A Travellerspoint blog

Queenstown...

...and another mountain to climb

sunny 20 °C

Tuesday 30 - Wednesday 31 May

Another long morning's drive from Te Anau eventually brought us to Queenstown, a large, bustling, tourism-driven city on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.

It was lunchtime and we were hungry, so we pulled into the nearest car-park to town, paid for three hours' parking and promptly noticed that our hostel -where parking is free- was about 200 metres away.

Never mind. Queenstown is a friendly, lively place set beneath a backdrop of mountains and beside yet another beautiful lake.

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Funny how, just strolling around these faraway places, you can always see something vaguely familiar that reminds you of home...

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Anyway, once having lunched and moved the car we spent a pleasant afternoon exploring and visiting every 'outdoor' shop we could find in search of a decent pair of walking boots for Sharon (I'd already nabbed a bargain pair in Christchurch). Inevitably, the afternoon culminated in 'tasting sessions' at a number of good local hostelries, including the sister-pub to the Dux Delux microbrewery pub which we sadly didn't visit whilst in Christchurch.

Wednesday 31 May

As mentioned, mountains form the backdrop to Queenstown and today we fancied doing a spot of walking. Not far behind our hostel lay a gondola ride leading to the Skyline Visitor Centre, a launching spot for paragliders, and a smaller 'ski-lift' rising to a luge circuit and the start of a few walks.

We had intended to do a couple of the shorter walks, but on arriving at the top we found the ones we wanted to do closed and roped off. All that seemed to be open to us was the (gulp) five-hour return walk to Ben Lomond; a towering peak quite some distance ahead of us. We decided to take the gradually ascending walk as far as the Saddle, below the peak of Ben Lomond itself.

Already, at the start of the walk, the scenery awed us.

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The morning was bright and warm, with low clouds hanging over the surrounding mountains and heavy frost clinging to patches of grass as yet untouched by the sun.

After a couple of hours walking we finally reached the Saddle, and stopped for a rest. Here we met a group of four walkers who were heading for the summit of Ben Lomond, and who kindly took this flattering piccie of us:

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Us? Knackered?

From here, Ben Lomond looked tantalisingly close

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and we knew that we'd almost certainly regret it if we turned back now. Anyway, the path looked nice and easy...

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... and so, for a while, it was. But gradually, wide path turned to stony scramble which eventually gave way to snowy incline. Was the final push over ice-laden rocks to the summit of Ben Lomond worth all our efforts?

We think so.

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Posted by andymoore 11:22 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Milford Sound

Unexpectedly sunny.

sunny 20 °C

Monday 29 May

Almost the end of May, and for a lot of tourist operators in South Island, New Zealand, almost the end of the season.

We set off early from Te Anau to the the Milford Visitor Centre, taking in a long, varied and sometimes downright scary road down steep twisting inclines, beside beautiful lakes and - memorably - through the 1.2km Homer Tunnel (D'OH!) which passes through a mountain.

Milford Sound itself is normally very wet; it receives more than 7 metres of rainfall every year. We were blessed; the day was bright and sunny as we boarded the impressive Milford Mariner

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But more impressive, of course, is Milford Sound itself; a 16 kilometre fiord between sheer mountains heading out to the Tasman Sea.

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We had just made this trip in time; the Milford Mariner would make it's final cruises for the year tomorrow, May 30th, and the crew made no secret of the fact that they couldn't wait to go to the pub to celebrate this!

And so we slowly made our way through this magical, majestic sunlit landscape, passing by (and later, beneath) high waterfalls

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and tree shrouded cliffs

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as we headed out to sea. Interestingly, there is very little to anchor the trees to the cliffs with roots clinging to shallow crevices in the rocks. During heavy rainfall trees can be dislodged causing a 'domino effect' among neighbouring trees and resulting in a potentially dangerous tree avalanche. Just as well it was sunny, really.

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Once arriving at the mouth of the Sound, the boat made a leisurely turn heading for the mountains on the port (left) side. Here, in places, we were able to cruise closer to the rocks in order to get a good view of basking seals

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and to pass under spectacular rock outcroppings hanging high above.

Justifiably pleased with the sunny weather, everyone stood on the observation deck of the boat as the Captain kindly steered it right under the 155 metre high Stirling Falls! The water was freezing, but very invigorating - so much for staying dry though...

Before we knew it our wonderful cruise along Milford Sound was almost over, but it presented another highlight of our South Island tour and made us keen to return and do the trip again in a future summer.

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We took a slow drive back along the valley floor then up through the mountains to Te Anau, where we would spend one more night before moving on again.

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Sunset on Lake Te Anau

Posted by andymoore 20:10 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Dunedin to Te Anau via Invercargill

Taking the Southern Scenic Route

sunny

Saturday 27 - Sunday 28 May

From Dunedin we needed to make the 440 kilometre journey to Te Anau, gateway to the famous Milford Sound, another destination on our ´must see´ list.

