Wednesday, May 11, 2011

East of the Mountains

8:30 AM, Thursday, 12th May, 2011
Wanaka, Central Otago
South Island, New Zealand

We’ve spent the last few days in the amazingly beautiful town of Wanaka (WAH-nah-kah), where we both agree we’ve felt more comfortable and at home than almost anywhere else we’ve been so far. Packed to the brim with backpackers who are into outdoor pursuits, we fit right in, and the place is so quiet this time of year and the colors so insanely beautiful, that we’ve spent the majority of our time relaxing and just soaking up the views. 
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

It’s been mostly sunny and gorgeous here since we arrived, but our trip over from Franz Josef was another matter, foggy and/or pouring rain until we turned inland. We took off early, driving south along the West Coast, passing Fox Glacier, which we couldn’t see because the fog came right down the highway, and a made a stop at Lake Matheson, one of the South Island’s famous mirror lakes. We all hiked out around the lake, but unfortunately it wasn’t particularly still that day and due to the thick fog we didn’t get the amazing reflected views of Mt. Cook and the other peaks that were hidden behind it somewhere.
 With some other Magic-ers at Lake Matheson

Further south along the coast, we finally popped out into the sunshine (it lasted about 15 minutes), stopping at a viewpoint where we had these incredible views of the rugged coast:

We’ve both been loving traveling with Magic, it has far exceeded our expectations, we are learning loads, and having a great time with the hilarious drivers and our fellow riders. Having pre-booked, it’s the easiest thing in the world, and we’re already well settled into the routine of early-morning pick-ups, chucking our packs into the cargo bay under the bus, and settling in for the comical but educational commentary about the sights we’re seeing and the activities and accommodation available at our destination.
 Somewhere on the West Coast...

Note the bus mascot, a bungy-jumping Kiwi

At the very small town of Haast, we turned east and began the climb over Haast Pass, on one of the only roads that crosses through the Southern Alps. The terrain and views reached a new level of grandeur and we all got cricks in our necks, craning to see the tops of the amazingly steep and massive mountains rising straight up off the valley floor, their hillsides scattered with waterfalls and rock faces, their peaks dancing in and out of the mist, seemingly miles above the braided rivers below. The thing about the terrain and scenery here that really gets me is the steepness, and the sheer magnitude of the mountains, how suddenly they shoot upward and how much bulk they have; no gentle slopes here!

Into the Misty Mountains....

We made a photo stop at Thunder Creek Falls, a beautiful three tiered falls, of which this is only the bottom tier:

Crossing over Haast Pass, we passed out of Westland and entered the region of Otago (oh-TAHG-oh), and the scenery was immediately different when we started downhill. Land of huge wide glacial valleys and immense lakes, Otago is a much drier and much less forested region, and almost the instant we drove across the summit, we passed from under the massive cloud hovering over the west coast, and into clear blue skies and brilliantly bright sun.

At Lake Hawea, we stopped to let our jaws drop for awhile at the new dark blue-green color of the lake, the steep slopes on the far side, and the gorgeousness of the reflective lake on the gorgeous clear afternoon.

I still can't get over it. Look at those colors!

We pulled into Wanaka around 2:30 PM on Monday, and as Matt and I disembarked at the I-Site by the waterfront park, Matt spotted a group of folks around our age, slacklining in the park. We made a beeline for them, and Matt introduced himself and asked if he could have a turn- he’s been deprived of it for the last eight months :)

And I gaped at the views over Lake Wanaka, and snapped these photos in the afternoon sun:

Note the paraglider right in the center of the photo. Wanaka and Queenstown are packed to the gills with adventure activities of every type.

All in all, it boded well for our time in Wanaka!

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