New Zealand – Queenstown and Milford Sound

I recently returned from a 15-day road trip in New Zealand with my family. I’ll be breaking that trip into a few blogs where I talk about my favourite things from the trip. This blog will feature adventure sports, the greatest burger in the world, a few Lord of the Rings “spots” and a beautiful cruise in an incorrectly named water body.

Our first day in Queenstown was not very interesting. We mostly slept to combat Jet Lag because with a six-and-a-half-hour time zone difference and ages on the road we were tired, the jet-lag would have made life hell for the rest of the trip. The next day we had a lot to do so we needed all our energy.

The next day my father woke early as usual and found a nice path around Queenstown Lake to get us energized but fair warning if you do this, do not try to jump over small streams around the lake, no matter how easy it looks. I tried, I failed and we had to make an emergency sprint in soaked shoes back to the hotel. After that misadventure we walked towards the AJ Hackett Bungy Queenstown Centre where we would be going later. While exploring we came across a nice beach (yes lakes have beaches too) next to St. Omer Park which was just down the street from Crown Plaza. We spent some time here admiring the view.

In and around Queenstown there are a lot of adventure activities you can do from bungy jumps to ziplines to mountain biking to the Shotover Jet and much more. Since it was autumn, we couldn’t do any of the water activities, but I would love to try the Shotover jet sometime. We went to the Kawarau Bungy centre which is one of many AJ Hackett bungy centre but the only one that does a zipline. As the name suggests Kawarau also offers a bungy but we did not do the bungy as my parents are not keen on jumping off elevated platforms and I had already done a similar heighted bungy in Kolad in this blog.

AJ Hackett have three zip lines which was perfect for us as we could go parallelly. They offer many different methods of doing the zipline including upside down, backwards and more. I was really tempted to go upside down but they gave me a phone in a cool adventure recording case. So, I chose against it. The staff there are fantastic, they make sure you aren’t scared and joke around. The view from the zipline was beautiful and we zipped along the river and all-around, the experience was exhilarating.

The scariest bit was at the end, once you’ve zipped down, they turn around your whole harness setup which is quite scary in the moment. Also, if you want to do it upside down, please do because I didn’t and have regretted it since. So, if you do zipline upside down let me know how it is on my Facebook.

Now while a lot of other companies in the adventure capital of the world offer zipline we went with AJ Hackett as they offer a nice length of zipline (not too long but not too short either) and have a reputation for safety. Plus, since we didn’t have a car rental yet, they provided a bus ride to and from the city which was a help.

After an experience such as this, sustenance is needed and we got lucky as the bus drop off was across the street from Fergburger which has been heralded as the best burger place IN THE WORLD and it lived up to the hype. It is a small place and like most people we also choose takeaway and decided to return to our beach spot to enjoy lunch in the sun. The burger I ate was fantastic. The sauces were exquisite, and the patty was perfectly cooked. I got the Fergburger, my mother got the Little Lamby which was excellent. My father ordered the Sweet Bambi which had Boysenberry Jam as a sauce which led to him tossing the bread. If you are in Queenstown and are hungry, I would suggest Fergburger but their burgers are rather large so be careful and don’t go around ordering too many and maybe stay away from things that start with “Sweet” if sweetened meat is not your thing.

After such a heavy meal we definitely needed a walk, and Queenstown Gardens was the best place. This 36-acre park has a nice harbour view walk that goes around the gardens in a loop. It also has a playground, a canoe and kayaking agency, disc golf, a skate park, and an ice-skating rink. The disc golf intrigued us and while we didn’t play in Queenstown, we played later near Mordor, and it was fabulous. In Queenstown Gardens I did go ice skating and it was brilliant but a bit scary as there were pro skaters speeding around which was worrying to me.

The next day we woke up, took a taxi to pick our rental car and stocked it up at PAKn’SAVE with snacks, cereals and more. Since we were on a long road trip, it would be quite inconvenient and unhealthy to eat out every day and having a car made it easy to carry our own provisions. Then with our stocked-up car we went to the Anduin River which was one of the few Lord of the Ring spots we could recognize on sight.

