A Travellerspoint blog

Some Do, Whilst Others Just Watch

Friday 13th November 2015

sunny 18 °C

Our second short visit to Queenstown had come to an end and before we left the hostel I felt it was only fitting for me to add a comment to the graffiti wall. The message was "Wow NZ you are amazing, Gill & Nigel 2015" which seemed to sum up my feelings. Having checked out, we took our bags the short distance to collect our hire car and then we were on our way. Although neither of us had any desire to do a bungy jump it is part of the New Zealand experience. We decided to stop and have a look at others doing it given that we had to drive right past Kawarau Bridge home of the father of the bungy, A. J. Hackett.

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The setting is stunning as the bridge spans the beautiful Clutha River. It makes compelling watching, although it made me feel very nervous for them. Just after we arrived two girls were going to jump together, but in the end one of them couldn't go ahead. Speaking to her later she said their boss had paid for it as a special surprise for them. In the end the other girl went on her own. Non jumpers are also allowed on the bridge from where there is a great view of the river.

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Whilst we were there we had a coffee at the cafe before watching another couple of brave souls jump before then getting on our way. The bridge is very near the Gibbston Valley wine region and we drove past a number of vineyards as we continued along the spectacular Kawarau Gorge.

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Grapes then gave way to fruit and as we got near the town of Cromwell there were lots of orchards as well as the customary giant fruit to advertise the fact. The road then started to climb higher and there were patches of bright coloured wild flowers alongside the road.

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When we reached the Clyde Dam we pulled over and had a look at the hydro-electric plant and the river and the lake on either side of it. It was a pretty impressive structure and the first of many we would see over the next few days. As we drove on we started to see snow capped peaks in the distance and the high valley was strewn with dramatic rock formations and heather covered heath land. We saw a really lovely spot near the Butchers Dam and so we pulled off and found a place near the water to sit and eat the picnic lunch we had bought in Queenstown.

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The scenery continued to be really picturesque as we wound our way along river valleys and past the turquoise blue Lake Roxburgh. Mid afternoon we stopped for coffee at a rather isolated and slightly strange inn, before continuing on our way. We road maintained a south easterly direction until we got near to the Pacific Coast and then turned northwards driving between the ocean and the coastal railway that runs between Invercargill and Dunedin. We found the cottage quite easily, and the owner Emma showed us around. We settled in and then we walked across the small field at the back of the house which took us to the cliff top and some amazing views of the coast.

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Posted by Gill's Travels 11:35 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Multiple Perspectives on Te Anau

Thursday 12th November 2015

sunny 16 °C

Sadly it was our last day in Fiordland today and with the help of our host we had already decided to make the most of it. She was very helpful when we went to check out and arranged to have our bags taken up the the Real Journeys office later in the afternoon while we were on another boat trip. Once this was all sorted we made our way to the offices of Takitimu Tiki Tours and met Heath our guide/ driver for the morning. He initially showed us round the town and the edge of the lake and explained a bit of the history. We then went to a lookout from where we could not only see the whole of the town, but also the lake and the mountains beyond.

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He is a really lovely friendly guy and as well as talking about the history and geology of the area he also spoke about his family, his children and his English wife. Once we had finished admiring the view at the lookout we went to the river, the same one we had got on the day before with Luxmore boats but much further up near the dam.

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The water was a real emerald green but very clear and because it was shallower at the waters edge than it had been further downstream you could really appreciate the colours. We looked for trout, but there didn't seem to be many in that spot this morning. We then walked for a fairly short distance through the beach forest, which was at the end of a very heavy flowering year and so there was lots of pollen about.

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Once we had finished, Heath very kindly walked back and got the van. Whilst we were waiting I was listening to the sound of some of the beach trees creaking in the wind. Nigel then saw some discarded fishing line and as we were concerned about this hurting the wild life we wound it all back up and gave it the Heath once he arrived. We then made the fairly short journey back to the town. One of the crew on the Doubtful Sound trip had told us about a film that had been shot from a helicopter over the Fiordland National Park and that this could be viewed in a cinema in Te Anau. It turned out that Heath's uncle was the primary pilot and the person whose idea the film was, and so Heath played a short trailer of the film in the van.

We had time to go and have some lunch at the delicious if not so deliciously named Sandfly Cafe. We then went to watch the film the cinema specially built by the guy that made the film. It made stunning viewing and really gave a sense that you were up in a helicopter. It was so impressive that we bought a copy so that we could watch it again once we were back at home. It was then only a short walk to the lake from where we were catching the boat that would take us to the glowworm caves. The journey across the lake gave us another perspective on Te Anau and also up one of the fiords that leads off the main lake.

