Queenstown and Milford Sound
07.10.2015 - 09.10.2015
Because we had to extend our time in Franz so we could experience the glacier in bright sunshine instead of a shroud of fog, plus we used up a day because we had to go via Napier to get to Wellington, we only had three nights in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the South Island. Which was too bad because A)it is knock-you-on-your-tush stunning and B) our hostel was LEGIT. Adventure Queentown Hostel? You know your shit. Each bunk had its own light, two outlets, and a shelf. There were also shelves and plenty of hooks in the showers. You know you've been living lean when the sight of an outlet and a couple of hooks makes you want to weep with gratitude. They even rent out iPads and GoPros and stuff. Most hostels don't even put soap in the bathrooms, much less loan you iPads for free.
The afternoon after the bus dropped us off and the whole next day we crisscrossed Queenstown several times. Everywhere you turn there are mountains.
This range is called The Remarkables, for obvious reasons.
It poured again on Wednesday so we also moved our Milford Sound cruise to Thursday. We walked all the way to the outskirts of town to try this Mexican food truck Gina had read about, only to discover that it had just closed for the day because it was so windy out that tacos were literally blowing down the street. Can't say I wouldn't want to witness that..... So instead we tried Fergburger, a local phenomenon that has people waiting in hellishly long lines in all weather for a hamburger the size of your face. It was good but nothing that I would go significantly out of my way for. All the locals that we talked to kept asking us if we had tried it though. I guess it's literally the most popular thing to do in Queenstown. Much more notable was Cup & Cake, a tiny cupcake bakery sort of hidden near the water. Much better than Sprinkles of Georegtown Cupcakes in DC.
We also finally tried some New Zealand wines. We would have liked a wine tour--the Otago valley is a famous NZ wine region--but tickets to those are hundreds of dollars so that was out. And since we don't have a car to make our own little wine tour, we settled for an intimate but well equipped cellar called The Winery. It was a technological endeavor I had never undertaken before. Every time I have gone wine tasting it involved a counter and a person uncorking the bottles. This was walls of automated dispensers. You got a plastic card registered to your name. The wines were arranged by type along the walls, with their descriptions. The prices flashed the cost of a sample (charging for samples!), a partial and a full glass. So you put your card in the reader, select your wine and press a button according to the size you want to order. Your wine then dispenses and you're free to swirl and swish as much as you please.
The. It just adds up your cost and you pay at the end. The technology was novel but I miss the personal touch. If I am going to have to pay for wine samples then I should at least get a knowledgable staff member to walk me through my choices.
Thursday morning we were at the bus stop by 7am for the long ride to Milford Sound. As the crow flies it's about 75km from Queenstown to Milford but because of the mountains the road is over 300km long. It took us six hours to get there, but that included a lot of stops. Intercity buses always make lots of toilet and tea stops, plus the driver graciously stopped at all of the scenic lookouts and let us all tumble out of the bus with our cameras. Also, the bus had a glass roof, which was lovely for craning one's head up at the peaks.
I mean, how can you not photograph that? Those are the Mirror Lakes. We had entered Fijordland National Park by that point, which covers a huge swathe of southwest New Zealand. Technically, Milford Sound is a fijord--a inlet of water carved out by glaciers-- rather than a sound--a reclaimed riverbed filled from the sea. But someone called it a sound several hundred years ago before they had geological knowledge of the area, and when scientists actually examined the floor they found it was a V like a fijord instead of flat like a sound. But too late! The name had already stuck and Milford Sound has a much better ring than Milford Fijord.
We took a two hour cruise of the sound on a double decker ferry boat. In addition to the mountains, which never ever get old, we saw fur seals sunning themselves on some rocks, and the captain pulled the boat to some waterfalls that those of us standing on the front end in the open got quite wet. The second time he did this it was a glacial-fed stream that was careening over the cliff, and taking that to the face was quite a shock. The guide on the loudspeaker just laughed and called it a glacial facial. Standing there dripping and shivering, I kinda wanted to punch him in the face.
Milford Sound is constantly ranked the top thing to do/see in New Zealand, and I can see why. Because of all the rain recently there were extra waterfalls steaming down the mountains and I to the sound, and the boat even nosed out into the Tasman Sea a little (Jane, we waved to you). The tops of the taller mountains are usually bare, but where they can the trees dig in their roots and hang on for dear life.
Oh and there were keas everywhere again, two even tried to get on the bus until the driver chased them away. They are amazing, sneaky little devils