After our eight days on the North Island, we took the Interislander Ferry across Cook Strait and arrived in Picton for the start of our ten days on New Zealand’s South Island.
Train rides through fabulous terrain, a jet boat ride over rapids, a ride into a canyon on the most dangerous road I have ever been on (one of the most dangerous roads in the world according to Reader’s Digest), a lunch cruise on Milford Sound in the rain, a 1912 steam ship ride and dinner and much more were awaiting us.
In Picton we boarded the Coastal Pacific for a spectacular train ride that showcased the Kaikoura mountain ranges, the rugged scenic coast line and traveled through and over numerous tunnels and bridges to Christchurch. The rail line was closed for two years following the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch.
Well, we finally found the sheep. To the extent that cattle outnumbered sheep on the North Island, we found sheep everywhere on the South Island.
Christchurch experienced two fairly recent earthquakes; a 7.1 magnitude in Darfield on September 4,2010 in 2010, about 35 km from Christchurch and a second of magnitude 6.3 in Christchurch on February 22, 2011. The second, being closer to Christchurch and not a deep, caused much more damage and loss of life. 185 people died and another 164 were seriously injured. As a indication of how wide spread the damage was, eight years later we still saw significant signs of the damage and the many structures that haven’t been repaired or replaced.
While in Christchurch we got to visit the Antarctic Centre where we experienced a snow tram ride over an Antarctic simulated track and time in a Antarctic weather simulated room. In the afternoon following a tour of the city we went off on our own using the city Tram system to explore further. Unfortunately, the main points of interest were mostly the remaining earthquake damage.
We left Christchurch aboard the TranzAlpine, one of the greatest train rides in the world. The ride took us over massive viaducts, river valleys and spectacular gorges on the way to Arthur’s Pass in the Southern Alps. From Arthur’s pass we traveled by bus to Franz Josef. If we did believe before, we know knew we were experiencing something very special; a country with the most spectacular terrain and countryside we have ever seen.
The next day it was back on the bus for our ride through the snow capped Southern Alps to Queenstown. Along the way, we stopped at Haast Pass where, if we chose, and we did, we could take the Haast River Safari, a jet boat ride up the Haast River. What a smart decision! The jet ride took us over rapids, through beautiful terrain with many stops along the way. The captain, after warning us, even had the boat do wheelies.
After leaving the Haast River Safari, the program director and bus driver took us off the beaten trail a little and stopped at a point that we had outstanding views of Fox Glacier and Mt. Cook. Mt. Cook is the highest mountain peak in New Zealand. From there it was on to Queenstown.
Queenstown is a year round resort situated on Lake Wakatipu. We had the day free to explore on our own which we used to take an optional tour to Skippers Canyon. Looking back, the tour was an outstanding experience, one that we have talked about continuously since, but one that if we had known what we were getting into we probably wouldn’t have taken.
The canyon was beautiful! However, the road was treacherous; according to Reader’s Digest, one of the ten most dangerous roads in the world.
To quote Wikipedia about Skippers Canyon, “Skippers Canyon is a historic and scenic gorge, some 22 kilometres in length, several kilometres north of Queenstown, New Zealand.
Today accessed from Queenstown via the same road that leads to the Coronet Peak ski field, Skippers Canyon is carved out by the Shotover River. The Shotover, one of New Zealand’s richest gold-bearing rivers, was named by William Gilbert Rees who with his wife Frances and brother-in-law Nicholas von Tunzelmann were the first European settlers in and near where Queenstown is now.
Once a busy gold mining area, Skippers Canyon was accessed by Skippers Road, which is today one of New Zealand’s better known scenic roads.
The main New Zealand road where rental car insurance is not honoured, Skippers Road is mostly one-way, narrow and steep with sheer drops of several hundred metres. In 1886, Skippers Canyon was also the first site where hydroelectricity was generated to power gold mining.”
That evening after recovering from our Skippers Canyon tour, we the TSS Earnslaw across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak Station where we disembarked for a wonderful five course buffet meal followed by a short farm tour including a sheep dog and sheep shearing demonstration. The TSS Earnslaw is a 1912 Edwardian vintage twin screw steamship, the only remaining commercial passenger-carrying coal-fired steamship in the southern hemisphere.
A great day!
Our next stop was Te Anau, the stepping stone to Milford Sound where we were to board the Milford Mariner for an overnight cruise on Milford Sound. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. The road from Te Anau to Milford Sound is landslide prone. When the weather conditions increase the risk of landslides, the government closes the road. Well, it was a rainy day and, unfortunately, the road was closed. There was a ray of hope however. If conditions allowed, the road would be opened the next day for a few hours. It opened and we were able to get into Milford Sound, take a lunch cruise and get back out before the road closed again.
Apparently, there are two Milford Sounds; one when it’s raining and one in the sunshine. We got to experience the rainy Milford Sound; waterfalls all over the place. It was beautiful. On sunny days there are only two waterfalls in Milford Sound. Maybe the rain was a plus.
Busing toward Dunedin, our next stop, we boarded the Taieri Gorge Limited for a journey through spectacular scenery that is only accessible by train; again reinforcing New Zealand spectacular terrain.
On our day in Dunedin we traveled along the Otago Peninsula to Larnach Castle where we wandered the beautiful gardens and were treaded to a delicious Devonshire Tea. Once back in Dunedin, we used our free time to explore the city. That evening was a Scottish evening comprised of bagpipes, great food and a Haggis Ceremony in which a few of our fellow travelers participated.
From Dunedin it was back to Christchurch for our flights to Australia. New Zealand should be on every buddies bucket list!
What could we possibly expect of Australia after our outstanding eighteen days in New Zealand?
Australia was sure to be different. Although we had our boarding and a few activities arranged for us, we were not on a tour. We traveled in a rental car, on the wrong side of the road. We were on our own.
I maintain a personal website of all of our trip pictures. The Australia New Zealand photos, two slideshows, a few videos and the emails I sent home to family are all available for viewing on the website. You can access our Australia New Zealand trip by clicking on WyckoffPhotos.com
My next few blog posts I will address our Australian experience.