Wanaka to Franz Josef Road Trip

blue pools haast pass

We leave Wanaka early and drive north on SH6, past the still, reflective waters of Lake Hawea and on through thick rainforest in the magnificent Haast Pass. True to form it’s raining – cats and dogs!

“Wow,” says Bob, opening the window then shutting it abruptly as he’s hit by a deluge, “this really is RAINforest.”

We continue on to Haast keeping the windows firmly closed and just as we ready ourselves to dive into the information centre the rain stops as abruptly as it started and out comes the sun. It’s perfect timing: just in time for a spin in a jet boat on the Waiatoto River. Before we board, our skilled jetboat guide Wayne passes out lifejackets and we climb aboard.

It’s a thrilling ride packed with spins and whitewater excitement, and en route Wayne names the mountains of the Haast and the Selbourne Ranges and provides a commentary on the local area. We pass several interesting sites including the alpine fault line where botanists have discovered trees growing slower than elsewhere, and a place where Haast kiwi, the only alpine species, are protected then released into the wild by the Department of Conservation.

Afterwards we eat filled rolls at Fantail Café then cross the Haast River Bridge, the longest single- lane bridge in NZ. Before the bridge was built travellers would set off explosives to attract the attention of a rower, who would fetch them across the river. Local legend tells of the rower being held hostage by those isolated in the north who were keen to catch up on world news!

And there’s no doubt that we’re in a remote corner of the world. Few other cars pass and those who do, wave. Bob gets into the spirit of things and pre-empts their greetings on the drive to Lake Moeraki, where we stop to stretch our legs then continue on through towering kahikatea forest to Fox Glacier township, nestled in the shadow of the glacier’s icy tongue. We call into the DOC centre where there are some extremely informative display boards describing the forming of the glaciers, and then, after checking into our accommodation, we hike the Chalet Lookout Walk crossing several streams to a viewpoint that gives magical views of the lower icefall.

On our return we debate whether to do a guided glacier hike on Fox or Franz Josef Glacier – in the end Franz Josef wins out. Back in the village, we pick up takeaways then drive to Lake Matheson for a picnic dinner. Here we admire perfect sunset views of the summit of Mt Cook and Fox Glacier mirrored in the waters of the lake before carefully making our way back through still forest in the dark, guided by our flashlights.