New Zealand – South Island

Queenstown is a beautiful town located in a valley between mountains which makes landing there VERY, VERY bumpy. We walked a bit through the town center, after which we went to the Kiwi & Birdlife Park where we saw the almost extinct kiwi bird. They are nocturnal birds so they keep them in almost complete darkness.

Queenstown

Queenstown

Kiwi bird

Kiwi bird

Took the Skyline gondola to the top of a mountain where we had lunch with an amazing view.

Above Queenstown

Above Queenstown

After lunch we headed to Frank Joseph glacier. On the way we stopped in Wanaka to take a picture of the most famous tree in New Zealand – Wanaka tree.

Famous tree growing in Wanaka lake.

Famous tree growing in Wanaka lake.

Another disappointment awaited us at the Franz Joseph glacier, the helicopter tour to the glacier was cancelled due to bad weather. It poured all day and night. However, since we hiked on glaciers in Alaska, we were not too bummed.

This could easily be a scene from Alaska

This could easily be a scene from Alaska

We headed to Oamaru on the east coast of South Island to see some penguins. On the way we stopped to do a short hike to Stream Cave which has a pretty cool entrance.

Stream Cave entrance

Stream Cave entrance

Oamaru
At the Blue Penguin Colony you can watch penguins come back to their nests after a full day of feeding in the ocean. These 1 kg (2 lb) stinky little buggers can swim up to 50 km a day. They come back in small groups of 20-30 birds at a time and we watched them wobble back home at almost dusk. Unfortunately, they do not allow any photography.
Another point of interest in Oamaru are the Moeraki boulders, which were surprisingly fun to explore. They are perfectly round and some of them are ginormous. They can be seen only at low tide and viewing is more pleasant in the morning when there are no tour buses unloading hundreds of tourists.

Some of the Moeraki boulders are huge.

Some of the Moeraki boulders are huge.

The boulders are formed by accumulation and cementation of mudstone. Pretty amazing! There were a few that broke and you could see the crystal formations on the inside.

Low tide is the only time these boulders become visible

Low tide is the only time these boulders become visible

Crystals inside Moeraki boulders

Crystals inside Moeraki boulders

Sheep are ever-present in New Zealand. They were not as approachable as I was expecting them to be.

Sheep assessing my intent.

Sheep assessing my intent.

The only sheep I could photograph from upclose was in the window store. Even though, there were thousands of sheep on the hills next to the road, the moment you stopped the car they quickly ran away.

The only sheep I could photograph from upclose was in the window store. Even though, there were thousands of sheep on the hills next to the road, the moment you stopped the car they quickly ran away.

Dunedin
Next small town on the east coast was Dunedin with a cute railway station.

Inside the railstation

Inside the railstation

Rail station

Rail station

There is also a conservation area for the native yellow-eyed penguins, which are very rare. On a tour of their habitat, we saw Jim the penguin, watching over his two youngsters while his partner was out fishing.

This is a protected beach where no humans are allowed.

This is a protected beach where no humans are allowed.

Cool art at the penguin conservation facility

Cool art at the penguin conservation facility

Next we stopped at Larnach Castle – a lavish house on top of a hill with beautiful gardens.

Loved this yellow tunnel

Loved this yellow tunnel

Inside the house

Inside the house

Gardens at Larnach  Castle

Gardens at Larnach Castle

Larnach Castle view from the garden

Larnach Castle view from the garden

Milford Sound
After hours and hours of driving through green hills dotted with sheep, we arrived back to the west coast. On the way to Milford Sound, we stopped at Te Anau lake, then Mirror Lake and finally Knob Flats, a tiny place in the middle of nowhere where we spent the night. It was the closest place to Milford Sound available and at a reasonable price.

Te Anau lake

Te Anau lake

Mirror Lakes

Mirror Lakes

View from the Knot Flats lodge

View from the Knot Flats lodge

Next morning we drove to Milford Sound, which was a lot smaller than I imagined. There was only a dock for all the boats and an adjacent building where you could buy tickets if you haven’t booked in advance. We took the first tour in the morning on a smaller boat before all the tour buses arrived. It was cold but beautiful, tons of waterfalls. Our boat driver decided to provide some excitement so he backed the boat into a waterfall and there were a few volunteers to get soaked as well.

Road to Milford Sound

Road to Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

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Waterfall shower

Waterfall shower

He got really close to some lazy sea lions and we even saw a blue penguin.

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After the boat tour we headed back to Queenstown airport and off we flew to Rarotonga, Cook Islands for a few relaxing days on the beach. More about that in the next post!

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