Tag Archives: NZ

The NZ Lowdown 6: Fiordland (Part II)

The Spectacular Milford Sound

Our day was off to an early start. Actually, earlier than necessary, because a small pattern had begun to emerge. Like many men, M has a TV addiction. And the remote control serves as an accessory appendage for him. By now, each morning has begun earlier than required, with some cricket on TV. And likewise no bedtime had swung around without cricket highlights from the day. This was all quite bewildering to me due to his acute revelation on Day 1 of our trip!

But anyway, the real purpose of our early start for the day was a guided day tour – the major focus being a cruise on Milford Sound. Our guide Andrew (oddly, a Welshman!) collected us at our hotel & a small group of us made the drive up from Te Anau to Milford Sound, stopping off occasionally at a few locations en-route for photo opportunities.

Milford Sound forms part of the Fiordland National Park (a World Heritage Site), and is reportedly the most famous tourist destination in NZ, in spite of its remote location on the southwest side of the South Island – literally at least 1-2 hours from anywhere. It is really something else to witness – Rudyard Kipling even described it as “The Eighth Wonder Of The World”. It’s actually a fiord, although was originally, wrongly named a sound by Captain Cook when he charted the area back in the 1770s.

In spite of the gorgeous weather the day before, our Milford Sound day was characteristically wet – the Fiordland National Park region experiences tremendous annual rainfalls, apparently on about 200 days or more of each year!  Nevertheless though, the scenery was spectacular, & I imagine it wouldn’t matter what kind of weather you visited this region in – each would bring its own, special mood to the region. I found the low clouds very mysterious during our cruise – very moody indeed.

Moody Milford Sound

We also saw plenty of wildlife during the trip – especially colonies of NZ fur seals on the rocks at the side of the water. They were thankfully completely unimpressed by the numerous boats cruising up and down the sound.

Basking NZ fur seals
Mitre Peak is one of the most photographed mountains in the country – typically you’ll see photos of it on clear blue sky days when it is reflected brilliantly in the water below. Our weather didn’t allow us this privilege, but it still looked formidable, rising almost a mile out of the water into the clouds.

The famous Mitre Peak
M stole my small camera. A few hundred photos later……
The Lesser-Spotted Brit!
We cruised along the sound for a couple of hours – it’s about 16km long & opens out into the Tasman Sea – and on our moody weather day, you can imagine how rocky the sea was when we reached it. Quite a ride, let me tell you! But one of the benefits of the area’s terrific rainfalls is that they really accentuate the waterfalls that fall from the sheer cliff faces rising either side of the sound.

The waterfalls were especially spectacular due to the day’s rainfall
After a bit of lunch and some coffee on the boat, we finished our cruise & met up again with our tour guide, & our small group drove south back toward Te Anau, with a few more stops en-route for yet more photo opportunities.

More moody mountainous terrain on the drive back to Te Anau
Another stunning waterfall captured on the way home, off Milford Sound Highway

More scenes from the journey home.
Still moody, but a little sunshine tried to break through by early afternoon
After we dried off back at the hotel, we decided to take a drive over to the Te Anau Wildlife Centre – a great little place to visit. We were lucky enough to see a rare, flightless takahe – a chunky bird that looks like a big blue chicken with a stout red beak. These fellas were thought to be extinct for the longest time, until a few pairs of them were spotted in the mid 1900s on the Murchison Mountains. They look a bit like bigger versions of the not-so-rare pukeko – and birds like this are thought to have been ancestors of the takahe.

A pukeko (left) and a takahe (right)
Afterwards we were feeling pretty exhausted to be honest, it had been a long day, although great fun and eventful. I should say that in addition to his cricket habit, M had begun to develop quite a taste for fast food “Commonwealth style” –  pasties, meat pies, and fish & chips had become something he’d beg for each day!  So for dinner I gave in to his addiction & we headed out so he could get his fish & chip fix for the day!

He was also quite taken by the newspaper wrapping!

In spite of the day’s amazing scenery, I think this was the bit of the day that he treasured the most.


The NZ Lowdown 5: Fiordland (Part I)

After breakfast next morning, we said a sad goodbye to the lovely Queenstown scenery & drove southwest to spend a couple of days in the Fiordland National Park region.

Te Anau Was Our First Port Of Call

The weather was beautiful yet again all day – I think this was actually the warmest day of our trip, it was 80 degrees Farenheit, with an amazingly blue sky – just perfect.  We checked into our hotel – a few hours early again, but once more without any hassle from the reception desk – and then we took off into the town to explore a little.

