Franz Josef - Queenstown (352km / 219m)
What should have been a 6 - 7 hour drive through some of New Zealand's most stunning scenery from Franz Josef to Queenstown actually turned into 7 hours of driving through a low cloud bank. You would not have even known the Southern Alps were all around us as visibility was so poor (not helped by the torrential rain) making the incredibly steep and winding roads interesting.
After a couple of pit stops along the way though, including lunch and a mooch around Wanaka on the shores of the lake we finally made it to Queenstown around 14:30.
We checked into Haka Lodge and were instantly impressed. It looked brand new and was flash-packing at its best. Nick was also very impressed with the "contract" all guests had to sign promising to be quiet after 22:30 (no ear plugs needed in this one!). After a quick supermarket stop we strolled the 2 minutes into town to come up with a plan for our short time here.
As usual though we had too many choices and too little budget. The weather forecast was promising sunshine for the next day and we had already talked about going to the legendary Milford Sound (legendary because of it's beauty and it's incredibly fickle weather!). After looking at a number of options including driving the 10 hour round trip ourselves, and lots of umming and ahhing we finally decided on a tour company Mitre Peak Cruises. Unfortunately we had totally forgotten it was a Sunday and when the i-SITE tried to call them at 17:30 (it had taken us that long to decide) no one was answering the phone! Bollocks! Had we missed our best shot with the weather? Should we make the drive ourselves? After more umming and ahhing we decided to try ringing them ourselves from a payphone. They picked up! They had seats available on the cruise we wanted! Hurrah! Now we just had to keep our fingers crossed the weather forecast was right and we had not just spent a lot of money on a trip to see some clouds!
We then had just enough time for Nick to book something else for the following day (but more about that later) before taking a wander around. Queenstown sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and is surround by mountains and has a lively centre. It really felt like being in Windemere or Kendel in The Lake District, back home, with its swanky cafes, boutique shops and abundance of hiking shops! If you had the money and metabolism, you could spend the day just eating and drinking.
By now the weather had already started to clear (a promising sign for tomorrow) and it was really nice to stroll around town and the Queenstown Gardens in the evening sunshine even if it was a little chilly.
We had the best nights sleep in a long time thanks to our custom build bunks with privacy curtains and when our alarm beeped at 05:30 (much to the delight of our roommates) we really didn't want to leave the warmth and comfort of our beds. As good hostel etiquette dictates we had already got all of things out ready the night before to sneak out as quickly and quietly as possible. Annoyingly we had totally forgotten that the main kitchen where our breakfast and lunch were waiting for us did not open until 07:00, 30 minutes after our tour bus left, Poo!
After a quick look round town in the vain hope of finding somewhere open we nearly missed our bus and had a mad dash to make it! It was freezing cold but there wasn't a cloud in sight so it was looking good although we still had a 5 hour drive before reaching Milford Sound. We lasted about 20 minutes on the bus before both of us were fast asleep, waking up only when the driver announced we had reached Te Anau, our half way stop and the last town before entering the Fiordland National Park. We had just enough time to buy some food and get a few snaps of mountain fringed by a huge lake before hitting the road again.
The scenery on this second leg was stunning as we weaved our way through the deep, granite, glacier valleys and thick beech forests. Our driver, Kevin, was great and gave us a running commentary and pulled over a few times for photo stops. We even got to taste some fresh glacier water out of one of the mountain streams!
As we drove through The Divide the cliffs got steeper and the mountains got higher and we got some great views out of the window before entering the Homer Tunnel. This and the road leading to Milford Sound, was built between 1935 - 1954 and is carved straight through the mountain. It's over a kilometre long and is pitch black inside (even with headlights on!). When we emerged out of the other side the skies were postcard blue - amazing! You may be thinking why are they harping on about the weather so much in this entry? Has Nick's sun obsession finally rubbed off on me? Well, Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in not only New Zealand but the world averaging an annual rainfall of 7 - 9 metres! Getting to see it on a clear day is rare, really rare and we were incredibly lucky. Nick says his 7 months of sun worshiping around the globe are to thank! Hmmm.
