June 27 - Haast
New Zealand - There and Back Again
We woke up this morning around 7:30 AM to decent weather. It was cold outside, but warmer than it had been in other places. I had a pretty good night of sleep. Our goal for the day was to head for Fox Glacier, or as far as we could get. The road was supposed to be scenic, icy, steep, and we had a few planned stops along the way. If they took longer than expected we may have to stop early in Haast, a small town near the coast.
We took the tent down and went to the kitchen to make breakfast. We made three scrambled eggs with cheese on top and split them up. We also had a piece of toast with butter and jelly on it and a cup of milk and hot chocolate. The eggs were different than I was used to. They were brown and seemed smaller and the yoke was more orange than yellow. They were really good though.
We left the campground around 8:45 AM. The weather was pretty clear so as we drove out of town we took the same road we had taken last night by the big houses and to the view of the mountains by the shore of Lake Wanaka. We only stopped for a minute to get a few pictures.
We stopped at the BP gas station in town. We had a 4 cent discount for spending more than $40 NZD on groceries at New World. This is the second time we have gotten a coupon like that on our grocery receipt. The drive from Wanaka to Fox Glacier was supposed to be kilometers and take about two hours.
We wanted to stop at three waterfalls between Wanaka and Haast, all of them very short hikes from 10 minutes to 30 minutes in length. We also wanted to stop at a few look outs. The first part of the drive followed Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawewea.
The route took us through Albertown and down along the edge of Lake Hawewea for about 30 minutes. We stopped a couple of times along the way. The road signs said icy roads and chains may be required. Our first destination was the side of the road looking at the mountains on the eastern side of the lake. The sun was still rising so the mountains were slightly hazy. We continued on until we got a little closer to the end of the lake. We found a good spot and pulled over. The views were from the northwest corner of the lake looking back across to the mountains on the other side. The sun was a little higher now so the light was hitting the mountains pretty well. We stayed here for at least 30 minutes. Andy did a time lapse video and I spent a while taking pictures of myself from various spots.
We wanted a spot looking straight back. We found a road that led down to the end of the shores of the end of the lake. We pulled off onto a gravel road that led down to the lake shore. The area was covered in large boulders and a muddy coast. A small stream ran from the mountain down to the lake and we had to jump across rocks to keep from getting wet. In the mud there were large tracks, they looked like they could be from a moose, but there are no moose in New Zealand. I don’t know what it could have been. They have a mountain goat known as a chamois, so maybe it could have been from that.
The views from this point were really good. I took a view more pictures of myself, but it was kind of tough. I left my bag in the car about 200 yards away, which is usually what I use to hold my camera level and still. I had to just rest it on the rocks, which were slippery and wet. They were also slanted. I had to use the strap on my camera to make it even. I ended up getting it to work though. Andy went back to the car before I was done. I had gone a little further than him, but didn’t want to walk back through the water and mud so I walked a little further to stay on the rocks. I still ended up having to walk across the water slightly.
We drove back up the gravel road and onto the main road again. As we turned the corner through a gap in the mountain road more mountains appeared across Lake Wanaka. The chain of mountains went on for as far as we could see. They lined the opposite coast of the lake. Most of them were mountains we had already seen from the Diamond Lake hike, but the views from this side of the mountains was spectacular.
We must have stopped at least 4 times on the side of the road. It was almost the same view each time, but Andy kept wanting to get pictures. I took a lot as well. Most of the cars just drove by and didn’t stop. That seems to be how most of the people are. I guess they think stopping one time or just looking at them through the windows is enough.
We hadn’t even gone 30 miles and it was already nearly 11 AM. We were nowhere near on schedule. We stopped one last time for pictures of Lake Wanaka. This time it was the last marked pull off, but it included a campground and picnic area. This angle was on the northeast side and was shooting back, rather than across the lake. We had to walk a short distance through the woods to the rocky beach to see the lake. The beach was mostly smaller rocks, but there were some larger ones as well plus some logs. We did a little gopro videos here since it looked cool.
There was a random tree on the edge of the water line that was growing sideways about half way up. It looked similar to a tree I had seen in Yosemite about 10 years ago. As we were leaving we both did a 360 degree photo sequence. We took pictures every few feet as we walked around it. I did mine with my camera and Andy used his gopro. Mine looked really good. You just scroll through the images really fast on the camera and it makes it look like the image is spinning in a circle.
We left around noon and we were finally done with the lakes. The road had been in the mountains, but now we were in a valley for of farms and sheep. We stopped a couple more times. These weren’t real stops, but just pulling off on the side of the road, usually on little gravel patches that led to people’s homes. Usually the farm homes have a fence a few yards passed the gravel turn off blocking the road up to their house.
The first stop was on the side of the road where we saw a farm house with mountains in the back. We wanted to get closer, but no roads seemed to lead in that direction. We stayed here for about 20 minutes taking pictures and videos. Down the road a few miles we pulled off again when we saw more mountains. Every mountain we had been seeing Andy kept calling it Mt. Aspiring. The tallest mountain in the area is Mt. Aspiring and we didn‘t know which one it was.
