New Zealand – The South Island, Part 2

See yesterday’s post for the first half of our South Island adventures.

While we were hanging out in Fox Glacier, we noticed a sign that said Haast Pass was only open from 8:00AM – 8:00PM. Hasst Pass is the pass on the main (and only) road that crosses the mountains south of Fox Glacier. The nearest pass to the north is Arthur’s Pass, which is three hours the wrong way.

So we looked up the reason for the road closure.

Bad idea.

Terrible idea, actually.

It turns out, there was a massive landslide in September at Diana Falls that blocked the road. And the land was still unstable and they were still working on it in January. It’s worth clicking on the link to see the pictures. I’ll wait.

So not only did I see those awesome photos, I also read a story of a separate landslide around the same time that knocked a camper into the flooded river and killed the couple inside. They are still looking for the man’s body.

Alrighty. Off we went.

On the way out of town, we had a nice clear sky to see the mountain in the distance. The day before, the tops of the mountains were completely covered by clouds.

Mt Tasman... I think
Mt Tasman… I think

Luckily, the weather held and our drive was sunny, without even the threat of a downpour. And it was pretty. We stopped at several waterfalls along the way.

Waterfall on the way to Haast Pass.
Waterfall on the way to Haast Pass.

So I wasn’t too worried, all things considered, about landslides.

But then we got to the landslide site itself. And we were stopped by a construction worker and told to turn off our car, because it would be twenty minutes or so before we could go. We were also told in no uncertain terms that we should NOT get out of the car.

We were the first car in line, so we had a good view.

Diana Falls landslide
Diana Falls landslide

And as we were sitting there chatting, we noticed rocks flying down the mountain and across the road in front of us. Decently sized rocks, too, since we could see them from a distance.

Apparently it was all part of their plan to stabilize the site. Which all sounds fine, until you see how they climbed up the mountain:

Ladders up the landslide.
Ladders up the landslide.

Yes, that is a bunch of ladders lashed together. Dustin grabbed that shot as we drove by. Landslides are fairly common in New Zealand. I can only imagine that the guy who has to build these ladders of ladders must sigh every time it starts raining.

Our next stop was at the Blue Pools where New Zealand’s crystal-clear water was on full display.

Blue Pools
Blue Pools

It’s just as clear when standing beside it.

Blue Pools
Blue Pools

It was also freezing cold. This is a theme for pretty much all of the water on the south island. Most of it is glacier runoff and that makes for chilly rivers, streams, and lakes.

We stopped for lunch at Wanaka, a pretty little lakeside town, before continuing on to Queenstown.

Most of the things to do in Queenstown are adrenaline activities–bungee jumping, jet boating, canyoning, and skiing/snowboarding in the winter. If you’re rather boring, like me, you’ll find Queenstown a bit boring, too.

After we checked in to the hotel, Tracy decided she was going to climb Queenstown Hill. The hike has an elevation gain of around 500m, so Dustin and I decided to do something a little easier: we went to the botanical gardens.

While not the largest botanical gardens we’d seen, the Queenstown gardens were still quite nice. And we saw a baby duck, which really made it all worthwhile. :) The garden sits out on a peninsula in Lake Wakatipu and offers a nice view of the town:

Queenstown
Queenstown

We also sat for a while and watch several guys bowling. As in lawn bowling. I’d never seen it played before, and I’m not even sure I’d ever seen a bowling green before, either. It sort of reminded me of curling.

The next day, we took a bus tour to Milford Sound. It was raining off and on, with a few downpours. Normally this would ruin a tour day. But it turns out that the drive to Milford Sound is extremely beautiful in the rain.

Because it is rocky and mountainous, when it rains, the entire mountainside turns into thousands of waterfalls:

Near Milford Sound
Near Milford Sound

We took a boat tour out in the Sound. It was cold, rainy, and windy, but it was awesome.

Milford Sound
Milford Sound

We saw seals up close for the first time.

