Another Breathtaking Journey From Haast To Clutha Via Wanaka

We’ve almost got you up to date with our recent adventures now. To do so a little sooner, we’re amalgamating some journeys to prevent you from getting too many emails (those of you who are subscribed)!

Today’s post gives our view of journeys from the evening of Sunday 21st to the morning of Thursday 25th February 2021. We’ll take you through Haast Pass to a DoC campground at Pleasant Flat, a few free campgrounds at Luggate and Lake Dunstan, a brief stop at Lake Wanaka, a fun-filled overnight stay with fabulous friends in Bannockburn, and a quick shot at the Clutha Dam.

Haere Ra Te Wāhipounamou – Farewell To The West Coast

Described in the DoC leaflet (Haast: Walks and Activities in the Haast Area’) as “Known to Maori as Te Wāhipounamou (the place of greenstone), the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area incorporates Aoraki/Mount Cook, Westland Tai Poutini, Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks, covering 2.6 million ha.”

Most of this area of outstanding beauty is untouched and unreachable. If you could get there, you’d find many of the animals and plants that were found in the ancient continent of Gondwana (see our previous post about our visit to Zealandia near Wellington). Parts accessible to the public are truly breathtaking, as I’m sure you’ll agree when you look at the images. Mine are okay – Barry’s are, as usual, superb in his slideshow at the end.

We experienced yet another spectacular journey through Haast Pass. After a short walk to Thunder Creek Falls, we backtracked and stayed at the Pleasant Flat DoC campground ($16 for us both for the night), where we were astounded by views of Mount Hooker and its Glacier. Worth every cent for a vista like that.

This journey took us along the outskirts of Mount Aspiring National Park. We didn’t get close enough to see Mount Aspiring though – maybe one day! First thing (for us!) the following day we walked to nearby Fantail Falls. Another easy short walk to attractive fan-shaped falls. We loved the variety of rocks and stones all along the river – and the patterns and towers visitors had assembled from them.

The ice-cold water was crystal clear. Although it looked enticing, I easily stopped myself from wading in. Unlike a young American couple, we met further along the road at the Blue Pools. Oh, my goodness! Wait till you see them …

I’d read about the historic Bridle Walk in my NZ driving tours book, which was our next stopping place. I was tempted to do the walk, whilst Barry continued driving, so I could see what I could see at the Lookout. Thank goodness I didn’t, as when we continued along the road there were roadworks and he wouldn’t have been able to stop for miles to scoop me up! Phew. Close call.

I’ve become fascinated by NZ fungi you may have noticed. A large one I’ve noticed (see below) appears frequently on the side of trees.

They are one of the most numerous groups of organisms in New Zealand, and globally. There are an estimated 1.5 million species of fungi worldwide, and an expected 22,000 species in New Zealand. To date, approximately 7,500 species have been recorded in New Zealand, accounting for about a third of our total fungal biota.”

Blimey! 22,000 species. I’ve got a way to go! Autumnal colours are starting to appear here too – how can it be autumn already?

A new sight on the Bridle Walk was this huge Spider below. Huge leg-length-wise anyway. What on Earth is it? I’ve searched and searched but can’t find anything online looking remotely like this. Does anyone out there recognise it? There seemed to be ‘nippers’ at the end of a long slim body. With long spindly legs. Most bizarre.

So here’s another fascinating fact I stumbled across when attempting to name this one. There are 1,134 ‘described spider species’ in New Zealand. Who knew that? I’m incredulous. Few are poisonous (some have hitched a ride across ‘the ditch’ it seems!):

“Very few New Zealand spiders have bites that can cause significant injury to humans, and of these, only one – the katipō – is endemic. Katipō bites have been known to cause systemic effects, such as hypertension, seizure, or coma, though no deaths as a result of katipō bites have been recorded for over 200 years. Its more dangerous close relative, the venomous Australian redback spider, has established a foothold in some parts of New Zealand, notably in Taranaki and Central Otago.”

I never fail to be intrigued by New Zealand and its flora, fauna and wildlife.

