As a part of NZ South Island – Short trip – Part 1, I had visited Christchurch, Timaru, Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, Mount Aoraki/Mount Cook, Wanaka and Hawea and we reached Te Anau for our Milford Sound trip.
By now I knew, it was all going to be about mountains and lakes( and all without snow 😦 ). I was missing the snow however it was making me more and more determinant that I will either come to NZ again in winter or come near September.
At Milford Sound, we had booked an early morning cruise (JUCY – $40 each) starting 8:55am and hence we had to start the drive by 6:30 am. It is 119 km to get there and considering it was going to be dark, I kept at least 2 hours for driving. The PDF here has excellent information to prep you up for the journey. The weather of Milford Sound is mostly cloudy and if you see on a weather app, it will mostly show raining, all days. But locals told me that cruises run even if it is raining.
We started sharply at 6:30 am. It was completely dark. There are no mobile signals after Te Anau so we were entirely relying on our GPS. We had saved all the details on GPS. To be honest, I was a little anxious as I had not driven in the dark too much and that too hilly area. I was not sure what kind of road I am gonna hit.
Anyway, I just kept driving without being aware of the surrounding. But this was our idea that we’ll stop at all places during our return. That way, we’ll be ahead of traffic as I had heard, it gets really crowded during the day. People miss their cruise due to traffic. After some time, dawn broke out. We passed through the Homers tunnel, a 1.2km-long tunnel through solid rock. The birds you see on top of the car are Kea. Very intelligent birds who can eat rubber around your car doors. So try to shoo them away if they sit on your car by honking and if you choose to sit in your car, keep your windows closed.
The drive was interesting between the mountains and we finally reached the boat terminal car park. There is a team there to guide you through the car park. The Boat terminal is about 3-5 minutes walk from the car park. we quickly freshened up and headed to our cruise.
Milford Sound Cruise
Hence started the most hyped journey on the cruise. Well, most of the people take a spot on the topmost deck. The route which cruise was going to take is as shown below.
There was an onboard canteen where you get some decent hot food. There was a running commentary and I had to concentrate a lot to understand everything he was saying. The views are amazing but you are not going to see anything new after half an hour. They take you very near to a waterfall, close enough to get very slightly drenched.
I was missing the snow at every point. I am not sure but I think the whole experience would have been much better if I would have visited in Spring starting September. The NZ trip is very costly including accommodation, car rental and flights that re-visiting all the places is impossible. I was losing the current moment.
Anyway, once the cruise was over, we started our journey back to Te Anau. Using the PDF guide, we thought of stopping a few places while going back.
The Chasm This is a must do!!! Via a concrete and decked track, take an easy 20-minute stroll through the forest to the 22m deep ravine where the Cleddau River has cut through the rock, carving fascinating formations in this landscape. It’s interesting to see the power of water.
Cascade Creek:- Here you will find nature walk along a loop track through a red beech forest and along the Lake Gunn edge. This a nice walk and good views of the lake. Make sure you have the insect spray on otherwise you are going to keep hitting yourself.
Mirror Lakes – Do not even bother stepping out for Mirror lakes. You will be watching the mirror of mountains on a very tiny pond. Further down in my blog, I am going to suggest a perfect place for Mirror Lakes. I am just putting up some photos here just for reference.
Te Anau Downs – Our last stop was Te Anau Downs. This is the world-famous Milford Track and this sheltered harbor marks the departure point for Milford Track walkers. As I understood, people get their jet boats and get into the water here. We just stopped for good photos.
The rest of the drive was scenic as a good amount of the drive is along the Lake Te Anau. You get good views on the roadsides as well. We realized that there weren’t enough road signs for all the stops as per the PDF. Since there is no mobile signal, we had to entirely rely on the road signs to visit places. Lots of stops got skipped because of this too. I was a little upset as I could not do any long treks but my friends were already tired and probably that is one major disadvantage of not traveling solo.
We reached back to Te Anau around 3:30 and most of the restaurants were closed for lunch. Hence we just picked up a sub and ate it along the lake near the visitor center. The visitor center had quite a lot of equipment and information for people who trek a lot. The lake was very quiet and was not having many sports. We had the whole evening to ourselves. We had initially decided to go to 2.5-hour Glowworm tour, costing $98/pp which includes a cruise in Lake Te Anau to get to the caves and then guided tour in the caves. But then somehow in the evening, I could not justify the cost of it. I had been to the Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains, NSW and I think it was sufficient.
