Today dawned overcast with very low cloud. Funnily enough, though, we could see the snow-covered peaks poking up through the clouds as we left Franz Joseph. Our drive to Haast was clear but for the most part we had no way of knowing just what was beyond the roadside trees. There were only a couple of hints that the clouds hid anything more than hills – an avalanche warning sign in one spot and a window in the sky that opened to show a snowy peak, but closed again before we could pick up the camera. The scenery was of native bush, though, so much prettier than the radiate pine logging forests!
Between Paringa Beach and Haast the Rata trees were covered in buds – a teaser to indicate just how beautiful things must look in summer when the hillsides are covered with their crimson flowers. We did see a couple of early flowerers and pulled over to take some photos of one. I was looking out the window when we stopped and saw something move just over the edge of the cliff. Up popped a big brown head with a big hooked beak. A large bird looked around at us then hopped up and continued to watch us. It was a Kea – a native parrot that is often seen around the glaciers and is known to hang around the carparks looking for handouts and attacking cars. They are quite bold and not at all dangerous to people but actually known to kill sheep!! This one watched us for long enough for Stephen to get a few photos before it flew off to join its two mates feeding on Rata flowers. This was a bit of a thrill for us as we were disappointed not to see a Kea when we were at the glaciers.
We’re hoping that Stephen also got a photo of a Tui (a type of native honeyeater) that was also in the tree but they are fast movers so we’ll have to wait to see just what we end up with when we look at the photos.
The road (which has, until this stage, been running close to the coast) turns inland at Haast and goes through Haast Pass. Entering the pass is an ‘oh wow!’ moment. The cloud was still there but had moved higher so we could see that we were surrounded by spectacular mountains, many with snow-capped peaks. What a beautiful sight. We passed a lot of waterfalls as we travelled through this steep-sided, bush-covered pass.
After Makaroa, where we stopped for lunch, beautiful Lake Wanaka appeared on our right. Even though it was quite windy the lake still looked stunning surrounded by mountains. We followed the lake for a while and then moved away from it to have its twin, Lake Hawea on our left; once again windswept, but equally stunning with its mountainous backdrop. These mountainsides are bare and are probably snow-covered practically to the waterline in winter. The town of Wanaka is just beyond the southern end of Lake Hawea and sits on the southern end of Lake Wanaka. It’s where we’re spending the night tonight.