Driving NZ – Queenstown to Franz Josef

We started Day 6 of our New Zealand family vacation with a short walk to the car rental outlet in Queenstown. In exchange for a copy of Mr. GeoK’s international driving permit and an imprint of his credit card, they handed over the keys to a Toyota Highlander, which easily swallowed our 4 carry-on sized roller bags, 4 backpacks, 4 camera bags and a picnic lunch. And just like that, we were on our way to the very small town of Franz Josef.

Things didn’t go quite as smoothly the rest of the day. Why? Two main reasons:

  1. Despite my best pre-trip research efforts I didn’t come up with a properly ordered list of points of interest. So we drove right past about a third of the stops on my list, mostly because the signs are only about 350 meters ahead of the turn off and by then it was too late!
  2. The driving itself took a lot longer than we expected. That’s not to say we were completely unprepared; we started the day thinking it would take about 5 hours to travel the 350 km to Franz Josef (without any sightseeing stops). But between the winding roads with unbanked corners, the single lane bridges, the fantastic scenery that compelled us to make several unplanned photo stops as well as stopping at five of the spots on my list, it was a full 8 hours before we pulled up at our hotel in Franz Josef.

Crown Range Road / Cordrona Valley Road – In Alberta, range roads are generally unpaved, perfectly straight roads between prairie farms and ranches. The reality of the Crown Range Road couldn’t be more different. This crazy, zig-zag ribbon of pavement is part of one of two routes connecting Queenstown to Wanaka and is the highest sealed road in New Zealand. The views from the lookout were fabulous.

One of the most curvy sections of the Crown Range Road.
Parts of Frankton, Queenstown, the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu can been seen from the viewpoint at the top of the Crown Range Road.
There’s a brass information plaque (and a geocache) at the lookout.

We stopped a few more times before we reached Wanaka, to find a geocache, check out another viewpoint and when we spotted a fence covered in bras!

K leaps over off a fence style on his way to another lookout point.
The viewpoint offered a peek at the Cordrona Valley farmlands.
The eyes in our teenage boys’ heads just about popped out of their sockets when they spotted this bra-covered fence along the Cordrona Valley Road.

Lake Country – At Wanaka we joined Highway 6 (the other route from Queenstown). The beautiful turquoise waters of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka were the scenic highlights of this stretch of the drive.

Lake Hawea
All four of us piled out of the rental Highlander every time we stopped along Highway 6.

Haast Pass – The DOC (New Zealand Department of Conservation) has several downloadable brochures that describe more than two dozen short walks, half-day hikes and scenic stops along the Haast Pass. I estimate it would take a couple of days (at least) to see them all, so we selected just a few locations, starting with the short walk through silver beech to a swing bridge overlooking the Blue Pools at the mouth of Blue River.

Throughout our time in New Zealand, we challenged each other to try to make photographs that accurately convey the play of light and shadow in the forests.
View of the Blue Pools from the swing bridge
Wooden boardwalks and a suspension bridge make up part of the pathway from the parking lot to the Blue Pools.

Not much further along the Haast Pass we pulled into the very crowded parking lot at Fantail Falls.

Fantail Falls is one of those spots where you want to use a tripod, a neutral density filter and a little bit of time to be sure you come away with a photo that matches your vision.
What do you call a crowd of photographers? I’m not sure, but whatever the term, there was one at Fantail Falls. And this photograph also shows the amazing proliferation of stacked rocks that seem to be “the thing” to build at this stop.
Being Canadian, these Inuksuk wannabe rock piles captured my attention at Fantail Falls.
Mr. GeoK managed to get one longer-exposure photograph of the falls before several visitors waded across and then spent the next 10 or 15 minutes irritating all tourists waiting to take falls photographs without crazy tourists climbing on the rocks.

K stayed in the rental Highlander at our next stop – Thunder Creek Falls. In the throes of another growth spurt, K decided the chance to eat his picnic lunch was more appealing than the chance to photograph another waterfall. The rest of us made the short walk down to the 28 meter high waterfall. In addition to the expected conventional images, we came back a couple that were purely fun.

Thunder Creek Falls
Having a bit of fun at Thunder Creek Falls.

A short time later, it started raining, so we made only two more quick stops along the Haast Highway before reaching Franz Josef.

We stopped long enough at Knight’s Point to find a geocache. And we stopped a little longer at Bruce Bay, where we enjoyed a bit of time on the beach, watching the waves and enjoying the line of trees curving along the shoreline.

I took long enough to find a geocache while the guys went straight down to the beach at Bruce Bay.
K stood pretty still for a while, studying the sky and the pounding surf.
The trees come just about to the beach and then abruptly stop, leaving a stretch of sand between their roots and the salt water.
Another view of the trees along Bruce Bay.

Lack of time and too much rain kept us from stopping at a few spots we really wish we’d been able to visit, especially Haast Pass Lookout Trail, Lake Matheson and the Fox Glacier. What do you think? Are there any other “must see” places that we missed on our drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef?

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