23.12.2010 - 27.12.2010 14 °C
We’ve seen some incredible scenery since our last post, and experienced a few adrenaline-soaked moments. On Wednesday, we left the Franz Josef Top Ten where we had spent the previous two nights, and began our journey to Kingston where we would be spending five nights over Christmas. As you may recall from the last post, our attempt at the Fox Glacier the previous day had been foiled because of a road closure. Wednesday morning was bright though, and the road was open, so down it we drove to the car park. We had read that the Fox Glacier was even more majestic than Franz Josef, but unfortunately we could go no further than the carpark. The heavy rains had washed out a section of the trail and they had closed the trail. The glacial river formed from the runoff of the melting ice was a torrent, with big chunks of ice being pushed along, so we heeded the warnings, (and the presence of Department of Conservation workers who were there), and we contented ourselves with a mere glimpse of the Fox Glacier. There was another point at which we could view the glacier, but we had a couple of other stops to make during our day’s journey, so we resisted the urge, and carried on.
The drive down the coast was a lot nicer than our previous section, partly because there was almost no rain. After turning onto the road leading through the Haast Pass, the scenery included clear views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains. Words really can’t describe how awesome this stretch of road is, and we thought that it was probably the most beautiful drive we had ever taken! Our first stop was to take in a view of Thunder Creek Falls, which you can see overhead here. It is well-named, as it was making an impressive sound and spray of mist. Here's a photo:
After a short time, we climbed back into the Capella and continued along the gorgeous road. Eventually we came to our next stop, the Blue Pools, which you can see overhead here. This spot was some way down a really pleasant trail which included two swing bridges that Bronte negotiated quite well, despite her predilection to avoid such things. When we arrived at the Blue Pools, we found they were more of a bluish-grey unfortunately. This was due to the very large amount of rain washing down the mountains into the stream that flows into the pool, carrying its silt with it. We gazed at it for a bit, and then it started to rain, so we double-timed it back to the car. Here’s a photo:
We continued along the route and continued to marvel at the stunning scenery. Eventually we approached the town of Wanaka which is nestled at the base of two lakes – Wanaka and Hawea. As we drove along these lakes we found it difficult to believe what we were seeing – water of such an intense and beautiful blue that it almost looks artificial. Sailboats moving along the water made the whole scene look like a painting. Seeing all of this made our already great moods that much better. We stopped in Frankton, just short of Queenstown, briefly. Frankton is essentially a suburb of Queenstown, which is actually too small to even have a suburb! Queenstown is rather idyllic – a small, picturesque town nestled on the edge of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by a beautiful mountain range aptly named “The Remarkables”. Lake Wakatipu is every bit as blue as Lakes Wanaka and Hawea – it’s incredible! The road hugged the shore of the lake and a half hour later took us to the far end and our destination – Kingston. Kingston couldn’t really be called a town because it is so small, but it is the location of the bach we have rented for five nights, and which you can see overhead here. Here’s a couple of photos taken at stops along said lakeside road:
When we arrived at the bach, our friends the Allores greeted us, themselves having arrived a few hours earlier. It was fantastic seeing them again and hearing about their adventures since we last saw them in Tauranga! The next morning, Thursday, came quite early. We rose at 5:30 am to get ready for the amazing day we had planned. Shortly after 8 am we arrived in the tiny town of Te Anau which serves as the gateway to Fiordland National Park and our day’s final destination – Milford Sound. The bus we were to travel on picked us up on the street as we walked towards our rendezvous point. We had read that the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound is the third most dangerous road in New Zealand, partially because of avalanches and rock falls, and partially because the road winds through one of the most stunningly beautiful places on the entire planet. With so much majesty to take in, you don’t want to be driving or you’ll either miss it or kill your family as you drive off the road and careen down a mountain slope.
The weather was quite rainy, at times, and at others a mist hung in the air, but as the bus driver explained, it makes for a different, but equally wonderful experience in Milford Sound, as you’ll see in the photos. Our first stop along this route was the Eglington Flats, not shockingly far from the Eglington River. After a few minutes taking in the sight of the mist shrouded mountains, on we continued. The next stop was at the Mirror Lake. When the sun is out, this small pond makes for nice photos of the mountains reflected on its surface, but alas, like the last time we were in a similar place, there was too much cloud. No problem, here’s a photo:
The road took us through one of the mountains as well – literally. The Homer Tunnel was constructed beginning in the mid 1930’s and is cut through 1.2 km of rock. There are traffic lights controlling passage, as it is only a single lane. On the far side of the tunnel, the serpentine road winds steeply back down from an elevation of 945 metres, the highest point on the entire road. The bus ride along this stretch of road took over top spot as the most beautiful we had ever been on.
