Latest update from our NZ roadtrip
Trip Start Jan 27, 2012
62Trip End Nov 16, 2012
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We made the drive from Dunedin to Te Anau fine. We managed to find a 4 bed dorm room which we got all to ourselves - we are getting good at that :) it helps with it being low season which means the place isn't too busy. The backpackers place we actually wanted to stay at was closed as the owners were on holiday, but a sign on the door told us to try next door where we found a room no problem and the lady at reception told us she would try to ensure she didn't put anyone else in our room. We booked ourselves on a trip to Milford Sound for the following day. We got an awesome deal - buy one ticket and the other person goes free! Pretty cool!
Overnight and the following morning the whole area had been hit by a snow storm which forced the closure of a number of local roads, including the main road out of town to Milford. So our trip was canceled. We were gutted, one of the best sights to see in NZ is the glacial fjord at Milford Sound so we decided to stay on another day and move our booking back to try and make it the following day as weather reports suggested the weather may improve and that the roads could clear. However the following day only bought further disappointment. The snow had bought trees down which meant the road was still closed :(
In the mean time we had pretty much exhausted all the other things to do in the small town of Te Anau. We had even gone to watch a movie shot from a helicopter above the Fjordland National Park to give ourselves a taste of what we were missing. The film was great, just stunning scenery filmed with a classical music soundtrack.
With more bad weather threatened we decided reluctantly to skip out of town and move on to Queenstown. We got a refund for our trip and left feeling pretty disappointed to have missed out.
The drive to Queenstown was icy and slippery in parts but we made it through no problems
We had booked to stay in budget accommodation but when we arrived the room they showed us was in such a bad state that when we complained they upgraded us to their top of the range room! Not bad! :)
When we wondered around town we saw that the tour company we had booked to go to Milford Sound with had an office in town offering trips from Queenstown. When we told them the story of our cancellations, they offered us the same deal we had paid for in Te Anau (buy one get one free) on a trip leaving the following day which was actually more expensive as the journey was longer, but they were confident that the road was going to be open again - so we went for it hoping it would be third time lucky!
The following day we got up early - 6am for a 7:15 pickup, both of us half expecting another cancellation..
It's difficult to talk about New Zealand and the countryside, and mountain scenery here without over-using using the words "stunning", "amazing", beautiful", and "epic", and the journey to Milford Sound took us through some of the most amazing and stunningly beautiful epic scenery we have seen so far! Made even more jaw-dropping by the fresh deep covering of snow. About 45cm of fresh snow had fallen.
Once we arrived at Milford, we boarded the small cruise ship the Milford Adventurer for our 2 hour cruise around the fjord. The fjordland scenery was truly immense! Huge mountains with vertical cliffs carved out by ancient ice flows. Mitre peak, the highest of these mountains is the tallest mountain in the world to rise directly out of the sea, it is just over a mile high. What's also staggering is that there is just as much mountain below sea level as there is above it. We saw so many amazing waterfalls too, all gushing with extra water from the melting snow and ice. We also had a small pod of 5 or 6 bottlenose dolphins who came to splash about alongside our boat for a while. We also spotted a penguin, and some NZ fur seals too.
The bus didn't get us back to Queenstown until about 8pm so it was a long day
Queenstown also has a cable car ride which you can take up high into the mountains above town for spectacular views of the town, lake Wakatipu, and the surrounding mountains. I'll upload the photos when I get a chance.
We bought a 1 day introductory snowboarding lesson for beginners. It was awesome. We went to Mount Cardrona and hired all the necessary gear, and spent the day learning how to snowboard. It was great fun! Both of us spent quite a bit of time falling over and suffered more than just a few bumps and bruises, but by the end of the day we were both whizzing down the mountain with relative ease! We're already planning on doing some more snowboarding in Chile or Argentina now :)
Our next journey took us to Fox Glacier - it's only coincidence that it shares the same name as the famous mints! The drive took us over the Crown mountain range and via the Haast pass, one of the highest mountain pass roads in the entire country. The temperature changed from about -2 to about +7 degrees as we came over the mountains and arrived on the west coast of NZ
We stayed for just one night in Fox Glacier, enough time for us to go on a few treks to take in the sights of the glacier itself which was pretty cool. You could pay to have a guided walk, or even take a helicopter flight to land on the glacier so that you could walk in amongst some of the ice formations. But these were ridiculously expensive, particularly when you can walk up to the main face of the glacier for free yourself anyway. So we didn't bother. The different shapes carved in the ice looked like some kind of modern art ice sculpture rather than something created by mother nature. Very interesting. And its not every day you can say you've climbed up to a glacier and gone to the beach on the same day! :)
Having been on the road for quite a while we decided a couple of rest days were in order which we took at a place called Hokotika where we found a lovely small hostel. We've not done much for a couple of days and have enjoyed the chance to re-charge our batteries before we push on towards the North Island next week.
However this evening after we had eaten our dinner we were sitting in the lounge of our hostel when we felt an earthquake. Mike the guy who runs the place here came rushing in to see if we were ok. It was probably all over in no more than 15-20 seconds but the whole building shook and it caused the plants and light bulbs in the ceiling to swing about a fair bit! The most strange sensation. Looking on the web the quake registered a 7.0 on the Richter scale, but the epicenter was 230km deep near Wellington on the north island so we would only have felt a small fraction of it being so far away. And with the epicenter being so deep, it doesn't seem to have caused any major damage in Wellington either thankfully as we are heading there in the next few days. Still - a bit of a dramatic event to have witnessed!