I’m just back from a rather magical few days in the South Island of New Zealand, a trip which took in two wine events (the Hanmer Southern Pinot workshop and Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration), and some sightseeing. We drove down to Hanmer on the newly re-opened SH1, which looks completely different to how it used to before the earthquake damage, but which is still a fine drive.
Hanmer itself is a modestly pretty alpine village with the main draw being the thermal springs. This is a swimming pool complex with a couple of water slides and also some genuine hot springs, and it’s sort of cool if it’s not too crowded. We drove from Hanmer down to Tekapo to stay the night. Lake Tekapu is quite famous, and has a well-known landmark: the Church of the Good Shepherd.
It’s pretty, but also very touristy round here, and one night is probably enough. The drive from Hanmer to Tekapo via Christchurch is thoroughly boring, and gives no indication of the great South Island scenery that we were later to experience.
The next day took us to Te Anau, where we were to stay two nights. On the way, we drove through Queenstown, with the dramatic Central Otago scenery and the vivid blue rivers, and then passed Lake Pukaki and Lake Manapouri, both of which are lovely.
Te Anau is quite a nice base, and it’s the best place to stay for tackling the drive to Milford Sound, where you can’t stay. From here it’s just over 2 hours to Milford, as opposed to an almost 5 hour schlep from Queenstown. The big attraction at Te Anau is the glowworm caves. These are something completely different, and the visit deep inside the caves is quite a memorable one.
Milford Sound lived up to its expectations. The drive itself is spectacular, and includes the remarkable Homer Tunnel. This 1.2 km tunnel is at a gradient and goes through solid rock. It took 19 years to complete and opened in 1954: before then, none of the fiords were accessible by road. As you leave the tunnel and enter the Cleddau Valley, it’s like entering a new world. Milford is different. It’s wild, rugged and primeval. There are several companies offering boat tours, and ours was really good. I imagine they are all really good. You just need to get out into the sound and then stare, and soak it all in.
Then we left to attend the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration in Queenstown. Perhaps my favourite picture from that event is below: Ned Goodwin, Francis Hutt and I stripped off and jumped in Lake Wakitapo on a very hot Saturday afternoon. Theo Coles took the picture. It was just perfect: crystal clear and cool but not freezing.
Then it was time to head back to Blenheim. We chose to go via the West Coast, over the Haast Pass, and it was a great choice, even though it meant driving for 14 hours with a few photo (and one swim) stops. Heading from Queenstown to Wanaka, we then drove along the side of beautiful Lake Hāwea.
After a while, at ‘the neck’, we joined Lake Wanaka. Time to stop for some more amazing vistas.
Then, we headed through to Makaroa, where we stopped for the Blue Pools.
These are truly beautiful. I swam, but it was the coldest water I’ve ever swum in, so I was out pretty quickly.
From here, we headed over the Haast Pass, which is also beautiful, hitting the west coast. It was a nice day (not so common in the west coast), and we passed the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers (we didn’t have time to stop, but these would have been fairly epic, I reckon), before proceeding up to Hokitika, and then bearing inland at Greymouth.
As we got to the end of the Wairau Valley, it was dark. Vines begin here some 50 km from Blenheim, and then shortly become continuous. The valley has expanded quite a bit. We got home just before 11 pm, after a long day’s driving on single carriageway, windy roads. It was a stunning trip.