning and a slightly rushed afternoon as the enormity of the distance to cover became more apparent.


Eventually though, we left Lake Wanaka behind us and started across the valley that would wind us towards Haast Pass. We were able to get a bit of distance behind us, pushing on to Blue Pools before stopping. This place is very popular, not just with tourists but with sand flies, the bane of South Island waterways. I grew up with midges in Scotland, and they never bothered me half as much as the sand flies do here in New Zealand. No matter what repellent I use, their swarms have ruined many an outdoor experience for me, and here was to be no different. They gave my brother with his foreign smell a wide birth, and pestered me like crazy once we emerged from the short bush walk to the river. Like the last time I was here, I thought I’d risk taking a paddle in the glacier water, and like last time it was so frigid it hurt my feet, and I wondered about the foolhardiness (or bravery) of the people who jump from the bridge or go for a swim.


From here to the west was all new territory for me and I was excited. Emerging from the trees, we reached Cameron Flat where we stopped first at the campsite and then a short distance further where we trudged up to a lookout over the river. We ate lunch here overlooking the valley below, about half-way between Wanaka and the west coast. Our destination for the night was still some distance away, and from this point onwards I unintentionally took over my brother’s road trip and kept stopping, even after my brother voiced his want to skip some places.


One of these stops was Haast Pass where a walk trudges up the hillside to a lookout. It was a sticky walk in the heat, steeper than I’d anticipated, longer than I’d thought it would be and the view a little less spectacular than I’d expected (although still pretty enough). In hindsight, we could have skipped this, as with Fantail Falls which we also stopped at further along the road. A short bush walk brought us out to a pebbly river bank which was littered in stone stacks. The waterfall was on the far bank of the river and as before, the sand flies descended on me.


Beyond the Gates of Haast, a road bridge that spans the Haast River, and down the hill was the prettier Thunder Creek waterfall. Feeling guilty now about taking over my brother’s trip, I quickly offered to back-track to the bridge when my brother voiced an interest in seeing it up close. So back up the hill we parked either side of it then walked down to watch the water gush through the chasm. It was exceptionally noisy but we were the only ones there and deep as it was within a canyon in the mountains, we could look up at the peaks that flanked us undisturbed.


Eventually the road cut once more across the Haast river, and here at Pleasant Flat campsite, there was a stunning view across a plain to a snow and cloud capped mountain peak. Following the river downstream, State Highway 6 eventually takes a near 90 degree turn where the Haast river and Landsborough river unite. As we headed west, the clouds built up more and more on the mountain tops around us and the sunshine disappeared from view. We stopped at the Roaring Billy waterfall, another stop which with hindsight we could have skipped, and wandered along the river bank a little before the final push to the west coast.


Finally we cut through Haast and found ourselves back in sunshine as we reached the western flank of the Southern Alps. I had pre-warned my brother about the pebbly nature of west coast beaches, so found myself eating my words as we got out the car at Haast beach and walked out onto a beautiful stretch of sand. Behind us the clouds shrouded the mountain tops but in front of us the Tasman Sea glistened under the golden orb. The west coast is notorious for its wild weather so it was nice to arrive there in sunshine. Unfortunately we were still about 120km away from our night’s stay and the afternoon was wearing on towards evening. The drive was proving why New Zealand’s distances don’t look much on paper, but can easily take a lot more time than anticipated.


We pulled in at Ship Creek which I would have loved to have just relaxed at for a while. There were several people overnighting here and I was a little jealous. We explored the immediate vicinity before getting back on the road. At Knight’s Point the sun was getting low causing a glare to the west, but it still seemed sunny ahead of us. But the road cut inland and as it did so, it plunged us back under the cloud that had been shrouding the Southern Alps.


