After Christmas, things really began to heat up for us. We spent the next week zig-zagging from Wanaka, Queenstown, Te Anau, and Milford Sound.
Te Anau & Milford Sound
Te Anau is a small town nestled on the edge of Lake Te Anau, with beautiful backdrops of the mountains. We arrived in Te Anau on the evening of December 26th. Our only goal for the day was to find wifi for work and somewhere to rest our heads at night. We secured wifi at the local library and had dinner to finish our work for the evening before checking into Henry’s Creek Campground on Lake Te Anau, about twenty minutes north of town. We weren’t ready to settle into bed, so we sat along the lake and watched the sunset over the mountains. The sun peered through the clouds and onto the lake painting a nice canvas of colors for us to enjoy. One thing we’ve loved about visiting New Zealand during their summer is getting so much daylight. On this night, it wasn’t until 10pm that the sun finally set.
The beautiful sunset on Lake Te Anau at Henry's Creek campground
The next day we headed north to Fiordland National Park. The drive from Te Anau is about two hours and was scenic from the moment we got out of town. There were staggering mountains on either side of us and creeks and lakes, most full of ducks and ducklings. As we made our way into the park, the views were spectacular. There were moments I was poking my head to the top of the windshield just to get a glimpse of the sheer mountain rock walls. Some were so tall, you had to pull over to see them in full view and really enjoy it. We turned off the main road and started down a dirt road to our first hike of the day. Within two minutes, there was a woman, about 5’4 with dirty blonde hair walking along with her thumb out in the air. We have passed MANY hitchhikers on this trip but weren’t sure about picking up any we’d passed before. Something about this girl looked right, so we pulled over and told her to hop in. She was a travel nurse from Indianapolis traveling solo through New Zealand. She shared with us that she works a few months to save money and then travels for several months before running out of money and finding another hospital contract to do it again. We dropped her off 7km down the road and continued on to our destination. She had travelled to quite a few countries solo and shared good advice for our travels ahead. We’ve enjoyed meeting people and hearing their stories on our journey. You never know who you’re going to meet and what you might learn from them.
Several minutes after dropping her off, we reached our destination, Humboldt Falls. We didn’t have a lot of daylight left so we jogged the trail to the falls and were rewarded with a peaceful sight. For one, there was nobody around - just Casey and I to enjoy the beauty of the falls. The falls consisted of three separate sections and the sun displayed a dazzling rainbow effect on the water. We jogged back to the car and drove back down the dirt road to see Lake Marian falls. The hike to this waterfall started with a rickety swing bridge. It wasn’t very windy, but if it were I imagine it would’ve swung a little to much to my liking. After 20 minutes of hiking we reached the waterfall. The river was raging and the falls were pretty powerful. It was surrounded by lush green plants and mossy green rocks. We finished up the hike and drove towards Cascade Falls Campground where we would camp for the night. On our way, we decided to pull off at a carpark and boy we were in for a treat. Looking into the valley, there were massive mountains surrounding us. Here we also saw our first Kea. The Kea is a large parrot found in the alpine regions of New Zealand’s South Island. We didn’t get to see one up close, but they made sure we could hear them. We had heard the locals talk these birds up, so it was a neat experience to witness them in the wild.
The swing bridge at the start of the Lake Marian falls hike
Lake Marian Falls
We woke up at Cascade Creek Campsite bright and early and drove to the heart of Milford Sound. We booked an early kayak tour with Roscoe’s, a local kayak company. They got us geared up and we were on the water by 9am. Casey wanted to have the best view for the GoPro so I manned up and was the driver in the back. The kayak trip through Milford Sound was breathtaking. There were alpine mountains surrounding us, and glaciers sat atop the mountains in the distance. It truly made you feel small surrounded by these giants. There was a waterfall in the distance which we thought was only 2km away but our guide shared it actually was 9km away. It was an optical illusion caused by the fact the mountains were so big that everything else was perceived differently. Because Milford Sound connects to the ocean, sometimes the current and waves can get pretty big. Luckily the water was nice a calm for us, probably because we were out in the morning.
