Mountains and Hills, Buses and Trains – Part 3

The culmination of my scenic journey in New Zealand was the day trip I took from Queenstown to Milford Sound, one of the most famous fjords in Fiordland National Park because it is one of the most accessible. From Queenstown to Milford Sound as the crow flies is rather a small distance, but since there happen to be a lot of mountains in the way, heading to Milford Sound via Te Anau takes the entire morning on a bus or in a car (around 5 or 6 hours with photo breaks). That of course was peanuts considering some of the bus journeys I’d already been on this trip, so it didn’t really phase me!

We were heading out of the Queenstown area by 7:30. It was still dark, so we didn’t get to see much for the next couple of hours. The scenery on the way to Te Anau is pretty, but nothing compared to the later part of the trip once we made it into the mountains. However, we could see lots of the dramatic low cloud cover that gave New Zealand its Maori name (Land of the Long White Cloud), thanks to the specially designed buses that have huge windows. (Unfortunately there is some reflection since these pictures were taken on the moving bus.)

After Te Anau, we headed into the mountains, taking several stops for pictures along the way. Our first stop was on a plain with dramatic mountains in the background.

We stopped at the Mirror Lakes, which were less dramatic than our next scenic stop where we got a better view of misty mountains reflected in the water.


We had several other photo ops as well. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

We saw some kea (alpine parrots) at one of the stops where we were able to fill up our water bottles with glacial stream water if we so chose. Kea are really intelligent and curious birds who have a destructive fascination with rubber, and they are quite good at pulling out the rubber around doors in cars (as we saw to a mini-van driver’s dismay).

Eventually we went through a tunnel (at a really steep grade) and emerged to even more dramatic views.

And finally to Milford Sound itself, where we enjoyed a two hour cruise. We saw bottle-nose dolphins who played in the wake of the boat, waterfalls and multiple rainbows (the skipper even got those of us on the outer decks wet with waterfall spray, we got so close!), and seals. It was spectacular.

The trip home was beautiful but relatively anti-climactic – no photo stops, and a bus full of tired travelers.

Windy Wellington

I really enjoyed my day in Wellington. It’s got a pretty and compact CBD close to the water, while a little farther out there are wooden Victorian houses on the surrounding hills (like my B&B). They reminded me a little of San Francisco.

I started out by walking down through the town to the i-site to get some information about the various things I might want to do that day. I was debating on how to prioritize going to the Weta Workshop, the folks behind a lot of make-up, props, and non-CGI special effects for movies like the Lord of the Rings. I wanted to see it, but I also wanted to get a feel for the city of Wellington.


I decided I would wait to book Weta Cave till after I had explored some more, so I headed out along the beautiful harborside walk to Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand. I spent much more time than anticipated there!




I then walked along the waterfront, headed to the iconic Wellington cable car that goes up to the Botanic Gardens, but it was out of service. Instead, I caught a bus and then walked down through the gardens back into town.

I stopped back at the i-site but found that the Weta Cave tours were all booked for the day. Luckily I wasn’t too disappointed as this would let me walk along the harbor to Oriental Terrace, a beautiful walk.

There was a night noodle market that I enjoyed walking through on my way. I found a lovely little restaurant with a water view where I stopped for a very early dinner or late lunch (only having had tea and cake at Te Papa), and I sat drinking wine and watching the sun set.

Rotorua to Wellington via Mt Doom

Wednesday was a bus day, spent traveling down the middle of the North Island via Highway 1.

The trip out of Rotorua was again reminiscent of the Shire, with all these oddly shaped, very lush green hills, plumes of steam visible.

Then we got to Taupo and the lake. Snowy volcanoes in the distance, part of Tongiriro National Park (near where the volcano that was used as Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies is located). The lake itself had waves and was this deep blue color except right near the shore, where it was greeny-blue, like an ocean.


As we went around the lake, there were cliffs visible, making such a striking landscape.


I believe in this part, we were still on the geo-thermal explorer highway, but after we left the lake and paralleled those snow-capped volcanoes, we emerged from the forest-covered hills onto the dessert road. We were surrounded by scrubby plains, the majestic mountains towering in the distance.


Then we re-emerged into hills, some seeming knobbly like they were covered by sheeps’ fleece, and dry, so they were a straw color. And they were spotted with sheep and some cattle, as were the greener hills we emerged onto.

We had lunch at a remote rest stop where I had a tasty lamb and mint sauce sandwich (seemed apt since we were in sheep country), and then continued on through hills until we headed closer to the coast. I must admit I fell asleep for part of this, waking an hour before we got Wellington. I was in time to see us hug the coastline and then turn inland through Wellington suburbs.

I ventured out into the city for dinner, trying some green lip mussels. (They really do have a green color around the edge of shell, and are much bigger and somewhat chewier than the mussels you get in the US or Europe.)


From what I’ve seen so far, I really like Wellington!

Eggs Gone Bad

Monday morning I took a three and a half hour bus ride from Auckland to Rotorua. The countryside as we approached Rotorua was filled with green hills of a shape I haven’t seen elsewhere. I can only figure they are a product of the area’s geothermal/volcanic activity. They are smallish in terms of the circumference of the base, but very steep with a very rounded top. Many looked like they should have to entrance to a hobbit house peering out, not surprising since the Hobbiton set wasn’t that far away from part of the bus’s itinerary.

The host of my B&B picked me up and suggested some activities for the afternoon. I took a great hour walk to get back to downtown, starting out through anyone forest and then passing through several (smelly) areas of geothermal activity called Sulfur Bay. It’s called that for a reason – parts of Rotorua where you can see steam escaping from the earth smell like rotten eggs due to the sulfur content in the escaping vapor. I was really excited to walk through these area but also terrified, as it wasn’t always easy to distinguish the gravel of the path with the gravel of the unstable dangerous ground. Not surprisingly however, I made it through in one piece and without accidentally putting my foot through unstable ground into an acidic and scalding basin of water.

I then took a little bus tour to orient must to the city. I wrapped up the evening pretty early – it’s been a lot of early mornings.