Saturday, December 26, 2015

Queenstown to Milford Sound

After our epic jetboat adventure on the Dart River, we drove straight from Queenstown to Te Anau, where we stayed for the evening before driving the rest of the way to Milford Sound the following morning.

Queenstown to Te Anau:

Somehow, I don't have any pictures from this part of the drive. If I had to guess, though, I'd say it consisted of mountains and a whole lot of sheep. We arrived in Te Anau a little before dinner and checked into our hotel before heading out to eat. Since it was pretty much the only place to stay between Queenstown and Milford Sound, Te Anau seemed to be exclusively populated by tourists. There were quite a few hotels and restaurants, a gas station, and a grocery store, but I'm not convinced anyone actually lives there. We looked into driving straight to Milford on this day, but there were only a couple hotels there, and they were predictably overpriced. So, we were up bright and early the next morning to continue our journey. 

Te Anau to Milford Sound:

There were a couple landmarks to see between Te Anau and Milford Sound, the most famous of which was the Mirror Lakes.
So pretty! It really was amazing how clearly you could see the mountains in the water. As usual, the pictures don't do it justice!
It turns out there are quite a few Lord of the Rings filming locations on the way to Milford Sound, but we didn't have consistent internet on this trip and weren't organized enough to research before we left the hotel WiFi, so we missed those. We did see a few busloads of people wandering around in a field, though, which is a pretty good indication that something was filmed there. As a general rule, if you are traveling New Zealand and come across groups of eternally-single-looking men staring into the distance/reenacting/taking pictures, it's probably LOTR-related.

As we got closer to Milford Sound, the mountains got larger and snowier.
Had to stop for a selfie!
The road eventually led us to a small tunnel that ran through the base of a mountain. Since it was a narrow road, only one direction of traffic was able to go through at a time. We had to wait for about five minutes for our turn, so Peter got out and took a couple of GoPro pictures.
We hadn't been this close to snow in quite awhile! 
The tunnel was extremely dark and seemed to go on forever. I tend to get a bit claustrophobic and driving through the mountain was definitely not my favorite part of the trip. Luckily, when we came out on the other side, we had a beautiful view of the mountains and were almost to Milford Sound! 

Stay tuned for a recap of our boat cruise, during which was saw penguins, seals, and a whale!

More New Zealand adventures:

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Dart River Jetboat Tour

After exploring Queenstown, we wanted to check out Glenorchy and some of the surrounding areas. We spoke with a booking agent at the information center and decided the best way to cover a bunch of ground in a relatively short amount of time was a jetboat tour. If you're not familiar with jetboats, they're basically a flat-bottom boat that is easy to maneuver and capable of tight corners and 360 degree spins that create a large spray of water. That's not a scientific definition, just my observations from our experience! Aside from being an efficient way to see the scenery, the ride in itself was pretty thrilling. 

We signed up with Dart River Wilderness Jet, and the bus picked us up bright and early in the morning. The drive between Queenstown and Glenorchy featured some of the most beautiful scenery we saw on the whole trip. Unfortunately, the bus didn't stop for us to get out and take photos, so I only got a couple poor-quality phone pictures through tinted glass, which weren't really worth posting! You'll just have to go see for yourself ;). 

On the way to Glenorchy we stopped at this site, which is apparently a filming location for Lord of the Rings and a few other movies, none of which I had seen. Some hardcore fans took pictures reenacting whichever scenes were filmed here, but it was surprisingly chilly so I got back on the bus quickly. To be fair, if it would have been a filming location for, say, Mean Girls, I'd probably have reenacted scenes too. "YOU CAN'T SIT WITH US!" (If you don't understand this reference, proceed immediately to your nearest TV and watch Mean Girls.)
The location is privately owned by the luckiest sheep farmer in the world. He allegedly only charges $1,0000 per day to film on his land, which isn't a bad gig, but that seems shockingly cheap to me. Surely the LOTR people could pony up some more cash. 

