Originally written shortly after 30 December 2014, when Clair I and drove this leg of our trip.
Queenstown was charming. It was quaint, rustic, and full of friendly travelers enjoying its short summer. Clair and I woke up a little early and enjoyed a massive breakfast before heading out. Just west of the city we crested a large hill and a vista point rewarded us for a five minute stop.
The drive to Fox Glacier was no less spectacular than the previous day’s trip. Our five-hour journey took us over the Haast pass to the west coast of New Zealand. The Haast pass was not particularly high or cold but its path narrowly twisted through a temperate rain forest. Moss clung to the rock. Ferns blanketed the forest floor. And thick forests of deciduous trees provided an impenetrable barrier to the stout, craggy mountains.
After a couple hours in the camper we decided to stop for a break and enjoy the fresh apricots and plums we purchased roadside on a previous day. I slid open the van’s side door into the thick, cool, wet air and enjoyed the scents of nature. For about 10 seconds. We were swarmed by sand flies and I took many bites. Even 20 minutes into the continued journey I was slapping the biting bastards off my legs.
An hour later we reached New Zealand’s west coast. And our helpful tourist radio—a GPS device updated daily using some mobile plan—announced the Curly Tree. Apparently young whitebait, a fish in adulthood not too different from herring, are pulled from the sea in November to make a New Zealand delicacy. Clair and I saw these transparent, stringy, minnow-sized fish mixed in an egg batter and fried into a patty before our eyes. On top of white bread toast and with a squeeze of lemon we enjoyed these fleshy, delightful little fish in what felt to my mouth like a fish cake.
The road to Fox Glacier hugs the Tasman Sea. The beach there is stark, rocky, and colorless. But it has a certain raw beauty that invited me to park and explore. Clair was cold and wouldn’t stray far from the camper.
We followed the road along the sea to the Fox Glacier. While this was the first glacier I’ve ever seen (I think) it was not the highlight of my trip. Of course any 20,000 square kilometer piece of ice is impressive. But it was covered with dirt and rocks so we were denied the grandeur of a glistening aquamarine block of ice. But in a mini-crevasse next to the gushing source of the sub-glacier river, a sliver of aquamarine ice was visible in a color I had only seen in magazines.
Our Top 10 camper site was only 2km away at that point. We pulled into this site, enjoyed another freshly made sandwich, and gave me time to write. It’s 6pm now and like every other night the sun will be up past 10pm and it won’t be dark until 11pm. Our campsite is next to another beautiful rocky beach and a small pub. We’ll enjoy both before sundown.
The drive from Milford Sound was no less spectacular than the drive to it. In fact it was the exact same route.
We realized this morning exactly how remote and inaccessible Milford Sound is. The town contains only one restaurant/pub and it closed early. There was no mobile phone service. Internet reached visitors only via satellite, which was prohibitively expensive for most. There appeared to be only one road in and out which also passed through Te Anau. So, it was not possible to avoid doubling back.
Remember that we were forced to cut a day in Milford Sound from our original itinerary. This turned out to be a lucky stroke. Milford sound was beautiful, to be sure. But it is remote in the extreme. There is nothing to do there but tour the fjords. Our two-hour cruise satisfied our need with this regard. So we were happy to depart the next morning.
The winding, slow roads in the mountains south of Milford Sound melted away by Te Anau. From there the roads opened up to rolling green hills and occasional copses inexplicably dense yet distant from each other. The skies were unbroken blue and the sun quite warm in the cool air.
Our early departure from Milford Sound allowed us to reach Queenstown four hours later around lunchtime. Far off the sea the temperature in Queenstown is much warmer. The sun is Colorado-intense and I put great trust in my sunblock when deciding to walk the town in the afternoon sun. But a thin layer of clouds rolled in and I felt no burn.
This small but dense city reminds me of Durango’s rustic charm. The bars and restaurants are abundant and the lakefront boardwalk supports many al fresco restaurants and wine bars. A block off the lake are the touristy stores selling alpaca rugs, jade artwork, and souvenir t-shirts.
Throughout the city and in the air we are reminded that Queenstown is a summer playground. Paragliders circled above us. They launched from the verdant ski slopes to twist their way to the school’s football pitch that borders our holiday park. And from the pier jet boats and snorkel boats—like a submarine but only submersible to the depth of its short snorkel—are launched into the cobalt blue lake.
Clair and I inspected a dozen menus in preparation of tonight’s meal. But its only 4pm now so we’re breaking for me to write before we head back to town.