A long and winding road – that was the drive to Queenstown. The landscape changes dramatically as you pass through different eco-systems. The road passes through occasional small country towns and numerous farms, thousands of cows and millions of sheep. We have learned that there are approximately 4.5 million people in NZ and 40 million sheep! Forty years ago there were fewer than 2 million people and more than 70 million sheep. This has been changing as more farmers switch to dairy cows. The wool from most NZ sheep is used in carpets, not clothing, as it is not of the quality needed for clothes, and sheep farming has become increasingly economically difficult.
Our apartment building in Queenstown was built on a steep hillside on the shore of Lake Wakatipu. Driving in to the parking garage was a real challenge: steep and winding. Luckily we never met a car going the other way! The Rees Apartments turned out to be another spectacular accommodation. The one bedroom apartment was huge and featured a full kitchen, large dining and living space, two balconies overlooking the lake, large bedroom and bathroom and a laundry area. All the latest conveniences were provided, and the interiors were sleek and contemporary. We felt very sophisticated! Some of the 150 apartments are for sale as residences; prices start at NZ $400,000 (around US $320,000) for studios!
Downtown Queenstown felt somewhat like a Colorado mountain ski town. Even more than other NZ towns, Queenstown caters to adventure activities: snow sports, water sports, bungee jumping, hang gliding, fishing, hunting, small plane and helicopter tours of the Southern Alps. Our primary activity was a 10-passenger plane trip over the mountains to the famed and beautiful Milford Sound followed by an hour and a half cruise on the sound. I had the opportunity to sit in the front with the pilot again - it was thrilling as we climbed over the jagged 9,000 foot snow covered peaks (remember, these mountains start at sea level, so they’re very impressive). We approached the sound from the east so the pilot flew over it going to the Tasman Sea, then banked and flew back to land on the runway, so we saw the sound twice on the way in. It was a wonderful way to orient ourselves in preparation for the cruise. A short transfer by bus and we were on the dock, boarding our cruise.
We were amazed that they took the boat out with so few passengers; there couldn’t have been more 30–40 people on a boat that could easily handle 300-400. It certainly enhanced our experience because we didn’t have to jockey for position at the rail and could move from side to side and front to back to experience everything to the fullest. It appeared that cruises starting after 1:00 pm were much fuller because the majority of people come from Queenstown in buses and cars, and the drive takes 4–4.5 hours. And, of course, the peak season starts after the holidays, going through the end of February.
Milford Sound is incredibly beautiful. I don’t think the scale can really be captured in photos, though one picture we took of another boat as it cruised past one of the falls comes close. Sheer rocky cliffs and heavily forested mountains rise directly out of the water. The most famous, photogenic 5,600 foot Mitre Peak, rises directly ahead at the start of the cruise. We were lucky that the weather was sunny during our visit though we were told that the sound is spectacular in the rain, too. It receives an average of seven meters (some 23 feet) of rain each year! We’re looking forward to watching the final Lord of the Rings movie again, now that we’ve been to Milford Sound!
Roger had been itching to toss a fishing line in one of the many enticing rivers and streams we crossed during our trip south out of Auckland. Upon our arrival in Queenstown he finally had an opportunity to arrange for a guide through the concierge at the Rees Apartments. Henare Dewes, a Maori fishing guide, took him out for a day on the Diamond River. He caught two large brown trout (4-5 pounds, 24” each) in the crystal clear waters. The scenery was so spectacular that it was distracting! The Diamond River was featured in The Lord of the Rings film in the scene where the trees walked down to the river. Amazingly, there were only two other fishermen on the river that day! I spent the day indulging in a massage and hair appointment and enjoying a day on my own in our beautiful apartment.