Driving around the South Island of New Zealand
14.01.2014 - 16.01.2014 57 °F
This portion of the trip, which seemed so easy to plan back in the spring of 2013, is definitely beginning to take a toll on the family! (although we are trying to stop at fun places along the way like "Puzzle World" in Wanake)
In order to check out the three main attractions of the South Island of NZ, (Queenstown, Franz Josef, and Able Tasman National Park) we needed to do some serious driving in between stops. And so with Queenstown we started a pattern of having a major driving day (6-8 hours!!!) and then getting to our next destination for a day of rest/exploration, before packing up and driving again. This can be tough on the kids, who are all missing home in some way.
The benefit to these monster drives, however, is the ability to really take in some of the most incredible scenery we have seen anywhere, and in this respect the drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef did not disappoint. Here, a 75 foot waterfall cascading within a couple hundred yards of the main highway is not an attraction at all, and hardly draws a glance from most drivers! We followed along multiple lakes and rivers, crossing over gorges that dropped hundreds of feet, on the way to the West Coast of NZ. Despite the length, this drive was a highlight in itself!
Franz Josef was a small town that seemed to be built on the fact that a giant glacier was advancing through the Southern Alps towards the sea. We stayed at a cool place called the Rainforest Café in a “tree hut”- basically surrounded 360 by rain forest. On the night of our arrival, we joined about 60 “backpackers”- basically 20 year olds hiking through NZ- for Pizza Fest, where for $17.50 you can get all the pizza you can eat. Our kids where in heaven (so was Lisa, who quickly struck up a conversation with a girl who went to Youth’s Benefit elementary school, in Fallston!!!)
The next day we really caught a break from the weather, it was sunny and warm so we did something planned since the beginning of the trip- took a helicopter ride up to the top of the glacier! It was amazing to learn about the glacier, to see it up close, and to actually land on top where Max promptly fell down and started doing snow angels. No one in the family had ever been on a helicopter, I don’t think we will ever forget this…
Back down at Franz Josef, we ate lunch and then jumped into a 2 hour guided Quad Bike tour where we snaked our way through the rain forest and down to (and across!) the Franz Josef River caused by the glacier. The kids really enjoyed the Quad bikes although they complained that the guide (they had to be passengers behind Lisa, myself and the guide) went way too slow!
We ended the day in the Rain Forest hottub and Lisa and I were able to feed the kids leftovers and go out to dinner at “Monsoon,” the onsite restaurant. It was an incredible day but our biggest drive, 8 hours to Able Tasman, was looming when we went to bed…