Fox Glacier to Wanaka
Fox Glacier to Wanaka – 262 km
Driving: Some narrow winding roads and alpine driving. Please be aware of vehicles stopping to take photos on blind corners.
The Good South gem: Jackson Bay.
Fox Glacier to Wanaka
Start your journey from Fox Glacier to Wanaka with an early morning visit to Lake Matheson for the best chance of a mirror-like lake surface to the reflection of Aoraki Mt Cook and the Southern Alps. The highly regarded lakeside cafe is also a serene choice for the first coffee of the day and breakfast before heading south.
Leaving Fox township you cross the river on another long single-lane bridge with the turnoff to the terminal face of the glacier itself just past the bridge and about 5 km inland.
The trailhead of the Copland track is also nearby with about half-a-days walk to the hot pools of Welcome Flat before it proceeds onto the serious alpinist business of crossing the Southern Alps to Mt Cook village.
Following a fairly winding road south, two attractions worth considering are the trout-filled Lake Paringa and its nearby salmon farm and cafe. Just a few kilometres down the road is Lake Moeraki with some good fishing from its bush-clad shores and a Crested penguin colony at Monro Beach 40 minutes walk from the road.
South from Lake Moeraki is Knights Point viewing area which has excellent views of the coast and mountains in the background.
Haast township is another 27 km south and accessed by the longest single-lane bridge in the country across the river of the same name. Here you have two options, inland to Wanaka or further south to our recommended Good South gem: Jackson Bay.
Heading inland from Haast toward Central Otago, the dense vegetation along the road is broken up by views of the Haast River the road follows for most of the trip. Glaciated river valley flats were the easiest routes for early travellers with most South island alpine roads following their tracks.
After about 20 kilometres and just past the access to the Roaring Billy Falls walk, the Haast is joined by the Landsborough and the Clarke Rivers from the north, both of which, especially the former, have their headwaters deep in the Southern Alps.
Makarora and Central Otago
The road crosses the Burke River and starts to climb toward the pass itself. The bridge at the Gates of Haast passes over a wild torrent of water, and travellers are urged to take care parking and exiting their cars if taking photos as the road is narrow. Once at the 564metre pass, there is parking available for a walk to a platform above the tree canopy giving views of the surrounding mountains including the imposing summit of Mt Brewster. Another ten minutes drive brings you to the Cameron Flat picnic and camping area with toilets just before the very popular Blue Pools.
The pools colour and setting rarely disappoint and if one of the backpacker buses arrives you’ll often be able to witness boisterous young people hurling themselves off the bridge into freezing water.
Lush beech forest quickly turns to a more arid landscape on the descent to the small hamlet of Makarora with glimpses of Lake Wanaka appearing. If you’re arriving from the West Coast, an excellent first sample of Lake Wanaka is the Boundary Creek campsite with a number of picnic tables giving panoramic views of the Southern Alps and lake. The road then winds its way through the mile-wide neck of land separating two of Central Otago’s largest lakes, Hawea and Wanaka.
The alpine landscape you are travelling through becomes more arid and dramatic with Corner Peak and the Hawea conservation area across the lake. Please keep a close watch on the road and other traffic as the winding route through the Neck between Makarora and Lake Hawea is a high crash area. Once past the Neck there are great photo opportunities of Hawea and a relatively straightforward drive to the Wanaka township.