When we got to the river, the tour guide led us on a brief forest walk, complete with the opportunity
to sit in this Hobbit chair.
Then we headed for the boats!
We put on these huge waterproof coats, which looked ridiculous but were much needed on the water. 
It was extremely windy and pretty cold, so the ride really would have been much less enjoyable without the jacket!
Like I said, it was a bit windy...
Jetboat selfie! Still warm and dry at this point. 
Another glad we remembered the selfie stick on this trip!
We considered taking the kayak tour, which was assembling head of us in the picture below, but that was a full day trip. I'm glad we did the boat in the end, because the people in the kayaks were definitely getting a workout and I would have probably regretted it after about two minutes. Plus, the last time I kayaked, I ended up pulling an abdominal muscle that I mistook for a hernia (I had one in college) and ended up with a $2,000 emergency room bill. So, I'm done with kayaks for awhile. PSA: read your insurance policy...Urgent Care is NOT the same thing as the ER. Lesson learned.
You can get an idea of how clear the water was in these next two pictures. Still, they don't do it justice.
We did a few 360 degree spins and a bunch of sharp turns, and Peter ended up getting just a bit wet.
He did manage to take GoPro video throughout the trip, though. Pictures are great, but the videos definitely capture the adventure best!

The tour lasted about an hour, and then we headed down to the end of the river, where it opened up to a large lake. The guide warned us that it may be "a bit bumpy" as we entered the lake, but that turned out to be the understatement of the year. The waves were huge and we were pretty violently tossed around. Luckily, we only had to travel through open water for a few minutes before hitting our destination, but a few people on the boat were starting to get a little bit sick. I should have filmed this portion, because it was pretty wild, but honestly I was focused on trying to stay in the boat.

We took the bus back to Queenstown and then immediately hopped in our car to begin the drive to Te Anau, where we would stay the night in preparation for our Milford Sound cruise the next day. More on that next time!

More New Zealand adventures:

Monday, December 14, 2015

Weekend Activities- Friends, Food, and TSwift

I'm taking a quick break from recapping our New Zealand trip to bring you a little summary of our weekend, because it was epic. 

Christmas Decorations

Friday was unseasonably cool, which was perfect for walking around the city. Peter and I decided to go look at a few Christmas decorations since we have done virtually nothing this year in terms of trying to get into the spirit. I've concluded that a summer Christmas is just never going to feel "real". Christmas and snow/freezing to death are basically synonymous for me and while I enjoy the warmer weather, it feels a bit odd. Plus, Australia isn't quite as Christmas-obsessed as America, so you can actually walk into a store and not hear Christmas music/be bombarded with decorations from October until the New Year. Actually, I don't think I've heard a single Christmas song this year, which is kind of nice. Usually around this time I'm at the point where the thought of listening to Mariah Carey's 'All I Want for Christmas is You' one more time makes me physically ill. 

Anyway, we headed over to Federation Square to look at the Lego tree:
 We then walked a few blocks to the City Square, where there's a really cute Christmas display.
It was fun to get out and enjoy what will likely be our last Christmas on this side of the world!

Taylor Swift Concert

I purchased tickets to the 1989 tour more than a year ago and have been counting down the days ever since. I am a HUGE Taylor Swift fan, and she did not disappoint! Since Peter doesn't appreciate TSwift quite as much as I do, I went with Lauren, who sported this epic t-shirt:
Lauren used to be Team Katy (Perry) but I think she has finally seen the light after the concert ;).

We had somewhat of a crisis right before the above picture was taken. I had downloaded our tickets to my phone through the ticketing app, but when we arrived, the app was completely down and the tickets wouldn't load. I had taken a screen shot of one ticket, but for some reason not the other. Just as I was prepared to leave Lauren in the dust (just kidding!), we got it all sorted out at the ticket window. It turns out, everyone else in line was having the same problem, and we were eventually given paper tickets and all was well. For a moment, I thought we were going to have to try to break into the stadium, which I would most definitely do to see Taylor.

We sat in the last section on the floor, which was all good until Taylor came on and two girls a couple rows in front of us stood on their chairs, completely blocking our view. We fumed in silence for a few minutes until Lauren heroically climbed over three rows of chairs to tell them to sit down. Sort of awkward, but totally worth it.
The crowd was predictably diverse, because let's face it, everyone loves Taylor. There were tons of teenage girls, which is to be expected, but we also spotted middle aged women without children, a mom and her two sons, three college-age guys, and even a couple of grandparents. Taylor transcends age...she is basically superhuman.

I apologize for the low quality photos...I brought my digital camera but was just too excited and totally forgot to use it. 

See her! That blob in the middle!!!
She sang a couple of her old songs, which I loved, and my favorite song of all time, 'Clean'.
We were given light-up bracelets on the way into the stadium that were activated when Taylor started and switched between various colors throughout the concert.
 Fireworks at the end!
 And because it would be a crime to blog about the concert and not include a video, here is a clip of "Shake it Off". You're welcome.

Basically, it was the best three hours of my life.