Lunch was followed by a drive around the lake & a little walk around town. And there may have been an ice cream stop at some point too! We’d also decided to take a tour of some Glowworm Caves in the region, so that trip pretty much occupied our afternoon. The trip began with a cruise across to the western shore of Lake Te Anau. This is the 2nd largest lake in NZ by surface area, & it is beautiful, especially on a bright, sunny day like we were lucky enough to experience. It was so peaceful cruising across & enjoying the scenery aroundabout, as well as seeing all the jet-skiers in action as they’d rush into the wake of the ship to catch some great waves.

The beautiful Lake Te Anau
The tour company took us to their Cavern House when we disembarked on the shore – that’s the only thing there, except for the underground cave world that we visited next! They had a really informative & interesting set of displays there for tourists to see while waiting to take one of the small boats into the caves. Plenty of information about the life cycle of glowworms, as well as the history of the caves. And they had the obligatory coffee & snacks that never fail to make me happy!

The shore in front of the Cavern House
Small groups of about 14 of us at a time would then go off on a small boat with a guide to travel a little distance in the limestone caves. It’s quite a spectacle – the cave labyrinth is amazing to experience as you walk through a small part of it to reach the boat. There’s a fair bit of stooping & bending necessary in order to navigate the caves along the way, & the roar of the rushing water around you is phenomenal to hear. Very powerful. Photography isn’t allowed in the caves since the flash would compete with the light from the glowworms, and therefore prevent us seeing what we’d gone there to see! The glowworm lights are such simple things, but quite special to witness. At least for me anyway. And especially with the roaring water to boot. It all seemed so paradoxical in some ways – the water was so fierce & loud, and yet the glowworm lights were so tiny, delicate & peaceful. Very magical.

More beautiful scenery around Lake Te Anau
Once we returned to Te Anau we went off in search of goodies. Since it was such a gorgeous day we’d decided to make full use of it, as well as our surroundings, & so a picnic was in order. We’d scoped out a quiet spot on the lake earlier on our drive, so once we were armed with paper plates, glasses from the hotel room, wine, cheese, meats & crackers, we drove out there again. Once the wine was being chilled (in the lake!), we started snacking!

Lakeside snacking

Afterwards we decided to catch an early night back at the hotel – the next day was due to be an early start for us as we headed north to Milford Sound. 

We’d had a perfect day though.

The NZ Lowdown 4: Destination Queenstown

Lord Of The Rings Country

We left Franz Josef Village early next morning, around 7am, on our way to Queenstown for a couple of days. We had a leisurely 5 or so hours drive, stopping off a fair bit for coffee, snacks & photo opportunities (of which there were very many). Interestingly our weather changed dramatically as we headed inland from the west coast – from characteristically wet with low clouds in the Glacier region, gradually morphing into sunny with blue skies as we progressed toward Queenstown.

But regardless of the location or conditions outside, the scenery was unrelentingly beautiful en-route.

En-route to Queenstown
Still en-route to Queenstown

We arrived in Queenstown around lunchtime & checked into our hotel after grabbing a quick bite to eat. Our hotel turned out to be in a great location – and we had a wonderful lake view from our window. Then we were soon on our way again – we’d booked with Nomad Safaris on an afternoon trip called  “Safari of the Scenes” – a 4-wheel drive, off-road, guided tour of some of the local regions where scenes from Lord of the Rings was filmed.

There were 6 of us in the Jeep in addition to our guide – a young Brazilian fella called Ugo. He’d lived in NZ for about 5 years & seemed to just love it there, and certainly loved his job. He showed us some of the most amazing scenery, and the afternoon flew by before we knew it.

Lord Of The Rings country
More Lord Of The Rings country
In the middle of the afternoon Ugo took us down by the river. Well actually, he took us into the river! At least where the water level was quite low, anyway. He Jeep’ed around on the water for a while which was quite entertaining. Then we stopped off at one location so we could all try our hand at gold-panning. It would’ve been wonderful to find our fortune there, but alas, it was not to be! I did find a smidgeon of gold though – just a speck basically, but Ugo kindly packed it in a little container for me to take home!

A little gold-panning!
The following morning we started out early & began our day on Lake Wakatipu. We cruised across to Walter Peak on TSS Earnslaw – an Edwardian vintage steamship. Quite a historical ship & really interesting to see – we watched the coal for the journey being loaded onto the ship beforehand too!

Lake Wakatipu
Watching the fun on Lake Wakatipu
Yet more beautiful scenery around the lake
Across the other side, Walter Peak Station (named after a local mountain) was beautiful to see – a 25,758 hectare working, high country sheep farm on the southern shore of the lake. It has 1500 sheep & 1000 cattle, & the farm’s homestead is used to host tourists like us that cruise the lake on the steamship. It’s a mere 8 mile trip across the lake on the steamship, but bizarrely if you want to drive out there, its twisted route takes you for 77 miles!

