A must see for me was Milford Sound only 40 miles (64 kilometres) away as the crow flies although with mountains and lakes in the way the actual distance by road was 180 miles (290 kilometres) and took over 3 hours. The drive there was spectacular and we stopped at a lake with a particularly pristine mirror refection of the surrounding mountains and forest before making our way through the Homer Tunnel to Milford. When we emerged the other side the weather had totally changed, Milford Sound is the wettest place in New Zealand!
The stunning scenery on the way to Milford Sound
Mirror Lake on the way to Milford Sound
Sign reflected in the Lake on the way to Milford Sound
Milford Sound is a 10 mile (16 kilometre) long fjord with very steep sides; Mitre Peak is the most famous and towered 5,551 feet (1,692 metres) over the Sound as we arrived to board our tour boat. With forest clinging to the sheer cliffs, waterfalls cascading into the Sound from high up and seals colonising the rocks (apparently there are dolphins in the Sound as well but we didn't see any the day we were there) it is one of the most stunning places in the world and part of a World Heritage Site covering the south west corner of New Zealand.
Mitre Peak in Milford Sound (5,551 feet - 1,692 metres), for an idea of scale note the tour boat at its base!
Me by Fairy Falls in Milford Sound
Close up of the Fairy Falls in Milford Sound
St Annes Point at the mouth of Milford Sound, next stop Australia!
Seals on Seal Rock in Milford Sound
Bowen Falls on the left as we return up Milford Sound
Unfortunately it was when I arrived at Milford Sound that my camera began to indicate it had a problem. Two and a half months and five countries into my round the world trip even with most of them backed up (in triplicate - I am an IT Project Manager after all, always got to have a contingency plan!) you can imagine how I felt!
Fortunately it turned out to be the new SD Card I put in my camera after the Franz Josef Glacier Heli-Hike that was the problem so I was able to use my camera's internal memory (and borrowed photographs) until I got a replacement the following day in Queenstown. Two photo stores in NZ and LA have tried to recover the lost pictures for me since with no success so I'm pretty sure they are not recoverable.
I try to put on a brave face after realising there is a problem with my camera
A lot of the wilder locations used for The Lord of the Rings were near Glenorchy on the north shore of Lake Wakatipu, about a 45 minute drive from Queenstown and the thought of combining a trip to see them with a jetboat ride up the Dart River certainly appealed so I booked myself on the tour for one of the days I was in Queenstown. On the way we stopped for a terrific view of the mountains and islands at the north end of Lake Watatipu before arriving at Glenorchy where they kitted us out in heavy duty waterproofs for our powerboat trip on the Dart River.
The southern end of Lake Watatipu looking towards Glenorchy
Me at Glenorchy about to set off for Paradise
We then began our trip north to Paradise in a vehicle specially adapted for crossing rivers. Our first stop was at the Paradise Homestead below Mount Alfred; the story goes it took a chap a couple of years to build it as a home in the paradise he had found for his new bride but when he sent a message for her to join him she declined and instead settled down with his father! From the homstead we continued north and stopped at a film location heavily used for The Lord of the Rings (e.g. "Isengard" ,"the Misty Mountains" and the edge of the "Lothlorien Forest") and lot of other films besides - such as The Chronicles of Narnia and X-Men: Wolverine.
The view south from Paradise near Glenorchy
Another view looking south from Paradise near Glenorchy
We were then taking for a "bush walk" through the forest, told amongst other things that the evergreen Beech Tree that was everywhere had very shallow roots and no relation to the tree of the same name back in the UK (it had been mis-named!). Again the forest we were in had been heavily used for Lord of the Rings and we passed a large wooden chair known as "Gandalf's Chair" that had been used in the films.
Bush walk through the forest south of Paradise used for a lot of film scenes in The Lord of the Rings
Then began the exciting part of the trip as our jetboat arrived and powered us up the incredibly beautiful Dart River. With recent rain we got a lot further up the river than trips during the previous days but then our boat broke down and we were stranded for half an hour on a sand bank in the middle of the river while a relief boat was sent out to rescue us! Stranded in Paradise like we were has a certain ring to it and I can certainly think of a lot worse places to be stuck.
Our Jet Boat arrives to pick us up
Guess who's jet boat broke down and they had to send a relief boat?
