We left Franz Josef early (we found out at some point on our journey that of the three big bus tour companies, ours always left earliest — boo to that!) for the long-ish drive to Wanaka. Along the way, we stopped many, many, many places because, as all the guides seem to agree, the South Island is just chock full of scenic stuff! (Well, their wording is that the South Island is better, and has all the best views. But let’s not be divisive here.)
The first stop was for coffee (and breakfast if you don’t compulsively make sure you have yoghourt like some people, ahem) at Mirror Lake. I was actually grateful for the early-morningness of it because it made for a cool walk through the woods around the perimeter of the lake and, once we got to the mini-pier, mist! Further along, about the halfway point around, we got a beautiful reflection of the Alps (yes, you read that right) in the lake.
Don’t believe me about the mountains? Check out their (southern) Alpine splendour!
After that, we hopped back on and headed back out to the coast. We stopped briefly at Knight’s Point to be wowed (again) by the ocean’s blueness — why doesn’t it look like that back home?? — before heading a little further south to Ship Creek. (And yes, you guessed it. We didn’t have paddles.)
Ship Creek was very interesting because although the shore the sea was crashing on was pebbly (which I’d come to consider normal for the south island), the tiny creek just steps inland had sandy “shores”. A couple of us from the bus decided to skip rocks and I was very surprised to find that not only could I manage 3 hops, but I could do it several times! I will say that the rocks littered about the creek’s edge were very good for skipping.
After that, we said farewell to the coast again (sniff) to head inland a little, into denser forest where we stopped for a quick hike down to Thunder Creek Falls.
There was nothing very special about these per se (New Zealand has a LOT of waterfalls; I can definitely see where the inspiration for Avatar’s floating falls came from) but it is really nice to get so close to them! The Boy found a little “nest” of smooth white rocks right by the river — just like eggs! — and Nick, our bus driver and fabulous tour guide informed everyone that if we’d brought our water bottles (which none of us had; we’d all left them on the bus, a 15 minute walk up from the falls) the river was a great source of clean, tasty water.
Either he was very thirsty, or concerned that we wouldn’t take him at his word. That pretty much sums up Nick for you. Of the four guides we had with the bus company, he was by far the best. This was possibly owing to the fact that we had him for his last four or five days with the company, so he was perpetually in a good mood, and his ebullient nature sort of overflowed into everything. I don’t think that was the only thing though; despite being relentlessly cheery and up for a party, he was also very informative and never stopped showering us with interesting tidbits about the country.
Anyhow, after the falls, we headed a little further south again and stopped at the Blue Pools. The pools were fun in that they had another 10 or 15 minute walk through rain forest, but the walk also included a couple suspended bridges. I can’t say for certain if it was because of his near-end-of-job jubilation, or if it was just him but Nick, in blatant disregard for the 20 person maximum on the bridge, ran onto every bridge and started jumping in the middle, leaving both his tourists along with any hapless ones that chanced to be around either scrambling for the end to hop off, or clutching at the rails. Ah, Nick.
The Blue Pools were very pretty, if not very blue. At least, not in comparison to the ocean. It was another rocky river bed and after clambering down from the bridges I discovered that passing guests had decided to build a tonne of little cairns! The Boy decided to add his contribution by building an inukshuk.
After that was a drive even further inland (still hilly! still mountainous!) to a network of lakes, partially man-made, which mystified The Boy and I a little. New Zealand has a very big focus on “green-ness” and that’s awesome, but we do sort of wonder how much of it stems from a desire to correct historical events. Many of the small islands are designated bird sanctuaries, as the rodent and cat/dog populations (which had been artificially introduced anyway, way back in the discovery days) can be removed, so the birds don’t need to worry about those predators. Most of the “native forest” is actually second growth, as the land was cleared by both Maori and pakeha settlers to make arable farmland, and a lot of the (very beautiful!) lakes we idled our time on the shores of were in fact man made by damming up rivers. I get that they probably wouldn’t do it again now, but, it’s just weird to hear about all the historic “un-green” actions put alongside the country’s huge emphasis on preserving their ecology today.
Anyway, Lake Hawea! Very pretty, although I admit freely that by this point we were a little scenic-ed out.
Worse still, it seems that we missed the afternoon lamb feeding! Boo! Oh well. Happily I have the good fortune of knowing a sheep farmer back home! After a quick break there, we hopped back on the bus to finally get off in… Switzerland!
…just kidding. Southern Alps again. You know. This is Lake Wanaka in, well, Wanaka! At long last we arrived, and just in time! After a quick dinner, and some exploring of the little town, we set off with Nick to Cinema Paradiso, a theatre which boasts the following qualities:
- It seems to show whatever the hell it wants on its one screen, four times per day (yay indie cinemas!)
- Rather than theatre seating, there are a collection of couches in the viewing room, as well as a car (!!!) to sit in.
- The cafe attached to the cinema will make you food (and drinks — including craft beer brewed in Wanaka!) and bring them into you while watching, should you desire, and
- Every showing, a fresh batch of cookies is baked so that they are fresh from the oven during the intermission, along with
- Home made ice cream.
People, if I win the lottery, remind me of this place, because I’d open one here. Movies, homemade ice cream and fresh cookies? It’s like everything I love all together!!
I am aggrieved that I couldn’t take a decent picture of the seating, though I tried.
Anyway, so we watched Fright Night (the remake) and… it was entertaining. No time for a full review, but I’d give it about 6 out of 9. Probably only 5 if I hadn’t been in such good company. Colin Farrell is fantastic as the charismatic (but hungry) vampire and everyone else just rolls with the ridiculous. It doesn’t need to be seen on the big screen, but it does require darkness and jokey company. Good, toothsome fun.
Apologies for the two-week drought in posts. Partially it was due to not being able to find a wireless connection fast enough to handle picture uploads (I’m not making that up) and partially I got kind of unmotivated on the “dealing with pictures” front. Sorry!
At this point, however, we’re in Auckland, about 20 hours prior to hopping on the plane home. I’m hoping to get the pictures organized enough to upload once we land in Vancouver, but we’ll see how that goes! In the meantime, if you haven’t guessed my final yarn tally, do it fast!