We went till the carpark for the 3-day Kepler Track which goes through the best parts of Fjordland. Though we did not do this track, we followed it for some time to find a sunny picnic spot by the river. We discovered a great spot right next to the river but it took quite a bit of effort to get to, but my mum was determined to have a sunny picnic lunch. We had to climb down tree roots to get to the spot but it was fantastic. I loved the experience and the fact that there were no insects around to bother us while eating.

From Anduin, we drove to Te Anau where we were staying that night as our base for the drive to Milford Sound Cruise the next day. Te Anau is a small lakeside town around Lake Te Anau. In the evening, we went to admire and click pictures of the sunset by the lake, I tried out a few tricks on my Nikon DSLR. The sun slipped behind the Jackson peaks and a breath-taking orange light was emanating from them. Some ducks came out of the water to explore and I followed them around with my camera.

The next morning, we drove to the Milford Sound Cruise, it was a special day as it was my mum’s birthday. It was an early start and a bit foggy to start with but the fog cleared quickly. We stopped at the famous Mirror lakes which on as clear a day as ours offers a perfect reflection of the mountains in the backdrop. There were also a few other falls, creeks and fields along the way where we stopped.

We had booked a nature cruise with Southern Discoveries and it was a very smooth boarding experience. We loved the cruise and however well I describe it no words can quite capture how gorgeous it was. Still, I will try. The cruise starts off in a small harbour, that is surrounded on most sides with lush mountains, with a great view of the Mitre Peak. The mountains were still a vibrant green in the middle of autumn. The boat was expertly piloted out of the harbour and to the fjord (more on that later). There were steep mountain slopes on our sides that were covered with thin birch trees and slanted at an almost 60-degree angle. As we made our way along the water, we came upon an estuary that led to the open sea between New Zealand and Australia (the Tasman Sea). At one point it looked as though the horizon had suddenly stopped in front of us. Though later the wind picked up making it an effort to walk from the bow to the stern, to our sides the trees swayed almost rhythmically. The cruise was two hours long but for us it was over too fast and we loved every heavenly moment.

Fun Fact: Milford Sound is not actually a Sound but a Fjord. A sound is a recessed part of the ocean whereas a fjord is a long narrow strip of water in between cliffs. Sounds are wider than Fjords and Milford Sound is just 2km across at max. The original Welsh colonists did not actually know about the origin of the fjords and since sounds and fjords look kind of similar the mix-up makes sense.

Later we decided to go to the Milford Sound swing, and even without the sun setting it was divine but not free of sandflies. The swing used to be quite hard to get to but now it’s marked on the cruise company map and even on google maps. It was originally built by a construction worker for his girlfriend, and it’s made for two. The swing while a little simple is in an incredibly aesthetic location and as you can see from the pictures it looks great.

Before I go any further, sandflies. They are perhaps a bit of an overexaggerated phenomenon but still it is better to be safe than sorry. While buying local sandfly repellents is a good idea, bringing some Dettol Antiseptic Liquid and dabbing it on before exploring water bodies is a simpler alternative. You can even see them flying in some of our pictures at the swing. So do not take them lightly as my father did and he paid dearly for that mistake.

After the cruise we packed up and headed back to Queenstown to spend the night for my mother’s birthday. We had Ferg again and once again it proved that it deserved its title of the world’s best burger. The Mercure at Queenstown was remarkable and had a smashing view of the lake. The next morning, we tried the breakfast at the Mercure, I wasn’t a fan of the sausages but all in all it was quite nice. That morning we left Queenstown to drive towards our next stop.

Along the way we passed through Arrowtown, an old Chinese settlement and gold mining area used a lot in the LOTR trilogy. In autumn the place was absolutely stunning with yellow and orange on every side. There were even some kids out Gold Panning in the river. The vibrant autumn colours accompanied us for the whole rest of the drive.

There are many more LOTR spots around Queenstown but with only 15 days and a whole country to explore we had to pick and choose. Glenorchy is another spot that was used a lot in Lord of the Rings but it would have been a massive detour for us so we couldn’t go.

I loved everything I did and am sure you will too. For thrill-seekers Queenstown deserves a longer stay. I will say that though going in autumn does have the advantage of seeing the beautiful colours on every bough, it comes with the drawback of common inclement weather and no available water activities. We got very lucky with Milford Sound but were a bit unlucky with the weather later in the trip. I’ll be back soon with a blog about my time swimming with dolphins in the open ocean in Kaikoura. See you then.

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