Things are looking up! (New Zealand, Part 2: Milford Sound and Queenstown)

I think the sizable dose of codeine found in the over-the-counter cold medicine I was taking last week (no prescription needed here in New Zealand!) was dulling my senses and making my introduction to this country seem less than spectacular.

I look back on my blog post highlighting my somewhat blasé attitude about New Zealand and I have a new found appreciation for the beauty and splendor found here.  Our tour has continued as we rounded the bottom of the South Island heading toward the Fiordland National Park. Along the way we saw beautiful things – at least when the weather cooperated.

Tree roots clinging to the side of a trench built by early century Chinese gold miners along the Longhilly Track – an enjoyable hike with interesting history about the ingenuity of the Chinese miners.

Glenn ensured that we stopped at all nearby The Lord of the Rings filming locations. Here we are on a footbridge over the Waiau River, which served as the forested banks of the Anduin River in one of the movies.

Hiking in a rainforest is always spectacular in the rain!

We eventually found ourselves trapped inside our campervan in the town of Te Anau due to torrential rains and gale force winds. We had intended to visit Milford Sound but the rains and winds closed the road to get there so we could no nothing but sit and wait.

For two days we cozied up in our camper eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, watching The Lord of the Rings movies (when in Rome) and waiting for a break in the weather.

Te Anau

We spent a lot  of quality time in the little lakeside town of Te Anau which serves as the gateway into Milford Sound. It is essentially as far as you can go when the road is closed due to weather.

We ventured out between downpours and were often treated to beautiful sights like this rainbow over Lake Te Anau.

We got in a run while waiting for the road to Milford Sound to reopen. It started pouring rain soon after I took this picture!

Milford Sound

Milford Sound is a fiord within the Fiordland National Park and is New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination. The nearly 3 hour drive from Te Anau to the fiord has some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet – unfortunately we were unable to see much of it due to low-hanging rainclouds.

The steep cliffs along the edge of the road were covered with cascades of rainwater, like this. The next day many of these waterfalls had dried up because the rains had stopped.

We encountered several keas – the world’s only alpine parrot. They are very intelligent and enjoy stripping cars of their rubber bits in the parking lots. This one, on top of our campervan, seemed to have a foot fetish. “This little piggy…”

This kea had torn one piece of rubber trim off the roof of this car and was working on the second piece. Glenn tried to explain that this behavior wasn’t very nice…but the bird didn’t care. Glenn was completely smitten with these birds, which is odd for him as he is generally afraid of large birds. He often picked which roadside attractions we would stop to see based on if the online reviews mentioned keas being in the parking lot!

The waiting game we played in Te Anau paid off in that we enjoyed a beautiful sunny day aboard a sightseeing boat while visiting the fiord. It was the first time in over 10 days that there was a break in the rain. One of the many benefits of being there right after the rains is seeing countless temporary waterfalls (falls that dry up when it isn’t raining) all along the fiord cliffs.

Milford Sound, which is only accessible by boat or sightseeing plane/helicopter boasts spectacular cliffs and mountains coming straight up out of the water. It reminded me of the Columbia River Gorge (Oregon and Washington), but on a much grander scale. 

The fiord is lined with countless waterfalls, big and small. This was a big one! Look closely to the left of the falls and you’ll notice some kayakers in the spray.

We were so lucky to see the sound on a clear day!


The clear weather meant we finally got to see the beautiful scenery on our drive out…blue skies with a fresh dusting of snow.

We also got to visit Mirror Lakes on our drive out – clear lakes that reflect the surrounding mountains on windless days.

This was the best reflection I could capture thanks to a little duck that was determined to make the water ripple!


After leaving Milford Sound we made our way inland a bit to visit Queenstown – which is considered the adrenaline capital of New Zealand…and maybe even the world. There are over 200 different adventure activities you can participate in while there – rafting, bungy jumping, mountain biking, jet boating, skiing, sky diving, fly fishing, etc.

We spent one day on a 100-year-old vintage steamship. The trip across the lake afforded us with amazing views of the surrounding mountains.

The TSS Earnslaw – the only remaining passenger-carrying coal-fired steamship in the southern hemisphere. A fun way to cross Lake Wakatipu – with a decidedly Titanic vibe to it.

