Wanaka

We left Queenstown at 10 AM and made our way to Glenorchy. The drive along the Lake was superb. On reaching Glenorchy, we decided to do one of the short walks in the region, the walk to Lake Sylvan.

The walk was through local forests, and ended on the shores of the lake, from where one gets distant views of a couple of snow capped mountains. It was a pleasant walk, but nothing spectacular.

We then made our way back to Queenstown enroute to Wanaka. We took the shorter route via Cardrona. The initial section of the route was the steepest I had encountered thus far along the trip, but we were rewarded with some great alpine scenery.

We reached Wanaka around 6 PM, enough time for a walk around the town centre.

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Queenstown

Before leaving Te Anau, we took in 2 of the local attractions – the local wildlife (bird) centre and watching a short, but superb film on the Fiordlands called ‘Te Whatanui’.

The bird centre was a small place with a few enclosures that support rare local birds. The rarest of which is the Takahe, a large waterfowl, of which there are less than 200 in the world. These were presumed extinct until being rediscovered in 1948.

Some of the other birds we saw included the Kaka, a parrot, parakeets and duck species.
The 32 minute film captures the grand scenery of the region. It is shot largely from the air and is accompanied by a background score incorporating some Mauri music. Definitely a must watch.

We then made the drive to Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand. After the quietness of the places we had visited, the hustle and bustle of Queenstown did not appeal to us. We did do the touristy thing by eating the burgers at Fergburgers, considered by Lonely Planet to make the best burgers in New Zealand. They were good, and huge!

 

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Te Anau

Today was the day I had been waiting for – boat cruise on Milford Sound. The morning turned out to be a fine one – no rain! This region receives around 7 metres of rain annually with over 200 rain days, so a day with no rain is a fine one!

We had booked ourselves for a breakfast cruise. The breakfast was quite good, unfortunately, with the crowds, it took a while for us to eat breakfast and make our way above deck to take in the views.

And the views lived up to expectation – they were quite stunning. Steep cliffs rising straight out of the water and upto a mile high – it’s hard to grasp the sheer scale of the settings. Waterfalls that are 50 metres in height look like they can’t be much over 10 metres, dwarfed as they are by the water and the mountains.

The captain took us very close to one of the taller falls – over a 100 metre high. Close enough that we were drenched in the spray from the falls. We traveled the sound (technically a fjord) right up to the Tasman Sea, from where we had quite superb views back to the Sound.

We also visited the Discovery Centre, a 360 degree viewing cabin situated 10 metres under the water level. Milford Sound has a unique ecosystem because there is a layer of fresh water (due to all the rain) sitting atop the salty sea water. This layer reflects the sunlight back, which causes the sea water to be much darker at the same level that if there were no fresh water atop. This, in turn, enables organisms that would ordinarily only be seen at much deeper levels to be viewed much closer to the surface.

Milford Sound is one of the very few places where this phenomenon, called Fresh Water Emergence, occurs. And the discovery centre enables visitors to view this without getting wet. We got to see a wide variety of marine organisms, including sea urchins, sea cucumbers, black corals, and a few fish species. Very few people actually visit the Centre; I would strongly recommend taking the 45 minutes off to visit and view this quite unique spectacle.

On our way back to Te Anau, we stopped at a few places along Milford Road for short walks. The highlight was being able to observe Kea (the world’s only Alpine Parrot) from fairly close.

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Milford Sound

The stay in the motel did a world of good for us. I was quite refreshed by the change, which helped me do the longest drive today.

After leaving Riverton, we stopped at McCracken’s Rest, from where we could gedt good views out to the Tasman Sea, with Fiordland in the distance. The road turned north from here. We stopped at a small town called Tuatapere for a coffee and Internet break, before heading on to Manapouri and Te Anau.

Our original plan was to halt for the night here, but as I was feeling quite fresh, we decided to head on to Milford Sound. The 120 km drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound was quite scenic, passing as it does, through the Fiordland World Heritage Area.

We reached our campsite by around 6 PM. This campsite could possibly be the one with the most stunning location that we might stay in on this trip. Steep mountains surrounded us on all 4 sides, with a small steam flowing immediately behind us. Though situated in a remote location, it had all the amenities that we had come to expect in a campsite, and we had a pleasant stay.

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Riverton

Day 2 on the Southern Scenic Drive saw us reach Riverton, on the Southern coast of the South Island.

Our first halt was to view the Purakanui Waterfalls. While the falls itself were not very high, it was still very pretty with its 3 levels. But more beautiful was the walk to reach the falls, through lush green temperate vegetation.

Our second halt was to view McLeans Falls. These falls were taller, and the walk to get there was longer as well. Again, both the walk and the falls were quite beautiful.
We then reached Curio Bay for lunch. By now, the weather, which was grey and gloomy throughout worsened. It was quite cold, even at 2 in the afternoon, and we did not spend much time here. Incidentally, Curio Bay was where we were initially planning to spend our previous night, but after visiting it, we were glad we didn’t!

We then made our way to Invercargill, the largest town in this part of South Island. We stocked up on groceries and petrol, before heading out to the town of Riverton, which was to be our halting place for the night.

We stayed in a motel here, as a change from staying in our van. It was a large, 2 bedroom house with views out on to the sea. I went for a walk down to the beach, and was struck by the feeling of remoteness. There was an ‘Edge of the World’ feeling to the place.

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Pounawea

Today was when we started on the Southern Scenic Drive, that will take us eventually to Te Anau and the Milford Sound.

But first we had to get on to the Scenic Drive from just outside Dunedin! It took us 2 attempts and close to an hour before we finally succeeded in getting on to the right road.
We drove to Balclutha, the gateway to the region of South East of South Island called ‘The Catlins’. In addition to shopping for groceries, We had one of the best pizzas we have ever eaten in a small eatery here called Cafe Italio. Home cooked, and served straight from the oven, it was simply delicious.

We then drove to Nugget Point, a dramatic scenery of cliffs dropping to the sea, with rock islands stretching to the sea. We could see colonies of Royal Spoonbills on one of the rock islands, and New Zealand fur seals on another. It really was a wonderfully beautiful and remote setting.

We reached our campsite by around 6 PM, enough time given the long daylight hours of summer to go for a short bush walk. It was our first exposure to the moist temperate vegetation of New Zealand, all lush green, with lots of ferns. We also saw a few local birds, including the Tui and the Bell Bird.

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Moeraki to Portobello

The campsite at Moeraki had a more relaxed checkout time, so we had a lazy start to the day.

Our drive today took us to the Otage peninsula, past the town of Dunedin. I liked what I saw of Dunedin, it helped that the sun was out! We reached our campsite around 4:15 PM, but had to leave immediately to go to Taiarao Head, where we had booked for a nature tour.

Taiaroa Head also contains the only land based nesting site of Royal Albatrosses. We saw a few of these birds in the air from the road.

The Nature’s Wonders tour that we had book was conducted in an open 8 wheel drive buggy. Part of the fun was in the ride itself! We first went to lookout from where, on a clear drive, one can see all the way back to Dunedin (about 20 kms away). But, as you might have guessed, there was a lot of quite low clouds around, and our view was quite limited.
We then went back to sea level to get really close to New Zealand fur seals. From the hide, we could see a pup from so close that we could have touched it if we had reached out our hands. Luckily we didn’t as our guide said that they could bite, if touched! On our way back to the vehicle, we saw a seal eating stones a few feet from our buggy. They eat stones to help digest their meal (of squid).

Our next halt was at Penguin Beach to view the Yellow eyed Penguin, the world’s rarest penguin. We saw one on the beach, and another, possibly a chick, in its burrow.

 

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