18.-20.02.10, Queenstown – Milford Sound with Active New Zealand
Friday – Queenstown – Te Anau – Milford Sound
This morning we head down to Te Anau for lunch, before continuing on to The Divide where we’ll hike part of the Routeburn Track. Located in the heart of Fiordland, our largest and arguably most spectacular national park, this hike gives us unsurpassed views of the Hollyford Valley, from mountains to sea, as well as Lake Marian and Mt.Christina. Then it’s a short drive through the Homer Tunnel, emerging at the top of a spectacular alpine road winding its way down to Milford Sound. The lush rainforest carpeting the lower slopes of the mountains gives way to the massively steep, glacier-carved slopes and waterfalls of the Darren Range. Milford Sound, rated the 8th Natural Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling, is breathtaking. Sheer rock walls plunge thousands of feet to the Tasman Sea and waterfalls cascade into the deep blue water. It’s basic accommodation tonight, but it’s the only place in town to stay and the location alone makes up for it!
Saturday – Sea kayak Milford Sound, explore Fiordland National Park
It’s an early start today. Most people see Milford Sound from the deck of a cruise ship, but we’ve got a better way – gliding along in a sea kayak, getting up close and personal with the sound while causing minimum disruption to the seals and dolphins, that are very friendly and often eager to visit. This is an awesome trip, run by specialist kayak outfitters, and it’s equally suitable for beginners or experts. After your morning’s paddle, we’ll have lunch before continuing on to Lake Manapouri. Along the way we’ll spend more time exploring the Fiordland wilderness, checking out some of its more interesting residents like the kea (nestor notabilis) New Zealand’s notoriously cheeky alpine parrot and the Kotukutuku (fuchsia excorticate) the world’s largest fuchsia.
The weather here in Queenstown is no longer as good as it was. The forecast for yesterday and today was for cloud and rain, but it only came last night. Some of us had a nice fish meal on a wharf where the steamer berths. It is a real coal-fired steamer which Gill and Mike have been on. Maybe I shall go when I return next week. The half-day walk up a hill behind the town was cancelled this morning because of the rain and I walked with a group along the lakeside instead. When we reached the town again the sun was already coming out. Others were going bungy-jumping, hang gliding etc., but I spent the afternoon in the bird park, where the main attraction is the kiwis in a nocturnal house. A cold wind has blown up now and we have to find our own dinner so I shall go back to the apartments where we are staying and see what is happening.
After an early start and a long drive with stops at Lake Manapouri and Te Anau we all had an interesting walk for 3 hours up Key summit, an excellent look-out point at the beginning of the Routeburn track. I would return here a few days later. Another shorter walk took us to the impressive Humbolt waterfalls in the Hollyford Valley. We then continued through the Homer tunnel and finally reached the end of the road – Milford Sound, where everybody wants to go. It did not seem as crowded as I expected and there were not many helicopters or light planes. It is very spectacular but really similar to Geiranger Fijord in Norway. I was able to get some pictures in sunset light of the famous Mitre peak.
Today in the morning the mountain summits were in cloud. The boat trip was good and I saw some dolphins as well as fur seals but no penguins. Most people in the group went kayaking but I did not. I think you see more from a ship and it is better for photography. We are now back at Lake Manapouri and I leave the group tomorrow to go on my Doubtful Sound cruise, before the full Routeburn Track walk. This evening we are having a barbeque as a farewell meal. It is rather windy to have it outside but the sun is shining and there are beautiful views over the lake from the hotel.