Lake Matheson is a "mirror lake," and when the sky is clear and the lake glassy ( a rare combination we were told) you can see the reflection of the mountain range near Fox Glacier. We had perfect conditions for the hour and a half hike around Matheson Lake, viewing the mountains across the water with calm winds and clear skies. By the end of the hike, some clouds had started to move in and the wind was picking up, so we were glad we got there when we did.
The Lake Matheson Cafe was right off the end of the track, with a cute outdoor patio area with tables on little bridges crossing over the small creek outdoors. We sat outside and watched the clouds roll in, eventually blocking both Mt Cook and Mt Tasman, and enjoyed a chai with some eggs and breakfast. The whole place was so entirely modern and trendy, absolutely nothing like what you would see at one of our national parks. In Yosemite, there is a brown and tan dreary cafeteria with overpriced bland food and only government issued tables and chairs inside a generic looking building. Here, in Westlands National Park, there is jazzy music playing on outdoor speakers, adorable little cafe tables and chairs, plus excellent reasonably priced food, and internet access complete with modern artwork for sale from local artists on the walls.
After our wonderful breakfast, we headed out for hike number two, up the Fox Glacier access trail. We hiked up a river bed, with pure blue glacial pools along the way, past several waterfalls, and to the terminal of the Fox Glacier. It was (obviously) similar to the Franz Joseph glacier which we had seen the day before, but less active, with less water and rocks falling off the top. It was a gorgeous setting and a nice hike.
Back in the car, we drove south along the coast. We got sidetracked by hike number three, through an amazing rainforest, complete with swingbridges, down to the oceans where peguins supposedly breed and live from June to December. It took about forty minutes each way to do the hike, but we figured it was a worthy rest stop. The hike was great, and the beach was stunning with turquoise blue water and huge shore pound slamming into the beach. There were rocks offshore as well, but no matter how hard we looked we could not find the penguins! We left thinking that they must be around the corner of the beach and only accessable at low tide. Because the tide was so high and the waves so intense, we were never going to be able to get around to the other side of the headland. The hike was worth it anyway and to see such a gorgeous empty beach, but we are still on the search for some penguins.
Back in the car, headed south on route 6, we stopped briefly at the Knights Lookout with a cool ocean view before heading inland to Haast and the famous Haast Pass. The road here parallels and then enters Mt Aspiring National Park and along the way we saw incredible falls and traveled along the flowing green Haast River. On one stop however, we got out of the car to find hundreds of black flies swarming us instantly and making a beeline straight for the inside of the van. Apparently this area is famous for its aggressive black flies, and we found that out quickly.
We stopped for hike number four to the Blue Pools. This hike was fairly short and traveled down to the trout filled Blue River and over multiple swing-bridges to see the pools after which the trail was named. There were crystal clear green/blue pools and flowing rivers through massive rocks all viewed from the swing-bridges above.
Although it was 7pm at this point, the sun does not set down here until around 8:30 and it stays fairly light until at least 9:15. We took our time finding a campsite and ended up on the banks of the Wanaka Lake. The spot is amazing with a huge lake in between snow capped peaks on all sides. Yellow wildflowers are blooming all around the area now, and the sunset over the mountain peaks went from vivid gold to orange to red. The only negative is that we fought a small war with the black flies again and hopefully we are winning. The van is partially coated in Deet on the outside, all cracks are closed or covered and we have killed most of them on the inside. With any luck, they won't be around the further south we go.