A Kiwi Wrap Up…
(Continued from Which Way To Milford Sound? New Zealand Part 2)
It was mid afternoon when I had to drag myself away from Milford Sound. There was another long drive ahead and I planned on making some stops along the way. While satisfied with my visit I was disappointed I didn’t get to see it from the air or get to take the cruise out further into the sound due to a lack of time. This would be a recurring feeling for the rest of the trip as I visited other places as well. I had to remind myself I would be back here again one day with more time to explore.
On my drive in, I tried to make note of a few spots I wanted to stop at on the return drive. Trying to pinpoint those places while viewing everything in the opposite direction proved to be more challenging than I thought it would. I was trying to make sure I gave myself enough time at the sound but I think next time if I see something cool it would be better just to stop then.
Hollyford Valley and River
After clearing the darkness of the Homer Tunnel and continuing on the highway I began searching for a spot along the Hollyford River I had seen earlier. The highway parallels the river in many spots and I remember seeing a massive torrent of distinct turquoise colored water as it descended a fairly steep grade of the river. When I was driving alongside from the other direction earlier in the day, it almost felt as if I was driving up a waterfall. I couldn’t find the exact spot I was looking for and turning around didn’t seem like a good option with the narrow road and time not on my side. But I found a nice turnoff to an area where you can hike called the Lake Marian Track.
Nearby, a more renown hiking route, the Routeburn Track, came to its end as it met the highway. The Routeburn Track is a long trail that extends to the north point of Lake Wakatipu opposite of Glenorchy and probably an hour from Queenstown. Had a road traversed along this track and not just a trail, it would probably cut the commute between Milford Sound and Queenstown easily in half or more. But I thought it was best to leave this trail for those who choose the adventure of the three day trek. In the scheme of things, it made me appreciate how well preserved this area of the world is and that it shouldn’t be encroached upon more than is necessary. The extra driving was beautiful and worth it anyway I felt.
After spending some time along the river and hiking some, I made my way back to the SUV rental car and proceeded to backtrack my route out of the Fiordland area. I stopped in Te Anau for fuel and continued gradually back to Queenstown with the goal of seeing the sun set on Lake Wakatipu one more time as my short stay here was beginning to come to an end.
I made some stops along the lake. It’s amazing how big this lake is and how only a tiny portion of it is surrounded by anything man made. It also seemed odd to me how little private boat activity existed on the lake despite a small town but nevertheless a large touristic hub like Queenstown was on it’s shore. There are a number of tour operators providing boat tours that offer rides on the lake including jet boats and a renovated steamship. But it just seemed so open. Perhaps the abundance of lakes to choose from and a relatively low permanent population plays a part in this.
I made my way into Frankton, neighboring Queenstown, and watched the sun rays try to penetrate through the scattered gaping holes in the clouds as it was setting for the night. It was the last sunset I would see in New Zealand. I had a very exhausting day and by this point I didn’t feel like taking any more pictures so I spent the evening enjoying Queenstown.
The next morning I was up before sunrise again. As I racked my brain for all the places near Queenstown I wanted to see the sunrise or sunset from, I decided to try the drive up to the Remarkables. The Remarkables, appropriately named, is a range of mountains east of Lake Wakatipu, not far from Queenstown. If you go all the way up the unpaved road you would come to a ski resort. As it was when I made the drive, the road was in the process of some renovation which appeared to include paving it. The construction only allowed me to go part of the way up the mountain but I found a place to stop and watch the sun come up. It overlooked Frankton and the small Queenstown Airport.
After I got my sunrise fix, I made the short journey back to my motel I was staying at, showered, and packed up my belongings. Goodbyes were given on checking out of the motel to Diane, the very personable, friendly, and accommodating operator of the Queenstown Motel Apartments and promised her I would return for another stay. The motel is a great choice for staying in Queenstown should you ever visit.
As I still had about six hours to kill before my beginning the next leg of my trip, I decided to drive to Glenorchy, about 45 minutes away from Queenstown if you were to go without making stops along the way (yeah, right).
Glenorchy is a small town at the very northern tip of the quasi s-shaped Lake Wakatipu. It is called “The gateway to Paradise”, referring to the surrounding area, an unofficial yet fitting title it was given in the 19th century. It was used extensively in filming the Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. The Paradise Valley extends northward from Glenorchy and Lake Wakatipu along the edge of Mount Aspiring National Park. Sadly, venturing further than the town and into the wonder of the valley would have to wait until my next visit here.
Along the way to Glenorchy is another winding cliffside highway sporadically offering places to pull over and take in the beauty. I felt sort of like I was playing a video game as I zipped along the twists, curves, climbs, and descents the road threw at me (obeying all traffic laws and exercising due caution of course) and all while being extra observant for the sheep which cross the highway. The forecast that morning called for occasional brief showers which came and went along the drive though nothing too significant.
The drive back to Queenstown was rather uneventful as I drove back through town and headed to the airport to return the car. After I checked in for the flight I found a place to sit at the gate and for the first time since I arrived was left with nothing to do but sit and wait. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on my short stay here and how badly I wished I had more time to spend here. I was proud of how much territory I covered and how much I saw in just three days. One would argue there is no way I could have truly appreciated anything I saw here in such a short time span. I would disagree. While I certainly didn’t have time to take it all in, it gave me a great first impression of this beautiful country and it’s people. I call this trip a scouting trip so I will know where to put my efforts in next time.