Monday, April 23, 2012

Autumn days in Queenstown

So my plan was to - in stead doing the traditional camper van tour of NZ since I was by myself and had only 2,5 weeks - fly from Auckland to Queenstown, which is in the middle of the South Island and bus up and around the South Island, cross the Cook Strait to Wellington and fly back to Auckland. It wasn't a very detailed or well thought out plan but I wanted to see a bit of the cool NZ nature and go dancing in some of the cities and that seemed to cover those.

I had a morning flight from Auckland to Queenstown, right after the Easter holidays. I was really tired that morning after an early wake up but it was one of those ‘wow’ moments (Ushuaia déjà vu) when the plane descended through the clouds: the place looked stunning!

I hopped on the bus to town and was equally impressed on when we rode around the lake: I was excited to go out and see the place! After a quick lunch and a walk in the pretty town I headed up to the Queenstown hill. It was a nice hike for about an hour through the woods. The path goes through a farmer’s land so by the time you’re about to reach the top you’ll meet a big group of really funny sheep!

Harbour in fall colours
Going up the Queenstown hill

You can climb a bit more from the sheep farm to the very top of the hill – the views will reward you, you can see all of the city and the bay. Right now everything was covered in the pretty autumn colors! It took about 2,5 hours to go all the way to the top of the hill and back down so it’s good way to spend time if you don’t have all day to hike. There’s also a gondola that goes to the top of another hill (25 NZ$) – a tip to Queenstown hikers: I heard they don’t check your gondola tickets on the way down so you might be able to walk up and take the gondola down “for free”.

Milford Sound – cruising in the fjords

The next day I was going on a tour to see Fiordland area, Milford Sound in particular. I wasn’t keen on doing some the famous (and expensive) adrenaline sports they offer in Queenstown so a boat ride in the fjords sounded like the best option for that day. It was first four hours on the bus to the Milford Sound through some very scenic hills – I was starting to see why everybody says New Zealand is so amazing. We had a few stops breaks, first for breakfast and then continued to the Mirror Lakes, making still a couple more short photo stops before arriving after noon to the harbor for our Milford Sound cruise on the Monarch .

Lots of beautiful landscapes on the way there...
...and you can enjoy them with the sunset on the way back!
The cruise would take us all the way to the Tasman Sea through the sound, 1h 40min in total. The sound (or Milford Sound is a fjord really, not a sound, minor details..) was beautiful and it certainly helped that it was a gorgeous sunny day. There were lots of waterfalls on the cliffs that plummeted to the sea but most of them were pretty dry already after just 2 days of no rain. Some waterfalls were quite big though! On our way the wind started to kick in but all in all it was lovely just to hang out on the top deck of the boat.

There’s a lot of sounds and fjords on the coast and it’s worth to take a trip to one of them at least. My Milford Sound day was 149 NZ$ which was pretty reasonable for a whole day trip in the expensive NZ. To save a couple of dollars you can pack your own lunch and one added bonus is the free wifi on the bus ride (at least on our Kiwi Experience bus). But the sounds are not the only activities you can do there – there’s a whole range of tours and adventure sports such as bungee jumping (NZ$ 200+), paragliding, skydiving (NZ$ 300+), boat safaris on the bay… Or you can spend your days wine tasting, shopping or bar hopping. It’s a pricey town to live but people do come there for a reason.
I really enjoyed Queenstown and could have gladly spent some more time there. On my last night I even managed to go out dancinig – "normal dancing"! Hadn’t done that in a long time. It meant that I wouldn’t be getting too much sleep before taking off early the next morning but I figured I would survive.. after all I had a long bus ride ahead of me, plenty of time to sleep….

Queenstown harbour in the evening

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