The journey to Queenstown was long and beautiful. The south island scenery is incredible. Everything is so big down there – the mountains, the lakes, the valleys. The coach was very full, but we kept making stops – almost too many stops! It seems that it is quite normal here for a coach driver to stop for 10mins at a local beauty spot – today it was a large waterfall.
I said goodbye to my German friends at Wanaka and we sped on into Queenstown. The lake the town sits on, lake Wakatipu, is massive and gorgeous. The mountains that stand above Queenstown are well named – the Remarkables.
I arrived in Queenstown, found my hostel and cooked. I had an early night before my trip to Milford Sound the next day. The trip was one of the best things I did in New Zealand. It was beautifully organised and the area was just stunning.
I feel like, at this point, I ought the explain what a Sound is, because I had no idea before I came here. A Sound is a river valley that has been flooded by sea water – like Queen Charlotte Sound, where I was when I visited Picton. Milford Sound is, in fact, not a Sound. It is a glacial valley flooded by sea water – which technically makes it a Fjord. At the time it was named, the word “Fjord” had not entered English – hence “Milford Sound”. Which does sound cool, to be honest.
The bus picked us up at 7:05 (i.e. horribly early) and we drove a few hours to Te Anau, where we had a break and picked up some more people.
After Te Anau, the real tour began. The bus, which was very new, had a glass roof so you could see the mountains above, even if you were on the wrong side.
We stopped at a few places on the way. First, we stopped at a glacial valley, where you could see the misty mountains from Lord of the Rings (part or the southern alps). Then we stopped at a lovely lake, called mirror lake, which had near perfect reflections.
The third place we stopped was called Monkey Creek – you could see some great mountains and glaciers from there. I got out of the bus to look and take photos. The driver had also informed us that the water was safe to drink. I originally wasn’t going to as I tend not to trust things like that, but then I figured I should. So I got my bottle and bent down to get some water, when I heard a splash next to me – my phone had fallen out of my pocket into the creek. A few swear words later – I was back on the bus with my wet phone.
This is the bit where everyone goes “you should take the battery out and put it in rice”. Which is very helpful, but I was out for the day, so rice wasn’t an option. I took the battery out and left it until I got back on the bus from the boat tour, but the screen flickered and died. RIP crappy NZ phone 1.
After the creek, we stopped at a car park just before a tunnel through to Milford Sound. There were some Kea in the car park. They are beautiful Alpine parrots, but have a reputation for mischief.
After that quick photo opportunity, we headed through the tunnel and down the valley to Milford Sound. The bus dropped us by the port and we boarded our boat. There was a free lunch on board.
The boat took us out through the sound, which was stunning. We saw the waterfalls and the massive shear cliffs, which have trees on despite their lack of soil. The trees tangle their roots together to stay on – the basically hold hands. But if one tree falls, there is a tree avalanche as the ones connected to it fall too.
The boat journey took a few hours. It remained mostly cloudy, but it didn’t rain, which was good as it rains in Milford about two thirds of the time.
As we went round we stopped to look at some beautiful fur seals, hanging out on a rock.
The sound got wider and wider and the steep cliffs sank, until you could see the vast Tasman Sea ahead. The boat turned at the view back into the sound was stunning.
On our way back, we came to a large waterfall. The waterfall, called Waimanu falls, was said to have regenerative properties – those who bathed in the water would become younger.
The tour company seemed to think this was a good idea, so they push the front deck of the boat under the falls so the passengers can get soaked (or hide inside).
The boat took us back to the dock and we reboarded the bus. I had a great day out, despite losing my phone. I would recommend Milford Sound to anyone!
The second day I spent in Queenstown was rather different. I had booked onto a white water rafting and bungy combo. It was another fairly early start to get to the river to raft.
We took the minibus from Queenstown to the centre and went to change into our wetsuits.
We then got back into the minibus and headed for the Shotover river, a big gold bearing river near Queenstown. It used to be mined, now people just pan for gold. The road we took into the canyon was very narrow and had nice steep drops on the sides. The rafting guys gleefully told us that it was the most dangerous road in New Zealand and, at one point, made people stand up and look down the 100m drop that we were right next to.
We reached the bottom safely and had a briefing about what to do if you fell out of the boat while rafting. Then, we were ready to go!
I was placed in a team with a big Maori guy called Chief, who put me in the front of the boat. I thought I was terrible at rowing, but Chief was a good teacher and by the end, I was getting it!
We rowed down the canyon for a couple of hours, following Chief’s instructions to avoid big rock walls and navigate the rapids. We had a false start as we messed up on the first rapid and two of our passengers fell out! I almost fell out too. They were quickly rescued and returned to our raft.
After that we did much better. The other rapids went reasonably smoothly – it was so much fun! The final rapid came after a long tunnel through a rock face (I’m guessing made by the miners). It was a really big, fun rapid!
I have a video of my whole rafting experience that I will post at some point!
After rafting, I had lunch, then headed back to Queenstown. After running some errands (including getting a new phone), I headed to the bungy centre to prepare myself. I checked in and they weighed me and checked some medical questions.
We then got on a bus to go to the bungy site. I wasn’t as apprehensive as I had been about the skydive, but I had had less time to think about it.
We arrived and were told where to go for the bungy. I watched a few people do it first, then went to queue up. That’s when I got scared. I watched people jump and scream. I waited in the sun. Soon I was handed a harness – no going back. A few more people jumped. Then it was my turn.
As with the skydive, I let it all happen. I was fastened in. I was told to stand up and wave at the camera. I shuffled to the edge. I didn’t look down, because I knew I wouldn’t jump. I closed me eyes and jumped.
What followed was so disorienting! I felt the fall and then I felt slow deceleration and saw the river slowly drifting closer. I touched the water and was almost immediately sprung back into the air. The bungy guys swung the bungy cord. I bounced around, swinging and spinning in the air, flashes of landscape whirring before my eyes.
Soon, a long poor came into view, I grabbed it and was pulled slowly down onto a dingy. Once I was lying on the dingy I began to laugh. It was so much fun!
The hardest bit of the whole experience was climbing the stairs back to the centre! I have a video of this whole thing too – another one to upload when I have time!
I didn’t do much else in Queenstown as I began to furiously hunt for a job on checking my bank account.
I did a short kayaking session on the morning of the third day on the beautiful lake. I wish I couldn’t have taken photos, but I didn’t want to drown any more electronics!
I did manage to walk up Queenstown hill as well that afternoon. It was hot and steep, so it wasn’t the easiest climb, but there were beautiful views at the top.
At the top is a sculpture called the Basket of Dreams. It is quite cool and atmospheric.
On the way down I discovered a really cool area where people had piled up hundreds of stones in little piles. It was quite beautiful in a strange way.
The piles of stones reminded me of a scene in the film “Moana” where the chiefs of the tribe piled stones on top of one another with each new chief to make the island taller. It was symbolic of progress.
I had a lot of fun in Queenstown and was sad to move on, but my next destination was breathtakingly beautiful. More soon.