Thursday, December 10, 2015

Queenstown - The Adventure Capital of New Zealand : Part-1

We were to spend 4 nights in Queenstown. Although the itinerary had indicated that we will be busy all the 4 days including half-a-day reserved for shopping, I was a bit sceptic because some of the activities were associated with adventure sports - bungy jumping, zip rides, speed boat rides with 360 degree spins,  para-sailing etc. We were all senior citizens (above 60 years). Therefore, we were not very sure as to whether we will be able to undertake or  permitted to do these activities. Anyway, we thought, as they say, we will cross the bridge when we come to it.

The shape of the things to expect in Queenstown become clear when  Air New Zealand's flight NZ.625 from Auckland was flying over Southern Alps. As the cabin crew announced the  flight getting ready for landing, there was no clue as to where the airport was located as the approach for landing was through the valley surrounded by mountains on both the side. The flight landed in Queenstown around 5.00 p.m. and within 20 minutes, we were in Mercure Resorts where we were to spend 4 nights in the company of Wakatipu Lake. We had dinner at one of the Indian hotels in the downtown.

Picture taken from the flight when it was over Southern Alps.

Mercure Resorts, Queenstown where we stayed for 4 nights.

Day-1 Cruise in Wakatipu Lake, Speed Boat Rides, Skyline on Bob Peak.
1. Catamaran Cruise in Wakatipu Lake
If one wants to know the topography of Wakatipu Lake, cruise on this lake is a 'must do' activity. We were booked on Southern Discoveries' 'Spirit of Queenstown' for 9.00 a.m. cruise. The weather was cloudy with intermittent light rains and appearance of sun. The Southern Alp region is known for windy weather. Luckily for us, the wind was moderate on the day of our cruise. The boat had open upper deck for 360 degree view and photography. We first sat in the cabin with comfortable chairs and large glass windows to avoid the cold breeze. However, we found that the real thrill of the cruise was on the open upper deck. I was on the upper deck for most of the time for the photography. The total duration of the cruise is 1 hour 45 minutes.

The captain of the catamaran was giving a running commentary about the lake as well as some important landmarks. He was friendly and talking to the tourists who visited him in his room. He even allowed some tourists including me to sit on his chair in the wheel house, donning his cap and to take the photograph. The lake cruise is the good way of getting a general perspective of Queenstown, the mountain ranges and the vastness of the lake itself.
Queenstown seen from the catamaran. The boarding point was on the left between a boat and the steamer.

Me on the catamaran cruise in Wakatipu Lake.

Mountain ranges partly covered in the mist.

View from the backside of catamaran.

View of Queenstown on return cruise.

A black beak Gull at the shore of Wakatipu lake.

2.KJet Speed Boat Ride
Our next schedule was KJet Speed Boat ride of about one hour. We were booked for 11.30 a.m. ride. So we had about 30 minutes to stroll on the shore of the lake. There were hawkers selling jewelleries made from jade and also the woollen caps, jackets and sweaters. We did not buy anything from here as we were to go for shopping in the evening. Our Speed Boat ride was delayed by 30 minutes as the boat had not returned from the previous ride on time.

There is some restriction on  KJet Speed Boat ride. Persons with blood pressure, heart problems, back ache and spondylitis are not permitted to take the ride as the boat races at the maximum speed of 85 kms per hours. At times, the ride is bumpy. And there are spins and twists of 360 degree even at this speed. So one has to constantly hold two handles in front of the seat. This meant that one can not take picture from the Speed Boat though the cameras are allowed with a warning that it may slip from the hand because of the speed and bumps. The boat can ride at its maximum speed even in the shallow water. The life jacket and water-proof jacket are provided by KJet.

We boarded on  a 18-seat Speed Boat. Before the start of the boat, the driver told us about the precautions to be taken while he attempted 360 degree spins and twists. He will give indication as to when he would attempt 360 degree spins at which time we must firmly hold to the handles in front of us.

The boat started from the pier in Wakatipu lake and gained the maximum speed immediately. The ride in the lake was bumpy most of the time. However, in the next stage, the boat was taken in Kawarau river with rocks and narrow openings. Surprisingly, the ride in the river was not as bumpy as in the lake. The third stage was the ride in Shotover river with zigzag course and in very shallow water. The 43 kms ride took about one hour, with short stops at the end of  every 360 degree spin. The ride was thrilling and exhilarating. 
The pier where we will board on the KJet Speed Boat.

Para sailing over Wakatipu lake.

View of down town area from KJet Speed boat pier.

A street view of down town Queenstown.

3.Skyline on Bob's Peak.
After finishing our lunch at an Indian restaurant in the down town, we drove to Gondola starting point for a ride to Skyline. The ride was one of the steepest I have seen so far. It took about 8 minutes to reach the top. Generally, I would expect just about average of the 'view from the hill top' kind of thing. But about Skyline, it exceeded my expectation. Not only the view are stunning  of the Queenstown and the Wakatipu lake, it has other activities like Luge ride, para gliding, and walking options. We did not go for Luge ride as we were quite happy with viewing the town and its lake. We left Skyline after having coffee at the strategically located restaurant which looked great.

After completing our visit to Skyline, we returned to down town. Instead of shopping for the rest of the day, we preferred to go back to our hotel room for rest and browsing on free Wi-Fi provided by the hotel for one hour.
View from the Gondola of Queenstown.

Luge riders going to the  starting point of Luge ride on chair cars.

Luge riders on luge track. It is a gravity pulled three wheel cart ride on the track with sharp curves.