Spreading the journey along New Zealand´s famous Southern Scenic Route with a convenient overnight stop at Invercargill gave us the best opportunity to see some of the sights along the way despite our limited timescale.

First stop was the rugged coast of Nugget Point and a gentle but picturesque walk to the lighthouse, from which vantage point all manner of sea birds, seals and occasionally penguins can be seen.

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No penguins in sight today, but a number of Fur Seals lazed on the rocks below.

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Many of the attractions along this first leg of the Southern Scenic Route require more time to explore than we had available to us, and so we made a conscious decision not to deviate from the main road itself. Thus we didn't stop again until we reached the short but enjoyable walk through lush forest which leads to the impressive Purakaunui Falls

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By now the afternoon was wearing on, and darkness had fallen by the time we reached Invercargill, a sizeable city around two-thirds of the way through our journey. Once checked into our hostel, we headed into the city in search of entertainment. Tonight was special for New Zealand rugby fans; the highly anticipated 'Super-14' final between the Crusaders (Christchurch) and the Hurricanes (Wellington).
A fairly lengthy search led us to a decent pub called the 'Frog and Firkin', where the match was being shown on a giant screen. We settled down with a pint to witness the spectacle of... a grey screen! The whole match was totally fog-bound with virtually zero visibility, but -bizzarely- the officials let play continue and eventually the Crusaders emerged victorious.

Heading out from Invercargill on Sunday morning, we stopped first at Riverton Rocks for a stroll on the beach.

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and then on to the adjoining Mores Reserve for a gently climbing walk through ancient forest to sweeping views over Stewart Island, Riverton Bay and Riverton itself

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Further along the route, a signpost to Monkey Island proved irresistable to our curiosity. Alas, the reality wasn't quite as exotic as we'd hoped;

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Apparently, the island is named after the 'monkey-winches' which hauled supply boats ashore here.

After a brief lunch stop at a hotel in sleepy Tuatapere we visited the nearby Clifden Suspension Bridge which crosses the Waiau River and has the longest span of any suspension bridge in New Zealand.

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'Are you Jake or Elwood?'

And so, after our two days on the Southern Scenic Route, we rolled into Te Anau, a resort gradually closing down at the end of the tourist season. In fact, we'd made it with just two days to spare to ensure a trip along the famous and unmissable Milford Sound. For today, we were content to take in the beauty of Lake Te Anau just across the way from our accommodation here.

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Posted by andymoore 20:51 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Dunedin

Almost as Scottish as Scotland

overcast 15 °C

Wednesday 24 - Friday 26 May

From the peace and serenity of Mount Cook we headed for the hustle and bustle of another city, this time Dunedin.
Our hostel called Hogwartz(!) and located just on the edge of the city centre provided us with a very comfortable double-room. Better still, we were located within five minutes' walk of South Island's most famous and revered brewery, Speights. Inevitably we wasted no time in booking an evening brewery tour...

Founded in 1876, Speights Brewery has a colourful history which includes seeing off at least a dozen other breweries in Dunedin, and demands for prohibition.

The tour itself was interesting and informative, covering everything from the first recorded references to brewing (by the ancient Egyptians), to Captain Cook's introduction of brewing to New Zealand, and the evolution of the Speights Brewery itself.

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The dying art of the cooper

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Pre-war copper brewing vessels are still used today

Naturally, the highlight of the evening was the chance to sample each of Speight's various products... Cheers!

Thursday 25

Another rest and 'catch-up' day today, getting mundane stuff like laundry and shopping out of the way (it's not all adventure, this travelling lark). Time to give the city beyond the brewery a more thorough investigation.

As its name might suggest, Dunedin has a heavy Scottish influence and was named in a tribute to Edinburgh by early Scottish settlers. The heritage is still obvious today through the abundance of shops selling kilts, tartan and other Scottish paraphernalia; even Haggis is available here.

Whereas many cities are laid out around a central square, Dunedin has a pleasantly landscaped octagon at its centre, surrounded by fashionable bars restaurants and cafes. The exhaustive shopping streets lead away in each direction.

Apparently, Dunedin's aesthetically pleasing railway station is the most photographed building in New Zealand, but when we saw it, it seemed to be covered in scaffolding and green netting. Oh well.

A long afternoon's blogging was rounded off with further refreshment at Speights Ale House (next to the brewery).

Friday 26 May

Not far from Dunedin lies Taiaroa Head, home to the only mainland breeding colony of albatrosses in the world. Going to see these rare birds seemed like a good way to spend a Friday morning, but we hadn´t anticipated the lengthy car journey (no petrol stations on the way!) to the tip of the Otago Peninsular. With winter well underway the morning was cloudy, grey and rainy but after an entertaining and informative talk about the lifecycle of the albatross we climbed the wet and windswept hill to the colony. Alas, the only obvious albatross was a solitary chick nestled on a path on the hillside (too far away to take a decent picture) but our patience was rewarded by a brief flypast; apologies for the picture quality!