We rested for the rest of the day.
We started for Queenstown from Te Anau around 9:00 am. We made photo stops the way and we reached Queenstown around 11:30 am.
We straight went to Skyline Queenstown. There is a huge parking issue in Queenstown. If you are planning not to go much outside Queenstown, you can return the car as everything within Queenstown is walkable. However, we had a few more drives to do, so we intended to keep the car. It was very difficult to find parking near Skyline Queenstown but we were lucky to get it quickly. We had already bought tickets online for the Gondola and 2 luge rides which was highly recommended. But buying the tickets online was not helpful except for the few dollar discounts. I still had to go through the same queue as the ones who did not have the tickets.
Skyline Gondola, Queenstown
It is a scenic ride which enables you to take in the stunning views as you ride the steepest cable car lift in the Southern Hemisphere!
You’ll be carried 450 meters above Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu to the top of Bob’s Peak, where you’ll enjoy a spectacular 220-degree panorama with breath-taking views of Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Walter and Cecil Peak and, of course, Queenstown. All the information about Skyline Gondola is here.
Once at the top, we had luge ride tickets. It is a fun activity. You have one beginner level and the other intermediate level and we had tickets for each of them. They give you a tiny orientation to use the luge.
After that, it was almost 2pm and we had to check-in at our hostel(Tahuna Pod Hostel). Everything else was alright about the hostel except for the parking. We had a really tough time finding parking around the hostel in the evening. It really frustrated me as the hostel should mention this on their website and the traveler should know before booking. We checked into the hostel, marked our beds and then headed to Queenstown center. We had booked Thunder Jet Boat ride for 25 minutes from GoOrange. It is just my observation but I guess if you book tours/activities by coming to the Kiosk, you can get negotiate good discounts.
The Jet boat takes you to the Kawarau River with more of those famous 360-degree spins. It then goes down Lake Wakatipu. Overall it was a decent experience. They give you open lockers to keep your jackets and belongings and you can take your mobile phone with you. The life jackets, however, smelled bad but there was no other choice.
Once we finished the Jet Boat, we walked back to the hostel. There was a lot of time to sunset. Hence we pulled out our car and started for Road to Paradise.
Road to Paradise
The Road to Paradise is supposedly one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand. A lot of movies like Lord of the Rings have been shot around this area. The road actually leads to a small town named Glenorchy with a drive around Lake Wakatipu. We took this journey in the evening so the sun was right with us. But it’s not an exaggeration, the drive is really awesome. It took us 2 hours and drive and come back to Queenstown.
We had dinner at the hostel and then called it a day.
Day 6 – Departure day
This was our final day in New Zealand. We checked out exactly at 10:00 am. We had decided to visit Lake Hayes which was just 20 minutes drive from Queenstown.
Lake Hayes:- This was one of the most amazing places I visited in New Zealand. This is a mirror lake in a real sense as compared to the mirror lake en route Milford Sound. Reflecting the majestic mountains of the Wakatipu Basin and the earthy tones of the landscape, this lake offers a million and one Kodak moments.
There is a loop trek of around 8 km which gives you an opportunity to look at the lake from all different angles. It has a well maintained wide gravel track We did not do the whole loop walk but we took some great photos.
After Lake Hayes, we came back to Queenstown city and parked our car near Adelaide Street and started walking on the Queenstown trail/Frankton track until Queenstown gardens. This walk has a well-formed path and there were people of varied age groups. We just loitered around and relaxed in the gardens for some time.
Now was the time when we had to return our car. We fuelled up our tank, cleaned the car, vacuumed it from inside, ready to be returned. The last thing, before returning the car was to visit the ice bar. We had managed to get $1 entry ticket so I was just very keen to go inside. It was my first experience of an Ice Bar and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
This was the end of our trip. We returned the car and headed to the airport using the local transport.
This concluded my most awaited NZ trip. As I looked back, I realized this trip was more relaxed as I did not do any challenging treks or any adventurous activity. This inspired me to come again in winter or spring to witness lots of snow and do much more treks and activities. Next time I was determined to hire a Caravan to have a caravan experience. I believe, they are more sorted than car drivers.