One note about the concert: it was shockingly quiet. There were definitely screaming fans and lots of cheering, singing, and dancing, but it was noticeably quieter than any concert I've ever seen. This is the first show I've been to in Australia, and it could have just been a fluke, but it was definitely toned down and left me wondering if there is some truth to the 'Americans-are-super-loud-and-hyperactive' stereotype (Lauren says yes). The venue was also pretty small, so that could have accounted for the relatively calm atmosphere, I suppose.

Hanukkah Party

On Saturday, we headed over to Sylvie's boyfriend Ari's house for what was intended to be a Star Wars marathon. Turns out we never made it past the kitchen table, didn't end up watching a second of Star Wars (which was fine with me!) and instead ate for a solid 10 hours. I'm not even kidding. We ate SO MUCH. Ari and his housemate are really good cooks, and they just kept bringing out amazing food: pizza, chicken wings, donuts, salad, dips, pineapple beer (amazing), and probably a bunch of stuff I'm forgetting. Exciting news- I  broke my previous record for number of donuts consumed in one day! The new record may or may not be 10. I figure the world record can't be that far off, so I might go for it...stay tuned.

On Sunday, Sylvie hosted a party to celebrate the last day of Hanukkah. We all brought food and I ate way too much again (theme of the weekend) and then we each lit a candle and those who celebrate sang a prayer.
I'm usually the 'wine friend' (aka the one who can't cook so I bring the wine instead) but I decided to contribute something edible this year. I considered a traditional Jewish dish, but I didn't want to completely butcher it, so I went with peppermint bark. It's basically dark and white chocolate with crushed peppermint on top and is my current obsession.
Overall, an awesome weekend full of friends, food, and Taylor. Really, what more could a person ask for?

Back to New Zealand posts tomorrow with a recap of our jet boat adventure!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Queenstown Wineries

After taking in amazing views of Queenstown on the Skyline Gondola and Luge, Peter and I spent the afternoon visiting a few local wineries. Wine is one of my top five passions in life, maybe number one, so this was definitely a highlight of the trip! Peter and I are both big Sauvignon Blanc fans so we had originally hoped to spend a day in the Marlborough Region at the north end of the island. Unfortunately, it would have added about ten hours of drive time to our route, since most everything else we wanted to see was on the southern half of the island, so we scrapped that idea in favor of the Central Otago Region, which is primarily known for their Pinot Noir.

Our first stop was Amisfield Winery, a 15 minute drive northeast of Queenstown. I loved the look of this winery; it kind of had a dungeon feel to it. Peter and I shared a tasting since he was driving, which basically meant that Peter got a sip or two and then I drank the rest. It should be noted that the legal alcohol limit in New Zealand is fairly low, I think .05, so I had to pick up some slack for Peter. It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it!
I thought this picture was hilarious when I took it. Actually, I still think it's hilarious.
We headed straight to the tasting room, where we sampled upwards of ten red and white wines, including their $150 Pinot Noir. Needless to say, it was good! I think I'm going to need one of these in my future house:
After tasting, we wandered around the vineyard for awhile before moving on to our next stop.
 The grapes and me.
Our second stop was Gibston Valley Cheese, about 20 minutes east of Queenstown. By the way, whoever decided cheese and wine should be consumed together is an actual genius. Literally my two favorite things.
We liked the wines at Amisfield better, but this winery had an amazing outdoor patio area where we did our tasting.
After the wine, we sampled some ridiculously good cheese. I may have gone back for seconds, which is probably not socially acceptable, but oh well.

I don't know anything about vineyards, but this particular patch looked a bit rough to me. Perhaps these are the 'boxed wine' grapes? Just kidding. Fun fact: 100% of the wine I drank in college came from a box.  I remember my parents came down to visit on our last day of classes one year. My friends and I were celebrating in the living room when they arrived and my dad asked to sample some of the wine we were drinking, as he had never heard of 'Franzia'. I think he almost spit it out. At the time I thought he was being dramatic, but I'm not sure I could choke down a glass now.
Next, we drove just down the road to Peregrine Wines. This was the largest vineyard by far, and Peter and I both agreed that they had the best wines out of the three we visited. Their Sauvignon Blanc in particular was amazing and we were happy to learn it is available at Whole Foods in the U.S.!
Each winery had a different vibe and Peregrine's was definitely modern. The main building looked almost like a garage or storage shed of some kind and had a crazy slanted roof.
We hit the jackpot on this one because their tasting was free! Actually, I should say I hit the jackpot. I pretty much got two tastings and poor Peter had to resist free wine.
After looking around the property for a few minutes, we headed back into Queenstown, picked up dinner at Fergburger (highly recommend!) and ate on our patio overlooking Lake Wakatipu. We enjoyed a Pinot Gris from Amisfield with our burgers and saved the Sauvignon Blanc from Peregrine for the next night. Overall, a successful afternoon of wine tasting!