Walter Peak Station
After lunch there, we wandered off to check out the animals & we got to feed the sheep, as well as watch the working dogs in action (something I always love to see) and then some sheep shearing and well as wool-spinning!

Making friends with the locals
Then it was time to head back across the lake to Queenstown. As soon as we landed & had hit the trough ourselves, we headed up to the Skyline Gondola. The views from the summit there, on Bob’s Peak, were just stunning – made all the more beautiful thanks to the gorgeous weather we were having.

Lake Wakatipu viewed from the gondola summit
More fun over Lake Wakatipu
A long way from anywhere!
While we were at the summit, M decided he wanted to try his hand on their luge tracks. I wasn’t prepared for this since I was wearing a skirt, so that kind of ruled me out of the game! But I certainly enjoyed just hanging out at the top for 40 minutes or so, enjoying the gorgeous, sunny day that we were having, & taking some photos (and having some peace & quiet from M for a while, hehe, but don’t tell him I said that!).

Trying out the luge at the gondola summit!
By the end of the day we were exhausted, we’d been out & on the move all day again, and although we were thoroughly loving it all, we’re not as young as we used to be, so were definitely feeling weary. Thankfully though, we did at least have enough energy to find the local wine shop before making our way back to the hotel!

The NZ Lowdown 3: From Greymouth to Glacier Country

On The Move After 2 Lovely Days In Christchurch!

First We Headed West

We took the TranzAlpine train across to Greymouth – this is reported to be one of the world’s greatest scenic railway trips, & I can believe it. The 140 mile journey took about 4 and a half hours, but the time whizzed by so quickly due to the constant sensory-overload from outside. There was even an open air viewing carriage where you could really feel the wind whipping through your hair (but hold on to your caps!) as you clung on to take photographs.

The journey takes you from Christchurch on the east coast, to Greymouth on the west coast, & you get to enjoy a whole mixed bag of beautiful scenery – from farmland to gorges to valleys, as well as spectacular mountain views as you climb through NZ’s Southern Alps, and then finally  you hit some rainforest regions, before reaching the final destination.

Seats are preassigned for you, so you may have a few carriages to walk through before reaching the open car, but we were very fortunate to be in the adjacent one.  And similarly we were only a couple of cars away from the café  – food onboard is actually very decent, as well as reasonably priced, although some folk had taken their own food along for the ride too.

Day 3 in NZ & M had already developed a taste for the local brew!
Once we reached Greymouth, we collected our checked-in luggage & headed over to find our rental car. One thing that M & I constantly bicker about is driving. More specifically, his driving. I swear he’s always in combat mode. I’m not a nervous passenger, but he is one of the most aggressive drivers I’ve ever driven with. So we’d agreed in advance that I’d be the one to start off the driving on our trip since I’m English & therefore used to driving on the left side of the road in the right side of a car.

Although it was nice to feel more independently mobile again, knowing we could stop whenever we felt like & drive wherever we wanted, I’d now lost the ability to stare lovingly out of windows at the beautiful scenes around me. But at least we were both also in agreement about the fact that we were happy to stop wherever and whenever we felt like.

Then South To Franz Josef

And so we set off in our car, headed south to the Glacier Country of Westland National Park, specifically to Franz Josef Glacier. The car journey was lovely, taking us through spectacular rainforest areas. By the time we reached our hotel in the village of Franz Josef, it was raining quite nicely, with extremely low cloud cover that looked quite eerie, hanging over the mountains. We drove out to the Glacier region & went hiking, in spite of the weather – have raincoats, will travel!

The walk initially took us through some rain forest, then across a rocky path through the glacier valley, along the icy flow of the Waiho River. Eventually we reached the terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier, which remained an impressive sight, despite the weather. The top of the glacier was still a brilliant blue color, even in the grey, misty conditions – quite amazing to think that this glow represents a million tons of ice!

Crossing the glacier valley toward the icy, terminal face
Arriving at the terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier
The glacier forms from heavy layers of snow that compact to produce the hard, blue ice. The combination of snow pressure and gravity force ice down the valley to within 200 meters of sea level where the face is constantly melting. Franz Josef is reportedly the most dynamic glacier in the world since its steepness & location allow it to respond very quickly to changes in temperature & precipitation.

It’s somewhat surreal knowing you are standing at the foot of an ice wall that’s as wide as a valley and has been known to be in the phase of advancing one meter each day.

We walked as far as we could, to within meters of the terminal face – the actual face is roped-off to tourists for safety reasons – to protect people from being caught by falling ice or river surges. Quite a sight though.

Eventually we realized we had soaked in more scenery during that day than we’d ever experienced in a single day previously. We hiked back to the car, & then it was off to our hotel to dry off before testing out some local cuisine & aperitifs to close out the evening!