Kia ora from the land of the Māori people, Aotearoa! Even before we landed here in New Zealand, we were gobsmacked by the amazing views all around us. I've literally not found an angle or vantage point yet that I didn't want to take a picture of. For the sake of storage space and the time that would be lost by constantly taking photos, I've had to refrain ever so little. Unfortunately for you all, it is true that even photos with the best of cameras can not do this country justice, but I'll share a few with you anyway.
Queenstown views We landed in Queenstown, a rather small city in the southwest part of the south island. A beautiful city sitting on a lake and surrounded by mountains, it was the perfect place for us to get a feel for New Zealand life. While here, we got to do some jet boating on the lake and some of its rivers, taking in the scenery at break-neck speeds. Talk about a thrill!
Cruisin’ on a jet boat With public transportation not a strong point in New Zealand , we rented a car for the duration of our time here. The plan is to make our way north over the course of a month, seeing as much as time allows. A ferry boat will take us from the south to north island so we can continue our journey all the way up to Auckland. Let's not get ahead of ourselves though, as we first needed to pay a visit to one of the most incredible places on the planet - New Zealand’s fiordland! Located entirely in the very southwest corner of the country, New Zealand has fifteen beautiful fiords that cover approximately 10% of its land mass. A few are accessible only by several day hikes through rainforest, rivers, and over mountains (maybe next visit!), but only two of them are accessible by vehicle. How could we not do both of those!? Milford Sound, the most well known of the fiords, is accessible by car thanks to a route carved out of the mountains some 60 years ago. Full of breathtaking lakes and mountains, the roadway passes through a 1.2km (.75 mile) one way tunnel just a few miles from the fjord itself. A traffic light system tells drivers when they can pass through the tunnel, and bad timing can find you waiting some 15 minutes for your turn. In any case, it was all well worth it to see the prize waiting for us at the end!
Waiting our turn at the tunnel Again, words can not do this place justice. The beauty here is unlike anything I have seen anywhere else in my travels. It is simply something you need to experience for yourself. They say you need to visit the Sound twice; once on a sunny day and once in a rainy day to see the countless waterfalls that come to life all along the fjord. With over 200 days of rain a year, we were very lucky to be able to see it on a sunny day this time around.
If I am dreaming do NOT wake me up As the only way to really see the fiord is by boat, we took a cruise that took us down the length of the fiord all the way out to the Tasman Sea and back. Along the way we were able to see the permanent waterfalls and a few temporary ones either created by recent rains or melting snow from the mountain tops. Our skipper even drove the boat under a few of them so we could experience the intensity of water cascading 500 feet off the cliffs from up close. Needless to say, those that chose to got a little wet!
One of several permanent waterfalls at Milford
Besides all the waterfalls and mountains, these fiords are also home to an abundance of wildlife. We were able to see some young seals learning to live away from the colony as well as many different types of birds, including some rare penguins. Dolphins sometimes swim into the fiord as well, but unfortunately we didn't see any of them.
Penguin playing On our second day in the area we went to the other somewhat easily accessible fiord, Doubtful Sound. It's name comes from Lieutenant James Cook himself, who told his crew as he sailed past it that he was doubtful whether or not the fiord was navigable by sail. Even today very few people visit; we were one of two or three touring vessels that visit each day. The reason being is that you have to drive to a small town where you catch a boat across a lake that takes you to a road that takes you through the mountains (this road literally exists to connect the lake and the fiord, there is no other way to get to it) before you even get to the fiord itself! It also meant we had the entire fiord pretty much completely to ourselves while we were there.
Also known as the Sound of silence, Doubtful Sound was just as beautiful as Milford but was definitely more left to nature. Doubtful had its own blend of tree covered mountains, waterfalls, and wildlife. We still didn't see any dolphins, but we saw many penguins, seals, and other water birds as we carved our way out to the sea and back. I don't mean to imply that Doubtful is like Milford at all as I wind down my blog; each fiord was well worth the visit in its own way and any trip to the Fiordland should include both if at all possible. With our detour to the southwestern corner of New Zealand complete, I hope you join us as we now work our way north!