We woke up at the diamond lake camp site to cloudy, wet weather. We were pretty bummed because we were going to climb and/or do a 3 hour hike to the Rob Roy glacier. We made some breakfast and decided to forego the climbing and head toward the glacier trailhead anyway. The day before, I had asked a lady at the i-site in Wanaka about the trail and she told me it was 45 minutes on a gravel road across a few rivers. I asked her if campervans could get back there and she sighed and said, “people do it.” The look on her face told me she might not recommend it. When we rented the van, we were told there were some gravel roads we could not drive on. We checked the list of roads and since this wasn’t one of them, we gave it a go. We also ignored that general category on the agreement that said no driving on gravel roads longer than 500 meters unless you are getting to a campsite or going over road construction.
Within 10 minutes of leaving Diamond lake, the nice paved road turned to gravel. This happens fairly often in New Zealand, so we weren’t too worried about it. The bumpy road wound along a river and through pastures of sheep, deer, and cows. We took the road very slowly because the condition was poor and we encountered potholes pretty often. The weather began to clear and each bend in the road provided better and better views of the mountains surrounding us. After about an hour went by, we started laughing and commenting on the fact that the lady at the i-site must have been mistaken. We didn’t have to cross any rivers, we were just driving right beside it. Another 20 minutes went by and we saw a big orange sign that said FORD! We pulled off on the side of the river because we weren’t sure how to proceed and naturally the DOC had a sign for us to read about the path ahead. Apparently to get to the trailhead, we would cross over 9 fords, but the first one is usually the deepest and most challenging to cross. It also warned that if it rains, the path often becomes impassible and cell service is unavailable (not that we have a cell phone anyway). We stood there for a few minutes watching several cars cross the first ford and trying to decide if we should take our rental all the way. The sun was shining and the clouds were nearly gone, so we weren’t worried about getting stuck back there. We just kept imagining getting a flat tire or something in the middle of crossing a ford and having to call Happy Campers to tell them where we were. After getting some encouragement from a local who pulled up in his Audi to cross the ford, we got in the van, held our breath, and drove down into the water and right back out of it! The water was only a couple inches deep and Tim Tam the campervan handled the rocks well. 6 km and 8 more fords later, we arrived at the trailhead to find dozens of campervans and other cars who made the journey. I guess everyone breaks that gravel road rule!
The 45 minute road to the trailhead had turned into a 2 hour expedition for us. We were hungry and needed to eat before we started the hike, so we made some lunch in the van before getting on our way. That is one of the beauties of campervanning – meals anytime, anywhere! We started the hike by walking through a sheep pasture to a suspension bridge above a beautiful, turquoise river. We headed up the path and veered off slightly to take some pictures by the river. It was at this point that we looked up and saw the incredible glacier in front of us. We both agreed this was one of our favorite views in New Zealand and stood there taking countless pictures. We continued on to a lower lookout point which also provided great views of the glacier, but not quite as good as our previous secret lookout point. We met a friendly older couple from Arizona who were spending their retirement traveling and had a nice conversation with some of the first Americans we had seen since we left. Onward once more to the upper lookout point, which was simply stunning. You could hear the glacier cracking and moving and could see waterfalls coming off the rock from the glacier melt. We sat up by the glacier for almost an hour before heading back down to our van to make the long, bumpy trip back. Since John had driven the road once already, we made the drive back in half the time we did on the way there! We both were really happy we took the risk and decided if we could make it across that road, we could make it across any road in New Zealand.