Brooke's Journey Back travel blog

on the way to Milford Sound

Mirror Lakes

Mirror Lakes

Mirror Lakes

glass topped bus to see the mountains better!

Misty Mountains. I don't know they're actual name but they are the...

"You-shall not-pass"

 

hairy road...

 

my ride on the Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

 

Tasman Sea

seals warming on the rocks

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

scary road home

Lake Te Anau

Sunday drive to Queenstown in the snow

...and more snow

Lake Wakatipu, first view

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu coast road

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu

the road ahead

Lake Wakatipu

mountains on the shore of the Lake

mountains on the shore of the Lake


There’s a Boy in my Room!!!

Let’s catch you up, I’m three days behind now! I must have needed to be alone to write though, because the Airbnb host that I’m staying with left a note for me on the kitchen table this afternoon saying he was going to the coast for a couple of days so I have the apartment all to myself for the next two nights. Gotta love that.

I left off my story in Te Anau three days ago now. I booked a tour to Milford Sound for Saturday. I decided to give myself a break from driving, I had heard it was pretty hairy/snowy/icy in places and felt the 2 hour bus ride was worth the money. I waited to be picked up by the bus with two of my fellow hostel guests. Ben was from Melbourne and Tina was from Munich and we were all three traveling alone through NZ so we stuck together throughout the day. It is definitely easier to meet new people when you go places alone because when you’re with friends you stick with each other and rarely make room for outsiders.

I was grateful I wasn’t driving and could just enjoy the magnificent scenery. I was in the heart of the mountains now, going through deep gorges, alongside rivers of an amazing aqua blue hue. This water is straight from the glaciers scattered throughout these mountains. They grind the rock into silt and these minerals are suspended in the water and create a milky blue color. I couldn’t capture it with the camera. The mountains are so sheer and rise straight up from the road. It was a little overwhelming actually, and I realized I prefer them from a distance. There is something about seeing a mountain shimmering on the horizon that brings excitement and joy to me, like the possibilities for adventure lie “out there” somewhere. When I see them up close, I see the reality, the fact that I would need crampons and rock climbing gear, and a lot of hard work and courage to scale these mountains. I think there must be a metaphor in here somewhere….

Milford Sound itself was dwarfing. I don’t know how else to say it. The mountains rise straight up from the water with no gentle slope down, no beaches. And most of them were huge skyscraper-tall with seemingly delicate waterfalls trickling down, creating rainbows, looking like wedding veils. Until you got close to them and could hear the roar of the water as it cascaded hundreds of feet down and hit the rocks and the water of the Sound. We went through the Sound out to the Tasman Sea which looked very calm until we got out there and the boat started really rolling. I was so grateful the Captain just took us out a short distance, long enough to say we sailed the Tasman Sea. When you looked back at the Sound from the entrance, it looked just like Jurassic Park and I expected pterodactyls and other dinosaurs to appear at any minute. There is now some Michael in the Milford Sound, sprinkled quietly off the back of the ship… he would have loved it there.

We got home about 5pm and I had a Glow Worm Cave tour at 6:40pm so I grabbed a bite and went down to the dock. The boat ride was the scariest part of the day for me. It was pitch black and the boat had no lights on it, the captain drove by radar. For some reason that totally freaked me out, plus he was going super fast. I went up top so I could see the stars away from town lights. They were amazing but I didn’t recognize any constellations at all, not even the Southern Cross.

The cave was fantastic, carved out of limestone by a fast flowing stream. It wasn’t big in diameter but it went over a mile deep into the mountain. Our tour group only went in about 200 meters (660 ft), on a walkway either over the stream or right alongside it. Then we got in a small flat bottomed metal boat, powered by the guide who stood at the front of the boat and pulled us along by a chain attached to the ceiling of the cave, in the pitch black. We weren’t allowed to take pictures or even talk because it disturbed the worms. Our guide, Will, was having some trouble moving us apparently because we kept hitting the side of the cave and I whacked my head on a rock one time. When you can’t see your hand in front of your face, that bump comes as an unpleasant little surprise.

When I returned to the hostel about 9:30pm, I went to my room and discovered I had a roommate, a young man apparently, as his boxer shorts were on the bed and other little hints and clues that he probably wasn’t a she. I didn’t meet him until the next morning. I mean he slept in the room but I was asleep when he came in and never woke up. I am a savvy traveler and brought earplugs. I was grateful he was asleep when I got out of the top bunk in the morning, still a challenge for me, not my most graceful maneuver, and definitely not something I want a strange boy seeing.