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The boat was pretty full and so once we arrived at the caves we were split into four groups and while some went straight into the caves the rest of had to wait a short while. We were in the second group and as soon as we entered the caves we could hear the loud sound of rushing water. As we continued along the raised metal walkway we were along side a fast flowing underground stream and several quite spectacular underground waterfalls. We then reached the small landing stage were we got on board a small boat and continued a little further along the river. It was here that we saw most of the glowworms. There weren't as many as we had seen in Waitomo and the experience wasn't as special but the cave itself was probably one of the most dramatic I had ever been in. We then went back into the visitor centre where we were given a cup of tea and had a short presentation on glowworms by our guide.

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Before long we were back on the boat and making our way back to Te Anau. Much to my relief our bags were waiting for us and we had just enough time to go and have a coffee before we needed to catch our bus. It was very full and we were quite lucky to be able to get seats together. It was a couple of hours back to Queenstown, and although there was a film showing our seats were too far back to see it, so Nigel listened to his music while I read my book with one eye on the scenery beyond the coach.

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It was about 7:30pm by the time we got back to Queenstown so it was quite a relief that we knew where to go, and our way around the hostel. So we just got some food and then settled in to watch the film The Fastest Indian (about a New Zealand motorcycle fanatic and starring Anthony Hopkins) that we hadn't been able to see properly on the bus.

Posted by Gill's Travels 00:59 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains trees queenstown rivers new_zealand te_anau Comments (0)

"A Pinch of Adrenalin and a Heap of Natural Beauty"

Wednesday 11th November 2015

sunny 18 °C

After a couple of busy days on Doubtful Sound we were happy to have a reasonably quiet day today. We had arranged to go on a speed boat trip up the Upper Waiau River which was advertised as "a pinch of adrenalin and a heap of natural beauty" which sounded just our cup of tea. We were picked up in a minibus from outside our accommodation. We found out that it was just going to be the two of us so we knew the whole trip would revolve around what we were wanting from it which is always nice. It was only a short drive to where the boat was waiting for us on Queens Beach, so named because the road to it was laid in anticipation of a visit by the Queen Mother. There was no need to get our feet wet as we could climb aboard while it was still on the trailer and it was launched once we were all comfortably seated.

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Mark our driver gave us a quick safety briefing and showed us how he would signal if we needed to hold on because he was going to put the boat into a spin. The river wasn't very deep but because of rocks and other debris in the water there was quite a lot of movement and a bit of white water. We were shown some of the local flora

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and Mark also pointed out a few of the locations on the river that Peter Jackson used for the filming of Lord of the Rings. We went up the river as far as the edge of Lake Manapouri that we had crossed yesterday on our way back from the Sound. It gave us a very different perspective on the Fiordland scenery.

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On our way back we did a couple more quite gentle spins which was good fun and Mark also stopped the boat for a while so we could look for trout. We saw quite a few and I was surprised as to how large they were, certainly more than a meal for one. Once we were back on dry land, we paid for the trip and were then taken back to our motel.

We had decided to gave a quiet afternoon and so we walked into town and got something to eat. We also packaged up some of the presents we had bought for family back home and posted them by air mail so that they should arrive in plenty of time for Christmas.

Posted by Gill's Travels 00:29 Archived in New Zealand Tagged boats rivers new_zealand te_anau Comments (0)

Cruise on Doubtful Sound (part 2)

Tuesday 10th November 2015

semi-overcast 18 °C

Neither of us had a great nights sleep as the bunks were very narrow and it was quite hot and stuffy in our room with no natural ventilation. We had all been warned that the very noisy engines start up just after 6am but this had the advantage of working as an alarm clock. We got up and dressed as quickly as we could and then went up on deck to see the Sound in the early morning light. It was much cloudier than it had been yesterday but there was still a lovely quality to the light and it gave a golden glow where it caught the hillside.

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While we ate a delicious buffet breakfast the captain took us towards to an area of the Sound called Hall Arm. They crew had told us that they were saving the best until last and they were right. The scenery was the most dramatic we had seen and the light only got better. En-route we pulled alongside an island where we saw some more small penguins and then a little while later as if to make the whole scene absolutely perfect we were joined by a large pod of dolphins, including a mother and baby, who swam alongside the boat for ages causing great excitement with everybody on board.

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The crew are all very flexible and if they see some animals or something else of interest they announce it and then happily accommodate people rushing up on deck in the middle of a meal, as was the case this time when we were all still eating breakfast.

The water was very calm despite the cloud and few spots of rain which made for wonderful reflections.

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As we entered Hall Arm the cloud started to lift and the grey sky became blue and the sun created patterns of light on the water. For about ten minutes or more the engines were turned off and we were all encouraged to be quiet, turn of our cameras and just listen to the sounds of the fiord.

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I could pick out individual waterfalls and there was lots of bird song. It was incredibly beautiful and peaceful, but eventually the engines had to be restarted and we began to make our way back to Deep Cove and the end of our cruise, whilst still looking at the scenery and vegetation as we went.

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All too soon we were disembarking and getting back on the coach, retracing our steps back over the Wilmot Pass. It had become more wet and windy as we crossed back over Manapouri Lake and so just about everyone sat under cover.

