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.
Took the Skyline gondola to the top of a mountain where we had lunch with an amazing view.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sheep are ever-present in New Zealand. They were not as approachable as I was expecting them to be.
Next small town on the east coast was Dunedin with a cute railway 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.
Next we stopped at Larnach Castle – a lavish house on top of a hill with beautiful gardens.
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.
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.
He got really close to some lazy sea lions and we even saw a blue penguin.
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!