“The Complete South Pacific”

Part 6

New Zealand – South Island


Short Review

Just to review where we are and where we came from, let’s look at the tour map again.



We just finished spending three days touring the Sydney, Australia area and are on an early flight from Sydney to Queenstown on the southern island of New Zealand.  We will spend several days on the South Island, visiting Queenstown, Mt Cook, and Christchurch.


Monday, March 11 (continued):  Our three hour flight left Sydney at 9:30 AM but, because of the two hour time zone difference, we didn’t arrive into Queenstown until 2:30 PM.  Then we had a rather thorough immigration and customs procedure to go through.  They are VERY fussy about possibly bringing bad things in via fruit or vegetables, or even dirt from farms.  This is understandable as non-native plants and animals have caused major problems for the local plant and animal life. Evan had warned us about this multiple times, so we were expecting this and had no “contraband”.  Even so, one of the “inspection dogs” sniffed out my carry-on bag and his handler had to take a look.  I explained to the officer that I had been carrying some fruit a couple of days previously and apparently the dog picked up on that. 


By the time we got organized and on the coach, it was time to head directly to our dinner location, although we would have time to look around a while before eating.  We were to ride on another Gondola, the “Skyline”, this time up the side of a small mountain overlooking Queenstown.  We loaded everyone up into the gondolas and headed up.


As usual, the “New York Ladies” were sticking together.


This was a rather steep ride in this gondola and you can get a good idea of the angle and view in this video overlooking part of Queenstown.   We did have an excellent view over Queenstown and Lake Wakattipu, the third largest lake in New Zealand.


The view over the lake and part of the town was impressive.


There were several overlooks were we could get a good view of the surrounding area.  We quickly realized that one of the favorite activities here was paragliding from a takeoff point a little higher up the mountain.  We would see three or four paragliders in the air at one time, eventually gliding to a landing in town.  This video of one paraglider  may give you an idea of what it looked like in the early part of their flight and this video is when three paragliders were gliding low over the town.


Everyone had their photos taken with the lake and mountains as a backdrop and, of course, Susan and I had to get ours.


Yes, it was a little chilly up on the mountainside.


We explored for quite a while, looking around the building and checking out the different views.


This will give you an idea of what the building and viewing area looked like.


We slowly seemed to all migrate inside to the lounge area where we waited for time to eat dinner.


It was also a nice view from inside while we waited for dinner.


When we did go to eat, the buffet selection was really top notch.  It was one of the best buffet meals we had on the trip. 


Some of our group enjoying a good meal and great views at the same time. 


After we left the mountain and checked into our hotel (Crown Plaza, Queenstown) Susan and I took a little walk along a sidewalk that runs along the lake for a while.  It was very peaceful and relaxing.


It was getting dark and everything was quiet.


Tuesday, March 11:   We got up at a fairly reasonable hour and had a good breakfast at the hotel before starting our excursion for the day.  This would be a full day, most of it riding in the coach to and from Milford Sound.  As was pointed out to us, Milford Sound is actually incorrectly named as it was formed by a glacier and so should be named Milford Fjord.  It was a little over 3 hours each way and we made a couple of stops along the way.  The first stop was actually an unplanned one for a bit of a traffic jam (see below) although we didn’t get off the bus while it was stopped.


Our bus driver, Marty, said this is a common problem in New Zealand.


One rest stop was in the town of Te Anau, on the shore of another large lake, also named Te Anau.  The blue lake with the mountains in the distance made for a picturesque stop. 


Lake Te Anau at our stop in the town of Te Anau.


On this bus trip we quickly realized that we would see a lot sheep, quite a few cattle, and even some deer being raised in the fields.


A very typical, but pretty, view of sheep in a field.


Another stop along the way was to view the “Mirror Lakes”, a series of ponds which, under the proper conditions provided an almost perfect mirror of the mountains beyond.  The conditions were not quite perfect when we were there, but you can get the idea pretty well.


Not a perfect mirror, but pretty good.


And, if you forgot where you were, there was even a sign, with the appropriate orientation.


Yes, this is the Mirror Lakes.