Beautiful views kayaking Milford Sound
After our kayak tour, we headed back to Te Anau for a dip in the lake and a bite at Miles Pies. As Americans, we think of pies like apple pie or pumpkin pie however it’s not quite the same here in New Zealand. Pies are small tasty treats - miniature pies, filled with warm delicious meats and veggies (think chicken pot pie but even smaller). If you visit NZ (or Australia), be sure to get a pie. The locals love them!
Swimming in Lake Te Anau. Can you tell it's cold?
If your heart hasn’t pumped looking at some of our pictures or adventures yet, it’s about to now. Days prior to our arrival in Queenstown, Casey informed me we would be bungy jumping while in Queenstown. YAY! Just kidding, that wasn’t my first reaction. I think my response was something along the lines of, “sounds fun” (insert sarcasm). But in all reality, we both were excited to try something adventurous and new, especially since bungy jumping first started in New Zealand and Queenstown is marketed as the adventure capital of the world. After dreaming of the bungy all night, we both woke up early, eager for it to be 1pm and the jump to be done. In order to get to the bungy, you have to ride the gondola up to the Skyline Queenstown. Skyline Queenstown offers amazing views of the area and has something for everyone - restaurants, bars, luge tracks, hiking and BUNGY JUMPING! We had a nice gondola ride to the top, and this is when Casey’s nerves really kicked into full gear. Casey is afraid of heights, so naturally it would be frightening for someone with this fear. On my end, I had butterflies in my stomach, and my toes were tingling, but in all I held it together. I kept my yoga breath going all day to calm my nerves and kept telling myself not to overthink it. When it came time for my jump, my nerves kicked into full gear but my yoga breath remained strong. It was my go and I went for it, only to chicken out and take a step back. The guy working started to countdown again and this time I went for it before he even got to 3. The fall was the scariest part, not knowing what the experience would feel like. Once the bungy pulled me back up, I was relieved and was able to enjoy it and take in the scenic views. Next was Casey's turn to jump. At this point he was thinking, “what the heck did I sign up for?!” He could feel the anxiousness mentally and he said his legs which were shaky and uneasy. He was even nervous to walk across the walkway to get to the jumping platform. Before the worker could count to three, Casey said, “If you’re not busy living, you’re busy dying” and jumped. He screamed on the way down and I chuckled as I watched but I was so proud of him for facing his fear of heights. Casey held the GoPro for his jump and we both got footage of our jumps. We’ll add them to our video page on the blog soon for anyone who didn’t see them on our Facebook.
After some hesitation, I finally jumped!
"If you're not busy living, you're busy dying!"
Post jump! We both were relieved.
After our jump, we both were ready to decompress and enjoy a beverage so we headed into the downtown area to see what we could find. We spotted a bar on the water that had a good happy hour, walked in and immediately met a cool group of guys from California and Washington. We enjoyed a beverage with them, shared fun stories about our travels through New Zealand and life on the west coast before they continued on their bar crawl. Casey and I grabbed a seat and another drink and within minutes a couple sat at the table next to us. I noticed they had the same bungy stamps on their hands and striked up conversation with them to see how their experience jumping was. What seemed like only a few minutes chatting turned into over an hour and we quickly found we had a lot in common with this couple, Matt and Nic, from Brisbane, Australia. Matt is a CPA, and also afraid of heights, like Casey, and Nic is a lawyer. They had dinner reservations to get to and we traded numbers with hopes of meeting up again soon.