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Beneath the Albatross Colony lies Taiaroa Head´s other unique claim to fame - the world´s only functional Armstrong Disappearing Gun, based at the sea defence of Fort Taiaroa. This six-inch gun, installed in 1889, lies in a bunker and can be loaded and aimed underground before being raised, fired, and then retracted into the hillside - effectively ´disappearing´.

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The Armstrong Disappearing Gun

Driving back from the Albatross Colony we spotted a sign for 'Penguin Place', where you have the opportunity to view rare Yellow-Eyed Penguins. Although it was four o'clock by now, we stopped on the off-chance that we might still be able to take a tour; and luckily, the next tour was at 4.15

Penguin Place itself is a hillside leading to a grassy plain by the seashore, with a warren of camouflaged tunnels offering various vantage points for penguin-spotting. Our guide was incredibly enthusiastic, speedily leading us from hide to hide as various penguins emerged from the sea and comically waddled inland.

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All in all we had a fantastic day at Taiaroa Head and would recommend these activities to anyone; even though the weather wasn't great it didn't dampen our experience.

Posted by andymoore 09:03 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Mount Cook

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

snow 5 °C

Sunday 21 - Wednesday 24 May (morning)

Heading west from Lake Tekapo, we made a brief lunchtime stop at the Visitor Centre at Lake Pukaki. Within seconds of stepping out of the car, two coachloads of tourists appeared and promptly disembarked, swamping the place! We beat a hasty retreat; scenic though the lake was, the real reason we'd stopped was to see if we could catch a glimpse of the distant Mount Cook. Sadly, today it was shrouded in mist.

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Driving alongside Lake Pukaki heading for Mount Cook

We continued north-west along the side of the lake toward Mount Cook village, and in the course of the two-hour journey the skies darkened and the heavens opened delivering torrential rain. The world seemed to have been painted dark grey by the time we arrived at our accommodation, the excellent Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge, and we feared that our time here would be a washout. Mount Cook Village was preparing to close down for a brief break before the Winter season; our lodge and the few shops and bars were virtually deserted. After a brief exploration and a bite to eat we retired to our room for the night, falling asleep to the sound of rain lashing the village.

Monday 22 May

We awoke to see bright morning light streaming through the curtains. But when we opened them...

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... the snow was even less expected! We watched in wonder as the first fine snowflakes gradually grew to the size of feathers and began to settle on the previously wet ground. We thought it best to wait until lunchtime before venturing out in the hope that the snow would stop. It didn't, and by midday the village was covered by a thick white blanket. We threw on our winter woollies and headed to the nearby Tourist Info Centre where we were advised that it would be okay to take the Hooker Valley trail, a four-hour return walk which follows the Hooker River to the Hooker Glacier terminal lake.

The newly fallen snow had turned our surroundings almost monochrome, and the silence was slightly eerie but any misgivings were soon dispelled by the unfolding beauty of the black-and-white landscape.

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The path took us over two suspended 'swing' bridges, but shortly after the second one, about 90 minutes into the walk, the path ended at a stream crossed by stepping stones; hopping out to the middle of the stream, no onward footprints or discernible clues as to where to head next could be seen. Darkening skies were closing in again, and so we decided to return rather than to risk pressing on in search of the lake.

Tuesday 23 May

The snow remained but the sun came out, once again bringing colour to the wintry landscape. One creature we were keen to see during our time in New Zealand was a particularly mischievious breed of parrot called a Kea. Highly inquisitive, these birds take great amusement from removing windscreen wiper blades and window trims from cars and are capable of undoing zips and buttons in search of food. They also have a distinctive and infectious giggle!

So this morning we set out on the Kea Point track,

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a two-hour walk which follows the landscape created by the Mueller Glacier and leads to a viewing deck which looks out upon Mount Sefton, the Hooker Valley, and the majestic Mount Cook itself.

The clear sunlit day brought our snow-silenced surroundings back into sharp focus, allowing us to fully appreciate the beauty of the walk.

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Taking our time, we eventually reached the viewing deck and there before us stood Mount Cook. Well almost. The upper reaches were once again obscured by cloud. This time, we were determined to get at least one decent photo and were prepared to wait. In order to kill a bit of time, we warmed ourselves up by painstakingly kicking all of the compacted snow and ice off the large wooden platform, thus making it slip-free for other users (we're so kind :o) )

Thankfully, all our efforts were rewarded and the clouds on Mount Cook lifted just enough to reveal the summit:

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Our luck was not sufficient to afford us a close-up view of the elusive Keas, but we heard the little blighters giggling all around us, just teasing us to try and spot them...

Wednesday 24 May

And all too soon our time in Mount Cook was over. This had been the most enjoyable few days imagineable; our accommodation was excellent, the scenery breathtaking, the walks invigorating; all this and the unexpected bonus of snow!

We left feeling both sad to be moving on but excited too at what our New Zealand adventure might have to offer us next.

Posted by andymoore 02:05 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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