Milford Sound: The Highlight Of My Trip To The South Island

Monday, 29 May 2017

Next weekend, we are going to commence our adventure in England. But before we do so, I thought I'd finish writing about our South Island adventure first.

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed Wanaka, Milford Sound was the highlight of my trip to the South Island. I say "my" because unfortunately, J missed out on this amazing trip. As much as I wanted him to be with me to experience the enchanting Milford Sound, he was quite unwell (but not unwell enough for me to give up the ultimate reason why I went to the South Island). To say the least, I left him in Queenstown while I ventured 12 hours away on a bus with some strangers. 

I left our hotel at around 0630am for a 0645am pick up. It was still dark but Queenstown felt like a safe place so I walked confidently to the bus stop on my own. The Cruise Milford bus arrived on time and when I showed my ticket to the driver, he asked where my companion was. I said he was unwell. The driver had this judgemental look on his face, almost telling me that I got stood up. Haha. Then he said, "well, he's gonna miss out on this lovely day". I smiled at him and said, "I know" and then moved on to find my seat. That was when I sort of felt sad because I was really looking forward to spending that day with J. But things always get better when you look at the brighter side of things.

There were a couple of ladies in the bus that apparently were on the same bus the day before but didn't make it to Milford Sound because there was an avalanche and therefore, the roads were closed. We have already left Queenstown when the driver informed us that the roads remained closed, but apparently were expected to be opened at midday. So, the best thing that they could do was drive to Te Anau (the gateway to Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound) and take it from there. Good thing that J didn't come, I thought. He definitely wouldn't have been happy to travel on a bus that long then not make it in the end. This is why I didn't feel as guilty leaving him behind.

In approximately two hours, we arrived in Te Anau. We stopped by a visitor's centre for breakfast. I must say that their selection of food was rather disappointing. But the typical Filipino that I am, of course I had "baon". Hehe. When we left the cafe, we still didn't know whether we would make it to Milford Sound or not, but our driver was optimistic so he carried on driving.

The road from Te Anau to Milford Sound is very scenic (but zero network connection). I was overwhelmed I didn't know where to look first. Amazing sights in all angles. 

Our fist stop was at the incredibly beautiful Fiordland National Park. The openness of the field and the low dark clouds over  snow-capped mountains made the place quite dramatic. Definitely a postcard worthy landscape (if only I could take photos better).

Our next stop was Mirror Lakes. Apparently another beautiful sight but I couldn't appreciate it. I suppose you have to be there on a very calm and sunny day to be able to see a good reflection. Otherwise, it's just a murky reflection.

Monkey Creek is another scenic stop. Just be careful with the Kea birds. My favourite part of this stop was drinking fresh water from the creek. I didn't even think twice in doing this because the water was crystal clear. It couldn't be as natural as that. Plus it was cold. Really delicious water.

And then the moment of truth. As we approached the Homer tunnel, we were left wondering if we were able to pass through. The aftermath of the avalanche, seemingly minor, was still evident. We queued up for more than 15 minutes. I was losing hope when the red light suddenly turned green. Fourteen of us in the bus cheered and thank the heavens. Finally, we were definitely on our way to Milford Sound.

We arrived in Milford Sound before 1pm. When I saw the fiord, I could only wish J was with me. It was the perfect weather and the place was purely mystical. I've not seen anything like it and all the time I was reminding myself how lucky I was to have been given the chance to see such an amazing place.

To get the best of my Milford Sound experience, I made sure that I stayed in front of the boat for uninterrupted views, only to pay for it at some point.

The stunning Mitre Peak greeted us as we sailed through calm water, amidst magnificent mountains. 

And the waterfalls. Oh, the waterfalls. There were more than I ever expected. Waterfalls after waterfalls. And they were all beautiful. I watched in awe as they cascade through the mountains. And then an unexpected thing happened. The captain threatened to take the boat underneath the waterfall. I thought he wasn't going to do it, so I didn't move. It was too late when I realised I was under it. Luckily, a stranger moved my bag. I wasn't sure how to react to that, but I suppose the whole experience became extra memorable because of that. 

