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Wanaka & Franz Josef, New Zealand – Day 1

February 27, 2023

Packed up the house and started rolling down the driveway before we realized we left a pair of underwear on the clothesline. Not sure how I missed a single pair of underwear…

Today we had a 6 hour drive over to Franz Josef with many stops along the way. It started with a few windshield wiper waves before getting back in the groove of everything on the opposite side. 

Even with the overcast morning skies the yellow grass shone as brilliantly bright as ever. It feels like a crime to do anything but take in the picturesque scenery as we drive.

We drove to the Central Otago region where we stopped at a fruit and vegetable stand next to Misha’s tasting room. We picked up some cherries, carrots, greengage plums, ginger snacks, and dried apricots. Then we went next door for a wine tasting. The woman gave us 6 wines to try, telling 7s this region is best known for the Pinot Noirs. She taught us that 12% alcohol content is the cut off for a dry wine to a sweet wine; less is sweeter. We left with a bottle of their tasty Rose.

After getting happy at Misha’s we went to the Domaine-Thomson winery, perched in the vineyard up above the lake. The man there has lived in Brazil, Switzerland, Singapore and New Zealand. He gave us free tastings of their wines from this region as well as Burgundy, France. It’s a shame to say the last Pinot noir from Burgundy was by far the best, but it was. I picked up a bottle before finding the price ($99 NZD). We’ll have to save that for a special occasion.

Domaine-Thomson Winery

From there we drove on to Wanaka to see That Wanaka Tree and the rest of town. That Wanaka Tree is a sole tree that lives well offshore. It reminds me of the Lone Cypress in Monterey, CA. Josh went for a swim in the lake while Theresa and I walked around town. It’s a cute town that we could have stayed if we weren’t in Twizel the night before.

Our next stop on the way to Franz Josef was the Roaring Billy falls. The trail to the falls took us through a rainforest with giant Douglas Firs covered in moss. It dumped us out right at the Haast River, which was our true destination. We could see the brilliant blue water along our route, and wanted to get a closer look. The falls were well above the river.

Then we stopped at Knight’s Point, capturing a few photos of the Tasmanian Sea before climbing further north. Theresa parked perpendicular in 3 lanes of bus parking by accident.

Lots of one lane bridges. While Iceland had one lane bridges, here there’s a sign indicating which direction gets the right of way. Also lots of cows. This side of the island is much greener, whereas the central area is much more yellow. Ferns line the highway. It all looks perfectly manicured even though it isn’t.

We made it to Franz Josef around 8pm. Just in time to catch a full rainbow and the remnants of sunset. In our 6 hours of driving, we had no stop signs, one stop light, many one lane bridges, and many yield signs. So far we have compared New Zealand to Iceland, Norway, the Pacific Northwest, Montana, Italy, and Hawaii. Every inch of it is beautiful.

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