Tuesday, January 24, 2006

New Zealand Scenic Drive 2 – Highway 1 Blenheim to Kaikoura

This excellent coastal drive may not have the cliff-top vantage views of the famous Great Ocean Road (Australia). But its combination of expanse and colour stands out for anyone who enjoys endless miles of ocean blue and horizon. Throw in a waterfall, seal colonies, unsurpassed panoramas of mountain ranges set against flower-dotted coastlines and you have a real winner here. So stop along the way, enjoy the oceanic sprays and soak in the spectacular scenery.

20 minutes north of the Kaikoura township are the Ohau waterfall and seal colony.

The Ohau waterfall is not the huge and cascading type, but it is shrouded in thick vegetation and is hidden from the main road. It is not majestic, but if offers seclusion and solitude.

The seclusion of the Ohau Waterfall

The Ohau seal colony is less than 20 metres from the road. The seals can actually be seen from the road. There is no need to join a seal-watch tour; you can see them for free here. Pull up by the side of the road and come up close and personal with New Zealand fur seals. Be warned, however, that these seals can and WILL bite if you get too close and agitate them. Also the gulls here are noisy and suspicious of visitors to this rock outcrop.

Fur Seal at the Ohau Seal Colony

End your drive further south at Kaikoura Town. Visit the information centre for updates about the tides if you intend on doing any coastal walk. Or drive all the way past the town towards the Fyffe Road car park, where you can walk to more seal colonies or do the Kaikoura Peninsula Cliff-top & Coastal Walk (highly recommended; see the views from here in my future post).

Sculptures along the Kaikoura Esplanade

View of Kaikoura from the start of the Peninsula Cliff-top Walk

Alternatively, bypass Kaikoura Town and head towards the beautiful South Bay Parade. Here, you can do we did - lay out your picnic mat and gaze at the unique opaqueness of the turquoise water.

South Bay Parade - a truly beautiful bay

The Kaikoura Range shrouded in mist

Kaikoura is big on whale- and dolphin-watching. But don't plan to arrive on Christmas Day. We did and found all the major operators closed for the holiday.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

New Zealand Scenic Drive 1 - Highway 6 from Makarora to Wanaka

Spectacular drives in New Zealand are in abundance. Three of my favourites on the South Island are:

1. Highway 6 – From Makarora to Wanaka
2. Highway 1 – From Blenheim to Kaikoura
3. Highway 94 – The Milford Sound Road

My family did a New Zealand self-drive holiday in December 2005. I will share my experience along these routes in the next three blogs.

Highway 6 – From Makarora to Wanaka

Departing the abundant rainforests of the West Coast, we passed Haast and Makarora along Highway 6. The loveliest stretch begins when Lake Wanaka comes into view. The road skirts the edge of the Lake. Because it was a sunny day, the stunningly beautiful turquoise glow of the lake became a great distraction. So if you are at the driver's wheel, keep your eyes on the road. There are numerous spots to pull over for photos, so don't worry.

The road then veers away from Lake Wanaka's edge and enters a pass (=a passage through a mountain). Once we got onto the other side, we were awe-struck by the deep blue glint of Lake Hawea, set against the sometimes rolling and sometimes craggy peaks of New Zealand's Lakes District.

Photo opportunity just after the Pass (Lake Hawea)

Traffic jam along a side-road to Lake Hawea

Again, the road skirts the edge of Lake Hawea. The panoramic views over Hawea are equally captivating - you see the dramatic blend of blue sky, turquoise water and rolling peaks even when you look into your side-mirrors!

Lake Hawea from the highway

The drive ends at Wanaka town, where we planned our walks and adventure trips to the surrounding areas.

Boats berthed at Lake Wanaka

Sail boats in action on Lake Wanaka

Side Bar
Lakes Wanaka and Hawea were formed by the movement of massive glaciers over 10 000 years ago. The two lakes are close to each other and are separated by a small segment of land. Each is encircled by a pebbled shoreline. Stand at their edge and enjoy the superb views to the surrounding peaks. The lakes and surrounding areas afford lovely walks in summer. In winter, many skiers make Wanaka their base for ski trips to the surrounding mountains. Sailing, swimming, windsurfing, jetboating, parasailing, and fishing are also popular during the summer.