Honeymoon pt 3: New Zealand – Queenstown

With a week already under our belt, we were starting to get quite comfortable travelling in the van. Not that we were foreign to the idea to begin with, but we had originally anticipated a weekly stay at a B&B or hotel just to recharge. Here we are starting our second week in New Zealand and we have no desire to stay anywhere else other than in the van. Without having to figure out any accommodations, we only needed to decide on a route and direction for the next few days. There was some nasty weather threatening the South part of the island that will affect whether we can visit the jewel of the area, Milford Sound, which has only one road of entry. But avalanche warnings and possible snowy conditions didn’t deter us from making the trek. We decided to book it all the way to Milford Sound and leave before we get caught up in unfriendly weather. We called to book the only accommodations in the area, and luckily they had a powered camp spot available.

As we headed west, the clouds began to form and a storm hit us hard. It wasn’t looking good. When we got closer to Milford Sound, the elevation would rise. But before we could even start to worry about it, the skies opened up and we seemed to be in the clear. 3 hours later, we arrived in Te Anau. It was the last town before we entered the mountains and we were told that we needed to be prepared just in case we get stuck in Milford Sound. So we filled up on food, gas and propane. The remaining drive was only supposed to about 100km in distance, but the drive took over 2 hours. The road was narrow and we weaved through a forest of trees blocking the magnificent mountain view. When the tress disappeared, so did the mountains. We were on them now. As the landscape opened up, we see signs of past avalanche and glacier slides. Some of the snow and ice were only meters away from the road.

We soon entered a tunnel that seemed to be only one-lane wide, even though it was marked for 2. It was also dark and on a slight decline. But I wasn’t worried about any oncoming traffic because there were 3 large trucks leading the way. This must be the weekly delivery of supplies to Milford. It was a tight fit for them so they were going slow. As we emerged from the dark, the road decline in slope increased and the road slowly curved back and forth down an extra grade. Again, the trucks in front of us kept us from increasing our speeds but it also kept us safe. At the bottom of the hill, the trucks pulled off to the side and let us pass putting us on the home stretch. We arrived at Milford Sound Lodge not too long after and were immediately attacked by sand flies. Sophie had read about their nasty bites and felt the need to buy some bug repellent at the reception. While we were at it, we also booked a boat tour for the morning so it was an early night for us.

Milford Sound is actually not a sound but a fjord that has spectacular views of dramatic mountain peaks that are very close to the water. These sights have made it one of the most popular tourist spots for visitors of New Zealand. Unfortunately, we were not lucky enough to have the sun shining for us this day so the sights were not as spectacular as they could have been. But we didn’t have any snow or rain and the boat trip included a buffet lunch, a tour of an underwater observatory, there wasn’t the usual hoards of tourist and we ventured out into the Tazman Sea briefly, before looping around back to shore. So it was a nice relaxing ride for us and we were quite pleased.

Heading back to Te Anau, there was no one else on the road but ourselves. We took it easy on the drive and found a camp site in town. This was the first time we were camping within walking distance to any sort of civilization, so we took advantage. Te Anau had quite a few options for restaurants and food but we settled for a food truck with good burgers and average milkshakes. Sophie was not satisfied with her milkshake and was determined to find some ice cream for desert. We wandered around and found a corner store at the end of the road that had a wide selection of fresh Tip Top ice cream. I chose 2 scoops of Hokey Pokey while Sophie, for some reason, opted for the frozen section to get a prepackaged caramel ice cream with a cone for three times the price instead. She finished hers fairly quickly and was unsatisfied again. Meanwhile, I was happily taking my time on my delicious Hokey Pokey. I gave her a taste and she wanted to go back to get more but I wouldn’t let her. This was known as the “ice cream incident’ for the rest of the trip.

In the morning, we went for a hike around Waiau River or, as the Lord of the Rings guidebook called it, River Anduin. Or at least this was one of the many locations used for the movie. We then set off for Queenstown, driving around the beautiful sights of Lake Wakatipu. The scenery was pristine and reminded me a lot of the Sea to Sky highway back home. As soon as we entered the town, we headed straight for the skyline gondolas to take us up to the peak for an amazing view of the city. With views of both mountains and water, it also reminded me a lot of a mini Vancouver, only with even more dramatic and tight landscapes. It was beautiful. We stayed up top until sunset before heading down to check into a campsite, which was more of a parking lot than a campsite. But it had showers, power and it was in Queenstown. We quickly ate our spaghetti and took a stroll through the lively town. The town of Queenstown had a similar feel to Banff or other ski villages. There were plenty of outdoor stores, bars and restaurants. We gave into temptation and went into a restaurant for a drink and a snack. Greeting us on the menu was our favourite dish, poutine, and it was surprisingly very good.

The next day we continued driving along Lake Wakatipu towards Glenarchy to enjoy the refreshing views and visit more locations on the Lord of the Rings checklist, including Isengard. It was all good, except none of the sites have any traces of being a movie set anymore. So it was more general site seeing than anything else. Back in Queenstown we tried the famous Ferg Burger and it was one massive burger. Packed inside of my Big Al was 1/2 lb of New Zealand beef, lashings of bacon, a whole lotta cheese, 2 eggs, beetroot, lettuce, tomato, red onion, relish and a big wad of aoili, all inside a fresh bun from their own bakery next door. It did the job. We needed to walk the town 3 times over after this meal.

Just outside of Queenstown, we visited the cute historic gold mining town of Arrowtown and also AJ Hackett’s Bungy center. We watched a few people of different ages take their leap of faith, but we weren’t tempted. Instead, we opted for a nice jacuzzi tub at our next campsite in Wanaka and a relaxing night in the van watching the conclusion of the final Lord of the Rings extended version. Now that we were finished with the movie, we decided to check out the charming Cinema Paradiso. With an eclectic collection of furniture to go with homemade dishes, delicious fresh baked cookies during intermission and the friendly staff, it almost didn’t even matter what we were watching. It was a very pleasant experience. When we returned to our campsite in Wanaka, we heard that the road to Milford Sound had been closed for the next few days due to a landslide. We would have been stuck on the other side had we not gone as early as we did. We were relieved and happy to be journeying onward.

With our time running out on the South Island, We headed North quicker than we headed South. Along the way we stopped in to see Fox Glacier, we stayed at a scenic camp site at Jackson Retreat, we visited an animal park where Sophie got to feed a baby black sheep while being harassed by ducks, and we ventured through the wine country to pick up 2 of New Zealand’s nice white wines. Our last day was spent hiking around a peninsula overlooking the water, but the walk seemed to go on forever and we never really got to see the water until we reached an entrance to the beach 2 hours into the hike. We had came prepared with a picnic lunch, however, and made the most of our efforts.

As we drove towards the ferry terminal in Picton the next morning, we reflected on the great time we had in just a short period of time on the South Island and how we could just skip the ferry and drive around the island 3 or 4 more times. But we had a ferry catch and another island to see. Besides, the guy at Wilderness Campers talked us into upgrading our ferry ticket to VIP status. There was much more to look forward to in our adventure and we were as excited as always.

Continue to the next honeymoon post Honeymoon pt 4 New Zealand >>


Here is the second part of some footage we captured while vanning around New Zealand.


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