Hello New Zealand! Gosh, where do I even begin? When people say that New Zealand will take your breath away, they aren't wrong.
Flying into Queenstown takes you over the mountains and through two large peaks. You feel too close to both peaks but somehow, the airport pops up just in time.
We rented our car--that's right! we're driving a car! on the other side of the road!--and headed into Queenstown. By now both our jaws were dragging along the road behind us. The land juts out from the ground into magnificent soft rolls covered in pine trees and meadows. We dropped off our stuff at the hostel and headed out to find some dinner at a cute pub right on the harbour. Queenstown is fantastic. Little shops, a beach, a harbour full of boats to ride, and tons of young travelers! After dinner we grabbed some ice cream and a bottle of New Zealand white and enjoyed the sunset on the beach. The youngsters all around us were playing music, smoking, playing in the water, and enjoying their youth. We imagined this is what the 60's were like. "I just, I just want the music to stop," Slou said as she passed me the bottle. "We might be too old for this scene," I answered. The party vibe scene moved to the bars after the alcohol ban started at ten pm, so we went inside to plan the rest of our trip.
The next morning, we rose early and jumped in the car to start the four-hour drive to Milford Sound. The drive took us through jaw dropping lanscapes of rolling green meadows full of sheep and lambs, bumbling streams along the side of the road, and mountain vistas to rival the best of the Rockies.
We stopped in Te Anau, a smaller lake town, for lunch and then continued on our way. As you approach Milford, the road gets windy and most spectacular. Slou had me pull over to see this field of flowers--lupins, my new fav. We spent about twenty minutes here, soaking in the fresh air, crisp stream, and vast mountain views. Yes, this is a real place, the photos are taken on my iPhone 6s, and they are not filtered:
Little did we know it'd keep getting better. Before entering the tunnel, we pulled off the road for this photo op:
If you can't quite tell, those are waterfalls streaming down from snowmelt on a peak too high to even see. The snow pile at the bottom and the tourists climbing upon it give you a sense of scale.
We wind down the switchbacks on the other side of the tunnel and finally reach the visitor center. On board our boat, we set out through the rough waters to cruise the sound. Milford is the most famous, though certainly not the only sound, in the Fiordland National Park.
The post cards don't do this place justice! We had a clear, sunny day on the sound, which apparently is quite rare, so we were able to see all the sights. Our captain took us around the sound, getting us up close and personal to some native fur seals who were napping on the rocks, chasing a rarely seen pod of dusky dolphins, and following some bottle-nosed dolphins who were playing along the haul of another tour boat. He took us under the water fall and even out to the sound's opening, where the Tasman Sea crashes into the Southern Pacific.
The grandeur of the landscape really takes hold of your soul in this place. So pristine. So untouched. So native. An experience I won't soon forget.
We followed Milford road home, stopping along the way to see some suggested landscapes, such as this chasm:
And a personal favorite: the 45th Latitude South marker. Some of you will understand the magnitude of this moment.
We spent one more night in Queenstown (in a twelve-person room where terrible things happened in the middle of the night), and spent the next morning shopping for souvenirs, and seeing real kiwis at the Birdlife consevation center!
Then, it was off to Mt. Cook! But that's for another post.