We managed to get seats outside on the top deck which was freezing (well, for me!) but meant we had great views. Milford Sound is also not actually a sound, but a fiord, as it has been carved out by ice from the glaciers rather than a river carving out the landscape to reach the sea. This means the land masses are much larger and you can visibly see areas of landslides where the ice has eroded it away. Popular thought believes that when British and Welsh explorers named it during the 19th century they had never seen a fiord, instead concluding it must be a sound like those in Britain. There are 13 'sounds' in New Zealand all apparently mis-named for this reason.
We sailed around for two hours in breathtaking scenery and even got to see some fur seals up close, so FLUFFY! As with other blogs words, and even our photos, don't do this beautiful place any justice, so enjoy!
Our last day in Queenstown was set to be a chilled out one, which was great as the sun was still shinning. However the day started off with some extreme activity, well on Nick's part, as it was this morning he had decided to book his Bungy Jump from a whopping 43 metres at the spiritual home of Bungy; the Kawarau Bridge which became the worlds first commercial Bungy site in 1988. So it is here I'll pass the blog over to Nick as it's his adventure and I only spectated.
Surprisingly I slept really well the night before (with the exception of our new roommates loud snoring) and it was not until we were sat eating breakfast that the first pang of nerves started to kick in and I only managed one of my two slices of toast and Nutella (shocking!). We arrived at the A J Hackett offices in the centre of town with plenty of time to spare so made the most of their free wifi! At 11:20 though they rounded us all up and we hopped onto their bus to take us to the jump sites. As Charlie says I had opted to do the "Classic Bungy" from the Kewarau Bridge, but others on the bus were carrying on up the mountain to do one that was 134m high! I decided for my first one I should play it a little safe, but also thought there was something kind of cool about doing the original jump, where it all began.
We were all checked in separately, weighed and made to sign a disclaimer before heading out onto the bridge to wait our turn to jump. Charlie was allowed to come with me up onto the bridge and watched while I stepped into my harness and was strapped in. She said that she was a little tempted to try and book one herself and we originally talked about doing a tandem jump, but she soon changed her mind after watching some people take the plunge.
It took about 10 minutes for the people in front of me to jump but while we were all queuing we started chatting and it was really cool that everyone I was with had never jumped before either. Then it was my turn, I climbed under the barrier and onto a small platform where I was told to sit down while they wrapped a towel (yes a towel - 25 years and this is as high-tech as it gets!) around my calves and then strapped me in good and tight with layer upon layer of straps. I opted to get a dunking in the river thinking it had to be done and then stood up and shuffled my way towards the edge of the platform. It was a long way down, a really long way and I could see the river rushing beneath me. I even had to wait until the swell calmed down! After a few waves to the cameras it was 3…2…1…bungy!!
I remembered to jump out and tried my best to get that perfect swan dive (not quite managing it!), and as I fell through the air felt the rush of free falling, it was amazing. As I reached the water's surface my arms went up ready to get wet, but unfortunately I was not heavy enough to make the water and I bounced back up - it was such a great feeling. There was no sharp snap back up, it was almost quite relaxing in a strange way. After a couple more bounces I was lowered down into the waiting raft and un-hooked before running up the stairs to meet a very proud Charlie.
I had always said I wanted to a Bungy Jump but that the first time had to be in New Zealand and I am so, so glad that I did it. It was the most amazing experience and totally worth the price. I'm already thinking about where I can do my next one - maybe a little higher next time?
By 14:00 we back in town sitting by the lake enjoying our lunch, in the very hot sun, while Nick was still buzzing and excitedly explaining the feeling of his jump. We had already decided that today would be a slow one so after lunch we chilled sunbathing for a few hours before going to the park to have a go at Frisbee Golf.
Basically it's like golf with 18 holes, in this case metal baskets and you have to go from tee to tee aiming to get your frisbee into the baskets. This sounds easy but it's really not, in most cases you couldn't even see the holes/baskets as they were blocked by trees and people picnicking.
We gave it a go however, taking ages to get the frisbees anywhere near the holes and after watching some skilled people throw their frisbees really far and actuate decided to give up and go for a pint in the sun instead.
This was the perfect end to our time in Queenstown and if we were ever to come again would stay here for a week as there is so much to see and do.