Observation deck (right) on skyline. Below it is the restaurant.

View of Queenstown and Wakatipu lake from the Skyline.

Day-2 : Milford Sound
Milford Sound is located about 300 kms north-west of Queenstown. It is a circuitous road drive as one has to travel south of Queenstown to reach Te Anau. From here, the road turn to north direction. Since we had to return to Queenstwon by evening, it was apparent that we have to wake up early in the morning, complete the breakfast and departs from the hotel at least by 7.00 a.m. We were booked for Real Journey's 12.45 p.m. cruise in Milford Sound.
Road journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound.

1. Journey to Milford Sound 
The road journey to Milford sound is very scenic and to some extent adventurous. Most of the journey, especially after Te Anau is a zigzag climb until Homer's tunnel. Thereafter it is downhill till Milford Sound. After about two hours of drive, we took a coffee break at Te Anau town, the last major town on the route to Milford Sound. The town is located at the shore of a lake of the same name. It is also a base for adventure sports.

From Te Anau, it was about 2 hours of journey to Milford Sound. But in reality, it took us more than two hours because of two photo stops - one at Eglington Valley and other at Mirror Lake. The weather has already turned cloudy with intermittent drizzles. So chances of viewing the snow clad mountains as also the mountain cliffs in the background of blue sky was remote in Milford sound cruise.
A rainbow is being formed while travelling from Queenstown toward Te Anau. In the middle is a pivot  irrigation system from where the water sprinkles from number of nozzles. Since it is wheeled, it takes a circular round for even distribution of water.

View from the bus as we drive towards Te Anau on way to Milford Sound.

A hydro-plane lands in Te Anau lake. Tourists use hydro plane and helicopters for aerial view of Southern Alps.

The first glimpses of snow-clad mountains as we near Eglington Valley.

Eglington Valley.

Eglington Valley flat ground.

Light rain at Mirror Lake. The reason for calling it a Mirror Lake is that on a day of clear sky, the snow clad mountains ( on the right of the picture now covered with clouds) are reflected in the lake water creating a mirror image.

A water fall on the way to Milford Sound. Shot through the glass window of the bus.

Zoomed shot of snow accumulation on the top of the mountain range with waterfalls. Shot through glass window of the bus.

Homer's tunnel.

Alpine Parrot (locally called Kea)  is in the list of endangered birds. It is found only in the Southern Alps region of New Zealand. At present thier count is around 3000.  Picture taken near Homer's tunnel on way to Milford Sound.

2. Milford Sound Scenic Cruise
We were booked for 12.45 p.m. Real Journeys scenic cruise. Our bus reached at 12.45 p.m. and we barely made it to board the boat on time. We sat on our pre-assigned seats. The boat started sailing and the lunch was announced. Since our arrival in New Zealand, we were going to taste for the first time the lunch with non-Indian menu and the gents were happy. The buffet was laid on the lower deck and after taking the items of lunch menu, we sat on our allotted seats and had lunch as well as the scenic views of mountain cliffs on both sides. 

I was intrigued by the name of the place - Milford Sound. There was no sound during the cruise except the sound from a couple of large waterfalls. As per Wikipedia, the name Milford is derived from Milford Haven in Wales. The Maori ( the original settlers of New Zealand)  named the sound as 'piopiotahi' after the harking of Piopio bird which is now extinct. So it became Milford Sound.

Milford Sound is a fiord ( narrow inlet of Tasman Sea running between high mountain cliffs) which runs 15 kms inland. Our cruise will go through a part of this fiord for the next 1 hour and 40 minutes passing through Bowen Falls, one of the two permanent waterfalls in Milford Sound. There are many small waterfalls on both sides of the fiord. Some of the mountains are as tall as 1400m from the sea level. Unfortunately, due to cloudy weather with hanging cloud, we could not see any snow-clad mountains. It is said that this region gets the highest annual rainfall (over 6000mm) spreading over almost a year. So there would be very rare occasions one to  cruise through the fiord under the blue sky.

The highlight of the cruise on its return journey was the viewing of Fur Seals resting on a rock and the drenching under Stiring falls when the boat  passed close to the  falls. For me, it was an awesome feeling to sail through the Milford Sound with a constant company of high mountains, some of them with rain forests as if they have risen from the water.
Bowen Falls, one of the two permanent waterfalls in Milford Sound. In the background is the pier from where we boarded the cruise boat.

One of the mountains covered in the mist.

A sample of non-vegetarian menu for lunch abroad cruise ship.

A panoramic view of a series of waterfalls from the mountains shot from the cruise boat.

A cruise boat is about to go near a waterfall for tourists to get drenched in Milford Sound.

Fur Seals resting on the rock in Milford Sound.

A tourist on the cruise boat rushing towards the cabin after getting drenched under the waterfalls.

The lucky ones on the upper desk who got drenched in waterfalls.

Mountain views from cruise boat in Milford Sound.

snow-clad mountain views from cruise boat.

This picture should explain what is the meaning of fiord. Sea water enters the inland in a narrow path with mountain cliffs on both the sides.

Exotic flowers in the garden of a restaurant in Te Anau town where we had coffee break.

We started our return journey to Queensland at around 3.00 p.m. After a coffee break at Te Anau town at around 5.00 p.m., we reached Queenstown at around 8.00 p.m. in the evening. Yes, it is evening in Queenstown at 8.00 p.m. as sun sets here at 8.30 p.m. at this time of the year and there is light till 9.00 p.m. After dinner, we returned to our hotel.

Queenstown - The Adventure Capital of New Zealand: Part-2 (under construction)

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