February 27-28, 2017
I hardly know where to begin with this post. The South island of New Zealand supposedly has some of the most incredible scenery in the world, and we definitely believe it. 16 passengers and Simone from Insignia destinations department traveled for two days off the ship from Dunedin to Milford Sound with Adrian, our driver/guide who has done many of these trips before and is a wealth of knowledge.
When asked about the health care system, Adrian said he had to wait 6 years to have his knees replaced at the public hospital.
We had a huge bus so plenty of room to spread out. We traveled through Port Chalmers village along the shore of the Otago harbor to Dunedin, which is Gaelic for Edinborough. The first settlers from the British Isles arrived in 1847 and because of the discovery of gold it became one of the wealthiest and most populous areas in New Zealand. The land was taken from the Maori people, who are in the process of getting it back. The first university was established here and the city is built on 7 hills, much like Rome. The University is the main employer and there are students from 67 different countries attending. Logging is also big here, 99% of the logs are exported to China.
We visited what is said to be the most beautiful building in New Zealand, the Dunedin railway station. It was built in 1906.
From Dunedin, we traveled through the Central Otego township of Alexandra, another town born from the gold rush era. Here we had lunch at a wonderful place that I don’t know how anyone finds – the Packing Shed. The family here prepared our lunch, we sat outside and enjoyed it with glasses of wine.
- It is home to the largest dairy factory in the world. There are 12 million cows here.
- There are many deer farms, most of the venison is exported to Europe, mostly Germany. A good stag for breeding can cost $200,000.
- 2/3 of the population of New Zealand is on the north island, so we drove for miles seeing just sheep, cows and deer!
- The dogs that are trained to herd the sheep are taught not to bark. The farmers use whistle signals with them. If a dog barks it scares the sheep and because they are so stupid (as per Adrian), they will jump off the hills and all will follow, causing a “sheep avalanche”.
- There are no wild animals in New Zealand. Well, the possum and the rabbit could be classified that way, they were brought here for meat and fur, but no one liked the meat. You see pink triangles in the wooded areas – this means they are poisoning the possums and rabbits which are taking over.
- This is an area of fruit orchards – it is very fertile land – and they bring people from Fiji and American Samoa to do the picking as the people here don’t want to do it.
We visited a lovely little town called Arrowtown. Gold was discovered here in 1861 and nearly 70 buildings still remain from that era.
We stopped at the Kawarau Bridge Center where AJ Hackett began the first commercial bungy jumping operation in 1988. The plunge is 120 feet off the Old Kawarau Bridge. It used to be that if you were willing to jump naked, you went for free (it normally costs NZ $300). But because there are so many college students willing to do that, they stopped the offer. We did see a naked jumper though! But no one in our group took the plunge.
Some beautiful scenery along the way – photos just cannot capture it all. We ended our day in Queenstown where we rode the Skyline gondola to the top of Bob’s peak which is nearly 1500 feet about the city. You can see for miles, including the aptly named Remarkable Mountains. People also take the gondola to the top and ride their mountain bikes down.
After the gondola ride, we checked into our hotel, the Novotel Queenstown Lakeside Hotel. It was in the center of the town which seemed to be a haven for young people, many backpackers. All of the pubs and lakeside cafes were jumping! We did get to see the end of the Oscars – who could believe that best picture debacle. I think Clyde threw Bonnie under the bus! We had a nice dinner at an outdoor pub then took a walk on the lakeside trail where we saw a really stunning sunset. We were surprised to learn that we didn’t have to leave until 10 in the morning, so we had a nice long restful night.
Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world and there are all types of sports here. Some of the resorts can cost up to 10,000/night for a minimum stay of 3 nights. One of these is Blanket Bay, built by the CEO of Levis Jeans.
Nearby is the named “presidential highway”, which they got permission to name that way – it takes you between the towns of Clinton and Gore!
At breakfast, we saw a first (for us) – a display of fruits and vegetables which you could use to make your own smoothie! It was a great breakfast with American and Japanese favorites.
Then it was on to watch the most amazing scenery unfold as we drove through raw wilderness where nature truly reigns. Lake Wakatipu coast is beautiful – it is the longest lake in New Zealand. It is so beautiful and unspoiled that it has been used as a backdrop in several movies including the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
We stopped for lunch in Te Anau which is nestled at the southern shore of a lake bearing the same name, it is New Zealand’s largest lake and is the largest body of fresh water on the South Island.
We then traveled around the shores of Lake Te Anau into the valley of the Eglinton River, a place of ancient alpine forests and waterfalls. The forests are both pine and beech and are apparently just beautiful in fall, which would be in about a month. The water was so fresh you could drink it.
We stopped in the Hollyford Valley and then climbed to the Homer Saddle. All of this is part of the Fjordland National Park which covers 300,000 acres and is truly a wonder of nature. The highest peak in the park is 9000 feet and the roads are often closed in the winter when the mountains are covered with snow. There was snow still on top of the highest ones now at the end of their summer. We stopped at Mirror Lakes and you can see why they are named that way!
We went through the 1200 meter Homer Tunnel and then the road was like a series of switchbacks going down to follow the Cleddau River into the Milford Sound which is an amazing 22 km long fiord dominated by Mitre Peak.
At the Sound (which is really a fiord). Sounds are drowned river valleys and fiords are formed by glaciers. Nevertheless, this spectacular fiord is called the Milford Sound. Almost half a million visitors come here each year, but that seems small compared to the vastness of the natural beauty we have just experienced.
But wait, our adventure is not yet over! We boarded a tender to take us back to the Insignia which was waiting in the Sound. The winds were very heavy and the boat that took us there could not have the power to come alongside to the opening for us to board. So, the boat operator was in contact with the captain, and after several attempts, he just waited for the captain to turn the entire ship and then back it into a place that seemed somewhat less windy. Now we know what it is like to be a zoo animal, as many passengers were watching the whole thing and were worried that we wouldn’t be able to get back onboard! We were out there for more than an hour and we were also getting a bit nervous thinking we might need to fly to Sydney! But finally the positions allowed us to tie up and disembark into our “home away from home!”
A memorable and wonderful trip from start to finish.
**** well, I have been trying to add the pictures from the last part of the trip for almost 3 hours now. I am out of patience and ready for our dinner plans so I am going to post this now as is and will do a photo post tomorrow!. We have a lot of beauty to share.