Haast Blue Pools

Moving swiftly along, we parked up at the well-maintained car park for the Blue Pools. Oh, my goodness. They were as spectacular and ‘otherworldly’ as the Hokitika Gorge. The day we visited, Monday 22nd February, the car park was less than half full. I can imagine when New Zealand is teeming with tourists, it could be a different story.

Of the many people on the walk with us, we met the German couple Barry had helped when they broke down at the Arthur’s Pass Viaduct Lookout and the Nelson ‘bus family’ – Jennie, Millie, Armani and Craig (I think! Please if you’re reading tell me if I’ve got your names incorrect). Barry discovered that the lovely German’s had managed to get away that evening after following his advice. Awesome. And the ‘bus family’, as named them after bumping into them frequently as we wandered the West Coast, are on a one-year trip of a lifetime home-schooling as they travel. Absolutely brilliant. What brave and adventurous people. They indescribably inspired me. The German man and one of the bus family girls had swum in the Blue Pools, they informed us.

There were a few more swingbridges on the track, but totally manageable – so long as you don’t allow too many people on at once! The endangered forest songster Mohua, or yellowhead bird, we finally saw last week on Stewart Island but didn’t spot here, sadly.

While we dallied in amazement at the main swingbridge, we watched a few folks dipping their toes into the ice-cold clear water. I took off my walking boots and socks and paddled – briefly before my feet went numb and painful. It reminded me of holidays in South Shields as a child – the water there was so flipping cold we didn’t venture further than our calves!

A young couple nearby looked keen to experience the water. One of them walked casually back up to the swingbridge, hauled himself over carefully, and jumped in. I exclaimed to the young woman, “I hope it’s deep enough“, to which she responded, “Yes, it definitely is.” So I was reassured that he’d checked it out before jumping. Tragically, New Zealand has a frighteningly high rate of drowning deaths – many from rivers and lakes. Not long after the jump, the beautiful young woman stripped down to her white swimsuit (much to Barry’s delight!) and dived into the water after walking along the rocks. By this time, we were both back up on the swingbridge, so Barry captured her bravery. Check out his amazing photos in the slideshow at the end of this post.

On the walk back to the car park, we got chatting with the couple. It turned out that they were from America’s Cup American team. ‘American Magic’ left the race tragically on 30th January:

“American Magic showed impressive poise on Day 3 of the event, and was leading Luna Rossa in strong winds by several hundred meters when, in the span of a few seconds, American Magic’s sleek blue AC75 bore away onto the final leg, lost control in a gust, launched into the air, crashed down hard, lost a sizable section of her forward port-side hull, and started to rapidly sink.”

Following their departure, many of the team could take some time out and see New Zealand. Sean and Laura had just a few days left of their tiki-tour before heading back ‘home’. They told us there were around 150 people in total in their team – and we’ve now met three of them! John, a winch engineer, was on our Air New Zealand flight in August. If you’re reading, it was amazing to meet you all. So sorry you had such a short race! However, good luck to New Zealand, who, at this point, are still in with a chance, I believe …


As we continued travelling south-east, the vista noticeably changed to barren from the West Coast’s luscious green. The grass was yellow, dry and dusty. However, the greying sky overhead didn’t help. Our next stop was Lake Wanaka, where we’d previously visited in July 2011. The contrast of winter and summer scenery is stark. Click the link if you want to see it with snow-covered mountains!

I was interested in discovering that the name ‘Wānaka’ is a variant of the word ‘wānanga’ – referring to ancient schools of learning. At these schools, men of learning (Kāi Tahu tohuka) would be taught whakapapa (genealogy), stretching back over 100 generations. (reference Wānaka: A Cultural Narrative: Akuha 2019 from the Wanaka Official Visitor Guide 2020/21).

We walked around to New Zealand’s most famous tree. Also known as ‘That Wanaka Tree’, this 100-year old willow tree stands alone in Lake Wanaka’s cool water at Roys Bay. In the early 1900s, the tree started its life as a fence post in that very spot – just a branch chopped off a large willow plugged in the ground. Since then, it’s become a tourist sight in itself.

It’s difficult to believe, but in March 2020, some idiot intentionally chopped off a low hanging branch, changing the appearance forever!

Check out the two photos in the ‘Stuff’ article – Aren’t people weird? Why would anyone be so willfully destructive? It’s beyond my comprehension.

