Despite being an island nation with a endless coastline surrounding the country, New Zealand is not famous for its natural scenery on the coastline, but its unique feature lies in the interference of geological inland terrains. The routes from Franz Josef to Wanaka or from Wanaka down to Te Anau are probably the perfect showcases for this amazing character.
From the rugged coastline with silver waves running along the majestic glacier region – Franz Josef & Fox Glacier – and dense rain forests, through the spectacular Haast Pass, the natural scenery transforms into alpine hilly land with vast meadows and shrubs, blue lakes as immense as the sea and towering mountains. We passed by numerous flocks of sheep and cows leisurely gnawing on the green fields with the mighty backdrop of giant mountains. It seems that all the most typical natural landscapes of South island of New Zealand are shown on this route.
Wanaka town was charming on the side of immense & peaceful Wanaka Lake. Te Anau was quiet but glorious in a sunny day, while Milford Sound welcomed us with its typical drizzling rain and gloomy sky. Above all, the natural landscape of those three places exudes a unique serenity.
- Day 1 & 2: Christchurch city
- Day 3: Castle Hill, Arthur’s Pass (149km)
- Day 4: Greymouth and Punakaiki (140km)
- Day 5: Franz Josef glacier (217km)
Day 6: Wanaka (286km)
Day 7: Te Anau (240km)
Day 8: Milford Sound (118km)
- Day 9: Queentowns (288km)
- Day 10: Arrow town (20km) and neighborhood wineries
- Day 11: Glenorchy (46km)
- Day 12-13: Mount Cook (287km) and Tasman Glacier
- Day 14: Christchurch (307 km)
(* Distance is measured by google map)
On the way from Franz Josef glacier to Wanaka town, we visited Lake Matheson, located near the Fox glacier, dubbed the “Mirror Lake”, famous for the perfect reflection as a giant natural mirror of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman, as well as the deep green forest in its calm surface.
The trekking rail around Lake Matheson was a truly green path since it had been covered by countless ferns, wild flowers, diversified mosses and plants. Tall green tree ferns with huge leafy foliage seems to be the feature of New Zealand’s forests
Wanaka is a small and serene town. We enjoyed wandering on downtown streets where gift shops and cafes were next to each other, overlooking Lake Wanaka, as immense as the sea.
Lake Wanaka is one of New Zealand’s largest freshwater lakes with an area of more than 190 km2. The color of its water well reflected the color of the sky. Although we only stayed one night in this town, we tried to wake up early to run around the shore of Lake Wanaka. It was a very refreshing feeling since the weather in that morning was chilled and the scenery was quietly tranquil.
We really regretted for not spending more time in Wanaka. In such a quaint place, slow down the pace, leisurely wandering on the street or sitting relaxed, enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning, watching everyone passing by was happy enough.
Leaving the lovely town of Wanaka with a regret, we continued our journey to Te Anau, another small town located south of South island, New Zealand. It was a long day driving on winding mountain passes.
Crown Range road connecting Wanaka and Queenstown city is the highest mainland road in New Zealand, with an altitude of more than 1100m. Not only famous for its stunning view of vast mountainous land, this road is rated as one of the dangerous roads in New Zealand because of its hairpin heart-stopping bends and steep slopes. I still remember the extreme tension when driving through a super sharp turn of Crown Range in a pouring rain, when the vision was getting to almost zero, just driving by my gut feeling.
Crossing the Crown Range, we headed to the south in the rain, which was drizzling at that time. The scenery on the way looked gloomy because of the rain. The road was empty with few cars passing by, dotted from a distance with a few wooden houses at the foot of the mountain.
Te Anau town appeared gentlly on the bank of Lake Te Anau. It seems that every town in New Zealand has a lake named after that town. In a dull afternoon, the still surface of Te Anau lake looked somewhat solitary.
After a murky day, Te Anau became glorious in golden sunshine. We strolled around the lake bank under tall trees, enjoying the warm sun rays and bright scenery before heading to Milford Sound.
Milford Sound, dubbed “the wettest place on earth” with more rainy days than sunny days, welcomes us with its typical weather. The sky was gray and the drizzling rain continued for two consecutive days, making the surroundings become dull, almost black and white, though creating a different beauty, like the beauty of watercolor paintings.
The road to Milford Sound is the most unique road I’ve ever known. For the first time, we saw countless waterfalls, big and small cascading from the mountain cliffs on both sides of the road. The rain made the road more slippery and also amplified the already powerful waterfalls, as well as created hundreds of temporary flows through ravines. We were constantly admiring the stunning scenery that Mother Nature had given to this place.
Despite the rain, we continued our schedule, taking a sightseeing boat cruise deep inside Milford Sound. The deeper we went inside, the more overwhelmed we were by the uniqueness of this sea. The number of waterfalls I saw that day was really a record. The power of water pouring down from a high mountain looked strong and intense. The heavy rain made the scene more gloomy.
In that afternoon when there was suddenly bright and clear for a short while, we strolled around Mirror Lake on Milford Road. The reflection of the opposite Earl mountain and the trees along the lake on the dark blue water was like a vivid natural picture, very contrast with the black & white scenery a few hours before.
Below is a video clip capturing our peaceful experience in those days.
Traveled in Feb, 2016