We departed Lake Matheson and began our drive to Queenstown. This trip is my favorite drive in the world. In 3 hours, we drive along the coast, into the mountains, and alongside 3 massive alpine lakes. Every turn has something new, and it is gorgeous the whole way.
We made a brief pitstop in the town of Wanaka. It is a lovely town, unsurprisingly placed on Lake Wanaka. They have an interesting little place called Puzzling World. We dropped by and took a few photos outside, but decided not to pay and go through their “attraction.” We’ve heard it is really cool, but there were a billion people there so we opted to miss the crowd. From Wanaka, we drove down to Queenstown.
We arrived into Queenstown with the afternoon ready to be enjoyed. There is a gondola you can ride to the top of a large hill/mountain that has a great view of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. I (Evan) decided it would be more fun to walk to the top of the mountain (and cheaper) so I tricked everyone into joining me. It was a long and steep climb, but I enjoyed it. Not sure anyone else did, but the view at the top was spectacular! And I find that scenic views are best enjoyed when you’ve made the climb to reach them.
Since we were running out of time, we actually rode the Gondola down the mountain. We then went to the famous Fergburger for dinner. It was the first burger I had eaten since arriving to New Zealand, so naturally I went for the “Big Al” which contained 1/2 pound of beef, plus bacon and cheese. It was a delight. All the burgers were large, as demonstrated by Laura:
We spent the rest of the night right on the shores of the lake. There are a few shops, restaurants, and bars there and so it was a pretty happening place full of people. After checking out a couple different places, we grabbed a swing and just hung out until the sun set over the mountains. It was an excellent and relaxing evening after all our driving and hiking.
Milford Sound and Fiordland
Oh baby, this is my favorite place to visit in the world! The drive rivals yesterday’s, but it is a bit longer. The photos do not do it justice, when you are in Fiordland you feel like you’re in a make believe world.
A fiord occurs when glaciers cut through mountains into the ocean. The ocean flows in and fills up the remaining valley. Our final destination was Milford Sound; however, it was actually misnamed over 100 years ago. Technically, it should be called Milford Fiord. A Sound occurs when a river cuts through mountains into the ocean. But, for whatever reason, the name Milford Sound stuck and now tour guides have an extra interesting fact to share.
The final 30 minutes of the drive into Milford Sound were unreal. As you may remember from our description of Fox, glaciers cut through mountains like they’re butter. When glaciers melt, they leave deep and steep valleys. These are covered with waterfalls that flow down all the way to the ocean.
In order to tour Milford Sound, you hop on a boat. They go all the way out to the Tasman Sea, passing through the Fiord the whole way. It is a breathtaking experience. Quite literally, you are surrounded by 4,000-6,000 foot tall walls. There are also 4 permanent waterfalls in Milford Sound, but when it rains over 300 waterfalls flow into the fiord. It rains about 200 days out of the year in Milford, so your chances of seeing countless waterfalls are pretty good.
We were there on a cloudy day, but it didn’t rain enough to experience hundreds of falls. Still, it was stunning. There is a certain reverence and respect that you can’t shake in Milford Sound. Even though we spent 3.5 hours driving there each way, it was totally worth it!
We drove back the same way we came, but took a couple of pit stops to take some pictures. I even did a bit of fly fishing, but to no avail (I only had 20 minutes…)
The next morning, we went jet boat riding! A jet boat is, essentially, a jet ski built for 20 people. It only needs 2 inches of water to run, goes around 80km/h, and loves to do 360 degree spins. It was a unique and beautiful way to see the area around Queenstown. We went down the Kuwarau river, which is home to the world’s first bungee jump and the Pillars of the King in Lord of the Rings.
After Jet Boating, Morgan and I hiked to the top of Queenstown hill while Jeremy and Laura went shopping around town. This was another large uphill climb. We had an elevation change of around 500 meters, but the view from the top was the best we’ve seen in Queenstown. You can see in every direction, and have a much broader view of the Lake Wakatipu. It was probably my favorite hike of the trip!
That night we drove to our final hotel, in Omarama. It is a small little town, just outside of Twizel where we had booked a Lord of the Rings tour. On our way in to Twizel, we stopped at the very unique Clay Cliffs.
After the Clay Cliffs we met up with a small tour company in Twizel. Our guide took us to the filming location of the Pelennor fields in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This was the location for the large battle and many scenes surrounding Gondor in Return of the King. She had a few different props and costumes, so naturally we did our best to reenact a few scenes.
Our final pit stop was in Lake Tekapo. It is a very scenic and famous lake, both for its unique color and excellent view of Mt. Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand. It is also home to the Church of the Good Shepherd, which is a small chapel that still has services right on the lake.
All in all, it was a pretty epic trip. Hard to believe we did it all in 6 days!!! The amazing thing is, how much more we still have to explore. Thanks for reading and we miss you!