On to the Deep South for more mountains, stunning views, sunshine and sandflies! Our journey will take us from lakes to fiords via winding roads and hundreds of camper vans; in between we will continue our walks and try to get away from the crowds – it is Chinese New Year in addition to normal holidays so the major hubs of Arrowtown and Queenstown are packed and best avoided at peak times.
But first the long drive to Makarora via the Haast Pass and the longest single track bridge in New Zealand. The pass was cut off for several weeks recently, and we see evidence of the landslides that have washed away the roads, with single track traffic lights punctuating our journey – mostly staffed by jolly ladies. En route we stop off for a walk down a shady path (it is hot) among the tree ferns to try and find the Fiordland crested penguins which come ashore to moult – but no luck, here or anywhere else in fact. It’s great to munch a sandwich on a deserted beach and escape the manic camper vans impeding our progress! Apart from the sandflies which are beginning to become very irritating.
More views over the glaciated valley towards Queenstown – we watch a plane landing, navigating its way through the high mountains. The road is lined with lupins of all shades – just like in Chile – and the view points have huge signs warning travellers of the ‘invasive’ species ranging from pines to possums, rats, stoats and mice, all of which have to be killed. Here as elsewhere we see swathes of hillside where pines have been poisoned and felled to encourage New Zealand indigenous woodland to flourish again.
The trip exceeds our expectations, from the delicious fresh crayfish for lunch to the stunning views which we have (almost) all to ourselves, certainly once the day boat has gone. We slip silently around the various ‘arms’ of the fiord – the weather is high cloud but bright – finding seals, a white-headed albatross, a pod of 70 playful dolphins including a new-born, fishing and checking the lobster pots.
From here we retrace our steps to Arrowtown and chance our luck at the renowned Amisfield winery where we are lucky to get a table for a late lunch. It’s a surprise menu of the highest quality. The wines aren’t bad either!
Dunedin – Edinburgh in Gaelic – is rather a pleasant surprise. We are staying in St Clair in Majestic Mansions, an 1880s block built to accommodate the recently-rich (from mining and its related trade activities ). The Esplanade is rather like Budleigh Salterton in its grandiose seaside resort style, plus a saltwater pool and a gorgeous beach. The main city has a collection of fine old buildings and a great Museum chronicling the settlement of Otago by the Wee Free renegades led by William Cargill, and a strange Chinese garden to commemorate the Chinese community. It is a dead as a dodo as the students are all on holiday.
In no special order my favourites places to stay have been (mix of facilities and views)
Split Apple Beaches & Bays, Marahau/Kaiteriteri (Abel Tasman)