Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Day 16 - The road to Te Anau

The sun was up today before we hit the road, not before we got up but before we hit the road at least. Today was all about the drive you see, with little to see en-route as such save for Queenstown and the surrounding area which we would be coming back to at the end of the holiday.

The journey from Haast to Te Anau is around 5 hours, longer if you stop off somewhere like we did.

The first stretch of the journey is between Haast and Wanaka and is known as the Haast Pass.

For the most part it's a really pretty drive and there are a couple of short stops along the way, not that far from Haast which are worth a quick look.

Thunder Creek Falls is a short 10 minute, easy-going walk from the side of the main highway about 20-25 minutes south of Haast. It's easy to find, you can't miss it and a waterfall is always worth a photo or two.

Shortly after Thunder Creek you come across the Roaring Billy. Located on a corner just before a bridge this is quite a busy tourist spot and there is limited parking as some people park here for a while to do a walk to the bottom of the falls. It's one of those places where if you stop briefly just to have a quick look there isn't really a kodak moment, to get that you need to do the walk but then there is that incredible noise. I should explain that 'Roaring Bily' is the name of another waterfall which gushes from a man-made spout out into the Haast river way down below. The sound is deafening, much like the Huka Falls only somehow more 'tuned'.

We didn't make anymore stops until we hit Wanaka, which was our early lunch port of call for the day.

The lakeside town of Wanaka has the feel and vibe of the upcoming Queenstown but without the hustle and bustle. It's relaxing atmosphere is somewhat calmed even further by the shores of the Lake Wanaka watched-over and protected by the Mount Aspiring mountain range surrounding the lake itself.

Wanaka has a high concentration of cafes, restaurants and curious shops. It's a great place to stop off for a couple of hours to break the journey. In truth you could actually while away an entire day here, particularly if the weather is nice as there are plenty of walks and activities which begin here.

After lunch we got ourselves on the road again and it wasn't long before we brushed along the outskirts of Queenstown. The first evidence of being in the heart of adventure kingdom came from Mr. Adventure himself A.J. Hackett and the roots of his empire built upon the edge of the Kawarau River.

The bridge that spans the river is home to the worlds first commercial bungy jump established in 1988. Entry is free for all and there is a viewing gantry which enables the public en-mass to watch the "lemmings" chucking themselves off the bridge one after another but if you want to jump that'll cost you around $140. It's fascinating to watch and the more you watch the more that little adventurous person trapped within your mind tell's you "go on, have a go, you know you want to". As the draw of the edge of a clifftop drags your curiosity towards it, the same can be said of A.J. Hacketts bungy, yet for us the sane part of our brain kicked in and we quickly scrurried back to our car before we changed our mind.

Strangely my fear of heights was part of my brain's encouragement to do it, maybe it would have been the ultimate way of conquering a fear. Certainly as people walk towards the edge with their ankles strapped onto a very stong bit of elastic they don't get a chance to change their minds, oh no, by that time it is too late and after the guys do a countdown from 5 if you don't jump you get a helping hand so that you don't hold the queue up for too long with your dilly-dallying.

Here's a lemming taking the plunge.

Just around the corner from here is Queenstown and the main road cuts between Queenstown airport and the town itself. The holiday had been so quiet and peaceful until now. As we passed over the roundabout at the top of the main street we suddenly realised where all the tourists in New Zealand were... they were here, in Queenstown. We didn't stop in Queenstown this time as we would be returning here properly in a few days time, we just stopped at the side of the road when we saw a breathtaking view of Queenstown in the valley below.

The road leading out of Queenstown is spectacular. It skirts the bottom of The Remarkables, the mountain range surrounding Queenstown, and it would be the first time we'd really appreciated snow-capped mountain peaks this holiday. As a result of this we stopped frequently for photos. On the other side of the road is Lake Wakatipu providing yet more glorious views.

The road from Queenstown to Te Anau is yet another pretty drive taking you through beautiful scenery and little 'frontier-style' towns. Many people choose to stay in Queenstown and then do a day trip to the Sounds and Te Anau. Let me tell you these people are mad. Insane. Nuts. It's a five hour drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound, you'd spend most of the day just travelling! If you can, and time will afford it you are much better off staying in Te Anau which is a good halfway point between the 2 places and also close to Doubtful Sound if you are planning to do that as well.