More New Zealand adventures:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Exploring Queenstown

We had one full day to explore Queenstown and decided to spend the morning at the Skyline Gondola, Restaurant and Luge. As far as attractions go, this one is pretty unique! The luge in itself sounded fun and the ride up in the gondola seemed like a good way to get a bird's eye view of the city. We decided not to take a scenic flight on this trip, so this was the next best thing!

First, we took the gondola up to the viewing area and restaurant, where the luge track ended.
We decided right away that the view alone was worth the ticket price. I've also concluded that Queenstown might be the closest thing to Heaven on Earth. It's such a cute little town and reminded me a bit of Breckenridge, Colorado or Bozeman, Montana. I definitely wouldn't mind waking up to this view every day!

We haven't quite mastered the art of excluding the selfie stick from the photo. Prediction: in, like, 20 years our future children will look at these pictures and think we are the oldest, nerdiest people in the world. I'm sure by that time they'll have personal selfie-taking drones or some such ridiculous contraption and a selfie stick will be the equivalent of a typewriter. 
When we got to the top, we headed for the viewing platform, where a nice man offered to take our picture. Based on his accent, we could tell he was also from the Upper Midwest. Before I could even ask where, he jokingly zipped up Peter's jacket to hide the Vikings shirt, outing himself as a Packers fan from Wisconsin. We don't run into too many Americans over here, let alone Midwesterners, so that was kind of fun! 

After looking around for a bit and taking ten million pictures (I really exercised restraint putting together this post), we got in line for the chairlift to the luge. When I saw that we had to wear helmets, I was a bit worried I had inadvertently signed up for some extreme sport experience. We hadn't actually seen the track at this point and all I could think about was the Olympic luge event where they go like 100 miles per hour and I was slightly concerned. Thankfully, that was not the case. 

I snapped a picture of the end of the luge track above and the middle part below. There were two courses, one a beginner/kids track and the other a faster, advanced track. Everyone was required to do the beginner one first and then you could choose which one to take on any subsequent rides. We purchased three runs, so we did one on the beginner and the remaining two on the advanced. What can I say, we're expert lugers. Just kidding. I got stuck on the curb on our second run and had to get out to free myself. 

Right before our first run. Never looked cooler.
On our last run, Peter and I decided to race. Peter won, but in my mind I didn't lose since I beat the middle-aged man who had started right after us and was trying to catch me the whole time. He was weirdly competitive for being a complete stranger. Actually, I think he was a little bitter. He not-so-subtly ran into the back of my luge when we were supposed to be slowing down at the end. I think this is what they call karma, though, because I once potentially injured a man at a go kart track when I barreled into his kart at the precise moment he was standing up to get out. I was supposed to stop behind him but realized I actually had no idea how to brake and by the time I figured it out, it was too late. I apologized and my mom ushered us out of there quickly, which I thought was just out of embarrassment at the time, but was probably more likely an effort to avoid getting sued. The man hobbled away clutching his lower back and I always sort of wondered what became of him. Sorry, random guy! Note: this was circa 2001 and is in no way a reflection of my modern-day driving abilities.

After our three runs, we got coffee and split a cake in the restaurant before heading back down in the gondola.
Peter was fiddling with the GoPro here and managed to take this picture of himself, which I found mildly amusing. 
And finally, a video! We passed the bungee jumping platform on our way down and I think I spend most of the video brainstorming ways in which one could die bungee jumping. I may just be the least fun, most morbid person on the planet, but it sounds like a terrible idea to me. I don't think you can actually hear me in the video, though, so I'll fill you in on my theories:

1- The cord snaps (obviously)
2- You trip and fall off the platform before you're even connected to anything
3- The cord wraps around a vital organ (eeeeeeek!)
4- You fall out of whatever harness you're supposed to be locked in
5- The platform itself breaks off and the whole thing comes crashing down
6- You die of a heart attack because it's that scary 
7- The cord is too long
8- The person who is supposed to hook you up is actually a serial killer and pushes you off (it could happen!)

Far-fetched? Maybe. But you won't catch me jumping off of anything any time soon.


More New Zealand adventures:


Welcome! I started Laura and Peter Down Under in July 2014 when my husband and I moved from the States to Melbourne, Australia for his job. I blog about expat life, our travels, food, and whatever else comes to mind. Follow along on our adventures Down Under!



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