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It was then only a short coach journey to Te Anau where we were spending the next couple of nights. We managed to get dropped off outside our accommodation and were able to check straight in. Later that afternoon we had a look around the town and found a restaurant and had something to eat. After not having a great nights sleep in the boat (but as one of the crew had quite rightly said we hadn't gone to Doubtful Sound for the sleep) we went to bed quite early so as to be ready for another boat trip we had booked for the morning.

Posted by Gill's Travels 23:48 Archived in New Zealand Tagged animals new_zealand dolphins doubtful_sound Comments (0)

Cruise on Doubtful Sound (part 1)

Monday 9th November 2015

sunny 17 °C

This morning I had mixed feelings as I was looking forward to our overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound but was still quite disappointed and irritated by the mix up with our booking. We got up early and finished packing the last few bits for our trip. We would be leaving our large bags at Manapouri and all we needed with us was a change of clothes and toiletries. We then made the short walk down to the Real Journeys office and checked in. Our coach was really comfortable with seats slightly angled out to give better views out the large windows. We travelled alongside the very scenic Lake Wakatipu until we reached a section of road known as the Devil's Staircase.

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The driver pulled over and we were able to get out and take in the view back up the valley. By the time we had reached the end of the lake the weather had thickened, which shouldn't have boded well for our cruise later in the day. Fortunately we knew about the inversion layer which often occurs in the area when cold air is trapped beneath warmer air. This normally only lasts a few hours and can result in clearer weather later on. The farmland of Queenstown gave way to a wilder more native landscape with hillsides full of red tussock grass and heather.

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We stopped at a Scientific Reserve which is protected because of its ancient dwarf bog pine forests. As we were walking to the viewing platform we had great views of the snow capped mountains that mark the edge of Fiordland, which certainly started to raise my expectations and excitement for the day to come. By this time we were only about ten minutes from Manapouri where we got off the bus leaving our fellow passengers to continue on their journey to Milford Sound. We only had a short wait until we were able to board the boat that was going to take us across Manapouri Lake.

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Although the weather had improved it was still quite windy and pretty chilly and the crossing took about 45 minutes. We knew we were nearing the other side of the lake when the large hydro-electric power station came into sight. Some of the people on the boat were going for a tour there and the rest going on two or three different cruises.

We got on one of two real journeys buses and with our fellow passengers made the twenty minute or so drive across the Wilmot Pass towards Doubtful Sound. We were quite lucky because not that long ago the road was washed away after heavy rain. People were having to get off buses and walk across to another set on the other side of the river. Fortunately when we were there the road repairs were advanced enough for the bus to get across.

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We stopped once to look at the view towards the Sound, and we were also able to see a number of large waterfalls some of which are temporary after rain and others present all year round. There is a steep descent on the gravel road from the top of the pass into Deep Cove where the boat was moored and it was good to get there and be able to board the Fiordland Navigator.

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We still had mixed feelings as were weren't sure what our cabin was going to be like. As we suspected it was down in the bowels of the boat. We were fortunate in a way in that we had been given the family room with a small en-suite, whereas there were others that were in shared bunk rooms with communal bathrooms. However they had either booked late or chosen to have cheaper tickets and we had done neither. The crew were brilliant and even arranged for me to be able to see and take photos of one of the cabins we should have had, so that we could use them when making a case with our agent. Once we had sorted this out we vowed to put the accommodation issues behind us for now and concentrate on enjoying the trip.

Once we had travelled a way into the Sound we had the choice of either going kayaking or in a tender, which given the temperature of the water is what we decided to do. A crew member took us close the the sheer walls of the flooded glacial valley and told us about some of the flora and fauna.

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Once we were back on the boat a few brave souls went for a swim and then we were all served a warming bowl of soup as it was going to be a couple of hours before dinner. We then continued up Doubtful Sound towards the open sea. The scenery was stunning with the steep green hillsides with massive waterfalls, fed from lakes high on the peaks, that poured into the deep blue waters below.

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At one point some bottle nosed dolphins swam alongside the boat, and once we reached the Tasman Sea we also saw small penguins and fur seals. It was quite choppy when we were in open waters and a few of us got a bit wet from the spray. The sails were put up for a while, assisted by a bit of engine power.

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We then made our way back into the Sound as the sun went down and we made our way towards our mooring for the night.

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Dinner was buffet style and all the food was delicious. It was nice sitting and chatting with different people from around the world although there was as there was a party of Swedish people numbering over twenty and they all sat together on reserved tables which sadly meant that they didn't mix much. After dinner the naturalist on board gave us a presentation on the wildlife and geography of the area and and we then went up on deck to look at the stars but it despite being about 10pm it still wasn't quite dark enough. Shortly after we went to our cabin hopeful, but not necessarily anticipating, a good nights sleep.

Posted by Gill's Travels 23:28 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand doubtful_sound Comments (0)

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