Down Under Part III: Queenstown and beyond filled with breathtaking scenery
March 19, 2014
We have been on New Zealand's South Island since early February when we flew into Queenstown.
It was to Queenstown we first came 10 years ago when our eldest daughter was living and working there. It was the town and area that so impressed my husband Michael and I that we decided we had to come back and see more of this beautiful country. Nestled at a bend of long, lovely lake Wakatipu (extending some 60 kilometers, the longest lake in New Zealand) surrounded by beautiful towering mountains, aptly called The Remarkables, Queenstown is truly the extreme sports capital of the world.
The birthplace of bungee jumping and Shotover Jet, the town is also a hiking, biking, sky-diving, hang gliding, white-water rafting, and rock climbing mecca in the summer, and June to September ushers in skiing (heli and otherwise), snowboarding and ice skating. Michael and our daughter had gone bungee jumping and jet boating when we were here a decade ago, so once again I persuaded him to do something less adrenaline pumping, and we rode up the gondola for some amazing views of the lake, town and surrounding country.
Following the lake north to the tiny, laid back village of Glenorchy is the most beautiful hour's drive I have ever been on. The mountains surrounding the village are high enough to be snow covered even in late summer, and just a little sunshine makes the lake, and the white capped mountains, sparkle against the dark green of the forests. If you think this scenery is movie picture perfect, you're right. Great sections of "The Lord of The Rings" trilogy were set in and around Glenorchy and Queenstown.
Traveling an hour and a bit south and east brought us to the town of Alexandra, where Michael worked for the month of February. Alexandra reminded us of Colorado's western slope. The hills and valleys have that high, dry feel, although, in fact, the altitude is only a couple of hundred feet above sea level. Surrounded by orchards and vineyards, the town of 5,000 feels much bigger, with a thriving downtown and a bustling real estate market. Alexandra has the hottest and coldest temperatures in New Zealand. Neither extremes are as great as Colorado's, but with very little air conditioning and no central heat, we felt every degree. Furthest from the sea of any place in New Zealand (a couple of hours drive), "Alex" sits on the banks of the big, beautiful, bright green Clutha river.
Because Michael had one long weekend during our stay in Alex, we decided to take an overnight boat trip on Doubtful Sound in Fjordland National Park, on the southwest corner of the island. So named in 1770 by Captain James Cook (who explored and charted so much of New Zealand) this was one fiord that Captain Jim was reluctant to enter, fearing that he would not have the right winds to get him back onto the Tasman Sea. He was doubtful and decided not to sail into this, the largest of New Zealand's fiords. We had visited and been awed by Milford Sound on our two previous trips here, and we felt that as Doubtful Sound is 10 times larger than Milford, a three- or four-hour cruise would not begin to capture its majesty. Four different companies do overnights on Doubtful, but we opted for Deep Cove Charters' smaller, more intimate size — 12 passengers maximum, and were not disappointed.
Getting to Doubtful Sound is part of the adventure. It is only accessible by chartered tours. First we crossed Lake Manapouri by catamaran. After the three-fourth of an hour ride, we were met by Chris, who with his wife Diane, owns and is jack of almost all trades with this company. Boarding a van, we rode the 22 km through dense rainforest, over isolated Wilmot pass to Doubtful Sound. We were welcomed on board by Tracey, who ably runs the kitchen on a nicely kitted out boat.
Because the day was initially rainy, hundreds of tiny waterfalls ran down the steep, forested canyons into the fiord. The top 2-4 meters of water is fresh, running off the forested canyons and bringing light blocking nutrients that sit atop the sea water below and allow the fiord to mimic much deeper ocean water and ocean life. Fishing and kayaking off the boat provided the freshest of fish, and freshly trapped huge crayfish, much like lobster, added to the fare for a delicious lunch and dinner. We alternated fishing and eating with visiting crew and passengers — a young couple from Belgium, a couple about our age from England (we no longer would call them older) and a family from Australia.
Mostly, we just tried to soak in the breathtaking scenery. When the rain stopped, we were treated to a rainbow arching down to the waters of the sound, and sunshine that set them sparkling. It was a voyage of just over 24 hours that we will remember a lifetime.
Susan and Dr. Michael Carey are longtime Windsor residents. Michael, a physician in Windsor, is working at three different locations around New Zealand.