Queenstown to Wanaka Road Trip

queenstown road

From the ice-blue waters of Lake Wanaka to the grandeur of the Haast Pass, SH6 cuts a winding route through dense forest in Mt Aspiring National Park, before continuing up the spectacular West Coast of the South Island. This epic journey provides the traveller with fresh inspiration at every turn. It’s here that towering rainforests, rugged mountains, icy glaciers, and rivers meet a moody, ever-changing shore, the friendly West Coaster, a hardy, creative type of New Zealander, makes his home. We take four days to explore the route from Queenstown to Greymouth. We kick start our journey with a horse trek in the Cardrona Valley, then Bob takes an impromptu Spitfire flight and I tease my brain at Puzzling World in Wanaka. Together we join a thrilling jet boat ride on the Waiatoto River, admire Mt Cook’s sunset reflection in Lake Matheson, do a challenging hike on Franz Josef glacier, spy on nesting herons, dine on fresh whitebait and a unique possum stew, and in the manner of true West Coasters, wash it all down with a jug of Monteiths!

It’s 10.30 am in the Cardrona Valley and ahead of me Bob teeters precariously atop an extremely well-behaved Appaloosa which picks its way sedately along a trail to the top of a ridge. The views of the dry, rounded, tussock-filled landscape below are incredible.

“This isn’t so bad,” he says, in reference to the ride. “I’m glad I gave it a go!”

Bob left his comfort zone to join me on this ride with Backcountry Saddle Expeditions but somehow I think it was the well-timed comments of our guide, Debbie Thompson, about western saddles and cowboys that really piqued his interest. Debbie, an intriguing southern belle who appears in Kevyn Male’s book, Grassroots Kiwi, amuses us on the descent with her lively banter. Apparently she and her husband (none other than the Speights billboard man!) bought the business when he grew tired of dragging home deer he’d shot in the bush. A horse was required and when they went to find a suitable steed, they ended up with several Appaloosas. “I’ve been riding ever since,” says Debbie as we depart, well satisfied with our ride.

After enjoying lunch overlooking Lake Wanaka, we check into our accommodation, then Bob and I go our separate ways. He drives to the Wanaka Transport and Toy Museum where there’s an interesting collection of rare and unusual aircraft, trucks, motorcycles, fire engines, tractors and military vehicles. It’s also the site of the Southern Hemisphere’s best regarded vintage air-show, Warbirds over Wanaka, held bi-annually over Easter.

Meanwhile I venture to Puzzling World to put my grey matter to the test with its array of crazy architecture and brain teasers. Then, once I’ve had my fill, I walk back into town and relax at our accommodation by the lake.

Bob returns in the late afternoon and over dinner at the Tuatara Pizza Company he’s still buzzing. In true Bob-fashion he struck a rapport with an enthusiast who took him for a ride in his Spitfire. “It was amazing, you should have seen it go!”