New Zealand: Queenstown

10 05 2011

After nearly two weeks of traversing New Zealand from North to South, we finally reached our last destination – beautiful  Queenstown.  Queenstown is a resort town on the southwest corner of the South Island that is known for its adventure tourism.  This beauty of a town is ideally situated on an inlet called Queenstown Bay on Lake Wakatipu that is further surrounded by majestic mountain ranges.

View of Queenstown from the top of the gondola on a cloudy day.

We arrived at around dusk and only had a few minutes to walk around the downtown area before dark.  The town has a very cozy, vacation vibe to it.  People were out and about enjoying the night.

I spy a KFC and the Queenstown gondola.

There are a number of restaurants, from casual to upscale. Many featured seafood.  We had a fantastic view of Queenstown from one of the seafood restaurants on the dock.  We lucked out and got the best table in the house!  The day we arrived, we had stopped by the restaurant before the dinner rush and happened to speak to the manager, who told us to request this table.  Everyone is so nice here!

View of Queenstown from one of our dinners.

Another lovely New Zealand sunset.

The town itself is small – there is only one stoplight and the widest part is probably about 6 blocks.  The town is oddly shaped with two long arms that hug the lake radiating from the downtown area.  Another part of the town lies on a peninsula across from downtown. In a town of this size, it is possible to buy whatever you might need, but there is probably only one store of each type.

On another day, we rode up the Queenstown gondola to see the view.  Although parts of the gondola are cheesy, the view was worth it, especially now that Deer Park Heights is no longer open to the public.

A typical Skyline gondola.

View of Lake Wakatipu from the top of Queenstown gondola.

When you get to the top, there is a cheesy luge track you can ride. It sounded very exciting to us until we got there and saw that it was mostly kids and grandmas doing the luge. Now that I have a kid, I would definitely take him on this when he gets old enough!

Queenstown gondola luge

Since it was a cloudy and dreary day, we weren’t able to get very clear views. We did find a few interesting hiking trails up at the top of the gondola though. We decided to take a short hike through the forest and it was gorgeous.

We were almost glad it was raining because of all the dry timber! The trees were so tall and thick that even during the day it was dark in the wood. We saw these bright red mushrooms everywhere. I went crazy and took 100 shots of red mushrooms because I had never seen what I term “Super Mario” mushrooms in real life before. Fortunately, I am only plaguing you with one photo.

A real life (possibly poisonous) Super Mario mushroom found in New Zealand.

As we descended back down the gondola, we saw this sheep on the steep hill. The sheep are really everywhere you look in NZ! It’s like they were following us.


Next: Glenorchy, Milford Sound, and Deer Park Heights.


New Zealand: Scenic Drive along the Southern Alps

27 03 2011

The drive from Christchurch to Queenstown is arguably one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand.  It certainly is the best looking drive on a major roadway, in my opinion.  On this approximately six hour drive, the landscape transforms from green hilly pastures and meadows dotted with wildflowers to vast plains and glacial lakes and finally to mountainous wilderness, all nestled against the backdrop of the magnificent Southern Alps.

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We began in the Canterbury grasslands outside of Christchurch, where pastures full of cows and sheep abounded.  This area still had the feel of cultivated countryside to it.

As we turned the car towards the Southern Alps, we were rewarded with a view of the large mountain range.  From this distance, it’s hard to gauge the size of these mountains because they are still very far away.  The vastness of the sky and the flat lands leading up to the mountains form an optimal illusion.

Once you reach Lake Tekapo, the scenery changes dramatically. From here on, the road hugs the Southern Alps, the ground becomes more hilly, and impossibly blue glacial lakes loom invitingly.

We thought the view of Lake Tekapo from the road was beautiful until we saw Lake Pukaki. There was no question we were stopping the car to take a look, and our curiosity was rewarded. This is some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen in my life.  My photos simply cannot do the scenery justice.

From Lake Pukaki, you can catch a glimpse of Mt. Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand at 12,316 feet. We were literally bowled over by the natural beauty.

A view of Mt Cook from Lake Pukaki.

A short distance later, we came upon Twizel, an area that served as the backdrop for Minas Tirith, the capital city of Gondor in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Lord of the Rings.  It certainly was not hard to imagine Gandalf riding towards Minas Tirith when faced with this scenery.  I was a dork and kept telling my husband that we were in Gondor.

There were mountains surrounding us everywhere we looked now.

As we neared Arrowtown and Queenstown, we joined up with the Kawarau River, which served as the River Anduin in the LOTR movies.  We didn’t think it was possible, but the scenery became even more dramatic and picturesque.

Next: Arrowtown, Queenstown, and more gorgeous scenery.

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