New Zealand

New Zealand Photos

Queenstown, the “Southern Alps” and the Milford Track

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I have been to New Zealand five times – in 1971, 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2017.  Of all the travel I have done, it ranks #1 on my list of places to go in this world.

Queenstown bills itself – and very accurately so – as the “Adventure Capital of the World”.  From bungee jumping (it started here) to paragliding to the Shotover Jet Boats, “Lord of the Rings” tours, Skipper’s Canyon, and the proximity to Milford Sound leave the outdoors enthusiast with a strong sense of “What a terrific place!”

Add to the natural beauty the famous friendliness of the Kiwi people and you have a travel destination that should be high on every world traveler’s list.  I don’t like stock “tours”, but my daughters and I did five of them in 2 ½ days in Queenstown.  We were in small planes, land rovers, and jet boats rather than buses and this made a huge difference over the “standard tourist” bus brigade.   It was expensive, but created memories that will last a lifetime.

Taking off from the Queenstown airport in a four passenger (pilot +3) plane on a crystal clear winter (July) morning, we rose quickly over the surrounding lakes and for 50 minutes flew directly west over the snowcapped Southern Alps to Milford Sound.  What a view!  I’ve now done the flight twice and it is absolutely stunning. We all have some number of “mental snapshots” of places we’ve been over the course of our lives and the view flying slowly over the Southern Alps (see picture) is one that will forever be etched in my mind.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with regard to Milford Sound.  I’d heard so much about it that I worried it could never live up to its press releases.  But it did.  Getting off the small plane we walked 100 yards to a boat dock and boarded one of a number of boats for a two hour cruise around the Sound.   Waterfall after waterfall could be seen coming down the surrounding cliffs as we approached the outlet to the Tasman Sea.  We kept searching the shoreline for Hobbits and Orks, but we settled for rainbows.

On a second trip to the South Island I was able to do the world famous Milford Track – a five day hike through Fiordland National Park ending at Milford Sound.  The 5 day/4 night program (3 days of actual hiking) was spectacular even though it rained at prominent times.  We stayed in comfortable lodges back in the park each night and hiked during the days with 18 intrepid companions and three guides all seeking solace, grandeur and a larger than life piece of nature.  New Zealand bills the Milford Track as “the most beautiful walk in the world”.  It is hard to argue with this assessment.

I have subsequently twice done (for my 60th and 70th birthdays) the Grand Traverse, sponsored by Ultimate Hikes (Ultimatehikes.co.nz).  It is a six-day hike along the Greenstone and Routeburn Tracks with stays in wonderful Alpine lodges.  While weather can always be an issue, I was fortunate both times (in February) to have near perfect conditions.  This is a challenging hike – they seem to have raised the mountains in the 10 years between my hikes (or am I getting older?) – the scenery is spectacular.  I highly recommend this hike for any/everyone in good physical shape.

Also on my list of things to do on the South Island are:

  1. Doubtful Sound – southwest of Queenstown, it can be done as a (long) day trip or, preferably, go spend a night in Te Anau or Manapouri and then do the overnight boat trip into the Sound.  It’s a boat ride across a lake, then a bus ride, and then another boat through the Sound out to the ocean.  If you stay on the boat over night the stars are spectacular.  Good weather helps.
  2. Mount Cook – about a four-hour drive north from Queenstown.  Snow covered at 12,000+ feet it is worth a 2-day stay, either at the (expensive) Hermitage Hotel or one of the smaller places in Mt. Cook Village.  Definitely do the 3-hour hike up the Hooker Valley and the 2-hour hike to Kea Point.  Also, do the documentary at the Sir Edmund Hillary Center showing his 1953 climb of Mt. Everest.  Do NOT do the ‘Stargazing’; a complete waste of time and money.  Go outside and look up at the stars – save yourself $70.
  3. West Coast (of the South Island) – from Haast north, then take a right through Arthurs Pass and go all the way to Christchurch.  Very scenic.
  4. Dunedin – south; very nice small city.  Also go out to the Otago Peninsula.  From there you can drive west to Bluff and take a boat to Stewart Island.  Not a big deal, but kind of interesting.

There are many, many more things to do in New Zealand, mostly mountains, lakes, ocean, forests – total natural beauty.  You should have it on your bucket list.  It’s a long way to get there, but so what.  Get off your butt and go.

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