Hello Wanaka

After sharing a few of our Queenstown/Arrowtown favorites with Jenny, it was time to continue our journey around the South Island. We drove north to Lake Wanaka. The road wound sharply over a mountain (thank you CVS Vertigo-less!) and through a valley until we arrived at the beautiful alpine lake nestled in the midst of towering mountains. The upscale area is a year-round magnet for New Zealanders who come to ski in the winter and fish, hike and swim in the summer.

Knowing we’d be staying for a few days, we went through our routine: Check out the place and see if we need to add staples to our grocery list (i.e. salt/pepper, olive oil, toilet paper); Frank finds a pool for his daily workout (we’ve been lucky in that each town we’ve visited has had at least one); we hook up our adaptors and connect our phones/computers to the internet. Then it’s off to the grocery store for our first exploration of town.

Jenny was in shock when she experienced the throngs of people in the grocery store. As I mentioned, it’s vacation time in New Zealand. RVs are everywhere and kiwis flock to their summer homes. The restaurants and grocery stores are filled with hungry people. Especially when we are staying long term, we eat many of our meals “in.” Lake Wanaka was no different. The restaurants we did visit (via local recommendations), however, were very good.

The weather and the area were both beautiful. Our original plan was to relax for a couple of days but we decided we couldn’t let Jenny come to NZ without seeing Lake Tekapo or Milford Sound. It made for a busier schedule but Jenny was a trooper—and we certainly didn’t mind seeing these wonderful places again!

 

Forgotten but unforgettable

Over half of all Kiwis (New Zealanders) travel during their summer holidays, especially over Christmas and New Year’s. Decent travel accommodations in many of the more popular destinations can be difficult to come by so we decided to make the most of it by opting for the road less traveled. We made a loop from Milford Sound through an area called Southland. Southland spans 13,000 sq. miles and has a population of only 96,000 inhabitants. What it lacks in population, it more than makes up for in scenery and wildlife.

We began our south southern adventure in Te Anau. The house we rented was a bit dated — and unusual — but clean. It served us well as we visited the incredible Milford Sound (see separate post) and Fiordland National Park. Nick and Maddie were able to tour some glowworm caves and we celebrated New Year’s Eve along the lakefront watching fireworks, eating awful corndogs and drinking beer.

We left Te Anau, traveling along the “Southern Scenic Route,” visiting the Scottish city of Dunedin and settling for the night at Kaka Point. From Kaka Point, we began our journey along the Catlin Coast, exploring New Zealand’s southeast “forgotten corner.” “Forgotten corner” could refer to many things: a place that forgot to hook up to the modern world (unreliable internet, poor cell service); a place that forgot to pave the roads (Frank was sure our rented station wagon wouldn’t survive!); or even a place that forgets tourists might be confused (Nick and I were on the beach when a siren started blaring. Could it be a tsunami? We ran off the beach. Turns out it was a call for the volunteer firefighters to head to the station for a fire!). But in reality, these “inconveniences” only added to the magic of this untouched, truly UN-forgettable area of rugged cliffs, sandy bays and encounters with penguins and sea lions!!!

 

The Wonder of Milford Sound

Milford Sound is often referred to as one of the most beautiful places on earth and always seems to make the list of “Places to See Before You Die” (I know, nice thought, right?). Rudyard Kipling even described it as the 8th Wonder of the World. But knowing no trip to New Zealand is complete without a visit, our next stop was Fiordland, in the southwest corner of the South Island.

Milford Sound can be explored by land or air. Our plan was to base ourselves in the small town of Te Anau, drive a couple hours through the Fiordland National Park to the harbor and then board a boat for a 2-hour tour of the sound.

I was looking forward to shooting some great photos — anticipating blue skies and soaring mountains reflected in still, crystal clear waters. That wasn’t meant to be. On the day of the tour, we awoke to a cloudy downpour. November to March are the area’s warmest months. Temperatures are moderated by a constant sea breeze.

So what is Milford Sound & Fiordland like on a wet day? The locals say it’s even better than on a clear day. When it rains, the landscape is more dramatic – the steep rock faces stream with thousands (yes, thousands!) of waterfalls, mist hangs around the tops of the mountains and rivers and streams rage. We arrived prepared with rain jackets. Gray skies resulted in less than stunning photos but trust me when I say this place was incredible! We discovered that the moisture is what makes Milford Sound so lush and beautiful, certainly living up to its billing as one of the Wonders of the World.