Reading reviews on Milford Sound, some people were disappointed that they didn't see any dolphins. Well, I guess it was my lucky day because a couple of dolphins joined our voyage back to the dock. They were in front of the boat, just under it so it was quite a challenge to take photos of them. But nevertheless it was a wonderful sight.

The two-hour Milford Sound cruise was pure grandeur. I am definitely running out of adjectives to describe this place. All I can say is that I am one lucky person. 

The 12-hour journey and $175/person trip to the Milford Sound was definitely worth it. Although it would have been better to experience such a wondrous place with J, he was never far from my mind. 

Milford Sound is my most memorable experience in New Zealand because for the first time in my life, I travelled to an unfamiliar place on my own. I was never a keen solo-traveller, and for me to be able to do just that for a day is a big accomplishment for me.  


That Magical Wanaka Tree

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Apart from Milford Sound, the only other reason why I wanted to go to the South Island was The Wanaka Tree. I've read so much about this lonely tree even before we left for New Zealand, so I was adamant to find it whilst I was in the country. 

We arrived in Wanaka just after sunset so we didn't get the opportunity to explore the beautiful town. When we arrived at the hotel, the first thing I asked for was the location of  the most photographed tree in New Zealand (apparently) because I booked the hotel without knowing my geography (which is typical of me). I didn't expect that the tree was indeed only a five-minute walk away from our hotel. I was very excited to say the least.

And because we only planned to stay in Wanaka for a day, my best option was to see the lone tree in the morning before we left for Queenstown. I knew that the area is often flocked by tourists and so I made an extra effort to get up before sunrise and walked to the tree.

When I opened our hotel room door, I was greeted by birdsong and some windchill. Good thing that I disguised my pyjamas in a trench coat so I felt a bit warmer. I ran down the stairs and walked onto the wet grass. I passed by the little pond overlooking our hotel room. I looked back and thanked the man I left in the room for giving me the freedom to explore on my own and for trusting me. Without his gentle encouragement, I wouldn't have enjoyed my New Zealand adventure as much as I did. 

As I carried on walking, the lake and the snow-capped mountains started appearing before me. I walked very slowly so I could enjoy that temporary moment of solitude. I listened to the calming sound of the waves. I watched the dancing leaves on the trees as the wind blew towards my direction. The fresh air when it touched my face was very comforting. Ah, I wished I was a poet so I could have written a beautiful poem about my early morning walk in that unfamiliar place. Engulfed by the serenity of the place, I got lost in my thoughts very quickly. I almost forgot about the tree until I heard a dog barking.

Then I realised that I was no longer alone. A man followed the dog and in a true Kiwi fashion, he stopped and said hi. I suppose he figured out that I wasn't from there because the first thing he asked was if I was enjoying my stay so far. Before he carried on running, he told me to look behind me and oh my God, I saw one of the most astonishing views ever! It looked like the snow-capped mountain was on fire. I can't even describe the intensity of the sun's reflection on the mountain. It was just wow! And before I could even thank the man, he disappeared. And once again, I was left alone to savour the moment with what I could only assume as Mt Aspiring.

I continued walking on a high until I could feel a gentle pinch on my skin. The sun was shining on me! I think I have not witnessed a proper sunrise in a very long time and I was delighted to experience this with myself in one of my favourite little towns.

With so many things to be thankful for already that day (and I was only up for 30 minutes), I began to finally get a glimpse of the famous tree.
According to an article I've read, "the tree started life as a fence post at least 77 years ago". And that's as far as I would go when it comes to the history of the tree. :)

Anyway, I was even more excited because I got there before anyone else did. I didn't take any photos straight away. Promise. I wanted to see for myself why the tree is so special. I figured out three things that morning: location, appearance and light. Location because the tree sits in a middle of a beautiful lake, surrounded by equally beautiful mountains. The tree's unique curvy branches, some almost touching the water, are perfectly imperfect. I guess the sunshine gives more character to the tree. It definitely made the tree more magical when I was there.