New Zealand is rightly proud of their many unique animal species and one of these is the Kea.  It is a type of parrot and is the only “Alpine Parrot” in the world.  As with many of New Zealand’s unique animals, it is rare and difficult to spot.  We were lucky when Marty noticed a couple of cars pulled off the road at a site where Keas have been seen previously.  There was a Kea in a tree close to the parking area but almost as soon as we started getting off the coach, it flew off, landing in a tree further away, but still within photo range, barely.  I had to make use of the strong telephoto capabilities of my new camera for this shot.


A rare Kea bird in the wild.


Getting close to Milford Sound, there is a single lane highway tunnel and we had to wait about 10 or 15 minutes for our turn to go, so we got out and looked at the multiple small waterfalls in the immediate area.


Waterfalls in the clouds of New Zealand.


We got to Milford Sound about noon, and our scheduled sightseeing and lunch cruise left fairly soon after we arrived. 


Our cruise boat.


The buffet lunch was one of the less successful such meals we had, but with the views we had all around us, there was really no reason to complain.  There were small waterfalls all around us and streams of water running down the sides of the mountains into the sound.


Just one of the several waterfalls.


We cruised out the mouth of the sound to the open water, turned around and headed back.  On the way back we passed close to a large rock on the shoreline where several seals were resting.


This guy was really sacked out!


The captain of our boat pulled it up very close to the bottom of one of the larger waterfalls.  If you stayed in the best sightseeing position on deck, you got wet!   I was concerned about my new camera getting wet, so I retreated to a dryer location.  (That is my story and I’m sticking to it!)


See the boat?  We were considerably closer to the waterfall a few moments before.


Some of the falls would sort of cascade down through multiple falls and running over rocks.  This video of one of these falls should give you a better idea.  


You have probably noticed all of the low clouds and overcast in the area and this caused a change to the plans for Susan and I.


Heading back to the dock, note all the clouds around.


We had signed up for an option to take a small plane back to Queenstown rather than the 3.5 hour bus ride.  The idea was not just to save about 2 hours on the bus, but also to get a different and better view of the sound and the surrounding mountains.  We were told ahead of time that the flight was only able to go about half the time because of the clouds, so we were not surprised when our flight was cancelled.  We would be riding the bus back to Queenstown.  It was a somewhat interesting ride back though, as we watched a movie on the way.  The movie was “The World’s Fastest Indian” and was about an elderly New Zealander who had highly modified an old Indian motorcycle and wanted to take it to the Bonneville Salt Flats to set a land speed record for its class.  It is a mostly true story, although I suspect some of his adventures might have been embellished a bit. 

We got back into Queenstown shortly before sundown as the shadows were getting long over the lake.


Not as many clouds in Queenstown


We were on our own for dinner this evening.  Susan and I had heard about a “Wine place” in town and went looking for it.  We found it offered a wide of selection of wines (mostly, but not exclusively, from New Zealand) through a rather automated process.  You get a card, much like a credit card, and insert it into a machine, then choose a wine and what size pour of wine you want (1, 3, or 6 ounces, at appropriate prices) and it would dispense the wine into your glass.  When you are done drinking, you take the card to the cashier and he would ring up the total for what you had to drink.  They had several small plates of food available and we choose the large charcuterie and it turned out to be more than enough to make a meal of.  About the time we were sitting down to eat, some of the ladies on our tour happened by and they also got the wine tasting deal and a charcuterie.  It turned out to be a very pleasant evening.



Wednesday, March 12:  We had a rather leisurely wake up time and breakfast before heading out on the day’s adventure.  I think everyone on the tour had signed up for the optional 4WD tour of some of the locations where the “Lord of the Rings” movies were filmed. Although it turned out to be more of a demonstration of what the 4-wheel drive Land Cruisers could do, it was still an interesting tour.


We loaded up into the Land Cruisers and headed up into the mountains.  Our guide/driver was a young woman from Denmark who had come to New Zealand about 18 months previously.  We were glad to hear that she had several months experience driving these tours through the somewhat treacherous roads/trails we would be on.  Our first stop was on the top of a ridge overlooking the lake and Queenstown and also overlooking a mountain range that is frequently used for movies.  The guides had binders with stills from the Lord of the Rings movies and they would point our where the scenes in the stills had been filmed. 


The guides were holding up the movie stills.  Our guide is on the very left side.


Besides seeing the movie film locations, this stop also provided a good place for some photos of our group.  Everyone got into some kind of photo.


Of course, Susan and I had to get our photo also.


