After visiting the Abel Tasman National Park, which I talked about in my previous New Zealand blog post, we headed down to Fiordland via Christchurch and Queenstown. Now, I wouldn’t usually write about an airport, but this is a special case. Anyone who knows me well, or even at all, knows that I love ice cream. And Christchurch airport had the best cookies and cream ice cream I have ever tasted (my sister thought the same). Oh wow, it was just so good. It was Killinchy Gold, and apparently you can buy it in various places in New Zealand, so if you see it, get the cookies and cream flavour.
After flying to Queenstown, we rented a car and drove to Fiordland Lodge in Te Anau, which was just incredible. There couldn’t have been a more special place to stay whilst celebrating the day of my Dad’s 60th birthday. Fiordland is home to Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, which are two of the more well-known sounds in New Zealand. A sound is a large sea or ocean inlet larger than a bay, deeper than a bight, and wider than a fjord; or a narrow sea or ocean channel between two bodies of land (thank you, Wikipedia).
We saw Milford Sound by helicopter tour, which was one of the most breathtaking experiences of my entire life. The helicopter actually landed three times on various parts of the sound that you would not be able to reach on foot. Seeing the beautiful blue lakes and waterfalls from above was just something else. We saw Doubtful Sound by boat. Not quite as spectacular as the helicopter ride (it would take a lot to top that), but still very beautiful. At one point, the captain turned off the boat engine and asked everyone to be quiet, put cameras away and to listen to the sound of nature.
After a few fabulous days in Fiordland with my family and friends, it was time to say goodbye. I moved from London to Sydney last year and my family are still based in the UK. There are many perks to living in Sydney, but I have to say, the family goodbyes just don’t get any easier. It was especially difficult because: (a) they are the best family anyone could ever ask for and (b) we’d all had such a fun couple of weeks. I left my family at Queenstown airport and went to hunt down my car. A few days earlier I’d booked the cheapest car I could find through a company called Jucy, who couldn’t have been better from start to finish.
In Queenstown, I stayed with an old school friend, Emma, and her partner. I was super excited to see her, as we were best friends in college but after she moved to New Zealand four years ago, I hadn’t seen her in person for all that time. The first afternoon and evening we set aside for catching up because there was a whole lot to catch up on. I excitedly conveyed my plan to drive to Lake Alta, but Emma, who has had extensive experience of both Queenstown and my driving, politely informed me that I probably shouldn’t, given the road is very difficult to drive up. I didn’t need telling twice.
On my first full day in Queenstown, I did a solo hike up a mountain (Emma was working during the daytimes whilst I was staying with her so she wasn’t able to join). Yes, quite proud of myself. The base of the mountain, Ben Lomond, was basically in Queenstown. I actually cut off the first and last hour of the walk by catching a gondola. I was on a bit of a mission to get to the top, which is quite unlike me. Usually I like to potter (my partner tells me I could win awards for “pottering”), but no, nothing was stopping me on that day. It took me an hour to reach The Saddle and another 50 minutes to reach the peak. It was one of the best hikes I have ever done. The scenery in New Zealand is just incredible. I reached the top to find around ten other walkers enjoying their lunch so I joined them and we all sat around admiring the view. It was a fairly challenging hike to the top; there was definitely a bit of scrambling up rocks and steep terrain. However, the good news is, that if I can find my way, so can you. There aren’t a whole lot of signs, but the track is generally pretty clear. There were a couple of times in which I wasn’t sure which way to go, but I just waited for someone else to come along and followed them (at least if we got lost it would be together!). On the way down I reverted to my usual pottering self, stopping to take photos and even climbing some other random small peak that I found.
I wanted to explore Wanaka for a day and had been reading up about the two different routes: one via Cardrona and one via Cromwell. Emma informed me that the Crown Range route is much more spectacular, albeit more challenging, and despite thinking that the drive to Lake Alta was too ambitious for me, she thought that I’d be able to handle this one. On the morning I was kind of nervous because I’d read so much about the tricky roads. I kept having more and more breakfasts to delay leaving, but eventually off I went on my solo road trip in my teeny weeny little manual hire car. And you know what? It was actually quite a fun drive. Not nearly as scary as I was expecting and they had signs saying ‘black spots’ to warn you in advance when the more dangerous parts of the road were coming up. There were seven hairpin bends up and down mountains, but it felt like being in a video game. I realise that that may sound a little worrying, but I can assure you that I was driving verrrrrry slowly. There was a huge queue of cars behind me for at least 90% of the Crown Range drive, but hey, better that than the potential alternative. I’m going to caveat all this by saying that if you did the same drive in snow or ice, I don’t think it would be very enjoyable.
Wanaka seemed like a smaller, quieter Queenstown. And ‘That Wanaka Tree’ (see my photo below if you don’t know what I’m talking about) is just as mesmerising as it looks in photos. On the way back to Queenstown, I did something that I’d been wanting to do for years. I visited the Onsen Hot Pools, which are open air hot tubs on a cliff above the Shooter River. Plus, the pools use natural spring water. So dreamy.
I feel like there are a million more things to do in Queenstown, and I am planning on going back to explore more of it, but here are my final tips for now: have ice cream at Patagonia Chocolates on the lakefront (very hearty-sized scoops), go to a bar called Cowboys (a fun Western style bar with a bucking bronco) and explore Coronet Peak (so serene and beautiful).