Milford Sound to Queenstown – P.S. I love luge x

How’z it bru? Sweeeeet aaaas!

After our incredible 8 hour adventure in remote Doubtful Sound and chilled out camping next to the shores of lake Manapouri, we were hungry for more natural wonders and sights that NZ’s Fiordland could offer us. We’d heard the drive to Milford Sound was sensational so got on our way, taking just over 2 hours to get there. On the way we stopped off at the cute tourist town of Te Anau, buying tons of winter warmers such as NZ gloves, NZ hats and even NZ fleeces. Yes we may now look like a walking advert for New Zealand but we will certainly be thankful for it all when we head for the cold climates of Canada at the end of our trip! Remember we will be going from Hawaiian beaches to Canadian ski slopes in a few weeks time, crikey!

As soon as we got out of town, we drove into the wild. Everything changed. Deep valleys appeared with towering hills either side and tranquil pebbled rivers cutting through the grassy flat land. We drove through dense forests and acres of heathland, saw waterfalls trickling by the side of the road and snow-capped mountain ranges rising all around us. The road itself climbed and fell as we drove over the mountains, meandering like a river through the Amazon. Sometimes it became one lane since rubble and trees lay across it from a recent landslide. This place was totally wild and we were having the time and drive of our lives. We kept stopping along the way at viewpoints and rivers (there were quite a few!) and dropped by Mirror Lakes which reminded us of Jiuzhaigou in China. With crystal clear water reflecting the mountains in the background like a giant mirror, if you looked through the surface you could see preserved trees sunk on the bottom with the odd trout swimming around. We even hiked to see a water chasm where in the carpark a friendly Kea (native alpine parrot) paid us a visit. Just when the drive couldn’t get any more surreal, we had to drive through a long one lane tunnel under an entire mountain. Whilst waiting for the lights to turn green at the mouth of the dark tunnel, we noticed a ton of ice melting in the midday sun by the road. Left over from the deep winter snow months ago we couldn’t believe it had survived this long into summer!

Finally we arrived in Milford Sound and were quickly reassured why we’d chosen to go on a cruise at Doubtful instead. Heaving with coach loads of tourists (luckily leaving for the day) and boat after boat going out into the short fiord for their 1-2hr cruise, it was a very fast paced place indeed. After a walk around the waterfront to see the giant waterfall, we found a quiet spot and enjoyed the sights without the background noise. When we returned, the carpark was empty and the last boat was returning to the harbour. What a difference! It was a shame we couldn’t camp here as it now felt tranquil and serene. Milford Sound is just perfect, small and picturesque (when not bombarded with tons of people). Doubtful Sound is humongous, quiet and underrated – which I like and hope it stays that way.

After a night in a nearby DOC campsite – where we’d gone looking in the woods for Kiwi with one head torch on, shitting ourselves coz it was so scary – we woke to the beautiful views of mountains and waterfalls…oh and sandfly. 🙁 Surrounding our van in a haze of hell, they were waiting for us the little bastards! We covered every inch of skin with either clothing or DEET and jumped out to try and make breakfast, swatting them constantly looking like mad men. If you don’t tuck your jeans into your socks like an old French man they climb up them! Bonjour I’ve found a yummy leg to bite! Deciding a cereal bar and a quick coffee would suffice, we sat down in the sunshine (since sandfly do not like direct sunlight…lie!) and watched a tiny Rifleman bird nearly hop onto Andy’s foot and an inquisitive Robin fluttering around nearby.

Today we were heading towards Queenstown. Unfortunately, even though it was just over a mountain range to get to from Milford, no one had yet built a road or drilled a tunnel to get there, but maybe that’s a good thing. We had to drive back to Te Anau and out again which we didn’t mind since the scenery made it so special. After a few hours of driving and lunch in Garston (NZ’s most inland town! Woo hoo! No, it really wasn’t anything special), we drove into a very hip and happening Queenstown. Evidence of this place being a ski town was everywhere, from the alpine architecture to the huge open fireplaces in bars and restaurants. A part of me wanted to see it covered in snow but for now it was swelteringly hot. Tourists on holiday bustled around the designer shops while shoeless backpackers hung around the adrenaline junkie agencies. There were only two things we were interested in doing here in Queenstown, the crazy Shotover Jet, which we booked for the next morning and don’t laugh, luge. What? I love luge!

It felt strange going up on a gondola over a ski town without my poles and skis on. The view at the top however was incredible, you could see for miles! In a lake ahead tourists screamed whilst being thrown around on a jet boat, to our side a bungy platform and rope lay in wait for its next victim and bmx’ers biked the crazy routes through the woods beneath. Yep this was one hell of a crazy town where everyone is off their faces on adrenaline! And it was our turn…luge time! Ok so I’m kinda bigging it up a little, but it was fun strapping a sweaty old helmet on and climbing into a beaten up buggy with nothing but two handles to steer and brake down a steep hill. We whizzed round a huge track going pretty quick at times and near missing tyres on corners. It was well worth a scream or two however serious lugers should get their asses to the luge track at the Great Wall of China, Mutianyu section. I love luge!

Instead of staying in Queenstown we based ourselves in nearby Arrowtown, an old gold mining hub which homed hundreds of Chinese miners back in the late 1800’s. After checking into a camp, we walked around the pretty prospecting-themed town and into the old Chinese settlement full of tiny huts and shelters. Life here must have been very tough for anyone trying to make a living digging for gold, but being so far from home and considered an alien around Europeans must have been even harder. Now left as a tourist attraction, Arrowtown is one of many gold mine sites around the country that you’ll stumble across now and then. Anyway, enough about gold, we’ve got a Shotover Jet to catch!

Ok imagine this – a bright red jet boat that flies around a river canyon at 85kph on sometimes just 10cm of water that the likes of Ryan Reynolds, George Lucas, Sheryl Crow and Peter Jackson (to name but a few) had ridden. Even the Queen had paid the centre a visit although I’m told she didn’t ride the jet. So uncool your Royal Highness! With silly black samurai-type capes on and bright red life jackets, we boarded the half full boat (it was pretty early so I guess the twats of Queenstown hadn’t gotten over their hangovers just yet), met our driver and was told to hang on. And hang on we did for the next 20 mins. Flying over shallow water past semi-submerged trees and shingle was incredible to start, let alone the 360’s we kept doing up and down the Shotover river, soaking us each time. But it was the canyon part that got Andy and I grinning like idiots. Passing cliff edges with centimetres to spare from hitting your head was incredible! How do they do it? The driver was in full control the whole time (I guess they are so good because they have completed 120 hours of training to get this job, it’s so specialised). After two loops of the river and canyon it was all over. What a rush! We of course bought the cd of pics and DVD film (keep an eye on our YouTube channel for that baby!) oh and not forgetting the mini life jacket stubby holder too (beer bottle cooler). What tourists eh!

What an amazing way to start the day. The only thing for it now was to visit the beautiful Gibbston Valley vineyard for more wine tastings, fill our faces on some more cheese and before stopping for the night try out some archery at a local shooting range in Wanaka. Sounds impossible to do in one day? Not in New Zealand!

Bullseye Limn xxx

 

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