Eventually we came to Milford Sound itself, which you can see overhead here and boarded a boat that would take us right out to the Tasman Sea. It had been raining on and off for the entire trip in, and it continued for the rest of our trip. One of the benefits of rain within Milford Sound is that the water streams off of the mountains and cascades down to the water in an amazing display. The mist hanging in the air and around the mountains was truly breathtaking. In fact, there are relatively few permanent waterfalls there, but we did get a good look at the ones that are though. Perhaps the most spectacular of these is Stirling Falls, about halfway through the Sound. As we approached this one the tour operator warned us that he’d be getting us in quite close to have a look – and then proceeded to pilot the boat within a few metres of the impact zone of the water! We got soaked but it was fantastic. Too soon we found ourselves back at our starting point, and we had to be content with our memories, and these photos:
Back on the bus we went, and made our way slowly back to Te Anau. We did make a few more stops along the way though. One of these was The Chasm, which is a small gorge cut by the Cleddau River. The water is a dramatic torrent as it courses through the chasm, as you can see here:
Another stop was at Christie Falls, right at the edge of the road. Yet another postcard scene with the crystal clear blue water rushing down the valley. Then it was back through the Homer Tunnel and a stop on the other side. It was a great place to stop, for we had the smallest of tastes of a white Christmas when it started to snow. It was enough to lift our spirits even higher and make this Christmas Eve even more special. One more stop to look at some mountain flowers, and then it was back to Te Anau and to the Capella. What an incredible trip! Here are some more photos and a video:
We enjoyed the rest of our Christmas Eve, and listened as Paul Allore read the kids “A Kiwi Night Before Christmas”, which is very funny! When we awoke the next morning, it was Christmas Day of course, and everyone was very excited. After rooting through our stockings, Bronte and Jack opened “The Gift” from the parents. They found in the box a sheet of paper with a hangman game on it, and after a dramatic game, they arrived at the word describing their gift – Disney! They were ecstatic to learn that we would be making a little side trip to Orlando after leaving New Zealand. It was priceless to see their reaction! We spent the rest of the day Skyping with family and lazing about. Because we are in the New Zealand summer, it seemed only fitting that we go for a little swim, so we all headed down to the beach. In the end, it was just Tim and Paul Allore that braved the rather chilly waters of Lake Wakatipu, and it was quite brief. Here they are:
Following a warming-up period, we hopped in the cars and drove up the highway towards the other end of the lake, and Queenstown. After stopping at all of the lookout spots, we turned around and headed back to the bach to make Christmas dinner. It was all a bit unusual for both us and the Allores, as we’ve never been away from our friends and family for Christmas before (and it’s never been this warm at Christmas for us before), but it was special and great. It really made us miss all of the people we love back home though. Here are some photos of the day:
Boxing Day was our day to visit Doubtful Sound, which you can see overhead here. This is another fjord a bit south from Milford Sound, and every bit as serene. This trip started out in the town of Manapouri where we boarded our first boat. This craft carried us across Lake Manapouri to the far shore where we boarded a bus that then took us overland to the edge of the Sound itself. Like Milford Sound, Doubtful isn’t really a Sound by the strict definition of the word. A Sound is carved by rivers and then backfilled by the sea, but both Doubtful and Milford were carved by glaciers, thus making them fjords rather than Sounds. Regardless of the misnomer, we took some photos along the way to the next boat. Here they are:
We then boarded our next boat and began the cruise out towards the Tasman Sea. We were rewarded almost immediately, as the largest of the permanent waterfalls in Doubtful Sound, Lady Alice Falls, roars over her cliff just outside of the harbour. The waterfall was particularly stunning this day because it was pouring rain. Apparently, Doubtful Sound and Fjordland National Park in general is the wettest place in New Zealand, with it receiving a dousing of rain two out of three days. While the rain and mist in Milford Sound made the area quite magical, it was a bit too heavy in Doubtful Sound for our liking. We still managed to take in the magesty of the place, but our visibility was grossly limited because of the less than ideal conditions. We still had a lot of fun though, and were quite happy as we pulled back into the wharf a couple of hours later. Here’s some more photos:
The bus back towards Lake Manapouri made one pretty cool stop on the way back, and that came right at the edge of the Lake – the Manapouri Power Station. To visit this station, the bus drove into the heart of the mountain, as this particular station is mostly underground. The station harnesses the flow of water from Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound via a channel tunnelled through solid rock in the mountain. This particular station generates 14% of all New Zealand’s power and has very little impact on the environment.
We eventually made it back to the bach and were quite exhausted from the day. Monday came and it was deemed “Adrenaline Day”. We drove into Queenstown in partly sunny weather and boarded a shuttle bus to the Shotover River, which you can see overhead here. Here we climbed aboard a jet boat and began the most thrilling boat ride of our lives. The Shotover Jet roars up and down the Shotover River through narrow channels, the boat seemingly centimetres away from the solid rock of the canyon walls. We were all grinning the entire time, especially when the pilot signalled that he would be doing a 360 – it was amazing fun and quite a rush. Here’s a couple of photos, and a new video:
Soon after we arrived safely back to the dock, the rain started again. After lunch the rain increased in intensity, despite the forecast. Regardless, we swam our way over to the Skyline Gondola and rode up to the top of the ridge overlooking Queenstown. We then sloshed our way over to the Ziptrek Eco Tour and got fitted into our harnesses. This was pretty neat, as we made our way down four different zip lines through the dense forest. Had it not been absolutely pouring during the final two lines, we would have had a fantastic view of the lake below. Happy, but completely soaked down to our connective tissue, we put on our flippers and dolphin-kicked our way back to the gondola. We drove back to the bach and dried ourselves out before supper. Another fantastic but extremely wet day in Queenstown. For those of you following along at home, we have had exactly one day during our South Island trip when it hasn’t rained for at least a few minutes – and that was Christmas Day!
So tomorrow we head away from Queenstown bound for our next destination – Oamaru on the East Coast. We will say goodbye to our friends the Allores until we meet again sometime back in Canada. It has been a great vacation thus far, and we’ve still got a lot of ground to cover before we cross the Cook Strait again and head back to Tauranga. We hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas – we'll see you soon!