My brother had been keen to do a walk to Monro Beach where it is possible to go penguin watching. But due to me taking over his trip and stopping at so many places on the Haast Pass road, my brother didn’t feel we had the time to do the hike and I felt guilty when he requested we keep going when we passed the start of it at Lake Moeraki. If I was to do the drive again, I’d skip the Haast Pass lookout and Roaring Billy falls if not the Fantail falls also, which probably would have given us a bit of time to do the Monro beach walk. From here onwards though, we drove through light rain, the weather that I’m more accustomed to on this coast. I was so over driving by this point too, so although we stopped briefly at Lake Puringa, the rain hadn’t dulled the sand flies, and I wasn’t keen to hang around long. In the ever darkening skies, we pushed through the remaining 70km to finally pull in at our stop for the night in Fox Glacier, at the southern end of the Glacier Country. I could but hope for the rain to have cleared by the next day, ready for us to explore another unique part of New Zealand.

Weekend Adventures

It took four years, but finally I made it back to one of my favourite parts of the country. It was one of the first places I explored in the South Island when I first arrived in New Zealand in 2012, but it took barely a minute to fall in love with the place when the bus pulled in to the lakeside on a gorgeous sunny day. After a 5hr drive south-west from Christchurch, my partner and I arrived in Wanaka on the shore of the lake of the same name, on an equally sunny day and instantly I was happy and excited for the weekend ahead.

The drive itself is beautiful. Apart from several roadworks, and the common incidence of tourist drivers that raise your blood pressure with their extremely bad road sense, it is an enjoyable drive with plenty to look at. We took the back road to Geraldine and on to Fairlie where we stopped at the bakery which has a local reputation for exceedingly good pies. After an early lunch, we continued on to Lake Tekapo, a quaint little town which is always good for a stay or a break to stretch the legs. On this occasion, we pressed on, and soon we were swinging past the expanse of Lake Pukaki which has the most brilliant blue water you have ever seen. In the distance, at its northern end, the domineering peak of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook stands proud on the skyline. Across the barren landscape to Omarama and then the winding route through Lindis Pass, the landscape seemed dry and brown. Even on the other side, as we covered the final kilometers to Wanaka, everything appeared as if in drought, until finally the water of Lake Wanaka appeared glistening behind the town.

After checking in to our motel, we headed down to the waterfront and had a leisurely stroll along the lake shore. Being the weekend of Waitangi Day, a national public holiday, the town was packed, and the beach was crammed with people enjoying the sunshine and the water. Across the lake, the mountains tower over it, from Roy’s Peak on the near shore, to the expanse of Mt Aspiring National Park in the far distance. Though my partner doesn’t agree with me, Lake Wanaka and its surrounds always make me think of Cairngorm National Park in my home country of Scotland, and that is partly why I feel so at home here. It is a fantastic spot for relaxation as well as outdoor pursuits and there is so much to see and do in the region.


Since I was last in the place, a flurry on Instagram has resulted in a particular tree on the lake becoming famous. Google image ‘that Wanaka tree’ and thousands of photos of it appear. What amused me more was when we walked to go and see what all the fuss was about, there was even a sign marking it as a photographic hotspot. When I was there four years prior, I would have walked past that tree without showing it any added attention. It’s funny what catches the international eye sometimes, and there was a regular stream of tourists trying to photograph it. All that aside, it is very photogenic: a lone tree within the water near the lake edge, which is framed either by mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park, or the town of Wanaka, depending on how you frame it.


After a pleasant meander back into town, we were excited to discover that Patagonia, our beloved chocolate and ice cream store from Queenstown had opened a branch in Wanaka. This place makes the most amazing ice cream, and we have both previously sickened ourselves gorging on it before. There was no way we were not going to indulge in some again this time round. Nearby, we enjoyed outdoor dining in the sunshine at one of the local bars, soaking up the happy vibes that swirl round the town. The next day, after breakfast in one of many cafes in town, we readied ourselves for the event that we were in town for: a friend’s wedding. It was a stunning affair, in the gardens of a hotel complex on the lake side, under a blistering sun, and it was immense fun.

