Despite N fighting a nagging cold (manflu perchance?), we headed off from Queenstown a few days before we were scheduled to fly home so I could see New Zealand’s famed west coast (including the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, cleverly reference in Karen Russell’s book of short stories). From Queenstown, we headed northwest-ish through the Crown Range for a quick coffee in the hippie town of Wanaka, and then contoured past Lake Hawea, a long lake formed by (like so many other lakes here) glacial activity. The road took us over the Haast Pass, a surprisingly low elevation (2,400 feet approximately) pass. The ‘highway’ (two lanes is the most you’ll find here) goes through Mt. Aspiring National Park, and there are a ton of short to mid-length hikes accessible from the road. Our first stop was to the Blue Pools, a short walk to some creatively named pools.
After such a short mellow hike, we figured the new trail to the top of Haast Pass would be a nice complement, not realizing how short it was. Trails in NZ are not marked by mileage (or kilometrage as the case would be) but time, which is frustratingly inaccurate, as we inevitably did the walks and hikes in half the time. The Haast Pass walk was no exception, even with the continuous steep uphill climb. It only took 15 minutes to reach the ‘top’, which was not a summit per se, just a plateau that only provided us a peek at Mt. Brewster and its glacier.
The Haast Pass Highway ends up on the West Coast, by the Tasman Sea. This side of the island has a decidedly different feel, more like Alaska meets Hawaii, where tropical greenery abuts glaciers. A seeming contradiction, but it works. Because Mt. Cook and the other peaks of the Southern Alps rise up so steeply from the coast, it’s usually cloudy, even when it’s clear on the eastern side. Thus we only got glimpses of the 3000 meter peaks that rise up above the glaciers.
But I did get to see both the Fox and Franz Josef, which were equally amazing, if not a tad touristy. In the town of Fox, where we stayed the night, we noticed that there were an awful lot of couples walking around. No families and no real groups of friends (bar the one group behind us at dinner with the loud American girl telling her mates that she’s originally from Placerville).
The Haast highway on the west coast is slow going, as it’s incredibly windy and you’re either going up or down. I drove a stretch of this, and was thankful for the automatic transmission, as it would have been a lot more interesting without it. Our little orange spaceship did quite well, though its garish orange wasn’t the brightest camper van out there (that would be this little number). Hard to believe, no?