The next morning we were up bright and early for another Queenstown adventure, the Shotover Jet. The Shotover Jet is New Zealand’s most thrilling jet boat ride. It reaches speeds of 85km as you go through the narrow Shotover Canyons. After suiting up in dry gear and life jackets we were off down the river. Our driver wasted no time doing 360s in the wide opening of the river. The boat turned and started down a narrow part of the river. What started as cliff boulders to each side of us turned into a narrow canyon and it felt like a slight few inches turn would have us crashing into the canyon walls. It was quite the rush but we knew we were safe and in good hands with an experienced driver. The ride was fun and definitely an adrenaline rush. We headed back to Queenstown and spent the afternoon working before meeting up with our new friends (Matt & Nic) in the evening.
The Shotover Jet. If you look closely, you can see the entry to the narrow canyon walls in the distance.
Rhythm and Alps Music Festival
We spent NYE at the Rhythm and Alps Music Festival. Prior to the trip we purchased tickets to the festival, located just outside Wanaka in the Cadrona Valley. Fat Freddy’s Drop, a band we both like, was headlining the festival and they rarely tour outside of NZ so we felt like it was a good opportunity to see them and enjoy live music to ring in the new year. We spent the entire day and evening at the festival and enjoyed the music and fireworks at midnight. The music continued on until 6am but we both were exhausted from our travels and called it a night shortly after midnight.
Sunset at the festival
One highlight about going to music festivals and not being familiar with the bands is discovering new music. We discovered Tash Sultana, a solo Australian artist who is known as a “one-woman band who brings a new concept to the meaning of multi-tasking.” For our music friends, she reminded us of Keller Williams and his solo gigs, but a different genre. She’s touring the US this summer - go check her out!
Rob Roy’s Glacier
After the festival, we were both feeling tired (no surprise) but knew we couldn’t waste the day so we headed back to Wanaka for a dip in the lake before heading northwest to Rob Roy’s Glacier. We planned to do this hike on Christmas day however it was raining and they don’t recommend the drive because of several fords in the road. A blogger we follow highly recommended this hike and it was such a clear, sunny day, so we felt like this was the day to check it out. The drive to the glacier started easy and then we started along a rocky, dirt road. What we thought would take 30 minutes ended up taking an hour and a half due to the gravel and rocks in the road. At points the car was shaking, but we took it slow and eventually made it the carpark at the start of the trail. The trail started easy and quickly into it we were greeted with two dozen cows attempting to cross the rushing, glacier blue river. The current was strong and we could tell some of the cows were struggling. They weren’t shy in expressing their feelings either, as we heard strong “MOOs” continue until we were further up the trail. We then crossed a long swing bridge to enter the mountain sector of the trail. This is where the incline picked up drastically and the scenery changed to lush, green forests full of ferns and moss. We still walked along the river as we ascended up and we could feel the cool glacier air hitting our faces, which was a relief from the beating down sun from the valley. As we continued to make our way to the top, we could see small patches of the glacier and waterfalls in the distance. When we finally reached the top, we were both in awe. The mountain opened up and there was an abundance of waterfalls flowing from every part of the mountain. You could see a ton of snowy areas of the glacier with waterfalls just melting below them descending down the cliffs and into the green lower regions of the mountain. It was like nothing we've ever seen before. The mountain was absolutely huge and there were about 15 different waterfalls in our view. This is one of those places where pictures do no justice. We laid there for over an hour and took in this moment that we might never experience again. It was getting late and we decided it was time to descend back down the mountain and get back to Wanaka for the evening.
A dip in Lake Wanaka before hiking. The water was SO clear!
Watching the cows cross the river at the start of the hike
The breathtaking Roy Roy glacier
Amazing! How many waterfalls can you spot?
If you look closely, you can see a waterfall
Day 27 brought us back to Milford Sound, this time to see it from the air. We arrived at the Queenstown airport nice and early to board a small passenger airplane for a flight to Milford Sound. The plane held eight people. I had a seat in the middle and Casey was the lucky one who was selected to sit up front with our pilot, Katie. The flight took us over huge alpine mountains where we could see glaciers, emerald alpine lakes, snow capped mountains and beautiful mountain ranges as far as the eye could see. We flew down over the Milford Sound out to the ocean's mouth and then circled back through it again eventually landing at the airport at the base of Milford Sound. It was a great flight and we got to see parts of the mountain you wouldn’t be able to see without flying.