This was the first time I observed a rather unique video technique.  The subject(s) of a video would stand in one place that would be at one end of a panning or sweeping video and the photographer would start taking the video.  When the camera view panned past the subjects, they would quickly run around behind the photographer and stand where the camera would pan to and the video would end.  The result looked like the subjects were in two different places at the beginning and end of the video. 


We got back in the LCs (Land Cruisers) and headed to another viewing location, this time accessed by a rather rough and narrow “trail” 


You can see some of the “road” along the bottom of this photo.


From this site we moved on to play in the water a bit.  We went to a small river where a couple of scenes were filmed of horsemen galloping across the river.  The trails crossed back and forth across the river a couple of times, making for an interesting ride, as you might conclude from this video in the river.  After crossing a couple of times, we pulled up on a wide part of the riverbank.  This river was also one of the places where gold was found during the New Zealand gold rush (1860s) so we got a demonstration of panning for gold.  After the demonstration the tour members were invited to try panning but I think everyone was more interested in the coffee, hot chocolate, and banana bread the guides had set up during the demonstration.


The guides demonstrated panning, but we all wanted to keep our feet dry.


We loaded back into the LCs and, crossing the river one more time, made a quick stop at the nearby town of Arrowtown.  This town was almost exclusively settled in support of the gold rush activities and has now been rebuilt into a tourist attraction.  We will be returning here tomorrow.


Our next stop was on another narrow trail, this time overlooking the Shotover River, where some of our tour members would be taking a jet-boat ride later in the day. It also overlooked what the guides claimed was the location of the first bungie jump.


The old bridge is now used only for bungie jumping.


We were on that overlook for quite a while before anyone actually jumped from the bridge.  The jumpers used to actually get dunked in the river below, but now they are stopped above the river then lowered into a boat on the river. 


The lady in the blue shirt did finally jump.


There was a large vineyard and winery right around the corner from where we stopped so I was hoping that perhaps we would visit it for a sample of New Zealand wine, but no such luck.


You can see the vineyard on the left, overlooking the Shotover river.


We loaded up the LCs one more time and headed back to Queenstown and our hotel, arriving there about noon.  Several people in our group had raved about the pizza and pasta they had gotten the night before at a small restaurant called “the Cow”, so we decided to give it a try for lunch.  We got a salad and pizza to share,  a couple of beers, and it was all very good.


The Cow restaurant: very cozy inside.


We started to go for a walk, but as we started, the rain started to come down.  We only got a short distance before we decided that it would be better to just relax for the afternoon.


This evening we had another dinner excursion planned, but this was not just dinner…..


We would go for a ride on the 1912 coal fired steamer “Earnslaw”.


 We would ride on the Earnslaw about 45 minutes to the Walter Peek “farm” for dinner.  It was still raining lightly when time to board the Earnslaw so I was concerned about the rest of the evening, but the weather soon cleared up nicely. The boat had served over 100 years in the New Zealand area and was really a floating museum.  You could go into the upper level of the engine room (see video) and watch the mechanicals doing their thing.  We had a 45 minute cruise across the lake to the Walter Peek farm where we would have dinner.  It may have been a working farm also, but I suspect they got most of their income from the tourist trade. 


The Walter Peek “Farmhouse”


Our group had our reserved table in the “farmhouse” and it was a very nice buffet dinner, one of the nicest on our trip.  



It looks like we had most of the ladies at our table!


The meal was very good, if a little unorganized, and after we finished everyone headed outside and walked over to a covered area where we would see a sheep shearing demonstration.  We had some trouble getting the ladies to get moving as they tended to want to “stop and smell the roses”, of which there were many.


Trying to get the ladies moving.


We had a good sheep shearing demonstration, followed by a demonstration of the sheep dogs and how they can round up and control a group of sheep.


Note the dog watching to make sure the man does it correctly.


We got back on the Earnslaw for the nice ride back to Queenstown and a short walk to our hotel: the end of a very nice day.



Thursday, March 14:  After breakfast we loaded on the coach to leave Queenstown.  Marty drove us to our first stop, only about 30 minutes away at Arrowtown, which we had visited on our tour the previous day.  It was still early when we got there so most of the shops and such were not open yet, although most of them did open while we were there.  Arrowtown is mostly a tourist destination and we had already seen about as much of it as we wanted the day before, so we spent most of our time there going through the Chinese settlement part of town, which was well documented. 


