It was my twenty-third day in New Zealand, but only Jonny’s tenth. He would be leaving me the day after next, so we were determined to make the most of our time together before we said goodbye for another three months.
After an exhilarating morning racing around Queenstown’s Skyline Luge (more information in the previous blog post), we took a quick bus journey and spent the afternoon in nearby Arrowtown.
The town was quaint and quirky and we looked around the main shopping street, buying a few souvenirs for family. These included a Kiwi bird brooch made from New Zealand’s native Pāua Shell for my grandma’s 80th birthday, which I would send home with Jonny. We also found a vintage sweet shop and bought some sweets to indulge in whilst wandering.
We walked around the town, which was established in 1862, and enjoyed the lovely old-fashioned feel that seemed to exude from it. Jonny dipped his feet in the water at the banks of the Arrow River (mine were still plastered up from annoying blisters!), and then we went for dinner. We found a delicious Thai restaurant and we sat in the little garden, enjoying the last of the day’s sunshine.
Our plan was to visit the small, but plush cinema that evening to watch Bohemian Rhapsody, but sadly it was completely sold out (I really wanted to see the film, and promised myself I’d find time before leaving New Zealand, even if it meant going alone). Feeling a little defeated, we instead bought our own popcorn and went back to our motel to watch something on Netflix.
The following morning, we woke up bright and early, ready for our Milford Sound Adventure. I couldn’t help but notice that it was rather wet and grey outside, but I hoped it would brighten up as the day progressed.
Milford Sound is a fiord situated around four hours away from Queenstown, in the south west of the South Island. It is supposed to be absolutely stunning in the right conditions and was even called the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by Rudyard Kipling, so I was remaining optimistic that the weather would improve by the time we arrived!
En route, our first stop was in Te Anau for a food and comfort break, and we could see views of Lake Te Anau. In terms of water volume, it is the largest lake in the Southern Hemisphere.
As we left the lake and continued our drive, we entered the Fiordland National Park, known as one of the most scenic and beautiful parts of the country. The Māori name for the Fiordlands is “Ata Whenua”, which means “shadow land”, and it was called this because of its dark and dramatic scenery. It was designated a National Park in 1952 and was recognised by UNESCO in 1990, together with three other national parks to the north, as part of the “Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area”.
Our stops in the national park included Christy Falls, Eglington Valley, Mirror Lakes, Holyford Valley, Monkey Creek, Homer Tunnel, Cleddau Valley, Mitre Peak, Stirling Falls, Bowen Falls, and of course, Milford Sound.
Due to the heavy rain, the waterfalls we saw were really high (some were only temporary waterfalls that are not present on dry days). We saw a lot of water throughout the day and the national park is said to get more rainfall per annum than the Amazon Rainforest. However, Fiordland National Park is a temperate rainforest rather than a tropical one.
As well as this, Milford Road (that leads from Te Anau all the way to Milford Sound) goes through more avalanche sites than any other road. In winter, staff have to explode the avalanches for safety and then clear the road.
Interestingly, we were told that Milford Sound is actually a Fiord rather than a Sound, and the British got it wrong when they named it (a fiord is a valley filled by a glacier’s ice and a sound is a valley filled with rising sea or river levels).
Once we arrived at Milford Sound itself, we took a boat to get a closer look at the fiord. There are two permanent waterfalls found there. These include Stirling Falls, which is taller than Niagara Falls, and was said by staff to be the craziest they had ever seen it on the day we were there! The wind and rain made it more tempting to be sitting on the inside deck of the boat, and we had to be prepared to be absolutely drenched when visiting the outside deck for a closer look at the natural beauty.
Heading back to our big green bus to dry off after the boat trip, our next stop was to the Chasm, where there were a series of gushing waterfalls just a short walk from the road. Here we saw a Kea bird. These are the world’s only alpine parrots and they are sadly endangered, with only 5,000 of the birds remaining. They did survive the Ice Age though, due to their intelligence, and they are supposedly as clever as three year old children. It is also believed that they were around at the same time as the dinosaurs and are one of the oldest and smartest birds in existence.
After our walk around the Chasm, we made a brief stop at Homer Tunnel, a tunnel through the mountains that was opened in 1953 to allow visitors to access an otherwise inaccessible natural beauty. We could also see the old Homer Camp, where the construction workers had lived whilst building the tunnel.