At this particular stop we ate one of the boiled eggs we each had a boiled egg we made. It was really good. I also ate a granola bar since we never had a real lunch. An Australian couple stopped at this picnic spot for pictures as well. We talked to them a little bit about where they were going and where they came from. They said the roads ahead were fine, just a little snowy, but chains weren’t required.
They had rented a campervan and said it was $50 NZD a day and to stay in campsites was usually around $25 NZD. I had been interested in the campers, but that was way more expensive than what we were paying. Although they did have a warm place to sleep every night. After about 10 minutes of talking we continued on our way.
We had to cross the Haast Pass and I wanted to get there before dark and the roads froze again from all the slush on the road. It was now around 2 PM and we hadn’t even gone 100 kilometers all day. The pass was only about 520 meters above sea level, not very high like you would see in Colorado or Montana, but because it gets lots of snowfall and is shaded by the trees it can be icy. It was a relatively flat and easy drive, but the area was very snowy.
I was imagining it being much different than it was. I wasn’t even sure we were at the pass itself. It just seemed like any other road we had been on. A few miles down the road we came to the first waterfall we wanted to see, Fantail Falls. The parking area for this falls was on the side of the road and covered in snow.
The trail was supposed to take 10 minutes roundtrip. It began by walking down a snowy path into the trees and across a small footbridge. The trail turns right and goes straight on a flat gravel trail for about 250 yards or so. The trail was clear mostly, but the trees and ground were snow covered. The trail seemingly ended at a bench looking out to the falls from a few hundred yards away.
There were steps leading down from here, but there was no real trail visible. It was just a snow covered rocky area. Somewhere under that mess was the trail I suppose. We didn’t want to go out there at first because our feet would get cold, but we put down my gopro and Andy put his on his head and we ran for it. As long as we avoided the rocks that were showing it was ok. If we stepped on one we could slip or trip.
I had to run back and get my gopro so it wouldn’t just keep filming. I went back out to the edge of the river where Andy was looking at the waterfall across the way. It wasn’t very big, but it looked neat, especially surrounded by the snow. We got some pictures and then ran back to the trail. The way back the rocks were more visible. Only one side of them had snow on them, and that was the side that we had come on originally. I stepped on a few and it was much harder to run. As we got to the trail I slipped running up the steps. Luckily I was able to put my hand down really quick so I didn’t bang my shin. That would have hurt. I jumped up and started running again. We ran a good portion of the trail back to the car.
As we were getting back in the car some people asked if the falls were neat. I said it was and they should go check it out since it was only a few minutes to walk to. Another car had stopped, but they didn’t go on the trail. They just drove off. Being snowy come people probably didn’t want to get wet or fall down.
We drove about 10 minutes down the road towards the next stop, Thundering Falls. Before we got there we crossed an old bridge overlooking a canyon below. The area was foggy and looked really cool. We pulled over on the side of the road and climbed down a little path to a trail below. There were huge boulders on the trail and in the water, which created a series of small waterfalls. We climbed around on the rocks a little bit and took pictures of the water and the bridge as everyone else just drove by again. Andy didn’t lock the car so we didn’t stay too long.
We ran back to the car and continued driving a few hundred yards to the waterfall. Thundering Falls wa the tallest and most popular of the three we came to see. The parking area was larger and there was no snow at all on the trail except maybe a few patches in the trees. The hike was about 10 minutes round trip, just like the last one. It was very flat and went through the forest. Just before the end there is a platform looking out to the falls, which then leads to a series of wooden stairs down to the river.
We got pictures and videos from the river. We also took pictures of each other. I did a few of myself too. It’s just more fun that way. It takes more shots to get it right, but when Andy is taking forever it gives me something to do. A lot of people were on this hike. Not a lot, but about 20 people caught up to us and passed us as we took pictures at the falls.
We hiked back to the car and decided to walk back up the road a little bit. When we pulled up a group of Japanese women were taking pictures looking back the other way and we wanted to know what they saw. We didn’t see anything worth getting a picture of there, so we just hiked down to the river to get a different view of the waterfall.
It wasn’t a real trail, it was just a bunch of large boulders that we had to walk across and around to get to where we wanted. This was obviously a rock slide area. Rock scrambling is fun, so we tend to do it whenever we see an opportunity. Some of the rocks were slippery, but we didn’t have any problems. We got some pictures and then went back to the car.
The next stop was Roaring Billy Falls. It was now about 4 PM and getting darker because the sun was going down behind the mountains. We were surrounded on all sides, plus the trees made it shady on the road too. The drive to the last falls took about 30 minutes.
The parking area was covered in snow. This was the longest trail, and it wasn’t very long either at just 30 minutes round trip. The start of the trail was covered in snow, but it quickly disappeared. We walked pretty quickly and ran for the end portion of the trail. It was getting dark so we wanted to hurry.