Milford Sound Seals
Milford Sound Seals

There were waterfalls everywhere, but this was one of the few permanent waterfalls that existed even when it wasn’t raining.

Milford Sound Waterfall
Milford Sound Waterfall

Just look how happy I am, even though I’m out in the cold and wet. It helped that my raincoat was actually waterproof. Tracy was not so lucky.

Milford Sound was a definite highlight for me, even in the rain. Or perhaps because of the rain.

In order to get to Milford Sound, you take a tunnel through the mountain. It’s one-way (mostly because two busses can’t pass each other in the tunnel) with stoplights at each end to manage traffic. The tunnel is a little over a kilometer long, and it is steep. Our driver said it had a one meter drop for every ten meters of forward distance.

It’s also quite dramatic from the Milford Sound side, looking like it plugs straight into the side of a cliff, which it does.

Milford Sound Tunnel
Milford Sound Tunnel

The next morning, Tracy decided to go canyoning. It’s an adrenaline activity that involves a wetsuit and jumping off of waterfalls. Dustin and I passed. So that meant we needed to move the car out of the hotel parking garage, because the garage required a room key to get to your car.

I’d driven a few times, but always with Tracy in the car. Dustin hadn’t driven and didn’t want to.

That left it up to me.

I carefully pulled the car out of the garage and parked on the street while Dustin ran in and checked us out. I carefully u-turned. And then, as I’m carefully turning onto the next road, silently repeating “driver to the center,” Dustin starts frantically pointing to the other side of the road, trying to get me to change sides.

He was pointing at the wrong side of the road. That is, the US side, not the NZ side.

So much for his help.

I made it downtown and parked without any further incidents.

After we met up with Tracy, we headed north towards Lake Tekapo. Along the way, we drove past Lake Pukaki, where we had to stop and take a picture because none of us could believe its color.

Lake Pukaki
Lake Pukaki. Not Photoshopped.

The water was turquoise. And not some middling, muddy turquoise, either. Bright, brilliant turquoise. According to Wikipedia, the color comes from glacier flour in the water. You can even see the color difference in the Google satellite image.

Lake Tekapo was another tiny town on a lake.

Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo

While we were there, we decided to take the opportunity to stay up late and stargaze.

And I do mean late.

We were planning to go out at 10:00PM, but it was still pretty light out. Tracy canceled because she wasn’t feeling well, so Dustin and I went out around 10:30PM and stayed until close to midnight. It was just getting really dark in the west by the time we decided to call it quits.

It was a mostly clear night and we had a good view of the Southern Cross, even though it was a nearly full moon. And the moon was bright! Maybe the brightest I’ve ever seen it. We did not get to see the southern aurora, which was disappointing, but not unexpected.

The next day we continued on to Christchurch. We visited the botanical gardens and downtown Christchurch, which was a ghost town.

The city was struck by an earthquake a few years ago and still has not recovered. They had one shopping area built out of shipping containers and that was about it. They didn’t even appear to be working on most of the buildings. Apparently most of the people and businesses that used to be there moved out to the suburbs.

On our last day before our flight to Sydney, we decided to drive out to Akaroa. It’s a picturesque French-influenced town on the ocean. It’s also home to a large number of Hector’s dolphins, a small dolphin found only in New Zealand.

However, the road to get there is extremely curvy, so by the time we arrived Dustin was feeling carsick and Tracy was just straight-up sick. We booked a boat tour for the afternoon and hoped for the best. Both Tracy and Dustin managed it, which was good, because it was awesome.

The view around the harbor was nice, but the best part was the number of dolphins we saw. Hector’s dolphins are fairly small, maybe four or five feet. And they are adorable.

Hector's Dolphins
Hector’s Dolphins

After Akaroa, we went back to the hotel and packed everything back into our suitcase to prepare for the trip to Sydney. Then we went to bed early because for the first time on the trip, we were going to have to be up before the sun. Way before.

Our south island route. This post covers D through J.

South Island Map
South Island Map

And tomorrow, the final post of the series–Sydney and Australia!

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