We were still in the clouds when the flight attendant told us we would land in 5 minutes. And a few minutes later, looking out of the window, the impressive mountains appeared to the right and left. Then the plane landed. In the first hour after our arrival, it rained, snowed, and the sun shone. We were in New Zealand. It was November 2019. Late spring.
We flew from Frankfurt to Abu Dhabi (6 hours), then to Sydney (14 hours). From Sydney to Queenstown was another 4 hours. We had spent 24 hours on a plane. Not to mention the 7 hours of stopovers. Plus, a 12-hour time difference. We arrived around 4 pm, but it was still 4 am at home in Cleebourg.
Customs & immigration were very strict. Boots were cleaned to avoid bringing in foreign insects and plants, even worms. Some Australian tourists had to disinfect their bicycles. Queenstown is a centre for downhill cyclists.
We took the bus to the hosts. During the whole trip, we did not stay in hotels, instead, looked for private accommodation. Our first host was from the United Kingdom. She had come to New Zealand as a young girl.
Queenstown is a small, quiet town with a population of 16000 inhabitants. The tallest buildings are 3 to 4 stories.
The area is mountainous. The town is clean, and the buildings are modern because there is no long history. In the summer, the whole area is popular with watersports and downhill cycling enthusiasts.
There is also a wild bird centre. They raise your awareness for conserving Kiwis (nocturnal) and Weka (their diurnal cousins). The birds fall prey to opossums, rats, stoats, and cats. The Kakapo parrot is also an endangered bird. It does not fly but hobbles and jumps very quickly on the ground.
The Kiwi is also the national symbol of New Zealand and the people call themselves Kiwis.
From our house, we saw the Skyline Gondola. We planned to take it the next day. We finished our first day exploring the town centre, admiring Lake Wakatipu, and having our first dinner in the country. We ate fish & chips which were delicious and had our first tasting of the local wine. It was excellent. Dusk falls early, and we decided to sleep off the jet lag, which, surprisingly, was not so bad.
Over breakfast, we had a long chat with our host. She is a member of the local council. She told us about the Lomond Track, named after Ben Lomond, a mountain in the Scottish Highlands, on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. Not far from the top is the saddle. There you have a splendid view of the town and the valley on the other side. We took the gondola up to the saddle. In the background are the New Zealand Alps, which are snow-covered for the whole year.
We just enjoyed the scenic panorama and began an ascent to the peak, which is the Lomond Track. The mountain is over 1700 metres high. In the gondola behind us were 3 downhill cyclists who were up to the challenge of racing down the mountain slope.
We reached the halfway point up to the summit, where there is also a restaurant. We hiked for three hours up to the peak. Then the same way down to the gondola station and then, further on, down to Queenstown. During the descent, it started to snow, but it melted straight away, and soon the sun came out again. Mountain goats, happily chewing away, watched us pass.
There is an area with a panoramic view where you can take fantastic pictures. You can also go bungee jumping, but we decided to give it a miss.
That evening, we strolled along the lake and lakefront in Queenstown. An old steamship still crosses the lake from shore to shore. Dinner was a New Zealand lamb fillet and a glass of red wine. While we were eating, an Aussie asked if he could join us. We fell into conversation and learned that he was building a house in the area in readiness for his retirement. It was another new experience. If there is a free place at a table, people will ask if they can join you. You strike up a conversation, and so, during our trip, we met French, Germans, Aussies, Swiss and many other people.
Early the next day, we took a bus to drive the 171 km to Doubtful Sound. En route, we stopped at the small town of Te Anau, which is Maori for swirling waters, and which is the gateway to New Zealand’s Fjordland. We drove along the shores of Lake Wakatipu, the country’s longest and deepest lake. People say it is similar to Loch Ness in Scotland and has been the backdrop for many films, including Lord of the Rings.
From Te Anau, we continued to Manapouri, where we took a boat to cross Lake Manapouri. On the other side, we continued again by bus. By now, the terrain is rugged, the roads are unpaved but still wide enough for two busses. This is a new road for tourists, and it was one of the most expensive roads to construct on the South Island. All the material had to be transported by boat from either Manapouri or from Doubtful Sound. There are also many waterfalls to see here.
Next, we boarded a boat and sailed through a rainforest, which was surprising as unexpected. Finally, another boat took us to Doubtful Sound to where it flows into the Tasman Sea.
The crossing from Doubtful Sound was misty, almost foggy. Occasionally, the sun managed to break through the mist, which created a unique, almost mysterious atmosphere.
The captain cut the engine in the middle of the sea and invited us to stay quiet to enjoy the sounds of silence. Ever since that song by Simon and Garfunkel has a special meaning for me.
During the whole boat trip, we did not stop soaking in the landscape. The boat sailed into the Fjords, or into side waters, and then returned to the sound. The vista changed at every turn. The landscape is the same, but it constantly looked different, all the way to the mouth to the Tasman Sea. Here, you can see many large rocks where seals lie in the sun, watched by penguins. It was here where we also felt the roughness of the very cold Tasman Sea.
We came back to our accommodation, full of impressions. It was a day full of memories for life with the people who matter the most.