As previously mentioned in the last blog, I finally made it back to Auckland, despite the cancelled flight and the best part of 2 days spent in the airport terminal. It was all ok really, I wound up staying in much smarter accommodation than I had booked , complete with room service (4 toasties at 2am no less) I was in no rush to get back to Christchurch either, but I was getting pangs of helplessness and just wanted to get back into my trusty car and drive off.
The next port of call on this southern trip was leading me towards Lake Tekapo, this worked out well as Hobbiton friends were working on Mount Dobson ski field and living nearby in Fairlie – their adopted second home. Hannah and Luke had been in New Zealand for getting on for 2 years now, and this is the place they spent their last winter – they loved the community atmosphere there. It was great to arrive at their cute little home they were sharing with 3 cool flatmates. It wasn’t long before we greeted each other with a hug and a cheer and began to fill in on our time after Hobbiton.
Hannah was a fellow tour guide and Luke worked in the Green Dragon Inn. They began working at Hobbiton around the same time and also left Hobbiton shortly after myself. They are a great fun-loving couple from ‘up-north’ in the UK (everything is ‘up-north’ to people from Southampton) complete with good strong accents we got on immediately and I’m sure we will share some wine and beers when we all get back home (probably in The Hobbit pub of course).
As we began to catch up over some lush NZ navy rum it was apparent they had been through a fair bit, with lingering illness issues and a recent car crash giving them prolonged insurance grief, loss of their car, but thankfully they were fine. We were hoping to ski the following day, due to a fresh bout of snow arriving, although sadly the road up to the mountain was closed, due to ever-changing weather conditions, it just wasn’t meant to be! We took a trip out to Mount John instead taking in some of those amazing snowy mountains I had so far only had mere glimpses of. We stopped at a discreet art gallery shack, which wound up to house some incredible pieces by a local artist that Hannah and Luke knew, although they did not know the talent he was hiding! (often the case for creatives). After a day of eating, drinking, chilling and being merry I drove off into the night to the Geraldine Observatory. Now I have a deep lack of knowledge when it comes to astronomy, but what I do have is a deep fascination and curiosity. I was greeted by fellow brit Peter who offered the chance to star gaze from his garden’s observatory (that’s such a lovely word too) Peter has a lifetime experience of astronomy and still works closely with NASA in search of supernovas. He houses 2 observatories, one solely robotic set up with a Celestron C14 specifically for supernova hunting. The two observatories are 2 of 7 that he has built over the years. I was drawn to stargaze here as it is one of the ‘dark sky’ areas of the world, also because Peter offers the tours out of pure passion and loves to share his experience and findings, and his photographs? they’re mind-blowing. With the help of Luke and Hannah I began to have a plan for the next couple of weeks, including the best places to visit and stay. That is the beauty with meeting new people all the time is that you can be selective as to where to visit due to their experiences and of course, what you personally feel like doing at the time. I left Fairlie early (see what I did there?) back towards Tekapo as this is a usual scenic route, picking up some good photos of the well photographed Church of the Good Shepherd. I was heading towards Mount Cook, wow what a landscape. All of this beautiful fresh snow had really painted a picture, I was staying at a wooden clad youth hostel, one of only a handful of accommodation in the area. I began a hike the following day along the Hooker Valley Track. It was beautiful sunlight that day, becoming very cool indeed when traversing swing bridges closer and closer to the glaciers. This day will forever be in my memory, it was so unlike anything I’d experienced before, lacking in colour, the landscape was a stunning charcoal sketch I’d dreamt of experiencing.
Senses fulfilled, it was on to Wanaka for the night. I made a pit stop at the touristy Puzzling World exhibition. It was rather kid-tastic as expected, but provided some decent holograms and a particularly strange wonky room experience. I was happy I visited, I’ll try anything once, but I was also happy to be leaving the kids in there :). Wanaka was very ski orientated, as it would be this time of year, I found myself wandering aimlessly but did crave a bit of company I must admit, especially in a sociable town environment. Finding the balance of enough of a plan to look forward to and aim for, and not scheduling things down to a tee is tricky. I work well knowing that I have somewhere to go the next day, but at the same time I end up making it up as I go along anyway. This seems to work most of the time, I have had moments of anxiety, particularly on my drive down to Queenstown. Signs were up reminding me to carry snow chains (something I had no experience with and certainly didn’t own) I was approaching the famously picturesque Crown Range Road and I started to doubt my rather powerless automatic (sorry car). I turned back and headed down a not-so pretty road to Queenstown.
Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town, not far from Queenstown, and was worth a stop. A really dreamy feel to this place, up-market shops and restaurants, everything had style. I had a cuppa, walked around the nearby historic Chinese settlement which was pretty interesting and got back on the road down to Queenstown.I arrived in the evening and after a beer and awkward moment with an over-enthusiastic Swiss guy at the pub, I started to do the rounds on the ski shops and garages for advice (they opened late). The advice was rather conflicting! a big load of snow was due the next day, so after a demo or two I decided to rent some chains just in case. I found time to also sample the famous Fergburger, the place was heaving, apparently this is pretty common, oh my, what a mighty fine burger it was! The kind of food you crave from that day onward even when you’re not hungry! I enjoyed the buzz of Queenstown, not so much the sweaty ‘young person’ hostel I stayed in, but hey you have to take the rough with the smooth.
The next day held yet another scenic drive (you can’t really go wrong on the south it seemed) up towards Glenorchy. This is a drive I had researched last year, sadly for me it was the most overcast and rainy day yet! I made the drive anyway due to time constraints and hoped for better weather on the way back. On the advice from Hannah and Luke I stopped at the Glenorchy General Store and picked up a rather delicious arty mug souvenir before continuing onto Kinloch Lodge- a serenely beautiful stay for a night in the middle of nowhere it seemed. The best thing about the stay, apart from the great company from room mate Lucas, was that snow started to fall overnight, meaning I woke up like a giddy child to a winter wonderland.Due south some more I made my way to Te Anau, which is basically the place you start in and return to after a trip to Milford Sound. Milford Sound is a fiord in the south west of the island and a World Heritage Site. It is one of New Zealand’s must-sees and people travel from worldwide to experience a cruise around the spectacular rock forms, countless waterfalls, varied sea life and awesome atmosphere. I had a boat cruise booked for the next day and in the meantime I was in a town with a pretty lake and about 3 shops, oh but it did boast a cave the other side of the lake. Now it’s preferable that I locate a cave, with nobody else around so I can explore and soak it up in my own time, but the Aurora cave network did lure me in with an interesting story, complete with evening boat ride, I was sold. After a few worried minutes being on a boat with so many people, I escaped to top deck where it was cold, windy, empty and the sky was full of stars. We were split of into groups of around 8, where we witnessed incredibly powerful cave waterfalls (Te Anau literally means cave of rushing water) alongside a silent drift through to the glow worm filled grotto. Feeling warm and fuzzy back at the nice hostel, I peacefully drifted off into sleep ready to wake up early and hope the Te Anau road was open to Milford Sound. The road hadn’t been open for 9 days, but much to my delight it re-opened on the following morning. The 2.5hr road trip to Milford is known for being just as picturesque and sometimes more remarkable than the boat ride itself. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. Our driver Frank took us through a damp lush green landscape until we hit the snow, approaching the Homer Tunnel, you can’t stop due to avalanche risk, in fact it’s one of the most dangerous roads in the world.
It was a Mount Cook moment all over again, I could actually begin to see avalanches forming as we wound our way down what seemed like an impossibly high road. Again, everything was like a beautiful drawing, my eyes couldn’t comprehend where the mountains ended and the sky began. The boat trip was serene, once again after people left the top deck that is. A little overcast, but we saw dolphins and seals swimming around us as soon as we departed, it was 2 hours of peaceful drifting taking in the awesome scale. Top deck got me pretty cold and I looked forward to the ride back to be honest, to see all the amazing sights from a different perspective. Frank made many stops to and from Milford, my absolute stand out was at a place called The Chasm (do you love it already?) Everything on this adventure was messing with my perception and the camera can’t do the scale any justice! Sometimes though, you get those winning shots that are worth the risk, like this mystical waterfall cascade that yes, I got drenched taking, but it captured it, that feeling.
Time for a Western adventure…(not John Wayne style)
Soundtrack: Mark Pritchard – Sad Alron, Lamb – Lusty