Wanaka Bakpakas

Overview

Population: 7,850

Distance Travelled: 462 km

Total Road Trip Distance: 1130 km

14th – 15th Nov

Our drive this day was rather ambitious. The rough plan was to stop at Hokitika to see the gorge, then to Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, the Blue Pools of Haast (couldn’t sound more Lord of the Rings-y if it tried) before arriving late into our hostel at Wanaka.

Our first stop at Hokitika gorge was jaw-dropping stuff. A bouncy rope bridge takes you across the gorge to a rocky viewing spot of the gorge. The water is a phenomenal shade of turquoise, coloured by glacial deposits called rock flour.

The place is a little out of the way, Hokitika is a pretty small place a fair way from any large pocketa of civilisation and the gorge is a 30 minute drive inland, so you probably wouldn’t stumble upon it by accident. Because of this it was pretty quiet and although we weren’t alone it was quiet enough for us to get some great calendar shots with this spectacular water.

Our route back to SH6 took us past a canope walk centre. As with everything in NZ it cost way too much money so we just had a drink in the cafe before heading onwards to Franz Josef, the first of two townships named after their nearby glaciers.

At this point the weather went from threatening to rain to threatening to float us out to sea. We stopped at a scenic lunch spot and stayed firmly in the car. It still looked pretty mind.

When we got to Franz Josef township the rain was not letting up and we abandoned the idea of walking the 20 minutes to see the glacier and instead paid our $38 each to see some kiwis at the West Coast Wildlife Centre.

There are five known species of NZ’s national flightless bird and they are all a bit useless really. They have no sternum so a small amount of pressure can kill them but the chicks are also delicious food for stoats (which were introduced by Europeans).

This centre specialises in rearing and releasing the rarest of the five, the Rowi. It was only identified as a species in 2003 so it’s pretty new to the scene. They are nocturnal so the room is kept dark in the day so their diurnal pattern is reversed and are awake for the tourists. This means you can barely see them and you have to be silent to not spook them. And there are definitely no photos. Despite all this they are fascinating creatures. They have big muscly stocking thighs attached to some stick-like calves and they poke around the undergrowth with their pointy beaks with nostrils at the end, a unique feature in the bird world apparently.

Once your eyes have adjusted and you listen for the rustling they were great to watch root around. And we couldn’t rightly leave NZ without seeing a kiwi! The highlight was when a door slammed shut in an office upstairs and one of the little blighters got super spooked, jumped up with legs flapping like a cartoon and ran in at least three different directions before hiding behind a box.

They supplemented the kiwi area with a short video about the centre’s aims from a documentary and a bit about the Franz Josef Glacier itself. We sped through this and went back to watch the kiwis a bit more.

Clearly wowed by the glacier exhibit

We set off from there to Fox Glacier, a second glacier township. We stopped at a what was signposted as a service station. It was a barely functioning shed with a toilet and no light. We didn’t stay long.

That rock on the floor is the lock

The weather was bad but better than it had been so we drove to a car park that supposedly had a short walk to a glacier viewpoint, but on the way up to the car park there was a viewpoint on the road. The fog was so thick you could see nothing and we therefore decided walking 20 minutes in the rain to see nothing would be a silly idea.

Through there is a glacier, apparently

On the way back towards the main road we spotted a hot spring, the size of a large puddle. I assume the rain water had cooled it down a tad but it was definitely almost warm, a mere 1-2 minute hot water top-up from good bathwater temperature.

Our final natural wonder before the hostel were the Blue Pools of Haast. It was getting late and our bellies were rumbling and we were in the middle of nowhere. Our options were to power on to the pools and hope the light held out and eat in Wanaka at around 9 or 10pm, or, as we ended up doing, eat in the one village for about 150km in either direction.

Haast really is an isolated place, with the pools being a fair distance beyond. We stopped at the last petrol station for god knows how many kilometres and went for tea at Antlers bar, a rather American hunting lodge that thankfully did good food and an odd kinda salad/pasta/chips buffet next to their pet turtle. The decor had a bit of a theme going on.

The middle option troubles my politically correct sensibilities

After dinner in Haast we realised just how Middle Earthy this bit of NZ sounds as we drove along Haast Pass, across a bridge over the Gates of Haast, past the Blue Pools of Haast and on to our hostel.

The next day we awoke to a beautiful view of Lake Wanaka. We ate our breakfast and went down to the shore to hire a kayak for w couple of hours. We snuck in just in time as a group of thirty were starting at 1pm so we were given an hour and a half for a discount rate.

We paddled our way to Ruby Island to the west of our little pocket of the lake. Lake Wanaka is pretty big and we explored the left ankle of it but it was pretty nonetheless. We disembarked on the island and had a wander.

Ruby Island is a five minute walk around so we didn’t spend long but, apart from one other couple who left as we arrived, we had it to ourselves.

We paddled our way back to the beach for 12:59 and went to grab some food at a nearby cafe before setting off down the road to Queenstown.

The hostel

Wanaka Bakpaka is the brilliantly named, top rated Wanaka hostel. We only managed to get ourselves two beds in a four bed shared room but we spent a grand total of twelve hours there so we really didn’t get to use any of it. The place was clean, had great views of the lake and the staff were very nice.

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