Stuck in Wanaka, New Zealand: Mother Nature’s Wrath Alters Our Plan

22 02 2013

Weighing on our minds the past few days was a series of Antarctic storms. These had smashed the western coast of the New Zealand’s South Island every few days since I arrived. And now our plans called for driving up that coast. It is beautiful and has the world renowned low elevation Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glaciers. But to get there, we’d have to cross the mountains. What would Mother Nature have in store for us?

Today we drive from Te Anau to Wanaka. Plans called for playing in Wanaka and then making an epic crossing of the Southern Alps via the Haast Pass to the coast. There are only two roads across the Southern Alps between here and Christchurch. The other is Arthur’s Pass. A recent storm had already closed the coastal highway but it had been repaired due to heroic efforts from New Zealand highway crews.

Now another storm approached, and upon our arrival in Wanaka, it unleashed its fury. It was pouring and due to continue for 12 hours. Our hostess at the Matterhorn South tried her best to find things for us to do, but other than movie theaters, there really wasn’t a lot to do other than walking the shopping area. The typically fantastic view of Lake Wanaka was completely obscured. Our room at the Matterhorn South needed some serious cleaning and updated bedding. At least the hostel was in downtown and had an upstairs with a library, fireplace and wide screen TV.  We spoke at length with a woman from Perth, Australia who was to climb Mount Aspiring. And a gentleman from Christchurch who had vivid descriptions of the earthquakes.

All we could do was make dinner in the kitchen and wait. Next morning, I checked via my iPhone and learned that the Haast Pass route was closed. In New Zealand, rain causes rivers and lakes to rise rapidly. Part of the road was built right next to Lake Wanaka – and the lake flooded out the road and was still rising. Worse, the other route across, further north, Arthur’s Pass, was also closed! Forecast was that maybe the lake would recede…but later in the day. Could we wait? No, because we had reservations in Abel Tasman National Park, on the northern tip of the island, in just 48 hours.

Disappointed, frustrated and in denial that something we’d looked forward to witnessing for months was slipping away, we pulled ourselves together and researched alternatives. I’d already experienced how the eastern side of the island can have much drier, warmer weather so I looked at the IMG_0137map and suggested we aim for Kaikoura. It’s a couple hours north of Christchurch, it’s on the beach, and has a peninsula worth hiking.

With that we headed to Kaikoura, and just like magic, on the eastern coast it was summer again! This lifted our spirits so much. We found a hostel and a room steps from the beach.

So, it was time for some late afternoon beach combing and then supper!


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