The coach took just over 5 hours to reach the 'Adventure Capital Of The World' and once again the scenery right up until the sun set was spectacular. Mountains, lakes, waterfalls, meadows and farms.
The temperature was probably below freezing. We had a short walk to the hotel, up a pretty steep hill, we got to the crest breathing heavily, the freezing air burning our lungs as we inhaled deeply. We were so glad we only had to carry the bags up the once.
The pub was calling, which for all intents and purposes was typically English. The buzz of the busy bar and carrying drinks through the maze of people to our table more than made up for the mediocre meal, it's strange what you miss.
Morning came with a generous blanket of cloud that had descended and we could see nothing but grey and rain hitting nearby puddles in the dawn light.
The centre of town was busy and had a genuine alpine feel to it, lots of stone buildings with wood fires burning, the smokey air smelled full of welcoming comfort.
A short walk through town led us to the lake. Now, we've seen some places in the last year that have left us speechless, but the view across the water to the mountains and beyond was passed superlatives, even 'perfection' just doesn't do it justice.
We spent a couple of days wandering round the lakeside between the downpours or in our favourite Patagonian chocolate shop for a sensation-boggling hot chocolate with chilli.
It's hard to believe, but I turned 40 while in Queenstown, we celebrated at Milford sound, a journey of 5-6 hours through some of, if not the most beautiful landscapes we've seen on the trip. Snowy mountains, icy rivers, blue lakes and pristine green countryside. We made loads of stops for photos but we were on a tight schedule to catch the cruise. As we neared Milford, the bends in the road got tighter and steeper, we found ourselves driving through Eggleton valley, vast snow capped mountains on either side. The road in this area is often closed due to avalanches, but it's early in the season and today we had no problems, though evidence of recent activity was apparent. Piles of ice, rocks and snow laid in massive dumps at the bottom of mountains.
We boarded the ship and after a rather disappointing lunch, we headed out on to the top deck to take in the view. It was spectacular, vast cliff faces rising out of the Tasmanian sea. Dozens of waterfalls small and large cascaded from hidden sources, they forked downwards until the two water sources met in a spray of icy mist.
The boat was manoeuvred beneath one of the larger waterfalls, I figured that this was a once in a lifetime experience and so headed to the front of the boat to have the glacial water pour onto me. I lasted around 4 seconds before I'd had enough but I was the last one to go back inside, YES!
Fur seals and their pups were basking on the rock and playing in the shallows, while albatross soared above.
At every turn and in every direction we were surrounded by a primeval beauty, everything was untouched, 100% natural. Milford sound is often referred to as the 8th wonder of the world, we couldn't think of a single reason to disagree.
Queenstown is also surrounded by skiing fields, as part of the ongoing birthday celebrations, we had a couple of days on the slopes. The weather for the previous few days had been lousy at town level meaning there was buckets of fresh snow on the peaks. We got ourselves kitted out with all the gear and headed up to the pistes. The drive up was worth the cost alone, we had incredible views across the valley, taking in the lakes, farms and surrounding mountains, it was only when the coach went through the snow-line that people became more interested in the road ahead than the distant beauty.
We had chosen to ski The Remarkables, about 45 minutes out of town at a height of 1943 metres. The sun shone, the sky was blue and cloudless, the snow dazzled our eyes any time our goggles were lifted. A perfect couple of days for it. The ski area is small when compared to the vast ski fields of Europe, but there was something for everyone and we really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. No pushing and shoving at the chairlifts, people were chatty and friendly (as is the norm for NZ).
We had a good few hours finding our snow-legs and just occasionally picking ourselves up off the powder.
In a couple of places there were unobstructed views of the mountain range and on every run, we couldn't help ourselves but to stop for photos or just to gawp and ponder how fortunate we are to be experiencing all these wonderful things.
The bungee jump, the skydive and jet boat ride were amazing, I can't believe the camera failed and there's no proof of any of it.
Back in town, there's only one place that you can find a meal fitting for an exhausting day. Fergburger. Fergburger IS Queenstown, it's an institution, a thing of legend, a rite of passage. Burgers are cooked to order and from those we saw (and ate) they measure at least 20 centimetres in height. The burger joint has a queue out of the door from the moment they open until they close every single day.There's a choice of around 30 burgers, beef, lamb, veggie, venison and fish are all on offer plus a host more. The wait for the food can be up to half an hour, we waited nowhere near as long as that but if we had, it would have been worth it. We had three rites of passage. Fergburger is as much about the experience as the food and we'll remember both for a long time.
To work off some of those burgers, we took a walk up Queenstown hill. The hill is just 500 metres in height, but wound its way from town across 5kms of road, steps and woodland track. It was a nice walk until we reached the ice patches at which point we could either risk skating across the frozen ground or walk in the boggy ditch at the side of the trail. Boggy ditch it was, but we stayed upright. The icy trail took us back into the forest, the conifers were so dense that we could barely see a couple of metres in, the canopy was so thick that it blocked out the sun. The mid morning light was instantly transformed into a gloomy dusk and it again felt very much like it was winter. The trail continued like this until the summit. The forest abruptly stopped and we were standing on top of Queenstown hill. The views across lake Wakatipu and the town were staggering, beyond were the mountains, heavily covered in snow and looking perfect. A small flock of quails flew in to feed in the coarse scrub and we were able to get up pretty close to them as they clucked and chuckled in the bushes, best of all, we had this all to ourselves.
On to Wanaka, another town in the mountains for some relaxing.