For the second leg of our New Zealand road trip around the South Island we took in the delights of the south western region – chiefly Te Anau and Milford Sound, but then moving slightly north and checking out Queenstown and the sleepy little town of Glenorchy.
Te Anau is a great resting point for all those looking to head on through to go see Milford Sound. We opted to stay there both before and after checking out the ‘8th Wonder of the World’. There’s a fair amount of tourists in Te Anau, but with picturesque scenery and a hearty amount of shops, bars and restaurants it’s quite easy to see why. On the first night we stayed at the wonderful Red Tussock Motel which had an amazingly accessible suite which was just utterly perfect. For a detailed rundown on this great accommodation stay tuned for an independent review coming soon.
The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound takes around two hours, but it’s some of the most pleasurable time spent behind the wheel I have ever had. The landscapes and mountain faces are jaw-droppingly beautiful and the hairpin bends are sure to keep you entertained. Misty clouds hide the alpine peaks as they tower powerfully into the sky. The sub-tropical style bush engulfs every nook and cranny of the topography that lies around you and I felt myself longing to go get lost in the shrub, live wild, off the grid and cook food on an open fire. One day!
Milford Sound itself is indeed wonderful, but it is also unfortunately one huge tourist trap. A ‘Sound’ is by nature, a dead-end and once you arrive at Milford by car or bus you are very limited in terms of what you can do for fun and activities, without dipping your hand in your pocket and shelling out some serious $$$’s. It’s true – even the walks are fairly off limits unless you’re prepared to pay to use one of the water taxi’s. Otherwise there’s a couple of (very) short trails (really they’re just pathways) around the ferry dock and by the tourist information centre. Even the WiFi was $15 for 100mb (don’t judge me – I was trying to arrange accommodation for that night and needed to access my emails). Still though – I shouldn’t complain, it really was picture perfect there and the sun was really glorious making it even more special.
The next day we drove from Te Anau up to Queenstown, which is a tourist city famous for attracting Ski lovers and boasting a popular nightlife. Even though the Ski season hadn’t begun when we were there, it was still incredibly busy around town. Despite there being plenty to do there, we decided to push on and make it to Glenorchy before nightfall but not before taking a small detour and heading way up into the mountains to get the best vantage point of Queenstown below us. Check out the 3rd last photograph above if you want to see for yourself.
Glenorchy is definitely my kind of town. Small, cozy, compact and deep in the heart of some mind-boggling nature. A real wilderness retreat. I took a walk at dusk and I was instantly mentally transported to the most rural of Scottish villages as the smell of wood burners filled my nostrils. The cool crisp evening air filled my lungs with goodness and I truly felt at peace as I watched the sun slowly creep down behind the mountain ridge. Bliss. We stayed at the Glenorchy Lodge, which is another great little place that I can highly recommend. Rooms suitable for wheelchair users, with accessible washrooms to match. Perfect location, fantastic staff and awesome food in the bar – what more could you ask for? (Again, for a more detailed review, stay tuned!)
Although I would have loved to have stayed for at least a week in Glenorchy, the following day was sadly our last full day with the rental car and so we needed to make it across country and back to Christchurch. The drive was the longest yet, and it was set to take well over seven hours to complete – but first, we needed to find a little place called Paradise which was about a half hour drive from Glenorchy. Now Paradise truly does exist on earth and not only is it a point on the New Zealand map but it is also where they filmed large sections of the Lord of the Rings films – so naturally, we had to check it out! We made it quite far on the mountain trail by car before finally reaching a massive (and deep) ford in the road which seemed unwise to cross given that it wasn’t my car – and especially as we were out in the middle of nowhere and we had a crucial flight to catch the very next morning in a city which was hundreds of miles away from where we were. Unfortunately I had to ‘adult’ my way out of this one and I think I made the right decision in the end – although we were really close to the ‘Misty Mountains’ and I would have loved to have gotten deeper into the heart of them. People say I remind them of Gollum, so I was just trying to go home to where I belong really…
The humour of what I’m about to tell you is probably not transferable into text and you really had to be there to understand the context. But anyway, as we were driving closer towards Paradise we were flagged down by the car in front and so I pulled alongside them to see what was wrong. We were greeted by a middle-aged Korean couple who had wound down their window as the guy proceeded to shout “Excuse me… do you know where Paradise is?!” – there was just something oddly amusing by his apparent cry to find heaven on earth!
The drive from Paradise to Christchurch was a wee bit stressful. Mile after mile of open road with not a petrol station in sight. It got a bit tense at one stage and I genuinely thought we were going to run out of fuel. Alas, it all went smoothly in the end and we even got a chance to have one final stop off at Mt Cook where we basked in the gorgeous sun and I even managed to have a bit of a dip in the massive lake that extends way out in front of the impressive mountains. Mt Cook being, of course, the tallest mountain in New Zealand.
So – what can I say about our South Island adventure?! BEST ROAD TRIP OF MY LIFE!!!!!!!!