Seeking Campgrounds

Unsurprisingly there’s no free camping available in Wanaka. We discovered the Red bridge campsite not too far away. But I suspect it was the worst one we’ve stayed in so far. Right next to a busy road. Dusty. Barren. And next to an area that looks like it was meant to be ‘creating recreation opportunities’ some years ago and has since been neglected and forgotten. Sucha shame. The campground is right by a river, but there’s no access. There were dozens of vans coming and going while we were there. Young people, who we guess were working in the area?

The following morning we headed out of there swiftly. We found a marvellous spot near Lake Dunstan and parked up as I had heaps of work to catch up on. The change of colour of the lake from the miserable morning to the sunny afternoon was amazing. From grey and murky to various shades of turquoise and green.

Sadly I’d run out of my maximum speed data and was down to slow speed (we suspect due to lots of recent FaceTiming with our grandsons was the cause!). The signal was poor, so after a few frustrating hours, we ventured southwards to find another free spot. It was brilliant! And incredibly came with free Wifi! It was a lush free site with an awesome floating play area – but blimey, look at the cost. Two hours $40pp!!

It was dreadfully windy that afternoon and night. With endless waves on the lake, so no-one was on the bouncy thing. The next morning the surface was smooth as glass. Left by the nearby public toilets was a box of windfall pears. I do love the generosity of kiwis. Fancy taking the time and trouble to bring your windfall pears to give away to freedom campers. Brilliant.

More Marvellous Mates

Our next destination was the sister and brother-in-law of a gorgeous midwife from Derby, with who I had the pleasure of working in Gisborne. We’d been to see Carly and her family in October, up at Whangaparaoa. We’d visited Jenna and Duncan near Queenstown in 2011, and they’d come to see us on NB Areandare some years ago. This time we stayed at the Bannockburn house they’ve built after buying a section of land. It’s the best way to fund your own home here in NZ. We had a great BBQ on a sultry evening.

Duncan trained as a policeman in the UK (Nottingham), and transferred to Queenstown some years ago where he met Jenna. He’s done numerous things since then, with a current project inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement last year. Check out his website showcasing the App he and his business partner Finnian have developed. It’s awesome:

Discrimination, harassment, and bullying is NOT OK. You have the right to treated equally without feeling less valued than anyone else.

We are here to help you.  equall gives you the tools to make your time at work and school happier and fairer.​”

Jenna meanwhile is leading a different but equally (pun intended!) engaging and inclusive project, helping troubled young people find work. Called the ‘Central Otago Youth Employability Program’ (COYEP), sadly there’s no website to link to – yet! Amazing young people. It was great to be in your company once again.

The goal of the Central Otago Youth Employability Programme (COYEP) is to connect at-risk students from Dunstan High School (Alexandra) and Cromwell College with potential employers; and to provide learning opportunities and mentoring specifically tailored for each student to keep them engaged in learning so they can develop vocational skills.

COYEP began in 2018 and Jenna Faulkner, a former PE and health teacher, came on board in 2019. She says the programme can be life-changing for young people. Her role includes supporting students, building relationships with employers and visiting student work placements weekly.

Jenna has won accolades nationally for her wonderful work (there’s a cool photo of Jenna in the article linked to below):

Francis Scott went through school thinking he was a failure and on the verge of being expelled. The Cromwell College student was convinced that even if he wasn’t forced to leave school, he would leave when he turned 16. But his 16th birthday has come and gone, and the once struggling youngster is not only still in school but is going back this year. Francis is part of a collaborative community education initiative for at-risk youths called the Central Otago Youth Employability Programme (COYEP).”

Thanks, lovely folks. Hopefully, we’ll see you all again before we leave the South Island. The following morning, Thursday 25th February, we drove to the impressive Clutha Dam. Barry’s slideshow below ends there. Our next stops were historic gold mining settlements en route to Invercargill.

Featured by Twinkl among their list of Great Walks of New Zealand

Barry’s Superb Slideshow

Check out the crazy Americans in Barry’s photos – and don’t try their escapades! They’re young. fit and able to weigh up the risks involved in their spirited, adrenalin-charged exploits.

As usual (hopefully!), click on first image to begin …

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