Monday, April 11, 2011

Queenstown, Milford Sound & the Southern Alps: Day 2

We awoke in Queenstown on March 19 to brilliant clear blue skies. Real Journeys agreed with us that it was perfect flying conditions to soar over the Southern Alps to join a 3 hour boat cruise up and down the Milford Sound.

We met our pilot at the airport to take the 40 min flight across the Southern Alps. The scenery was sensational, although the pictures through the plane's windows will not accurately show the true majesty of what we witnessed.

Getting ready for takeoff
Co-Pilot Harrison

Queenstown Airport
Western end of Lake Wakatipu
Milford Sound by air
Terra Firma in Milford Sound
It rains 220 days a year in Fiordland. Fortunately, it had rained heavily the day before our trip and the morning mist at Milford Sound soon lifted making for pleasant dry cruising conditions to see the torrential waterfalls that drain into Milford Sound.

Our boat, the MV Sinbad

Good hot chocolate!
A few of the dozen or so waterfalls that drain into Milford Sound.

Although every tourist boat dips its nose into a few of the waterfalls and our captain issued several disclaimers about water damage to expensive cameras, I couldn't take my finger off the shutter button. I love this sequence of photos.

The sound of the water is deafening ...
The wind created by the tons of water falling each minute ...
Here it comes ...
... Under the waterfall
By the time we arrived back at the cruise terminal, the sun was out and the clouds had cleared from Mitre Peak.

Mitre Peak

The pilot took a different flight path back to Queenstown and now the afternoon sun was shining. I'm sure I looked like an idiot with one hand holding the video camera glued to one window while I snapped away with the regular camera in the other. I'm running out of words to describe spectacular scenery, so I'll just show the pictures.

The Milford Sound cruise has long been sung as New Zealand's top tourist attraction and is sort of a "must-see" for any visitor to NZ.  It was spectacular but really paled in comparison to the experience of seeing the majesty of the Southern Alps from the air.

Taking a flight to Milford Sound may sound like an elitist thing to do, but it made a huge difference in our case. First, the trip by road from Queenstown was 4 hours there and back, so any kind of impression imprinted in the kids' memories would have been darkened considerably by 8 hours spent in the car. The flight was 40 minutes there and back. This also left us another half day to enjoy Queenstown.

Second, New Zealand is a very touristy country. Tourism expenditures totaled $22.4 billion in the fiscal year ending in March, 2010 and tourism accounts for nearly 20% of New Zealand's total exports of goods and services. No matter which fantastic vista you are visiting, there will be several companies that will rent you bikes or horses or kayaks to enhance your experience. Even more companies will take you out fishing or hang-gliding or sky-diving or jet-boating or hiking. There will be several flight companies and helicopter companies that will offer to buzz you around the clouds.

I had decided that I would get the family up in the air at least once during our trip and I figured that this was the best opportunity. Touring the North Island volcanoes from Taupo was a close second.

Back in Queenstown and giddy from the morning's experiences, we headed back to our condo to unwind. Wine glasses were refilled several times. Pictures and videos drew oohs and ahhs from ... well, me and to a lesser extent Trish who observed my excitement with considerable amusement.

At this point, we were all thoroughly convinced that Queenstown is the BEST place to visit in New Zealand. However, it isn't only the adventures and attractions in and around Queenstown that give it this deserving award. After being active all day, travelers have ample opportunity to relive the exciting moments of their trip in the many excellent restaurants and bars and purchase mementos of their stay in the many shops that line the attractively laid out waterfront and streets of Queenstown. It offers the whole package. Although less patterned than the ski resorts of Mont-Tremblant and Whistler, there were definite similarities.

I'm sure some urban planner has thought this out quite thoroughly and we fell in line without a struggle. After a relaxing afternoon, our first stop was Central Art Gallery to see if there was a painting from a NZ artist that we could use to grace our walls in Beaconsfield. After living in our house since 2003, our walls are still relatively bare. We ended up buying an original from a NZ artist named Brian McCracken. You'll all have to come over and see it when we get back to Montreal in August.

Less than half a block away, we struck gold again at Flame Bar & Grill. Good thing I had made a reservation as the restaurant was at capacity by 7:00pm. I should have taken a picture of their signature dish, the delicious half rack of ribs that filled a 16" x 12" cutting board, but it looked far too delicious and I was far too hungry, so I'll show you one I stole from Trip Adviser. Harrison polished one off too.

Yeah - this is a HALF rack! So delicious!
After dinner, there was more shopping and once again a visit to Patagonia Chocolates to power our walk up the hill back to our condo.

Patagonia Chocolates
Fashionista at Four dressed in "All Black".

What an awesome day!

1 comment:

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