Joe's Travels - Round the World 2003

 Diary - Week 7
Friday 28th March - Day trip to Milford Sound

 Mitre Peak, Milford Sound

Yet again the rain didn’t materialise and in fact it was another wonderful day with plenty of blue sky and hot sunshine.

Left the YHA at 0645 and travelled with Real Journeys (I had booked a different tour but it was cancelled due to lack of numbers so I was transferred at no extra charge to this more upmarket operator). From here it’s a 600 km (370 mile) round-trip to Milford Sound, hence an all-day trip. The coach was an ultra-modern comfortable Volvo with slightly tiered seating and partly glass roof. There was a wonderful sunrise this morning mixed with lots of low-lying cloud in the valleys making some exceptional views as we journeyed along to the south end of Lake Wakatipu. Fields were full of sheep, and almost as many deer (which are bred here for meat), with just a few cattle. Our first stop was in Te Anau, where we had 30 minutes for breakfast before continuing.

The tour stops at all the best viewpoints for photo opportunities - Mirror Lakes (truly incredible reflections), Knobs Flat, Hollyford Valley, Littles Flat (where the stream was so clear it was safe to drink the water), Homer Tunnel, and an amazing waterfall called The Chasm. The scenery from Te Anau to Milford Sound just kept getting better and better – it’s absolutely phenomenal. Due to all the stops this part of the journey took 3 hours. We arrived at Milford Sound at 1300 and transferred straight onto the cruise which goes to the mouth of the Sound, just out into the Tasman Sea.

Milford Sound is of course breathtaking, and impossible to describe adequately - the mountains are just so huge and rise almost vertically from the water in places. The highest peaks are capped with snow. We were extremely lucky with the weather (average annual rainfall here is about 7 metres or 275 inches but we didn't get any) - it was slightly cloudy for some of the cruise, but visibility was excellent. We saw a number of seals, both swimming and climbing out onto rocks, and the waterfalls were pretty good, though not up to their potential due to the lack of recent rain. We arrived back at the cruise terminal after 1 hr 45 mins and the coach left almost immediately. The return journey without sightseeing stops was much quicker, and including a 20 minute stop in Te Anau, took 4 hours to reach Queenstown. The sunset was even better than today’s sunrise, with golden and pink light reflecting the whole length of Lake Wakatipu, north from Queenstown.

Saturday 29th March – Queenstown to Wanaka

 Queenstown Gardens, autumn colours

Weather bright and sunny in the morning, but clouding over later on, with light rain as we reached Wanaka – first rain in NZ.

Spent the morning walking around town and Queenstown Gardens. Took an Atomic Shuttle bus in the afternoon for the 75-minute trip to Wanaka – the bus takes the shorter route via the spectacular Cardrona Pass (1,076 m). The hill up to the pass is incredibly steep and very scenic – as we descended the other side it started to rain lightly. We passed the famous Cardrona Hotel, and then a fence on which are hanging several hundred bras – not sure of the full story here, but apparently someone once left a bra on this fence, and started a trend!

Checked into Wanaka YHA - quite a basic hostel, but very friendly and only a 10-minute walk from the town centre. Later a group of us headed into town for some beers and had a great evening with a group of mainly Dutch people!

Sunday 30th March – Wanaka to Lake Tekapo

 Lake Wanaka

A nice surprise to wake up to glorious sunshine, after yesterday evening’s rain. Hired a mountain bike for the morning and took the route around Eely Point and Beacon Point giving beautiful views of Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring in the distance. Continued on the track alongside the Clutha River to Albert Town, then returned to Wanaka.

Took the bus, via Cromwell, to Lake Tekapo. The route takes in some wonderful scenery, including driving over the Lindis Pass (934 m). We had a 30-minute stop at Omarama, then travelled through light rain (meaning no views of Mount Cook unfortunately) reaching Tekapo early evening. By now the rain had cleared but it was much cooler and quite grey.

Here I stayed with relatives of friends from the UK - wonderful people who have a sheep station of around 50,000 acres - the majority of the 13km road between the highway and their farm is unsealed. They have over 10,000 Merino sheep, 800 deer and 300 cattle. It’s an absolutely beautiful location with total peace & quiet.

Monday 31st March – Lake Tekapo to Christchurch

 Merino sheep

Unfortunately the weather started dull and drizzly and then turned into rain which lasted all day. My host and several other men were supposed to have set off for a two-day trip into the mountains for the first sheep muster of the season, but had to abandon their plans because of the weather. The sheep are at around 7,000 feet and need to be brought down to lower ground before any snowfalls.

In the afternoon I went for a walk in the rain to nearby Lake Alexandrina – a beautiful peaceful place with an abundance of black swans and ducks. Also saw a hare and quite a few paradise shelducks in the fields.

Caught the early evening bus to Christchurch – it rained all the way and arrived in Christchurch three hours later. Checked into the very clean and modern Central YHA then went out for a drink with some people I'd met.

Tuesday 1st April – Christchurch

 Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch

Day in Christchurch - visited the Antarctic Centre, an attraction near the airport with very good displays and information about the Antarctic.

Visited the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (the nearby Catholic cathedral) and had a very full guided tour of the Cathedral, including going up to the top of the main dome, out on the roof, inside the roof, up in the Belfry, and ringing the bells!

Went to the cinema in the evening and saw the excellent NZ film “Whale Rider”. It was a very enjoyable movie, filmed in Whangara in the North island, north of Napier. Stayed with a very kind nephew of friends from the UK. I've certainly found people in New Zealand to be extremely hospitable and generous.

Wednesday 2nd April – Day trip to Akaroa

 Bank of New Zealand, Akaroa

Visited Akaroa for the day. This is an attractive small town on the Banks Peninsular, formed by volcanoes many millions of years ago. Weather was dry but unfortunately cold and grey all day at Akaroa (it was sunny in Christchurch). On the way, you could see that the previous days’ rain had fallen as snow on the Alps in the distance.

Went on a two-hour cruise in the afternoon the full length of the harbour and just out to sea, and as promised saw a great deal of wildlife. There were plenty of Hector's dolphins swimming around and in front of the boat, plus a few white-flippered little blue penguins (the smallest penguins in the world) floating about. We also saw seals on the rocks and lots of pied cormorants. A cold, but very good, trip!

Back in Christchurch, went up the Gondola in the evening – had a good, but rather pricey, meal at the top, with excellent night-time views over the whole city. There’s also an interesting exhibition up there showing how the Banks Peninsular was formed and its discovery by Captain Cook.

Thursday 3rd April – Flight Christchurch to Wellington


Caught an Air New Zealand flight to Wellington at 10.40, which took just 30 minutes to reach the capital. Had lovely views along the coast of the south island. We were met by my 4th cousin - one of the nicest and most hospitable people I've ever met - great shame she lives so far away! Went up to a high viewpoint with wonderful views over the city and surrounding area – there is one experimental wind turbine on top of the mountain.

After lunch, we took the famous cable car (which started service in 1902) down to the city for a few hours. Visited the Te Papa museum – an excellent place with a huge amount to see, though we didn't feel like spending more than an hour in it. Had a look around the shops, then went to the Malthouse – a really good bar with 27 different beers on tap. Didn't have time to try all them!

Despite only having a very short stay in Wellington, first impressions were very favourable and there are many very attractive buildings perched on the hillsides all over the city. Most houses are wooden and attractively painted. Its reputation as a windy city is well-deserved however!


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