Day 3-4: Milford Sound
The 2-hour drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound was beautiful, in a deep glacial valley with increasingly high rocky ridges above us on both sides. When we reached the top of the Sound, we pitched our tent near the backpacker lodge, put on lots of insect repellent (sand flies are vicious!) and went for an evening stroll to see the water and cliffs. (We even cooked our dinner along this stroll.) It was low tide and we got a very different view of the place than the next morning when we were embarking on a small cruise to see the whole length of the sound. The sound is really a continuation of the valley through which we arrived, with more vertical cliffs and waterfalls, both falling straight into the blue water. Quite stunning!
We spent the afternoon driving back up the glacial valley, back through Te Anau and onto Queenstown (to the north). A very pretty drive.
Day 5: Queenstown
Queenstown lies on the shore of a beautiful blue lake, is quite cute and has lots of good restaurants. It is also considered New Zealand’s center for adrenaline sports.
The first night just had time for a walk and dinner (at the Botswana Butchery, the name says it all), but the second day we went exploring. We climbed Queenstown Hill above town for some spectacular views of the town, lake and mountains (it’s a ski center in the winter). I was quite interested by the fact that the hike reminded me of Czech forests, complete with red poisonous mushrooms (muchomurka), thistle, bells and other plants normally found in the Czech Republic (jerabiny, divizny …). Yet the overall landscape is a lot more like California with golden or browning hills after a dry summer. After the hike, we visited a small private farm with peacocks and an animal “safari” (an enclosed park with deer, llamas, sheep, pigs, yaks, bison, and ducks). They sold animal feed and we made 1 donkey, 3 pigs and some 30 ducks and chickens quite happy. Later, we had more lamb for dinner – David was in seventh heaven.
Day 6: Queenstown and Arrowtown
On this day, David jumped 43 meters into the Kawarau River. We drove some miles out of Queenstown to a narrow gorge of this river, the site of the first ever commercial bungie jump in the world. My easy excuse of not being able to do this while pregnant crumbled when we read the sign at the cashier that pregnant women can still jump but should notify the staff. I had to admit I was just plain too scared to do it. But David went down, with a nice bravado scream (Whoo-hoo!), and got dunked head first into the river up to his knees.
Afterwards, we did a 3-hour walk around a pretty lake, en route to Arrowtown, a quaint village with a historic looking main street, apparently shut down for lunch hour. We stopped in a deli shop (the only open food stop at that time) and got a really good sandwich. The lady there was otherwise in the process of preparing some 50 mini cups of beetroot chutney for a picnic she was catering, and the chutney looked really good (I’m mentioning this for a reason – read on). Then we walked along the river for an hour and watched a dog try to swim across the quick stream to his owner about 15 times, always turning back just as he almost made it – poor guy. NZ seems to have quite an active culture as we see a lot of people jogging, walking and even glimpsed them exercising in their own homes. There were a bunch of people doing this same river walk/run. Afterwards, we (=David) had a bad beer before returning to Queenstown. We finished off the day with wine tasting at a fancy store featuring New Zealand wines. It was a pretty relaxing day.
Day 7: Queenstown and Wanaka
The next morning in Queenstown we tried a new breakfast cafe to get the last taste of this town. Really, somehow this town is full of really good places to eat, all very fresh and healthy and yummy. After breakfast, we visited a farmer’s market in front of the church. One of the stands was selling stuff from the lady that made us our sandwich in Arrowtown the previous day. Some of her beetroot chutney was on sale, so we bought a container of it, along with some bread from a different stand and apricots and cheese from yet two other stands (there were only 8 stands total, so we cleared them out quite well). As the last thing in Queenstown, we did a quick loop through the town park and gardens, which jut out into the lake and offer pretty views of the Queenstown waterfront.
From Queenstown, we went to Wanaka and spent a half day there. We chose a smaller road across a mountain pass instead of the main road linking the two towns. It was narrow and twisted and just plain beautiful (and of course fun for David to drive). Near Wanaka, we did a 3-hour hike with scenic views of the beautiful Lake Wanaka. In fact, we ate our picnic lunch of bread, chutney and cheese at a great view spot. We then returned to Wanaka and had dinner at a brewery before heading further north along Lake Wanaka, another lake and through a mountain valley. We stayed at a B&B in Makarora, a tiny village pretty much in the middle of nowhere.