Saturday, 29 October 2011

NZ: Queenstown, South Island playground

Apart from being famous as Lord of the Rings country, Queenstown is also the destination for all kinds of adventure seekers - skiing, of course, bungy jumping, sky diving, white water rafting, you name it.  And the town demographics and nightlife reflected this.  We felt a little "old" when we were there.  Our most extreme sport was climbing the steep hill to hop on the gondola to the top for the panorama.  

Road from Glenorchy to Queenstown

Sky divers about to land/splash

Town centre
View from the top

Lake Wakatipu

Looking east towards Cecil Peak and Walter Pea

"The Remarkables" the magnificent backdrop to the town (Double Cone on the left is the highest mountain)

Queenstown waterfront

How perfect can it get...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

NZ: Te Anau

Te Anau sits on Lake Te Anau, the largest lake on the South Island.  Surrounded by mountains, it is the gateway to Fiordland National Park.  We had planned an extra day here in case the weather didn't work out for a hike and also to allow us the option of taking an extra cruise - the one to Doubtful Sound, even more isolated than Milford Sound and possibly another "once in a lifetime" experience.  However, it involved an early start on a long bus ride and a long day on the boat.  After the very full experience the day before on the Key Summit hike and the Milford Sound cruise, we decided to take a break and spend the day relaxing in Te Anau instead.  We visited the local wildlife centre and took a side trip to nearby Manapouri.   You'll see below how beautiful Lake Manapouri is.  

Te Anau itself is a touristy little town with a population of less than 2,000.  We were surprised to walk into two shops both with Chinese owners.   Both ladies asked us the same question - did you like Canada?  Apparently both were offered the choice of emigrating to Canada or New Zealand from Hong Kong years ago.  There had always been a nagging question in their minds as to whether they had made the right decision. We assured them they had made the right choice - I'd emigrate to New Zealand if I were 10 years younger!  Clean air, fresh food - wonderful climate.  We were also pleasantly surprised to find two Chinese restaurants, both looking quite authentic.  We enjoyed an amazing ocean trout steamed the Chinese way - what a treat!  

Lake Te Anau

Mother goose sitting on her eggs

Some kind of waterfowl sitting on her nest

The incredibly tranquil Lake Manapouri

Our next stop was Queenstown from where we would embark on the last legs of our journey via bus and train.   Before we surrendered our car, we took a last drive out to Glenorchy, a 45 minute windy but scenic drive from Queenstown.  The view was spectacular!

Road to Glenorchy


A closer look

The lagoon 

Enjoying the view at Lake Wakatipu

Latte break in Glenorchy

Next post:  Queenstown, Lord of the Rings country

Monday, 24 October 2011

NZ: the famous Milford Sound

We arrived at Milford Sound in good time and in good weather - a pleasant surprise after all the dire warnings.   Milford Sound had the reputation of being the wettest place in New Zealand.  It was said that no matter how dry it was when you started out on the cruise, there would still be a good chance that you get wet weather once you're in the sound.  We were very lucky - we started off with threatening skies but it got sunny shortly into the cruise.  We picked the late afternoon cruise on the advice of one of the guide books as it would mean avoiding all the tourist buses that drove in from Queenstown for the midday cruises.  And it was excellent advice - we not only missed the hordes on the cruise, we also missed the buses and the traffic on the treacherous road to Milford Sound.  This was our view of Mitre Peak from the dock. 

Mitre Peak

Milford Sound, in Fiordland National Park, runs 15km inland from the Tasman Sea, surrounded, as you can see, by steep cliff faces on both sides.  It was acclaimed as New Zealand's most famous tourist attraction and Rudyard Kipling called it the Eighth Wonder of the World.  This landscape was reminiscent of that seen on the Western Brook Pond cruise in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, Canada.  The difference is that the Western Brook Pond cruise started at the month of the fjord and went inland while the Milford Sound cruise started from the tip of the fjord and went towards the sea.  The flag in the photo below could have been Canadian and you wouldn't know the difference.   See the next photo of Western Brook Pond and you will understand what I mean.

Western Brook Pond, Gros More National Park, Newfoundland

Spectacular waterfalls - lots of rainfall here plus it's spring

What luck - a penguin!

Seals enjoying the sun

To make it more perfect - rainbows!

View from the dock in the early evening - still plenty of light for the drive back to Te Anau.  It was a good day!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

NZ: The road to Milford Sound

We flew from Wellington to Queenstown and missed the lovely northern beaches of the South Island - as usual  saving something for a return trip.  The best thing about the flight was that it gave us an unusual view of Mt. Cook (the highest mountain in New Zealand) from above the clouds.  Thanks to the pilot who announced the view and the empty seats that allowed me to scramble for a better view.  It was breathtaking!

From Queenstown, we rented a car to drive to Te Anau as our base for exploring the area.  If we had come to New Zealand 5 years earlier, we would have contemplated doing the legendary Milford Track - a 4 day 53 km track, once described as "the finest walk in the world".  As it was, reading about it was all we could do.  As a compromise, we took the "road" to Milford Sound instead.  And it was spectacular!   We were alerted to the first view by all the tourist buses along the road - Mirror Lake was as photogenic as expected - how perfect could it get!  And you could almost see it from the road, no strenuous hikes to worry about.

But we were gluttons for punishment - we decided to do at least one hike before Milford Sound.  The great weather allowed us to do the hike up to Key Summit - a two-hour hike, uphill all the way, which reminded us of the hike up to the Tea House at Lake Louise in Banff.  There was not much to see along the way, you just kept going through sheer faith that something good will be at the end, and the last half hour of the hike required a lot of faith!  
There was one waterfall...

And this enticing view near the top...

But in the end, it was all worth it!
This was the stunning view at Key Summit...

The way down was easy.  
Green stone?

And some pretty ferns on the way down

More majestic views of mountains on the drive to Milford Sound -

This looked like a receding glacier -

The short lineup to go through the narrow one way tunnel.  Apparently the waiting area is an avalanche area in the winter


Next post: the famous Milford Sound

Friday, 21 October 2011

NZ: Wellington, the capital

Wellington, the capital is a very walkable city with a small town feel.  You can likely walk from one end of the city to the other in an hour.  Architecture is mixed with no one distinct style.   You can see below the range -

The gothic Catholic Church St. Mary of the Angels, built in 1922, is the parish church of Central Wellington

Here are the capital buildings - the Parliament (what else could it be?!), the "Beehive" to the left is the executive wing...

I guessed quite correctly that this is the Library of Parliament!

And here is the National Library, closed for renovations

The very impressive Te Papa Museum

Maori carving in the museum lobby -

View of the lobby from the 4th floor of the museum -

Carved head of Maori long boat

Marae (meeting house)

Stunning stained glass in Te Papa

View of amphitheatre from the museum

Maori blessing with green stone for good luck

Next:  On to the South Island - the best is yet to come!