Worried that people would start arriving soon, I took my camera lens off and started shooting. To be honest, I've had my camera for almost two years now and I still haven't properly worked out how to use it. I settled for the basic settings because I am lazy and I don't have the patience to read instruction manuals. I am not good at editing photos either, so I can guarantee you that  my photos are unedited. :)

So, when it came to shooting the most beautiful little tree that  I have ever seen, I relied on natural light. It took me at least 90 shots before I got this:

I didn't even know that the photo turned out like that until I transferred the photos in my computer. The sunlight wasn't consistent at that time because of the rapid movement of the dark clouds, so I was lucky to even get that shot.

Then it was only a matter of minutes until I had company. I took a few more photos and then move out of the way to give chance to a couple who were there for their pre-nuptial photoshoot.

Then I walked back to the hotel with a very grateful and happy heart. I am always grateful for a partner who lets me be the person I want to be and happy that I was able to make another unforgettable memory with myself.


The Unforgettable Five-Day Trip From Wellington To Queenstown

Sunday, 7 May 2017

I finally found an excuse to write about our South Island adventure last year. Basically, my family recently went on a road trip to the Northern Philippines and I would be lying if I say that I am not jealous. How I wish I was there to experience the scary zig-zag road going up to Sagada with them, but hey, such is life. So instead of feeling jealous (and home-sick) yet again, I went through our New Zealand photos and realised that I have not written about our incredible journey from Wellington to Queenstown. This is one of the best things that we did in New Zealand. I intend to go back in the future because we missed a great deal of other beautiful and exciting things in the South Island. Five days was definitely not enough.

Anyway, I planned our itinerary in such a way that J could get enough rest in between driving as he hasn't driven long distance before. So, here's how we did it:

Day 1: Picton to Kaikoura via Blenheim (2hrs), then Kaikoura to Hanmer Springs via Leader Road (approx 1.5hrs)
- From Wellington, we took the ferry to Picton, then hired a car from Apex Car Rentals. The drive from Picton to Blenheim was pleasantly short. Blenheim is a town in wine-growing Marlborough region. We passed by vineyards and wineries but we were not so interested, so we continued driving along State Highway (SH)1 to Seddon. Few miles from the main town of Seddon is Lake Grassmere, a lake used for salt-production and apparently, the lake turns into pink in the summer. It was nice to see it from afar, but I don't think it would have been worth a detour. 

The excitement finally came when we hit a small town called Ward towards the pacific coast. It was a very pleasant coastal drive to Kaikoura. Kaikoura is known for whale-watching but we were not in the South Island for that, so we only stopped in Kaikoura for a cup of coffee then headed towards Hanmer Springs where we stayed the night. Hanmer Springs is a beautiful sleepy town. It was quite relaxing just being there. They have hot springs which we considered trying, but we were too tired to even do anything. By this time, we would have been travelling for more or less than 8 hours (ferry + drive).

Kaikoura Town and its magnificent snow-capped mountain ranges:

Relaxing environment in Hanmer Springs:

Where we ate 
Robbie's Bar and Bistro, 2 Jack's Pass Road, Hanmer Springs 7334

Where we stayed
Alpine Garden Motel, 3 Leamington Street, Hanmer Springs
- Beautiful, clean and quiet - I didn't expect that from a motel as I've never stayed in one before.    

Day 2: Hanmer Springs to Christchurch (1hr 45mins) then Christchurch to Ashburton (1hr 25mins) 
- The road from Hanmer Springs to Christchurch led us to some amazing sceneries. Suddenly, we were surrounded by green fields, vineyards, hills and snow-capped mountains. Even the grey clouds couldn't hide the beauty of the countryside. 

