Saturday, 7 March 2009

Rainy days in Queenstown

When we left Te Anau for Queenstown, the weather forecast was abysmal, predicting high winds and heavy rainfall. We decided to book into a camp site with full facilities so that we would have a cosy place in which to shelter from the weather. In the end, the gale force winds never materialised, but we still got lots of rain.

St John was keen to bag his first NZ hill - Ben Lomond (1,748m).  We took the Queenstown gondola up the first 400 metres and then walked the rest to the summit. The weather deteriorated as soon as we left the gondola station, so we got a good old soaking. We got no views from the top, which was a bit disappointing as they're  supposed to be fantastic. As you'll see from the photos, it really couldn't have been more like a Scottish hill day.

In the evening, we ate at Fergburger, a real Queenstown institution, known for its giant mouth-watering burgers. The Mr Big Stuff burger had come highly recommended by Toni from Finland, who said it was the best burger he'd ever eaten. So here's the photo for you Toni as a memento – complete with melted cheese and the smoky barbecue sauce!

The next day, a bit wiser after the first soaking, we drove to the car park for Double Cone (2,340m), the highest peak in the Remarkables range in the Southern Alps. This impressive range dominates the skyline in Queenstown, and we wanted to do a scramble up the eastern ridge of Double Cone. We only got up to Lake Alta at 1,800 metres (from the car park at 1,600 metres) when the rain started again, forcing us to abort. It was interesting seeing the lake, as this was yet another location for the Lord of the Rings film.

The weather was pretty dismal all day, so we decided to visit a couple of wineries and some more LOTR locations. First stop was the AJ Hackett bungy site, which is situated in the Kawarau River gorge. The gorge was used for River Anduin in LOTR – Argonath the Pillars of the Kings were added in with special effects. It was also a great opportunity to watch some poor souls hurtle themselves off the bridge on the Kawarau River bungy. A guy on his stag do jumped in lacy pink bra and hot pants. 

Next, we drove to the neighbouring Chard Farm Winery for a tasting of their wines. They range from the very drinkable Chardonnay and Pinor Gris to the more full bodied Pinot Noir. We also visited Amisfield Wine Company, but we didn't feel that their wines could quite compete with Chard Farm. The tasting was quite hurried too, and the clinical atmosphere of the tasting room didn't add to the experience.  We learnt that wines can be described as 'approachable' and mousy (a wine fault that leaves wines with a 'mousy' after-taste apparently).

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Gertrude Saddle and Lake Marian

Inspired by the fine weather, we headed up to the Gertrude Saddle to take in the fine views of the Darran Mountains and Milford Sound. The route was well signposted with orange arrows first and then cairns up to the saddle. There was even a cable to help walkers climb on the steep-ish rock slabs. We didn't need to use it, as the friction on the dry rock was enough.

Jen and St John were tempted to continue and attempt the summit of Barrier Knob. However, Andy managed to persuade them that they should visit Lake Marian instead. The winning argument – by doing the lake today, we could go back to Te Anau and not spend an extra night at our sandfly infested campsite at Lake Gunn.

In Te Anau, we're staying at the Lakeview Holiday Park, owned by Howard's sister Jill (we met Howard and Sue in Nepal). It's very luxurious with excellent facilities – and virtually no sandflies!!!

Read our Milford Sound posting.

Milford Sound

It's understandable why Milford Sound is the number one tourist destination in New Zealand. Towering cliffs, huge waterfalls and witty commentary from the boat's captain made this a great day out. Highlights from the tour included getting to drive the boat, being drenched in the waterfall and taking in the awe-inspiring, steep-sided fjord.

Some of the cliffs were bare from where tree-avalanches had taken place. When some trees get too old to cling onto the rock face, they fall off and take out all the trees below.

To avoid the sandflies back at camp, we decided to cook our tea by the Homer Tunnel. It is around a mile long and was only completed in 1953, making Milford Sound the only fjord which you can visit in a car rather than a boat. While we were cooking, we were joined by a number of Kea which are the world's only alpine parrots. After we chased them away, they flew off and started to chew the rubber seal on another car.