After our wonderful adventures in Franz Josef, it was time to move on to our next destination, Tarras, in Central Otago. It’s not far from Wanaka, but definitely quieter, and we’d found a lovely dog-friendly Airbnb on a big plot of land that looked perfect. With a four-hour mountainous drive ahead of us through the Haast Pass, and plans to take in all the sights of Mount Aspiring National Park, we set out early from Franz Josef.
As we skirted the coast and wound up and down the serpentine roads, we had the unique road tripping joy of being stuck behind campervans that can’t quite reach the speed limit but can’t be bothered to pull over and let you pass. Ah well, at least we had the scenery to distract us. We stopped off at a rugged West Coast beach to stretch our legs and let Higgs go for a dip while we searched for greenstone/pounamu. I thought it was hard to beat looking for sea glass, but this might be a close second. After that, back on the road it was a sharp turn inland as we headed up into Haast Pass.
The only way I can describe Mount Aspiring National Park is just natural beauty on a scale you’ve never seen anywhere else. Everything is huge and awe-inspiring and you need to drive slowly and be prepared to pull over at a moment’s notice for photos or simply to take it all in. I’ve only been through once before with my friend Melissa and we were short on time, so I didn’t want that to happen this time around. Andy and I were a bit restricted by where we could stop because a lot of the walks don’t allow dogs, but we were still able to enjoy the jaw-dropping views all around us by finding plenty of areas to explore.
There’s one of NZ’s famous one-lane bridges, which we encountered many of on our drive. At this particular spot, which had a campground just off the road, we made the mistake of stopping with our windows down. We then had to fight off the scourge of the south, sandflies, for the rest of our drive that day. They bite and itch like no other and are one of the major downsides to the wild, beautiful places in New Zealand. Of course, they love Andy’s blood above all else, as it seems to be a rare vintage for all biting insects across the globe, but I did get some attention too.
After emerging out of the pass, it wasn’t long until we reached Lake Wanaka. Time for another stop!
It was New Year’s Eve, and we couldn’t have asked for a better day. The color of the lake in the sunshine is incredible, no matter how many times I see it.
Of course we had to get a family photo!
We continued on to Wanaka, where we stopped at b.effect brewing to stock up on beers, and then second most important, the grocery store. Oh yeah, and we got some insanely good Mexican food for lunch from the Burrito Craft food truck, kindly recommended by my friend Sarah (a fellow American who knows the value of good Mexican food, and how hard it can be to find). Wanaka was absolutely insane since it was New Year’s Eve, and the Rhythm and Alps music festival had just ended, so we were happy to get out and make for our Airbnb in Tarras, about 20 minutes away.
When we arrived and opened the gate to the property, we were greeted by six excited dogs. Yes, this was definitely the right choice! The owner also runs a dog-sitting business, so five of these pups were ones she was watching. Higgs quickly joined the pack, and our lovely host Nancy showed us to our cozy home, where we’d welcome in 2021.
It was the perfect spot, since we could just let Higgs roam around to his heart’s content. The entire property is fenced, and it was so peaceful.
In the golden afternoon light, we took a walk around the property to explore. There were rabbits galore, but Higgs didn’t even notice.
The yellow and gold rolling hills down here are so beautiful, and such a contrast to the lush green of the West Coast we’d just come from.
“Am I officially a Big Dog now?”
Can’t get over golden hour down here! I do think I could live somewhere like this, but would I miss the green after a while? I guess you don’t have to go very far to get to it.
We enjoyed a low key evening, playing board games on the patio and enjoying local beers as 2020 turned to 2021 at long last. The next morning we didn’t have much planned, besides a walk along the Upper Clutha River Track, so we took our time. The day looked like rain, so we set out hoping we’d beat it.
There’s the green! Our first stop was the historic Red Bridge, built in 1914. Really, we were just looking for the trailhead, but it was a beautiful peaceful spot under the overhanging trees. On a warmer day, it’d be an ideal place for a picnic.
A short drive down the road, we found what we were looking for and were soon on the track.
The Clutha River, or Mata-Au, is the second-longest river in NZ, and the longest on the South Island at 338 km (210 miles). From its source near Lake Wanaka, we’d be following it almost to its mouth when we passed through Balclutha later in our journey.
As always, the boys patiently waited while I took photos. The track was great, as it took us through all kinds of terrain and the views were fabulous. We were up above the Clutha looking down one minute, then alongside it the next, which was perfect for Higgs.
After an hour or so of walking, we decided it was about time to turn back, but luckily not before we discovered this little slice of paradise. It seemed like something from a tropical island, with the sandy beach and turquoise water. Higgs was similarly excited and decided to do his crazy doggo zoomies.
On the way back, Higgs found some sundried rabbit off the path, which is clearly a delicacy. So, overall it was a successful outing.
We did beat the rain, but it settled in for the afternoon so we cozied up in our Airbnb and spent a much-needed down day reading and relaxing before our drive to the Catlins the next day. Stay tuned as we head to the far south of the South Island, a completely new place for all three of us!