We arrived in Christchurch around midday on a Tuesday. The South Island's largest city seemed quiet. It was evident that the city was still recovering from the 2011 earthquake. The Roman Catholic of Christchurch was the only establishment in Christchurch that we visited. I regrettably suggested going up to Port Hills for a panoramic view of Christchurch. The road was rather scary- narrow, winding and unpaved in some parts. I wanted to go back as soon as I felt that we were going up, but the ever calm J reassured me that he would drive slowly and carefully, which he did. Luckily, there was an alternative route to go down, towards Diamond Harbour. 

From there, we drove to Ashburton. It was a very pleasant experience to drive over the longest road bridge in New Zealand - the Rakaia Bridge. It was also reassuring that the roads were mostly flat. Another reason why I wanted to take this route was so I could eat salmon in the salmon capital of New Zealand - Rakaia. I chose Salmon Tales Cafe as it seemed like it was the only restaurant rated on Tripadvisor. I was rather disappointed that they only served salmon sandwich. So we headed to Ashburton instead and had dinner at Robbie's Bar and Bristo- again. At least I had salmon there. Haha.

The quiet country roads and that dramatic clouds between Hanmer Springs and Christchurch:

The milky Diamond Harbour in Christchurch:

Mount Somers:
We arrived quite early in Ashburton so I asked J if we could drive to Mount Somers because I wanted to see Edoras from the LOTR (Mt Sunday). Mount Somers is a small town 40 minutes drive away from Ashburton, situated on the foot of the Alps. The very scenic route led us to what it seemed like an endless gravel road. We retreated in the end and drove back to our hotel.

Where we ate
Robbie's Bar and Bistro, 360 West St, Allenton, Ashburton 7700

Where we stayed
Ashburton Motor Lodge, 507 West St, Allenton, Ashburton 7700
- The room was spacious and had a view of the park. Everything was spotless. It completely changed my view on motor lodges.

Day 3: Ashburton to Wanaka (3hrs and 58mins)

- Our journey in the South Island became more and more exciting after we left Ashburton. The drive from Ashburton to a pretty town called Geraldine was flat and straight.  As we came out of Geraldine, we were greeted by scenic valleys, rolling hills and mountains. We drove through long and winding roads to the top of the hill, only to descend again until we reached the attractive town of Fairlie. 

After 20 minutes, I could feel that we have reached a high altitude as we entered Burkes Pass. I watched as the green scenery slowly changed into snow covered fields. I knew then that we have finally reached the High Country (Mackenzie Country). Along Burkes Pass is a quaint store called Three Creeks. This is a must stop. They have unique and beautiful products. 

From Three Creeks we drove further on and it wasn't long until we saw the amazing blue lake (Lake Tekapo). Unfortunately, it was dark and snowing when we got to the lake. I thought we would not be able to see the real beauty of Lake Tekapo. But a simple mistake gave us the opportunity to experience one of the most exquisite things I have ever seen in my life. 

Basically, I wanted to see Mt Cook (Aoraki)- the tallest mountain in New Zealand, but we didn't have much time. So I asked J if we could at least go to Peter's Lookout to have a glimpse of the mountain. And so we drove 40 minutes via SH 8 to Peter's lookout and came across another amazing blue lake - Lake Pukaki. It was such a beautiful sight. Sadly, the clouds were quite low at that time so we didn't see much of Mt Cook. Then it was time to have lunch after more than three hours of driving.

The mistake came when I thought that the restaurant I wanted to eat at was towards Wanaka. However, the road led us back to Lake Tekapo. By this time, the sun was out, and we were able to see the most beautiful turquoise lake ever. On top of that, the snow-capped mountains that shone like diamonds, and the Church of Good Shepherd that was beautiful from afar as it was up close. This absolutely made my day!

After about a hundred photographs of Lake Tekapo between us, we left and drove to Wanaka. The road was flat for about an hour and 20 minutes and then suddenly, a rather impressive mountain range  appeared before us. It was hard to differentiate the road from the mountains at first because we couldn't almost see the road ahead. But that, I suppose is the beauty of Lindis Pass. We drove between mountains that looked like chocolates, sprinkled with some icing sugar. It was indeed a very dramatic drive through Lindis Pass. I would love to do this again in the future.