Sunday it was snowing off and on so I waited until 10am to leave, hoping the roads would warm up some. I only had a two hour drive to Queenstown and couldn’t check into my room until 5pm so I had time to kill. After driving about 30 minutes, through gentle rolling hills and farmland which seemed to be slowly rising in altitude, it started snowing. Big, beautiful fat flakes of snow, gently falling, lovely-at first. Then it started really getting serious about it, white all around me. Not a blizzard, I could see the edge of the road and I could see that there were no cars behind me or coming towards me so I slowed down and took my time. It was so peaceful and calm outside but I was getting kind of tense as people came up behind me. I slowed way down, pulled over as much as I could and let them go on by. Most people here drive SUV’s and trucks or jeeps but I only have a cheapie little wind-up car. At some point my car started sliding a bit around the curves and that was giving me some concern. I almost pulled over to wait out the snow but there was nothing out here, no gas stations, restaurants, nothing, so I kept on going. After about an hour the weather got better or I drove out of it, but the roads were still wet and I had been warned repeatedly about black ice. With no guard rails, black ice is not something you want to take a chance with, so I puttered along like a little grandma and let the others whiz by.

The country was still pretty mellow, with gentle hills until I got to Kingston, at the bottom of Lake Wakatipu (wah-kah-tee-poo). This drive reminded me of the movies I’ve seen of the Amalfi coast road. Straight drop off to the water on one side and mountainside on the other, very twisty. Except that on the Amalfi drive there is a stone wall on the drop off side of the road. On the Lake Wakatipu road, there is no stone wall, only some randomly placed guard rails, but mainly just air and the strong possibility of black ice. This was the longest two hour drive of my life I do believe, but also the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen. I wish it hadn’t been so cloudy but even with the clouds covering the tops of the mountains, it was fantastic.

I made it to Queenstown in one piece. I needed a drink! I parked and walked through the town. It reminded me of Aspen with a little of Breckenridge thrown in. The shops were expensive like Aspen, but the vibe was young and hippie-ish, rather than rich and yuppy-ish. It is known as a party town but it looks like Banff and Lake Louise times ten. There are three ski areas within 15 to 30 minutes from here and this is the “base camp” for those areas. Hotels, hostels, B&B’s are all outrageously expensive. The guy I’m staying with just signed up for Airbnb and has no idea how underpriced he is. I basically now have an apartment to myself for $33 a night. The next cheapest place I found was $75 a night but most of the rooms are in the $300-$400 range.

I found an Irish Pub called Pog Mahone’s. A Guiness sounded like exactly what I needed after my extremely stressful drive. It was the most delicious and refreshing drink ever, perfect for the occasion. The bartender, Will was an attractive young man, tall and fit and when he laughed or smiled, which he did often, it was evident that some misfortune had befallen our young Will. He was missing a front tooth and it looked like its neighbor might abandon its home soon. Will didn’t seem to care a bit. He had a large pitcher on the bar, with a picture of his grinning face taped to it, and the caption “Please contribute to the “Buy Will a new Tooth” Fund” underneath. I asked Will how much he had actually saved for the tooth.

“Ah, no worries, I’ve spent it all on beer (bair) and skiing (skaying).” Some things are more important than others.

A friend of Will’s was sitting next to me and after a while, he and I struck up a conversation. I ended up having three Guinesses and a wonderful two hour conversation with Gareth, a Scots from Troon, outside of Glasgow. We talked about our lives and what made us leave home to see the world, about how it felt being in the world alone now, and where we saw ourselves going in the future, not just physical places but where we thought our live's were headed. He had no girlfriend, just good mates but not deep friendships here, and he asked me a lot about Michael.

He finally said, with a little wonder in his voice "He was your best mate wasn't he?"

"Yes, he was my best mate. He was everything," I said matter of factly.

"I can't imagine that, I don't know if I can be with one person and settle down like that. I like this life."

"Gareth, I believe there is at least one person out there for everyone, probably more like ten. When you meet her, you'll just know and it won't be giving up one thing for the other, it will be the only thing you want."

I left my new friends to find my digs for the night. I was staying about 15 minutes outside of Queenstown, in a little suburb called Frankton in an apartment on Lake Ave. That was really all I had to go by. I called my host to get directions. Four times. By the time I finally found the apartment, I was nearly in tears. I seriously considered going back to Queenstown and booking the first vacant room, no matter what it cost. Every time I would call Chris, the host, he would say “No worries, just go this way, right by the school” then, the next time I would call- “It’s right behind the Pacific Club, you’re really close, no worries.” I really wanted to tell him to just come out onto the street and wait for me to pass by and guide me from there.

I finally parked on the street and just walked by every strip of apartments. They aren’t in highrises like at home, they are in rows, like one story attached townhomes, and they are terraced so everyone has a view of the lake. I knew he was in #59, I got that bit from the third phone call. I walked down his strip once but half the units didn’t have numbers on the door. I finally went back and walked it again and counted down from the last unit that actually had a number. I tentatively knocked on the door, not sure if I was even in the right set of apartments. He opened it and said “Cheers, you made it!” I wanted to slap him.

I gently said, “You might want to consider putting a number on your door if you’re going to be on Airbnb….and maybe some better directions.”

He said, “There is a number on the door.”

“No, there’s a little piece of wood where the number is SUPPOSED to be.”

“Oh, no worries,” says Chris. I wanted to slap him harder.

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