Our penultimate stop was to Monkey Creek. This is a a glacier-fed spring where the water is amazingly 90% pure and can be drank straight from the source. Jonny and I filled up our water bottle here and were amazed at how clear the water was and its fresh taste.
Our final detour before heading back towards Queenstown, was to a café with llamas living in a large field outside. We were able to buy some llama food and feed them, which they accepted happily. Though they wanted to be fed, if we went to stroke them, the llamas would move away quickly. They were placid and tame animals, but they were very beautiful.
Above: The many attempts to get a selfie with one of the lovely llamas!
After over eight hours on the road, we arrived back to Queenstown at around 6 pm. Milford Sound and the national park had been beautiful, but I definitely think (from seeing friends’ photos taken on clearer days), that we had too much rainfall to appreciate them fully. I therefore hope we can come back one day in the future (to visit Milford Sound again as well as many other parts of New Zealand that my trip had not allowed; that Kiwi Experience had cancelled; or that adverse weather conditions hadn’t deemed possible).
Having been told by my friend from home that Queenstown was famous for its “Fergburger”, Jonny and I stopped off at this restaurant on our way back to our motel. We had to queue for quite a while in order to be served. Nonetheless, the food and milkshakes were good once we got them. Although, I must admit (in my own opinion) I’ve had better burgers.
The subsequent day was Jonny’s last, and as I mentioned in my previous blog post, this was our final chance to go skydiving. It had been cancelled about six times in Wanaka, Franz Josef and Queenstown due to unsafe weather conditions, and so we were pinning all our hopes on being able to go that morning. We woke up at 6:15 am, as we were told to call the office to find out if the skydive was going ahead. I was absolutely gutted to hear that it wasn’t happening due to high wind, despite the sky already being a clear blue outside our window.
Jonny went back to bed for a bit, but I was too upset to sleep, so I started searching for other beautiful places we could skydive closer to home. The only country in Europe that was mentioned as a “Top Skydiving Location” was Switzerland, so I then decided my new plan was to go to skydiving there in a couple of years… (I’m still waiting and hoping that I can go soon!)
When we eventually surfaced from the motel, we spent our last morning together walking around the town and having brunch on the edge of Lake Wakatipu. The food was delicious, but I couldn’t help feeling sad that Jonny was leaving. One exciting thing we did discuss, was my plan to come home a week early, in order to surprise my dad on his 60th birthday!
Jonny and I said goodbye, and once he left for the airport I moved into my new hostel in Queenstown. Some of my travel friends were here already so I did have company at least. However, I spent most of my remaining time in Queenstown watching Netflix on my bunk bed (my excuses being that I was exhausted, sad, needed a break and had seen the majority of things I had wanted to see in the lovely Adventure Capital of New Zealand).
The next few days were mostly spent driving back to Auckland, where I started and was now ending my trip. We stopped in different towns and cities en route and I got the chance to see some highlights along the way. However, I was definitely able to fit in more activities and adventures on the previous journey from Auckland to Queenstown.
Christchurch is also still recovering from its devastating earthquake in 2011. Interestingly though, after the earthquake, shipping containers were used to create a makeshift shopping mall, and it proved to be a great success and still stands today.
- A walk around the coastal town of Kaikoura
- A ferry journey back to the North Island.
- A trip to Spa Park Natural Hot Springs in Taupo, to enjoy the thermal waters.
- A night out in Taupo with some travel friends.
- A stop at the National Kiwi Hatchery. I had seen the kiwi birds previously though (and my budget was getting low at this point), so I just enjoyed the surroundings.
- Additionally, I stopped in other small towns en route to Auckland, and these allowed me to take some photos of other weird and wonderful things!
I visited Albert Park, which overlooks downtown Auckland, on one particularly sunny day, taking my book to read in the sunshine. Walking around the elegant garden allowed me to see lots of lovely flowers, towering palm trees, a floral clock and a Victorian fountain; as well as statues of Queen Victoria and her eponymous husband.
I was now ready to leave this fascinating country and continue on my travels. I had so many ups and downs in New Zealand:
From losing my luggage; having many trips cancelled, including my precious skydive; infecting my poor finger on the black water rafting trip, and inhaling the putrid smell of sulphur in Rotorua; to being reunited with my boyfriend; going on many exhilarating adventures; learning about the fascinating Māoris and meeting wonderful new friends. New Zealand really did have it all!
As I headed to the airport, I was excited for my next trip. Please watch this space to find out how I spent my long layover in dazzling Dubai!