Once across the lake at Walter Peak we climbed on mountain bikes and spent the day pedaling through the gorgeous countryside – some of which was used as film locations for The Lord of the Rings movies.

Glenn leading the way into the rural landscape.

Glenn and I enjoying a fabulous ride through amazing scenery…and yes, the lake really is that blue!

You can even find The Lord of the Rings filming locations by bike! This lake is used in one of the final scenes of the trilogy where Bilbo and Frodo leave in the elf boat…and a nearby portion of the dark green forest in the background was the edge of the Fangorn Forest that Merry and Pippin escape into and meet the tree ents.

The next day I gave hang gliding a try!

It has become quite clear on this trip that Glenn and I have different ideas of fun. My ideas of fun usually involve a liability waiver (e.g., Bolivia’s Death Road and The Skylodge or the”pods of death” as Glenn called them). Glenn’s ideas of fun usually involve interpretive signs about old gold mines, museum exhibits and quirky coffee shops. We balance each other out nicely, I think.

I once had a pilot’s license and have ~100 skydive jumps under my belt (many, many years ago), but I’d never tried this mode of flight before.

Shortly after takeoff…my feet had just left the ground!

Here is a short video of the hang gliding adventure…

Weeeeeee! It was so much fun flying over the treetops and even though I was up for nearly 20 minutes it was over entirely too quickly. I wish I could have gone again.

I think it is safe to say the New Zealand is quickly growing on me! Next we head further up the west coast in search of glaciers and interesting rock formations. Maybe my degree in geology will come in handy! Thanks for following along.

Interested in reading more about our travels in New Zealand? 

Too much of a good thing? (New Zealand, Part 1: Christchurch to Southland)

Rain, rain…go away! (New Zealand, Part 3: West Coast, Kaikoura and Wellington)

Farewell to Middle Earth. (New Zealand, Part 4: North Island)


7 comments on “Things are looking up! (New Zealand, Part 2: Milford Sound and Queenstown)

  1. Pingback: Travel reboot in Thailand | A Life More Extraordinary

  2. Pingback: Too much of a good thing? (New Zealand, Part 1: Christchurch to Southland) | A Life More Extraordinary

  3. I’ve been reading my grandmother’s travel journals from 1968. They traveled across the lake from Queenstown to Cecil Peak Station and toured the shepherding operation and had tea and scones. Through online investigations, I’ve found that the Lucas family, who owned that station, later sold it. So I’ve been looking for other sheep stations to visit. My “baacode” – allowing me to find the source of the merino used in one of my Icebreaker tops – alerted me to the existence of Walter Peak Station , also across from Queenstown. A google search led to the TSS Earnslaw. “Hey, it looks like the boat Glenn and Michelle took.” Sure enough – so, chances are good we’ll be following in your footsteps in a few weeks. I hope we can combine a farm visit and sheepdog and shearing demonstration with the bike ride you took.

    • Betsy – you should totally do it! The boat and the sheep station was crowded with tourists the day we went, but we were able to get away from the chaos on the bike ride. It might have been extra busy because it was the first sunny day in weeks. The boat is fun (just don’t tell my co-workers about the belching black coal smoke coming out the smoke stack!). We made it back to the station in time to watch the dog demonstration and the sheep shearing, and grab a refreshment in the main house (although we missed the tea and scones timing). We booked through Real Journeys. Although there is a self-guided option available, we enjoyed the guided trip because they load up the bikes in certain sections in order to get you up to some other beautiful sections you wouldn’t get to on your own. How fun to follow in your grandmother’s footsteps!

  4. Pingback: Rain, rain…go away! (New Zealand Part 3: West Coast, Kaikoura and Wellington) | A Life More Extraordinary

  5. It appears that you got off the cold med. just in time. It would have been a real shame to miss such beauty and excitement. I did wonder if you happened to see any ents (a favorite tree of mine). Thanks again for sharing your trip with us.

  6. The hang gliding video brought back memories of seeing your look of intense concern (a little scared maybe) turn to complete joy, including squeals and laughing and shouts of joy.

    Thanks for the memories.

    Love, Dad

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