Our relief boat arrives
Our relief boat then arrived and we resumed our trip down the Dart River travelling at incredible speed around the ever changing bends in the river. Although I don't think the relief boat was quite as powerful as the boat we were originally on it was still quite a thrilling trip and as I sat behind our driver/pilot watching him read and negotiate the river reminded of my own whitewater kayaking.
I managed to get the seat directly behind the driver/pilot as we sped down the Dart River from Paradise to Glenorchy
Me on a jet boat racing down the Dart River from somewhere north of Paradise to Glenorchy
The spray behind our jet boat as we speed down the Dart River to Glenorchy on Lake Watatipu
About 23 mile (37 kilometres) later we arrived on Lake Wakatipu and circled round the top of the lake to our berth at Glenorchy. We landed close to the Wharf Shed that once used by steamers on the lake to supply Glenorchy. As the steamers were owned by the NZ Railway Company and there was a short bit of track along the wharf, the shed was actually classified as a railway station with the shortest piece of track in New Zealand!
Our relief jet boat arrives back at Glenorchy (l'm sat behind the driver in my warm hat and sun glasses)
Queenstown is proud of its "Global Adventure Capital" billing but I did manage to find a couple of less adrenaline fuelled things to do while I was there. For starters there is the 2,395 feet (730 metre) long and 1,590 feet (460 metre) high Gondola ride up to Bob's Peak with terrific views of Queenstown, Lake Watatipu and the surrounding mountains. Needless to say this being New Zealand (and Queenstown especially) you can also skydive and bungy jump (and a lot more besides) but I decided not surprisingly for those who know me to give these a miss!
The Skyline Gondola up to Bob's Peak at Queenstown
View of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu from the top of the Gondola
Signpost high above Queenstown, London is only 18,946 kilometres (11,772 miles) away!
The Gondola back down to Queenstown
Skydivers coming into land high above Shotover Street (note the shop names - only in Queenstown!)
Lake Watatipu at 52 miles (84 kilometres) is the second longest in New Zealand with Queenstown situated on the north shore of a s-bend about half way down its length. In the past the lake was the primary means of transport with 4 steamers plying for trade but today only the TSS Earnslaw (built in Dunedin in 1912 and transported in pieces overland) remains. She sails several times a day loaded with tourists on its popular 7 mile (11 kilometre) trip over to Walter Peak on the south side of the lake.
TSS Earnslaw berthed at its wharf on Queenstown Bay
Queenstown as seen from the TSS Earnslaw
TSS Earnslaw at full steam across Lake Watatipu
Looking back across Lake Watatipu towards Queenstown from Walter Peak
Having spent 5 nights in Queenstown it was time to make our way back north towards Christchurch overnighting in Lake Tekapo. Before we got there we passed through Twizel (a "temporary" town built for construction workers in 1968 with diggers on display on the way in - a bit bland!) but then stopped at Lake Pukaki on what turned out to be a perfect weather (and it apparently doesn't happen often) to see Mount Cook. The conditions were so good I tried to sign up for a "Grand Traverse" Flight in a small plane from one coast of South Island to the other over Mount Cook (Maori name is "Aoraki") but unfortunately by the time we reached the airstrip a quite serious weather front had arrived and the flight was called off.
Me with Mount Cook behind me at Lake Pukaki
My MagicBus Crew at Lake Pukaki/Mount Cook
We then carried on to Lake Tekapo where we were to stay overnight which like Lake Pukaki also has a milky turquoise colour created by the glacial rock sediment that feeds into both lakes. Here there was the small stone Church of the Good Shepherd built in 1935 which has an awesome view of the lake behind its alter which makes it a very popular (and therefore exceptionally expensive!) venue for weddings. Lake Tekapo is also well known for stargazing from the observatories on top of adjacent Mount John but by then I was feeling too tired and cold for the climb up to the summit.
The Church of the Good Shepherd overlooking Lake Tekapo
The view behind the alter at the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo
The view from my where I did my blogging at Lake Tekapo YHA :-)
The final leg of our trip back to Christchurch was across the endless Plains of Canterbury, the largest expanse of flat lands in New Zealand. Not too much to report here apart from the clever irrigation machinery on wheels that seemed to be ready to walk across nearly every field. Our final stop was at the factory shop at the "Cookie Time" Cookie Factory on the outskirts of Christchurch to try some of their chocolate chip biscuits which seem to have become almost cultural icon in New Zealand since it was opened in 1983.