Amazing views in the air on our flight form Queenstown to Milford Sound
The glacier melts off into this alpine lake and mixes with minerals in the rock to give it this beautiful color.
Milford Sound airport
After landing at the Milford Sound airport, our pilot escorted us to our boat to cruise around Milford Sound. On the cruise, we were able to get up close and personal with the sights of the Sound. The cruise also took us out to the Tasman Sea, whereas on our kayak adventure days before, we only stuck around the Sound. Casey and I found a spot on the top deck of the boat. It was nice to feel the air, get close enough to the waterfalls to feel the mist and see all the different angles of the ocean cliff walls. Unfortunately there were no dolphins in sight but we did see two large rocks loaded with fur seals. After our cruise, we caught a coach back to Queenstown and used this time to nap and use the free wifi on the bus to work.
Waiting to board our afternoon cruise
Selfie while we waited for our cruise to arrive
Bowen Falls. 3x taller than Niagara Falls.
Seals in Milford Sound
Cruisin' the amazing Milford Sound!
Wind in our hair on the third and top deck of the boat.
When we arrived back in Queenstown, we met our new friends Matt and Nic at their hotel. They invited us to join them fishing the next day and since we had an early departure, they suggested we stay at their hotel, which was more like a suite with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a nice open back deck. We settled out back, enjoyed wine and Indian food, and took in the sunset views overlooking Lake Wakitipu and the Remarkables mountain range in the distance. Once the sun set, we headed to bed early so we were well rested for fishing the next morning.
Enjoying a beautiful sunset with our new friends
Our last day in Queenstown was a day packed full of fun experiences. Our new friends, Matt & Nic, had scheduled a small group lesson to learn how to fly fish! None of the four of us had ever gone fly fishing before and we had all heard that it's a form of fishing that takes a good amount of practice! We were very excited to all do something completely new together. Matt grew up a city boy, Nic and Casey were country people who had fishing experience not including fly fishing, and my only fishing experience was, sadly, with Casey. The location of the training was at Diamond Lake, which was out past Lake Wakitipu and the Glenorchy area. It was a beautiful drive around lake Wakitipu and put you at a very remote area of land outside of Queenstown, called Paradise. Our guides name was Taz, part owner of Creating Tracks NZ. He was very patient with us as he taught us the basic mechanics and motions of fly fishing and how to cast. We spent the first 30 min learning to cast on land, then the next 45 minutes wading in the lake practicing how to cast. Lastly, he showed us up a creek to test our skills in a real creek environment. Honestly, we probably were all pretty sad fly fishers and spent more time untying wind knots from our line and attempting to hit one good cast out of every ten. Needless to say, no fish were caught, but we did have a great introduction to the art of fly fishing. If you're planning a fishing, hunting, or even a glamping trip near Queensntown, book with Taz at Creating Tracks NZ. We closed out our time in Queenstown and with our new friends by successfully completing Escape Queenstown, the city's only escape room. This has become a new obsession of ours and we are seeking to do more in other foreign cities. The name of the room we did was Escape Gold Rush, and it was a moderately difficult room, with two rooms worth of puzzles, a mystery to solve, and a tight time limit. We escaped with 1 minute and 20 seconds to spare. A real buzzer beater.
Beautiful day for learning how to fish!
As we post this, we've now spent two weeks in Australia. In the last month, a lot of our time has been spent in remote places - often without wifi and sometimes without cell phone reception. We're hoping to publish another post about our final week in NZ this week. Thanks for your patience as we catch up on our posts!
TE ANAU & MILFORD SOUND KAYAK GALLERY
ROB ROY'S GLACIER GALLERY
MILFORD SOUND FLIGHT & CRUISE GALLERY