I’m not a regular drinker, so I woke up the day after the wedding a little bit under the weather, but that wasn’t going to stop us from enjoying the region. After a much needed breakfast in town, we took the scenic drive past nearby Lake Hawea and on towards Haast Pass. This road eventually leads to the west coast and then upwards to Fox glacier, and I am yet to reach the pass and see some of the many sights along the way. But I had heard about one of the sights worth seeing on the Wanaka side of the pass, and that was where we headed. First up the side of Lake Hawea then crossing over to flank neighbouring Lake Wanaka, it was a gorgeous drive.


Nearly an hour away, we reached a packed car park that marked the start of the walk to the Blue Pools. Descending through thick forest for about 10 mins, the path breaks out the trees at a suspension bridge that crosses the crystal clear waters of the river below. From here, we could see a lot of people further along the path, and not far ahead, a second suspension bridge crossed another river, and from here, we could see why the pools were so named. Glacial fed, the water was crystal clear and had a blue hue to them. The amount of people lounging around on the shore and wading through the water was deceptive – it was freezing cold! It was so cold that when I stood in it to have my photo taken, it was actually really painful on my feet. Still, it was a lovely spot, and although there were a lot of people around, everyone was spread out enough over the stony river bed that it didn’t feel in the least bit crowded. As we were leaving though, a bus load full of tourists were heading down the path, so we were glad to be leaving when we did.


After stopping for a snack on route, we headed back down the side of Lake Wanaka and across the divide back to Lake Hawea where we had a couple of stops to soak up the view and take some photos. The road and the pull-ins were quite packed with tourists and parking was becoming difficult. In the town of Hawea itself though, it felt like there wasn’t a soul about, and it was peaceful and tranquil. Wading in the water was lovely, and we both wished we had brought our swimwear with us, as this would have been the perfect spot to have a relaxing swim in the lake. Instead, hungry and keen for a dip, we headed back to Wanaka.


Unfortunately, Wanaka was still packed and the beach beside the lake had no spare shade and barely a spare spot in the sun either. There was noise and people everywhere, and the water was full of boats, jetskis and paddleboarders. We tried to lie for a while, but I for one was finding it all too much, kicking myself for not having had the foresight to allow us to go swimming in Hawea. In the end, I had to follow the lake for some distance, ending up back at ‘that Wanaka tree’, just to find a free spot in the shade to zone out. Lake Wanaka is actually very shallow for some distance out, so even after wading out quite a distance, the water wasn’t even at chest level. It was deep enough to swim though, and the water temperature was perfect. It was a lovely way to relax and unwind.


After meandering back in to town and climbing up the hill to the lookout, we stumbled upon a hidden cluster of restaurants down a back street for dinner, and ate out at Cows, another Queenstown favourite that has opened up a Wanaka branch. There was live music in the courtyard and it was perfect conditions for enjoying an al fresco meal.


I had read in our motel guidebook about a local short walk that I hadn’t heard about before, and with other people from the wedding have done the walk whilst we were at the Blue Pools, we headed off on the 20min drive the next morning. On the road to Treble Cone ski field towards Mt Aspiring, it is a nice drive to the poorly marked car park to reach the walk to Diamond Lake. It is possible to walk just to the lake itself, but there are a few longer walks from here up the flanking hills to get a view point of either Diamond Lake or Lake Wanaka. It is a nice wee lake, although the lake itself is quite well hidden by vegetation for large sections of it on the circuit, but hiking up to the lower of the two viewpoints, it was possible to see the lake in its entirety (which is not actually diamond shaped). The circuit and viewpoint took about an hour, although this was at a very rushed pace due to having to make the drive back to Christchurch that day.


Heading home following breakfast in Wanaka, we retraced our steps back towards Christchurch, marvelling as always about the astonishing blue of Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo along the way. I adore Lake Wanaka, and now also Lake Hawea, and hope that it won’t be quite so long next time before making it back.

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