The main street of Arrowtown: shops and food stores


We rode another hour or so and then made a stop just outside of Cromwell.  This was probably my favorite rest stop of our entire trip!  It was at a fresh food market, and the fresh fruit was wonderful. 


This is the sight as you enter the fruit stand.


They had every kind of fruit you could imagine and several kinds you could not imagine.  The sample table itself was almost addictive for me. 


The table of help-yourself samples was refreshed frequently.


I’m a sucker for fresh fruit so, between what Susan picked out and then I picked out, we bought more food here than any other “rest stop”.  We ate it for several days and always enjoyed it.  There was also a beautiful rose and flower garden, but I was having so much fun with the fresh fruit, I didn’t get over there much.


About lunch time we stopped in Twizel, a town that had been built to support a major hydro-electric project and then just continued to exist.  Susan and I bypassed a couple of restaurants and ended up at a Thai restaurant.  We were the only ones from our group in that restaurant until Evan came in about the time we had finished ordering.   We invited him to join us and ended up having a very pleasant meal with him and were able to get to know him a bit better.


After lunch, we headed toward Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand and, apparently, a rather shy mountain that did not like to show itself.  As we approached, Marty knew where to look for the mountain peak, although most of us had no idea where to look.  We stopped at one overlook and waited and hoped some clouds would clear from the peak, so we could get a photo.  Finally, the clouds did clear for just a couple of minutes!


Our first view of Mt. Cook, from quite a distance away.



As we approached the mountain and our hotel for the night, the Hermitage, the clouds did seem to clear out some.  There was a hiking trail from the hotel toward the mountain so, as soon as we got checked in and settled, Susan and I headed for the trail.  Turns out, we were not the only ones.  There were some beautiful views of the mountain and surrounding area as we started on the walk.   As we got closer, the clouds cleared more and we had a better view of the mountain peak.


Mt. Cook can be identified by the three little peaks grouped together.


When we got to the end of the trail, we had to take photos of each other with the mountain as the backdrop.


Kay, Jay, Susan, and Brian with Mt. Cook as a backdrop.


Even without Mt. Cook, the area offered may beautiful views: everywhere I pointed the camera, there was a photo worth taking.


You can see a little of the Hermitage in the middle right of this photo.


I think this photo is the “definitive” image of Mt. Cook.


This little guy was surprisingly noisy, so I had to get his photo.



Sir Edmund Hillary spent a lot of time in this area, climbing the local mountains, and preparing for his assault on Mt. Everest, so there is a museum and information area at the Hermitage honoring him.  That evening, as we went to dinner at the Hermitage, we were treated to a very unusual view.  The dining room had a glass wall facing Mt. Cook and, as we entered the room, the sunset was lighting up the mountain area with a distinct reddish glow.  It was beautiful and almost eerie.  I asked one of the employees there and she said that, in the two years she had been there, she had never before seen the mountain illuminated like that.  Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me to record the sight.   As I write this, I have to wonder it the red sky was some kind of omen of what we were to encounter the next day. 


Friday: March 15:  We left Mt. Cook and the Hermitage behind and headed toward Christchurch.  Our first stop of the day was at Lake Tekapo at the Church of the Good Shepard, an old but well maintained small church.


This was the only view of the church without a lot of people in the way.


At the same stop was a statue of a sheep dog, symbolizing the close bond between a good shepherd and his dog.


Man’s, and especially a Shepard’s, best friend.


At lunchtime we stopped in a town, Geraldine, and ended up getting an unexpected treat.  As we were eating lunch in a café along the main street, we noticed a couple of older “classic” cars passing by but did not think a lot of it.  When we finished lunch, we walked along the street and realized that something special was going on: we just kept seeing these classic cars.  When one after another, the classic cars  started parading by, we stopped on the sidewalk along with quite a few other people to watch.  Here are a few of the photos of these cars: how many of them can you name?











Evan finally dragged us away from the parade to get us back on the bus and headed to Christchurch, but we did continue to see classic cars headed toward Geraldine on the road for the next hour. 


