Thursday, December 29, 2016

Lakes Wanaka, Pukaki, and Tekapo

On the drive from Queenstown to Tekapo, we stopped for lunch in Wanaka, partly so I could snap a photo of the famous tree there. It's pretty cool -- a tree out a ways into the lake -- and the surrounding scenery is sweet too. There were several other people also snapping photos (some with really big, expensive-looking cameras on tripods) and the weather was sunny and clear. It's hard to go wrong for photos in this middle section of the South Island.
standup paddleboarders enjoying the lake

some ducks along the shore

Then it was on to my favorite rest stop by Lake Pukaki. The blues were gorgeous as usual! We also picked up some Mount Cook Alpine Salmon at the little shop there for later.
And the last stop of the journey was Tekapo, which has a lake of the same name. It stayed light quite late, so we were able to take a nighttime scroll and check out the famous Church of the Good Shepherd in the dark. We tried out my camera's manual settings and got some nice photos with the stars.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Queenstown's Frankton Arm

I've been to Queenstown several times, but it hasn't gotten old yet. The lakefront city offers wonderful views of the water and mountains, and there is a lot to do in a small area. While my visitors went on a long mountain hike in Ben Lomond Scenic Reserve, I ventured along the Frankton Arm Walkway which runs along Lake Wakatipu between Queenstown and the nearby town of Frankton.

It was a warm, sunny day, and I parked myself on a little beach area to enjoy my packed lunch and the views. Blue sky, little waves crashing, flowers in bloom -- it really couldn't get any more perfect for a vacation day. And later, the sunset was a nice finishing touch to the long day.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Milford Sound

Milford Sound is one of the top tourist destinations in New Zealand, but this was the first time I made it there because it is so remote and difficult to access. We were treated to snow-covered valleys on the drive in because a big storm had rolled through very recently. The waterfalls were extra powerful and loud, too. We stopped off at The Chasm on the way in, which had rushing water under a bridge and a cool rock with a hole worn through it.

The big waterfall that you can see from the shore when you get to the sound is named Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls or Hine Te Awa -- the Maori saw that it resembled the white plumage on the New Zealand wood pigeon (kereru). It is the highest waterfall in Milford Sound (162 m or 531 ft) and provides the area with power and water.  
Hine Te Awa waterfall
Believe it or not, the sound from the waterfalls was so loud that it and the wind woke us up several times during our first night there! There were waterfalls all over the mountainside next to the lodge. The following day was when we were supposed to go on our evening kayak tour. The weather was drippy in the morning but we went out for a short nature hike anyway. We hiked a little ways on a very rain-drenched trail, with puddles and slick branches everywhere. It was one of, if not the most rainforest-y spot we had been to -- very wet! We also walked to the visitor center (the only thing in Milford Sound apart from lodging and tours) and found some cool orange lichen-covered rocks on the way back.
view from Milford Sound Lodge

the shores of Milford Sound

Thankfully the weather cleared up in time for the twilight kayak tour, so it wasn't cancelled. They gave us a safety briefing and then took us via boat aways out into the sound, and then we spent the next few hours kayaking back. It was a workout for sure! The views were amazing, and being on a kayak makes you feel so small compared to the sheer cliffs and giant waterfalls. We put all the kayaks together and went under the spray from the second highest waterfall, Stirling Falls. It is 151 m (495 ft) tall - three times that of Niagara Falls. The cold water pelts you with incredible force -- I had to close my eyes for fear of my contacts falling out. It was super cool and an unforgettable experience. Our guide told us some interesting stories and we would go near the shores to look at various features. It was cool to see the pink from the sunset over the mountains.

preparing to go under Stirling Falls

successfully made it through Stirling Falls!

The next day, the sun was out and the mountainsides had a lot fewer waterfalls. It was almost a different place, and it is constantly changing like this all year round, no matter the season. We really lucked out with the bad weather having come in right before we arrived and staying away so we could enjoy this remote place (no cell reception or free internet).

Monday, December 26, 2016

Te Anau and Routeburne Track

To get to Milford Sound, you have to first go south through Te Anau, which is the gateway to the Fiordland and the place to get gas and food beforehand. (Then to get to Queenstown, you still have to go back through Te Anau.)

We took a leisurely drive from Dunedin to Te Anau and spent the night there. But because it stays light out so late in the spring and summer here, we were able to take a walk along the lake and gaze at the mountains and clouds.

The next day on the drive to Milford, we stopped to check out one of the rivers and saw lots of pretty flowers in bloom.

Then we did a hike on part of the Routeburn Track (one of the New Zealand Great Walks). It was steep on the way up, and I had to stop several times, but the views at the top were beautiful. Snow-covered mountains, a mountain lake in the distance, and the cute but naughty alpine parrot, the kea, which was keeping an eye on everyone for potential food scavenging opportunities. One of them soared past us a couple times, and they have a pretty orange underside that you can see.

these are mini carnivorous plants