1st–11th November 2017.
Following Australia and the wedding at Sydney the next stop: New Zealand.
This trip had several firsts.
The first visit to New Zealand. The first time I drove a car outside of India. The first time we had (in parts) a flexible itenenary. And this was also the first time in a long, long while that images of landscapes far outnumbered wildlife!
Pre-trip research came up with one unanimous piece of advice: The south island was beautiful and the best way to see it was to self-drive through. Fortunately the traffic here drives on the same side as we do in India.
The Southern Scenic Route is a 610Km long tourist highway through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. It extends from Queenstown to Dunedin via Te Anau and the Catlins. An Australian travel magazine once described it as ‘one of the world’s great undiscovered drives’.
It was time to find out for ourselves if that was true!
We flew into Queenstown from Cairns and picked up a rental car at the airport. The only car available that could take four adults plus wedding luggage was a Holden Trailblazer. (And even then we just about managed to fit it all in!)
Home for the next three nights was a service apartment at the Mantra Marina located on the banks of the Frankton arm of Lake Wakatipu.
The view from our first storey apartment was pretty special…
…and from the deck itself I got to put the 500mm lens to fairly good use!
Lake Wakatipu is the longest lake, and the third largest, in New Zealand. It is known for its scenic beauty and a number of films including some backdrops from the Lord of the Rings and Narnia have been shot here.
An hour’s drive from Queenstown is the rustic, picture-perfect town of Glenorchy.
Situated along the northern shore of Lake Wakatipu, the scenery on the way to Glenorchy was spectacular and we found ourselves making several stops to take in the beauty.
The lake did have a few very interesting birds including the uncommon, Australasian crested grebe and the endemic New Zealand Scaup.
Overcast weather and thick cloud often result in dramatic skies and great photo opportunities – this was one of those days!
Equally impressive were the perplexing row of boulders (whose purpose I still haven’t fathomed) lined up to the water’s edge.
We stopped at Glenorchy’s General Store purely on the basis of its ‘cuteness quotient’!
The massive 3 foot deep hedge above with the door like entrance was straight out of a scene from the Hobbit!
The next day we drove to Lake Wanaka and stopped at Arrowtown on the way.
Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town on the banks of the Arrow river.
Now it is a popular tourist spot with rows of shops that kept the women entertained while I wandered in the adjoining forested area along the Arrow river.
Chaffinches are common but hyper-active birds and had me chasing them throughout Queenstown without success. I finally nailed one here in the shot below!
Lake Wanaka was as beautiful as it was cold, mainly due to the strong wind that blew over the lake.
The main street that borders the lake had some interesting shops and cafes where we had a light meal before heading back. Up until now I wasn’t drinking at all when I was driving.
This is where the waitress suggested that I could have a couple of light beers and still be under the legal limit. I decided to have just one and used that formula through the rest of the trip! Happiness!!
Queenstown does offer a large number of activities for tourists. One website actually boasts that even if you repeatedly visit the city you will still find something new to do each time. A couple of the activities we has shortlisted was a cable car ride and a visit to the Kiwi Birdlife Park.
Needless to say I pushed for the latter!
The conservation show at the Park has a live presentation that showcases a number of birds that are endemic to the country, many of which are seriously threatened and close to extinction.
Apart from the conservation show one can also observe kiwi feeding. Kiwi are nocturnal birds and the feeding houses and observation areas are kept in near darkness. It takes a good 10-15 minutes for your eyes get acclimatised to the darkness before you actually begin to see the bird!
The park is large and there are a number of other birds on view as well. As a rule I am never comfortable viewing wildlife in captivity but we did get to see a number of species that we would never have otherwise had the opportunity of seeing like the beautiful Kea below that was brought here with a broken wing.
The Kea is an interesting bird and I’ll let the sign (below) outside its enclosure speak for itself. (You may need to zoom into the page to read it).
From here the plan was to drive to Te Anau a small town that is a popular halt en route to Milford Sound.
We stayed at the Distinction Te Anau hotel that is situated on Lake Te Anau. Tickets for the tour to Milford Sound were to be bought at an iSite outlet that was only a short distance away from hotel. Not wanting to risk being told that it was fully booked, we made our way there immediately on arrival.
But not before a short detour for venison and chicken pies at Miles Better Pies and time off to feed a few hungry lambs.
The weather was wretched.
It rained intermittently and was continuously overcast. Over the two nights were we were in Te Anau we planned to visit a glow worm cave on the first day and do the tour to Milford Sound on the next one.
The Glow Worm Cave tour was nice. It involved taking a short boat trip down the Te Anau lake. The weather continued to be awful as you can tell by the image below. Taken on our way back, it could well have been a black and white were it not for the spectacular set of rainbows (yes look closely and you will see two of them, one above the other) on the opposite shore!
On our way back were were in for some disappointing news.The Milford Sound tour was cancelled for the next day due to snow fall in the mountains that rendered the drive up to the Sound dangerous.
Cutting our losses we decided to check out a day earlier and continue the drive down the Southern Scenic Route. Milford Sound was high on our New Zealand to-do checklist. On the other hand cancellation of the tour gave us an extra day on the Southern Scenic Route and allowed us to do the drive at a more leisurely pace.
Yet another example of a window opening at the closure of a door!
Early next morning we took off for the second leg of our drive across Southern New Zealand. It turned out to be one of the most breathtaking drives I have ever done.
If you thought the images here were nice, believe me, (in the words of I-havn’t-the-foggiest-idea-who): You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
So stay tuned for Spectacular New Zealand: Part 2!