About 1:30 we approached the outskirts of Christchurch and dropped six of our tour members off at an “Antarctic Experience” building out close to the airport.  The plan was for them to do the tour there and then get a taxi to the hotel in and hour or two.  The rest of us continued on the bus toward our hotel.  As we got into town we noticed a couple of police cars racing by, lights and sirens, going and we assumed there had been some kind of accident.  We actually passed by our hotel and continued in the bus for a short while as the plan was to drop us off at the Botanical Gardens, and a museum and we would walk from there to the hotel.  About the time we got to the Botanical Gardens drop-off, another police car roared by but we still didn’t think anything of it.  Susan and I told Evan and Marty that we would rather ride on back to the hotel, get checked in and get rid of our carry on items, then walk to the Botanical Gardens and Museum as it was only about a 10 minute walk.  When we suggested this, everyone else on the bus said they wanted to do this also so, after a short conference, Evan and Marty agreed that this would be OK, so we went on to the hotel and unloaded and checked in.


As planned, we got our luggage to the room and dropped off our carry-on items and headed back down to the lobby to walk to the gardens.  When we started to walk out the main door, a security guard told us we could not go out as the hotel was in a “lock down” mode due to a “active shooter situation”.  That was the first we knew that anything unusual was going on.  Our tour group slowly gathered in the hotel lobby and started watching the news to find out what was going on.  We were probably less than a mile from where the gunman first attacked a Mosque and killed the first of 50 people.  If we had gotten off the bus at the botanical garden or museum, we would have been about a quarter mile away and still not in any real danger, but I’m sure we would have been herded into the museum and locked in for quite a while.


We hung out in the lobby, trying to get the latest news.


The group we had dropped off at the Antarctic Experience contacted Evan and let him know that they were also in “lock down” mode there.   About 6 PM Evan and the people at the Antarctic Experience were able to arrange for a van to collect them and bring them directly to the hotel, where we were scheduled to have dinner.  It was fortunate that we were having dinner in the hotel this evening as the streets were deserted and I suspect all the local restaurants were closed. 


On a normal Friday evening this plaza outside the hotel would have been jammed with people. 


We finally got everyone together and had a pleasant dinner with the help of a couple of bottles of New Zealand wine.  Even during our dinner, we still had no idea of the enormity of the shooting and how many lives had been lost so close to us that day. 



Saturday, March 16:  Obviously, everyone was talking of the shooting the previous day and how it was so contrary to everything the New Zealand people seemed to stand for.  All of the people we met in New Zealand (and Australia) were friendly, welcoming, and a real pleasure to be around. 


Directly across the street from the hotel was the largest cathedral on the South Island, although it did not look very good.  It had been badly damaged by a earthquake in 2011 and it was so badly torn up that there was serious talk of tearing it down and starting over.  It took 6 years to decide to rebuild the cathedral as it had been.  The work on the cathedral had been started in 2018 and, while it looked better than some photos I’ve seen, it was still obviously a work in progress.


It doesn’t look to bad from this view, but there is a lot of work to be done.


I’ve seen some estimates that it will take 10 years to rebuild and update the cathedral. We had to leave Christchurch without ever having a chance to look around the city and it did look very interesting with quite a bit of history.


On the coach again, we headed to Picton to catch a ferry to the North Island.  We made several rest stops along the way and a couple of times, we enjoyed the artwork and humor of the New Zealand people,


Look carefully at this mural on the outside wall of the ladies’ restroom.


This does bring up an interesting item: there were well maintained public toilets available to tourists in almost every small town we passed through, usually with generous bus and auto parking.  One oceanfront town we stopped at, Kiakora, had a nice wide beach, but it consisted of small stones instead of sand.  When you walked on the stones, they would shift and slide, making for a very unsteady footing.  One of our group, Jay, did not realize this soon enough and ended up slipping into the water almost up to his knees.


Jay’s wife Kay definitely thought it was funny!



The long open beach with clouds and hills in the background did make for some good photos of some of our friends.



Terri and Jim


Julie and Paul                                   


We got to Picton, said good-by to our driver Marty, and boarded the large ferry.  And it was large, with something like 7 decks, 2 of which were for vehicles of all sizes.  We settled into some fairly comfortable seats inside out of the wind, then I started wandering around, looking for photos.


Pulling away from the Picton dock.


We had to navigate around quite a few points of land and islands and there were generally boats all over the Queen Charlotte Sound.


Several classes of small sailboats, apparently having a regatta. 


Saying good-by to the South Island and its very scenic views.






You should now click on the “Back” button on your browser to return to the main section of the report, then click on “Part 7: The North Island of New Zealand” to continue.