Okay, on to part of the trip where we really get down to the business of experiencing the drama of the South Island…
January 5: our day in Milford Sound.
We started by getting up early in the morning and groaning at the terrible weather predictions for the day. There was no rescheduling. It would be what it would be. Fingers crossed. My dad and I ran out to get some breakfast sandwiches, thinking quick and could be easily eaten in the car. Sadly we aimed wide of the mark on this one. Flash forward an hour, and we’re eating immense sandwiches of any and all sorts of breakfast protein you can imagine, piled between two pieces of butter-soaked bread. Yikes. We were fueled to take on Milford Sound! Albeit from a seated position, looking out the glass walls of the boat, but dammit, we were fueled!
To give you an idea of where we were traveling, here’s a map of the region. The day before, we’d driven from Queenstown to Te Anau, and then on to Lake Manapouri for the Circle Trek. On this day, we’d packed up our stuff and driven north to Milford Sound.
As we neared Milford Sound, the scenery started to become very dramatic indeed, even by New Zealand standards.
The clouds got low…
… until sheer, high, rock faces, trickling with waterfalls were right on the shoulders.
We took our 2+ hour tour with Real Journeys and I highly recommend them. Here is the M.V. Sinbad, the sturdy vessel that would brace the winds and the waves as it took us through the Sound, out into the Tasman Sean, under waterfalls (I’m not kidding), and back again into safe harbour.
Stunning scenery. Stark and ancient, daunting and honestly, stupefying. I looked up at these fjords and the sight cut the ties to my regular life, like I’d been tethered with cobwebs. I looked at these cliffs, and the ones behind those, and the waterfalls and the narrow passageway out to sea, and I became completely un-moored.
Here’s an photo of BaBa, aka Hip Grandpa ™, that in a darkly romantic way seems to personify the feeling that one feels when amidst this landscape.
In addition to the ennui and mild heartbreak I felt at the forbidding and beautiful scenery, I also felt a significant amount of sea sickness. Auric and I had to close our eyes and the nappers we are, of course we nodded off for about 30 minutes. Thank goodness that there was still plenty of good views to be had when we woke up from our little power naps. (It’s great that we came all this way to pay for a nap at sea!)
The wind was incredible through the Sound. Each time we rounded a fjord, we would hit almost tornado-level winds. Here we are trying to stay anchored to the boat while we pose for this picture. (Auric isn’t anywhere near the frame of this shot.)
Here’s a funny little video of the wind billowing NuNu’s jacket into a bobble head. (Turn down your speakers; the wind is terribly loud. Sorry!)
“With a mean annual rainfall of 6,813 mm (268 in) on 182 days a year, a high level even for the West Coast, Milford Sound is known as the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand and one of the wettest in the world,” says Wikipedia. Because of all that rain, there are plenty of waterfalls flowing down the sides of the rock faces. Some of the waterfalls starts so high up (1000 meters) that they are carried away on the wind before making it to the water below. There are a few strong waterfalls and on a couple occasions, the captain of the boat steered us under the waterfall, in case brave souls were keen for that experience.
I wish I could remember all the interesting details I learned about the natural fauna and flora that thrive in this place. We did, very briefly see the fins of some bottlenose dophins and we were impressed with the views of the kayakers braving the elements and kayaking Milford Sound. Maybe one day… Mostly I just stared up at the cliffs, awed.
The weather oscillated between grey and windy, and raining and windy. There was one brief glimpse of blue sky, though.
After our tour, we disembarked the M.V. Sinbad and under sheets of rain, we ran to the parking lot and fought off the aggressive sandflies (mosquitoes that look like fruit flies) that thrive in the parking lot and prey on tourists. Quickly into the car, we ate our lunches on our drive back to Queenstown.
Again, the beautiful turquoise waters of Lake Wakatipu greeted us.
Dinner on this night found us at Cow, named for it’s location on Cow Lane (on which the cows of yore were driven to the stables to be milked), rather than what it serves. What does it serve, you ask? Why, pizza and pasta, of course. And here is where we enjoyed the third stop on The Unintentional Carb Binge Tour of the South Island 2014 ™. Delicious food was had by all.
January 6: Queenstown and Arrowtown
The next day, I started off with run along the lakeside path, snapping this shot of a bee in a poppy, with Lake Wakatipu in the distance. #nofilter
After our morning up the hill, we gathered NuNu back up with us and headed for Arrotown, a sleepy little town that was put on the map back in the 1860s during New Zealand’s gold rush. Upon arriving in Arrowtown, we met our Gisborne friends along the banks of the Arrow River. They were spending some time in nearby Gibbstown with a house swap. Our kids panned for gold (you can rent pans), and then we followed the trail through the Chinese Settlement historic monuement which memorialize the lives of the Chinese who were invited to the Lake district by the New Zealand government to help stimulate the mining, and yet were often the victims of discrimination.
Then we wandered through Arrowtown’s main street before stepping into the wonderfully eclectic and hands-on Lakes District Museum. What fun we had in there! The museum documents the lake district’s Maori and European settlement and history of the region.
And then we stumbled upon a photographer in the back of the museum, Old Fashioned Costume and Photography Studio. The photographer, Karen (I think her name is), has collected an impressive multitude of period costumes and props. She stages these startlingly realistic souvenir photos and then filters the photos for antiquated perfection. I couldn’t resist and thankfully my family got into the spirit–even Sean! Actually this was perfect for him, given his reluctance, nay distaste, for smiling for photos. And poor Auric, who has such a great smile, had a really hard time keeping the grave expression of old-timey photos. Thora, of course, got into the drama of it. I can’t help but look at the “Thora” in this photo, a photo that tells the story of comparative of wealth and opportunity of the time, and I imagine the harsh love and icy affection she endured at the hands of those rigid and serious parents. What sadness she has in her face! What a ham. Ha!
After our photography sitting, Karen recommended a nearby restaurant, the Fork and Tap, a lovely gastro pub with a great selection of beer and wine, delicious food, and a nice play space out back for the kids. There were games and decks of cards to play while you waited. Here are NuNu, Thora, and I playing cards.
In fact the kids had so much fun here that upon leaving, we chatted with the parents of some kids that our kids befriended while playing outside. Thora was really hoping that we’d be able to meet up with them again. Oh, the fast friendship of 7 year-olds in restaurants.
We enjoyed the nice drive from Arrowtown back to Queenstown, and settled in to the motel for a quiet night after our exciting day.
And this is where I’ll leave you. There are still a few more days left of our South Island adventure. Stay tuned. And thanks for catching up with us!