With so much joy and excitement in our hearts, we drove for another hour to Wanaka. We missed the sunset unfortunately, but the following day made up for it- big time. Well, I will have to write about that incredible experience separately.

Burke's Pass:

Lake Tekapo:

Lake Pukaki overlooking Mt Cook from Peter's Lookout:

Lindis Pass:


Where we ate
Reflections Cafe and Restaurant, State Highway 8, Lake Tekapo 7987
- You pay for the food, the service and the view.

Where we stayed
Edgewater, Sargood  Drive, Wanaka 9305
- One of the best hotels I've ever stayed at. Everything was almost perfect.

Day 4: Wanaka to Queenstown (just over an hour)
- Before we left Wanaka, we dropped by Puzzling World which was quite fun. Their optical illusion rooms were very interesting. But the highlight of our visit was the maze. We were confident that between us, we would be able to get out sooner than we thought but we were so wrong. As we didn't have extra time to spare, we cheated. Shhhh. Hehe. It was a good experience all in all and I would recommend this to anyone visiting Wanaka.

Somehow I wasn't anticipating our drive to Queenstown because I knew that we were going to pass through the Crown Range, apparently the highest main road in New Zealand. And boy, was I not scared!? The steep, winding road was ridiculous. It felt like a never ending zigzag BUT, it's definitely one of the best driving routes that we've taken on our journey. As much as I was very scared, I just wouldn't miss the stunning views. I kept my eyes wide open until we reached the Crown Range Summit at 3,530 ft. It was such an incredible view. Simply breathtaking! On our way down, we made a few more stops to take photos of the spectacular views. J definitely enjoyed the rather challenging drive.

When we reached Queenstown, it was quite early to check in so we decided to drive to Arrowtown Village, and man, I fell in love with it at first sight. It's a charming little town with tree-lined streets- just my kind of town. The people were very friendly (as most, if not all Kiwis are). Driving around the little town was quite tricky for us. We missed the sign and drove on to the wrong side of the road. But instead of giving us the "such a stupid" look, or worse the "finger", the locals found it amusing and kindly told us that we were driving the wrong way. Then they laughed with us in the end. That made me love the place even more. 

After our delicious brunch in Arrowtown, we headed back to Queenstown. But J was definitely in for some more driving so we went straight to another town called Glenorchy. I did my research on our way and found out that some of the LOTR scenes were shot in Glenorchy. I am not a LOTR fan as such but I was excited just the same. We decided to drive to Paradise. 

The drive to Paradise was initially  pretty straight with some rolling hills. Within a few miles, we started going up the mountains which was not too bad after our Crown Range experience. The view was consistent with spectacular snow-capped mountains and beautiful lakes (and river). 

And so we drove hoping to get to Paradise soon, but the road was proving to be never-ending, and the paved road that we were travelling on suddenly changed into gravel. It didn't help that it became so misty. To say the least, we were not prepared for that kind of adventure especially after seeing a car turned over on the side of the road, so we made the best decision to go back and drove towards Dart River Bridge instead, where we had a glimpse of Isengard.

The Crown Range:


The Road to Glenorchy:

Isengard from Dart River Bridge:

Where we ate:
Provision Cafe, 65 Buckingham Street, Arrowtown 9302

Where we stayed:
Melbourne Lodge Bed and Breakfast, 35 Melbourne Street, Queenstown

Day 5: Queenstown
- To be honest, we didn't really explore main Queenstown properly which is why I won't be able to say much about it. I suppose because our ultimate destination was really Milford Sound, which I will blog separately soon. We just made Queenstown as our base. Nevertheless, despite being touristy, Queenstown is Queenstown- so beautiful and lively. 

Lake Wakatipu:


It took me more than a week to write about this trip to the South Island because in between, I stopped and reminisced the whole experience. One thing is for sure, I wish I'd never left New Zealand despite the earthquakes and the random blustery winds in Wellington all year long. I've never lived in a country as beautiful, peaceful and life-changing as New Zealand. I definitely left my heart in that country down under.

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