Australia & New Zealand – Days 8, 9, 10 & 11: The South Island
Over the last few days, we have traversed the South Island of New Zealand in what was more of a journey to view all the beauty this amazing country has to offer instead of an insight into culture or history.
We landed in Christchurch late in the evening on Sunday after a full day of traveling from Alice Springs via Sydney. Our plane landed in Christchurch just before 11:00 PM and we went through an extensive screening process after getting our bags. New Zealand is very protective of it’s environment and closely monitors everything coming into it’s country to prevent the spread of diseases and parasites that could cause havoc on the beautiful natural features they have to offer. Given this, all of our bags were rescanned and then sniffed by a dog to confirm we were okay to enter the country. If you even accidentally bring a piece of fruit into the country and are caught with it when going through customs, you are automatically fined $200 New Zealand Dollars.
After getting the go ahead to leave the customs area we called an Uber, which could not pick up in front of the airport. Apparently, New Zealand does not let Ubers pick up or drop off passengers on airport premises, so we had to walk 5 minutes to the specified pickup point. This may be a way to appease the taxi drivers.
After a 15 minute drive, we arrived at our hotel for the next 7 hours – a two bedroom apartment with 2 King beds! It’s a shame we couldn’t spend more time there. The following morning, we headed out to the bus depot in Christchurch for our full day drive to Queenstown with a stop at the tallest mountain in New Zealand. Instead of flying into Queenstown and taking a day trip to Mt Cook, it was recommended that we do the drive from Christchurch as it takes about the same amount of time but has a lot of scenic things along the way. Our bus left the bus depot at 7:15 AM & we knew shortly thereafter that we made the right decision. The drive started parallel with one of the mountain ranges for an hour or so before turning into it and driving along the rolling hills of New Zealand for another few hours. It was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever been on & we did stop at some gorgeous points to take pictures.
We eventually arrived in Mt Cook and had lunch in a café overlooking it. Unfortunately, the closest town is about 6km away from the base of the mountain, so we had to enjoy it’s beauty from afar.
We then got back on the bus and drove another 4 hours into Queenstown. The drive was pretty, but I think we made the right choice by doing the full drive from Christchurch. The bus driver was great & gave us bits and pieces of information along the way. He even sang for us!
After being dropped off at our hotel, we checked in and relaxed before heading to dinner at a restaurant that was recommended to me from someone I know from New Zealand. The only reservations we could get were for 8:45 PM, but it was worth the wait. The restaurant was called Botswana Butchery & had a standard menu for a modern restaurant. I had an eye filet which is the same cut as a filet mignon in the US. The steak, paired with a pinot noir & sides of brussels sprouts, duck fat potatoes and bacon mac & cheese, was amazing. The service at the restaurant was also top notch.
After dinner, we went back to the hotel as we had another early morning the following day. Our guide picked us up at 7:15 AM for a full day trip to what New Zealanders call the 8th Wonder of the World, the Milford Sound. About a four hour drive away, we stopped at a few rest stops while taking in some more of the natural beauty of New Zealand along the way.
We eventually arrived in the national park that the Milford Sound calls home and made a series of stops to take pictures and short walks to see waterfalls.
After a few more windy roads, we made it to the main attraction. The Milford Sound gets up to 12 meters of rain a year, so we happened to catch it on a rainy day which was fine because I think the low clouds added to the beauty of the sound. Our group of 10 people were the only people on a boat made for 50+ passengers, so we were treated to an intimate buffet lunch as we departed for our two hour tour of the sound. We learned that the sound is actually a fjord because it was created by a glacier. As we passed a waterfall after waterfall, we learned that the water is very deep – usually at least 100 meters deep – which means there are quite a few fish at the bottom! We also learned that, even though it is sheer rock, trees are able to grow as one tree will have roots that find a crack and the tree will branch out from there, finding more cracks along the way. The other thing we learned was that the fjord is so well hidden that Captain Cook missed the sound twice!
On the way home from the Milford Sound, we watched “The World’s Fastest Indian”, a movie about a determined old man from New Zealand that set the land speed record at 200mph on a motorcycle. Despite the fact that he set it 50 years ago, the record still stands. It was quite good! After arriving back at the hotel, we grabbed a bite to eat at a Thai restaurant before heading to bed.
The following morning, we had planned to go sky diving. Unfortunately, the cloud cover was so low that we were on standby from 8:30 AM until 1:30 PM before it was canceled. While we were on standby, we did go up the Queenstown Skyline, a gondola which takes you up high on a mountain to appreciate panoramic views of the city. Queenstown is on a lake surrounded by huge mountains, which makes it quite picturesque. It is a hot destination for adventure seekers, even in the winter where it is known for skiing. Unfortunately, the weather has been unseasonably warm so the mountains are not as abundant with snow as they usually are. The view was still stunning, though.
Once at the top of the gondola, we rode up a second chairlift before getting on what they call a luge, which is on a go cart track. We had three rides down the track and it was an absolute blast. It was hard to figure out how much I could push the limit without flipping over!After grabbing lunch, I grabbed a cookie at a bakery that we learned that the skydiving was officially cancelled so we went to book ourselves onto something called the Shotover Jet later that afternoon. We took a shuttle bus to a river 15 minutes out of town where we boarded a jet boat in the middle of a canyon & for the next 20 minutes we sped up and down a river along the edge of many cliffs. The boat was so fast that it took my eyes a while to get used to it & we did numerous 360s. It was a great experience and I’m happy we did it.
After that, we went back into town and grabbed a quick dinner before heading to the airport for our flight to Auckland. I had no idea what to expect from Queenstown, but know that I will definitely be back at some point. The mountain town is just too beautiful to never visit again.