South Island : Milford, Rain and Wildlife


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November 3rd 2018
Published: November 24th 2018
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3 to 6 th November

Rainy grey days don‘t stop us and as the weather changed we put on our layers and boots and set off from Lake Wanaka on our way to Queenstown and I knew a nice little place for a walk. I had visited Diamond Lake last time in the sunshine having a picnic by the side of the road. This time there was a proper car park and signs for the walks and as we returned from the circuit round the lake and up the hill there were a few mini busses of tourists . (Of course we are tourists too but we are pretty snobby and like to set ourselves apart as we are doing it ourselves and we try to keep away from the crowds.) But around Queenstown that’s pretty much impossible ...it is such a big tourist hub and of course the lake and mountains are so beautiful regardless of the hordes . Spotting the little Fantail bird flitting about this has become Jenny’s favourite NZ bird.

I didn’t think I planned it on purpose but Jenny had the responsibility of the fantastic drive through the Cardrona Gorge and Pass , a very steep and bendy narrow road ...but so beautiful with the hillsides covered in clumps of golden tussock grasses waving in the wind ...and then as you get to the top you should be able to look down and see all the hairpin bends of the Crown Range however it was too cloudy so I counted her down as she drove ...” just another 5 hairpin bends to go !!!”

I must mention that we had been on the road about 3 days when Jenny said “ Oh it’s a camper van !” And what was that revelation - that the bright green ( if you’ve been to NZ or Oz you will know what I mean ) Jucy Lucy vans were actually to sleep in and not some healthy option vans selling juice in the tourist car parks, she though it was the NZ version of an Ice cram van ! We did laugh every time we saw one from then on !!!

Queenstown : So Lucky again that house swapper friends Rosslyn and Alastair ( thanks so much ) have loaned us their house for 3 days so we made ouselves at home got the laundry done, food shopping and cooked a curry . We managed a drive down the lake to Glenorchy with a break in cloud cover at the start of the drive but heavy rain and clouds concealed the beauty at the end ...this is Lord of the Rings country , and its not hard to imagine Middle Earth here. Next morning the sun was shining ( hooray !) so can we beat the tourist hordes ...we can if we get out early with a quick photostop at Hayes Lake on the way to Arrowtown . Hardly anyone there at 10 am so we explored the Chinese miners settlement ...this was gold mining country and the museum has interesting displays of how the town was developed in those days. Now the car parks were full and most people were in the shops along the main street so we opted for a walk along the river and then up Tobins Trail , worth the slog up and up as we had great views over Arrowtown and the mountains. The rain the previous night had of course been snow on the mountains so it was very beautiful. Avoiding the worst traffic we took a road over Coronet Peak to get back “ Home” and with the sun still shining took the opportunity to visit the Botanic Gardens with its beautiful lake views. ...what is strange for us in November is to see the range of flowers - tulips and rhododendrons as well as roses...all out at the same time !

Everyone who comes this way has to visit Fjiordland either Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound and being short of time we opted for a coach n cruise trip ( yes we had to be proper tourists that day !) I have already done both Sounds on previous trips but was quite happy to do it again. So at crack of dawn ..well 7 am we were boarding our coach on a sunny morning. Jenny says because I am short I can weave my way in amongst the hordes and get prime position( maybe I am just pushy ...something I learnt to be in Dubai !) ...so it was I got us front seats on the coach. It’s a long day , but Real Journeys is a good local company and the driver makes many stops and has a great commentary. How can you describe the journey , along the Lake the Remarkable mountains range are just stunning and then there are flats , passes , more hills and mountains , Knobs Flat , Mirror Lakes , Monkey Creek ...gorges , valley sides so steep you have to look through the glass roof of the coach to see the top and all along the way lush vegation and ferns covering the walls of the rocks, and waterfalls ....so many you loose count ..hundreds maybe thousands. I knew from my previous trip at Te Anau there was a shop selling famous yummy venison pies so we made a beeline for that and yes it was very yummy , just as I remembered.

When the coach stops cheeky Kea , a green large parrot like bird , attacks cars and the coach pecking at rubber strips round the doors, windscreen wipers , tyres, anything rubber ..they are not afraid they toddle up and down amongst the tourists And have their selfies taken ! That was a big change from my last visit to Milford Sound in 2007 ... there had been just a few other minibusses but this time everywhere we stopped there were the hordes again. Through the Homer Tunnel and down the divide into the West Coast the clouds were gathering with a sprinkle of rain and so at last on the cruise on the Sound was not in bright sunshine but not cold so most of the time we were outside on the boat enjoying the sights of the waterfalls and the magnificent sheer mountainsides plunging into the fjord. Rainfall here is phenomenal... mean average is 6400mm ( 252 inches ) and there can be 250 mm in one 24 hour period. However the place with the highest rainfall on the West Coast goes to Cropp River near Hokitika with 11 m in 2017 ! So given those statistics if we just had a sprinkle of rain and clouds we were lucky.

The boat takes you out to the Tasman Sea where on a rocky promontory seals were being lashed by vicious huge waves Crashing over them . It makes you wonder why they didn’t find a better place. We spotted some yellow eyed penguins , hooray said Jenny ... and then some more sensible NZ fur seals who had found a more secluded spot to bask. One solitary dolphin appeared to complete our tick list ...we really didn’t think a whale would appear and it didn’t. Sailing back down the fjiord the boat edged in to the cliff face right close to some of the falls .

Mitre Peak looked very foreboding as we came into the jetty , but so dramatic .... the classic photo you see on NZ tourist adverts is blue sky and sunshine but it’s not often like that. I like that atmospheric look and that’s how it is most days here in Fjiordland.

More Mountain / Lake / waterfalls sightseeing on the way back to Queenstown as it was still daylight and we were entertained to a beautiful sunset just as we drove “home” to finish our day with some homemade soup , which I had done the previous day. Nothing but Home comforts for us !


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Top of the Crown Range Top of the Crown Range
Top of the Crown Range

Just a few more hairpin bends
Arrowtown Main Street Arrowtown Main Street
Arrowtown Main Street

Now all shops and cafes


1st December 2018

Foreboding weather, abundant wildlife and a few hair pen curves
Glad you had a nice house to stay in for home exchange. What a great way to see the world. NZ is beauty round every corner. Glad you enjoyed the sounds again. Sounds lovely. I was in Queenstown the first time in 1989 and it was a village of about four streets. Times certainly have changed. I was shocked when I was there in 2008. Life moves on.

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