The falls themselves weren’t that impressive for something named Billy. They were a little higher up in the mountains, but looked similar to the Fantail Falls, even the trail was similar in terms of the type of trees and layout of the trail. It was mostly flat and was an easy hike.
Only one other group of people were on the trail. It was a guy and a girl. They got to the falls just as we were leaving. We spent about 15 minutes taking pictures and then ran back to the car. We did stop to take a picture of a tree with a hole at the bottom of it. Another hobbit house probably.
We got back to the parking lot and were ready to get to Haast. We drove for about 30 minutes and watched the sun go down over the sea in the distance. The mountains behind us were turning pink at the top so we stopped for a picture. The road was really windy and followed the river most of the way on the mountains edge. It was a neat drive even though it was getting pretty dark.
We got to the tiny town of Haast, 300 people, around 5:45 or a little before. We drove through the town in about 30 seconds looking for a campground. We read about a Wilderness Accommodation in the Lonely Planet Guidebook we had and it said it had nice rooms and a friendly staff. The rooms sounded good and the price was cheap. We had been sleeping in a tent for about 10 days since our last hostel so we decided we earned a good night’s sleep in a warm bed.
We went inside and had to wonder through some halls passed the computer kiosk and rooms to find the reception in the kitchen and dining area. We rang the bell and on old man came out. We asked for the cheapest room, it was $28 NZD per person. More than we had thought it would be. There wasn’t much else in town that seemed available or open, most the stores were closed or closing soon.
We went ahead and took the dorm room, which included two bunk beds. We were the only ones staying in the room. As the guy was checking us in and I asked questions he kept just saying “No Worries” over and over. It was funny. I hadn’t taken a shower in 4 days and I needed to shave. I got my things together in my dry bag to take to the bathroom. Andy stayed in the room to transfer some memory cards.
I went to the closest bathroom down the hall. It had a door, and then inside a sink, then two small rooms inside. One was a toilet and one was a shower. I closed the main door because I wasn’t sure how it worked. Apparently I didn’t need to do that so other people could go to the bathroom while I was in the shower.
The shower felt really good. I must have stayed in there for 30 minutes. The only reason I think that’s how long it was is because the light in the shower was on a timer. It had to be pushed every few minutes or it would go off and leave you in the dark. I found this out first hand. I didn’t know the lights were on a timer like that at first until it went pitch black in the shower. I thought someone had switched the light switch in the main bathroom and it turned mine off. I got of the shower and was able to feel the wall until I turned the lights back on.
I got all of my things soaked that were on the ground. My shoes, toiletries, and dirty clothes. The things I needed were hanging up. I had to push the light switch at least 6 times. It was getting old. That was my one complaint about the hostel.
After my shower I went back to the room. Andy was sitting on his bed reading and still transferring cards. His last card was almost finished. I noticed a bag on the top bunk that wasn’t ours. He told me we had company. Two guys had come in and would be staying in our room. I didn’t mind, but it meant I would have to be quiet in the morning when I left. We planned to leave really early so we would have time to do everything we wanted in Fox Glacier. We also thought the drive would take awhile.
Andy went to the shower next and I typed things in my journal and fixed my bed. I was thinking about paying for the internet in order to transfer some money into my account to pay off my credit card bill. I never did get online though, it was too expensive.
Andy took a quick shower. We went and put our things back in the car. I only kept out the things I would need so I wouldn’t have lots of things to pack in the morning in the dark. We got the things we wanted to have for dinner and went to the kitchen.
We made spaghetti, cooked spinach, a salad, cookies, and chocolate. As we were making the food there were a few New Zealanders talking to the old man that worked or owned the hostel. They were discussing the economy of New Zealand and how expensive everything was and how it was hard for them to even survive. They were also talking about how foreigners come to their country and act entitled. Apparently if you get hurt then the government provides free health care for visitors. The people didn’t seem to like that.
They discussed how China was propping up the rest of the world because the economies in the western countries were falling apart. They said that New Zealand would be broke in 10 years and China would rule the world by 2025. It seemed about right to me. They definitely weren’t very happy with the way things were going in New Zealand.
They eventually left and our food finished cooking. The meal was pretty filling and good. The TV was on while we ate, but I didn’t really pay attention to it. The guys staying in our room sat at the table across from ours and talked really loudly in a foreign language, probably an Eastern European language.
A Chinese couple came in and stood at the reception desk. They didn’t seem to have a clue. There was a sign that said ring the bell for help. We had to get their attention and tell them what to do. Maybe they won’t be taking over the world after all.
The Eastern European guys went outside to smoke and I was thinking they were going to smell up the room when they came in. We cleaned up our dishes and went back to the room. I continued typing in my journal. I also needed to get caught up on expenses. I hadn’t written anything down since the first week. Andy was keeping track so he told me everything and I typed it in. I stopped typing around 11 PM. I was tired so I was ready for bed. The guys came in the room pretty late. I heard them open the door and saw them come in, but I immediately fell back asleep.