Based in the heart of Fiordland we worried initially that Te Anau would be a small town with very little to do, particularly as we'd be spending 4 nights there but let me reassure you that isn't the case. With all the things there are to do around here you'll never get bored, plus there are plenty of places to eat and drink. Heck there is even a cinema.

We stayed just outside the township at a place called Blue Thistle Cottages. This is a small collection of individual cottages built on top of a little hill overlooking Te Anau, and as we drove up the driveway Kate was wishing that we would be staying in the cottage right on the edge of the hill with the best views. Our wishes rarely come true but this time they did.

The view from outside our cabin.

What a truly fantastic place to stay. The cottages are immaculately decorated, each with their own kitchen/diner, lounge (with free Sky and internet access), bedroom and bathroom. It's owned and run by Annette and Peter Gardiner, two of the friendliest hosts we met over there.

Yes, it was expensive but the price does vary depending on the season and it is worth every penny. This was our favourite place to stay in all of New Zealand, if you are planning to stay in Te Anau have a look at Blue Thistle first, you won't be disappointed.

After quickly settling in it was such a glorious evening we decided to go straight into town to get a feel of the place. After a few minutes wandering around Kate noticed a tourism office offering scenic flights over Milford Sound. Now as you may remember from yesterday we'd missed out on the glacier flight due to bad weather and Kate was determined that it wasn't going to happen again. How right she was too as the rest of our time here would be a period of unpredictable weather that the tours would not fly in.

The tour office overlooking Lake Te Anau was very helpful and they got us booked on a flight due to board in just 30 mins with a company just across the road called Wings and Water. These people don't have a website and to be honest you don't need to book in advance mainly due to the problems with the weather. Just turn up on the day and make a booking. Even though the weather was good there was still one other little thing which may have stopped us from getting in the air and that was the need for more people. These are little planes and at maximum capacity can only hold 5 passengers, and any less than 4 meant they wouldn't run the tour.

The tour agent said she would do her best to find more people and told us to go and wait on the pier where the plane was kept. We duly did this, hoping to not get our scenic flight dreams canned again. Once there the pilot greeted and informed us that they were still waiting for another couple to buy the tour and gave us the option of doing a Doubtful Sound overflight instead as he had people waiting for that one already. As tempting as the offer was, especially when he dropped the price that tour wasn't the one we wanted and we stuck to our guns. At the 11th hour our ship came in, in the form of a couple and their young son who like us had seen the weather when they arrived in Te Anau and dashed down to try and get a flight.

Our luck was in and as we took off from the water we couldn't help but feel sorry for the other couple not getting their Doubtful Sound flight but as it turned out they would get lucky after all later that evening.

The flight itself was truly spectacular, if a little hairy at times. With the plane being so small it doesn't take much before it gets buffetted around in the wind. I found this quite fun but I did feel sorry for the other male passenger who was looking a little green around the gills.

The tour felt very personal and we all had headsets with microphones so we could talk with the pilot and ask questions but mostly our jaws were constantly agape looking out across the mountainous areas that form the Sounds. It really is a vast area, something you don't fully appreciate when doing just a boat tour.

A tiny speck of a large tour boat on Milford Sound.

Things like lakes high atop mountains, the treeline which magically stops 200m below the mountaintops and feeling of the immense volcanic power which forced these huge rocks out of the earth.

We were so pleased that we'd missed out on the glacier flight as if we'd done it we couldn't have afforded to do this one and I just got the impression that the Milford Sound overflight was 100 times better. A gut feeling I know, but when we came back down to earth we'd left our hearts in the sky above Milford.

Dinner that night was just a simple pizza in a cafe. Nothing special, then again everything was suddenly pale in comparisson to our experience that day.


Blogger Zappers said...

Possum Pie! what happened, where are the rest of your reports. I was so enjoying them and you fabulous photos. I keep checking in but with no luck............please finish your trip reports, Cheers Zappers

8:05 am  
Blogger The Uncle said...

Hi Zappers. I must appologise to everybody for my lack of posts but unfortunately my other comittments took over for a few months. I'm a film maker by profession and the summer months are always some of the busiest for me.

However the good news is that I have a post in the pipeline, already half written and it should be published over the weekend complete with pictures!

It's also good to have somebody nagging at me to get my ass in gear too.

Thanks Zappers.

3:38 pm  

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