Monday, August 15, 2016

Goodbye, New Zealand!

Our plane was flying out of Queenstown in the early afternoon, so we got up early have our final NZ experience, to watch the All Blacks vs France in the Rugby World Cup at a local bar. I think we got the final two chairs at Pig & Whistle. It was so fun to see the fans cheering. And there were a surprising amount of French fans, too.

Spoiler: The All Blacks won!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Drive Back from Te Anau to Queenstown, The Farewell Tour

We took our time driving back from Te Anau to Queensland, which we were flying out of the next morning.

This is what I looked like much of the time I was in the car.

Everything looked even more beautiful, knowing that we were leaving.

Plus, since it had rained, everything was bright green.

Green, green everywhere.

It was almost surreal how green it was.

Near Te Anau, there were a number of deer pens near the road. During our travel, deer pastures were far outnumbered by sheep and cattle, and when we did drive by, most of them were a distance from the road. These guys were the closest we saw.

The deer are curious, but skittish. And if one runs away, they all do. It's interesting to see deer act as a herd. I have a video here.

And then there were The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. Video from the beach below, here.

More zoomed-in video from the road, here.

And one final photo. Remarkable.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Day Cruise to Doubtful Sound

Over the river and through the woods, to Doubtful Sound we go! To get to Doubtful Sound, you have to take a bus (literally, a school bus) to a boat, to another bus, to a boat. The boat in the middle was Boat #1.

Bus #2.

We pulled over and saw some lovely sights along the way.

The fog makes everything look a little supernatural, right?

After the transport, this is what most of the final leg looked like.

Our trip to New Zealand was early in the spring, when rain is abundant. and we had amazing weather the whole way. Sure, it rained a couple days in Wellington, no big deal. It rained right when we arrived at Aoraki, but we had two gorgeous days there when the forecast said it was going to rain the whole time. We'd hit the weather jackpot, and were grateful.

The weather had to give out at some point, and our day cruise to Doubtful Sound happened to be that day. But, still...

You can't make a waterfall without a little rain! The upside of rain is that the waterfalls are fast and furious.

Our tour guide gave us a little pep talk. She said, "Well, it's raining. And it's cold. We have a stove on the boat, we'll keep it warm. The day is what you make of it. So get out there and have fun." We took her advice.

I'm sure Doubtful Sound is spectacular. I can't say that I really saw it, at least, not the way it's meant to be seen. The clouds/fog/rain were so thick, it was hard to see anything past the cliff we were right next to. But the waterfalls were incredible, and we still had fun. And the day made us appreciate our immaculate Milford Sound overnight cruise even more.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Hiking the Key Summit Trail in Fiordland

After we docked from our Milford Sound overnight cruise, we found ourselves in the depths of Fiordland National Park early in the morning, so we wanted to take advantage and do a hike.

The Key Summit Trail was an excellent option. There's a gradual incline in a wooded area and a fairly intense switchback section, but the views at the top are breathtaking. 360 degrees of mountains surround you.

And there's a nature trail at the leveled-off top...

So you can wander around and enjoy the views for all the work you just put in to get there.

Panoramic view from the top.

Just stunning.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Milford Sound Overnight Cruise

We wanted to do an overnight cruise to one of the Sounds and debated between Milford and Doubtful. After much conflicting research (all of which said both places were fabulous and could not be missed), we decided on Milford. I was worried that it was going to be overrun with tourists, really the only factor working against Milford Sound. But we were very fortunate. I think we only saw 3-4 other boats on the Sound the entire 12+ hours we were on the water. You can tell from the photos how desolate our afternoon/evening/morning were. It was pretty special.

Little waterfalls cascaded down the cliffs around us.

We drove into a different one to feel the spray. It wasn't warm out, so I stayed dry.

On the way out, we drove past these rocks. See the brown spots?

Seals! Sleeping fur seals.

We sailed further down the Sound.

More waterfalls. The perspective gets incredible warped on the water when enclosed by the giant fjords. This waterfall is fifty stories tall (that's what the guide said, but I think those were short stories). Still, it gives you an idea about how clueless you are to how tall everything is.

Here are two shots from further away.

Again, the waterfall is fifty stories high.

Our trusty ship, the Milford Mariner, and its three stories help provide a little perspective.

Fourteen of the passengers, including us, boarded a smaller motor boat so we could buzz around and watch for penguins along the shore. We saw this guy on the rocks. He had orange eyebrows.

And then right next to our boat, a lone seal was swimming.

When they swim, they spin, around and around. I was stunned. I had no idea that's how seals swam.

Some more eye candy.

The dinner was good. The sun set and we braved the cold to look at the stars. It was pitch black outside, and, oh, the stars were out. It was amazing. Our attempts at photographing on the slightly-moving anchored boat were no good. But, I promise, the stars were incredible.

We woke up early the next morning for breakfast and then we headed outside to experience the sail out to the Tasman Sea.

It was very cold, but the morning light, the quiet, the fiords, the open water, the fishing boats--it was all magical. Unlike anywhere I've ever been.

Inevitably, we had to head back to the harbor. Even though we were going back the way we came, new beauty was around every cliff.

Final waterfall.

And then we found a pod of dolphins. Our ship was very excited to see dolphins. Our boat caught up with them and they swam over so they could draft off of us. They were huge. Apparently, they're larger than most bottlenose dolphins because of how cold the water is, so they have extra layers of fat to keep them warm.

On the way back in, the seals weren't sleeping anymore. I took a video and there was so much going on that I didn't know what to focus on, so I stayed wide. Please notice the seal trying to jump up on the giant rock on screen left at the end of the video. He kept trying a few more times after I stopped rolling. Our wildlife expert (who you can hear in the dolphin video) looked at me and said, "I don't think he's gonna make it." Too funny.

Back near the harbor, the light was still stunning, and the wind was finally at a minimum.

The sun continued to rise and the rest of the day was waited for us.