New Zealand Adventure: Day 6 & 7 (Milford Sound Cruise & Kayaking)

Day 6 & 7, Queenstown, New Zealand (Milford Sound Cruise & Kayaking)

Now, if someone would’ve told me before I went to New Zealand that they were going to Milford Sound, I would probably say: “Cool, where’s that?” When Jacob told me that it was a part of the itinerary, I performed an image search on Google and was completely blown away. If it was this beautiful and captivating in pictures, I couldn’t wait to see it with my own eyes.

Now, why should this day be any different from any other where we had an activity outside of Queenstown? Why wouldn’t we get stuck watching ‘Dear John’ on the movie channel in our hostel? Why shouldn’t we wait until the last possible minute to peel out of Queenstown? Those are all great questions, and they were all answered as we both realized that we had to shave at least an hour off of our drive to Milford Sound to make it on time for our cruise, and that we (get this) had been driving in the wrong direction for the past 10 minutes. Now, I was in ‘drive like we stole it’ mode and I was assuming that Jacob would tell me things like ‘right’ or ‘left’. Once he realized we were headed in the wrong direction, we U-turned and zoomed back to where we had come from. The talk about whether or not we should scrap this part of the trip came up as we zigzagged through narrow mountain passes, narrowly escaping death once; but we decided that even if the ship had sailed without us, we would find a way to hike around and get some good pictures of the area. It was decided…and I put the rental car to the test.

By the Grace of God or a time portal or just madman driving on my part…maybe a mixture of the three, we made it to the docks 35 minutes before our cruise was going to depart. We sat there, thankful to be alive, and took in the beauty that lay before us. Mountains that, out of nowhere, majestically jutted out of the water were sprawled out in front of us, and surrounded us with an intense sort of splendor.

Our ship’s name was the Milford Mariner and she sat in the harbor with a magnificence that seemed to make the other ships look like posers…o.k. maybe that was written from a bias standpoint, but she was a spectacle in my eyes. We dropped off our luggage  in our room, which was surprisingly big for a cruise ship from what Jacob said. We made our way to the mess-deck and sat down with a pilot and his wife and another girl who were all from Great Britain, but who didn’t know each other. I’m so glad that we got placed at that table because none of the other tables were having a fraction of the fun that it seemed we were partaking in. A little later after lunch we went out to the bow to sightsee while the captain called out over the loud-speaker about what we were seeing, adding in clever and hilarious banter when appropriate (which is always). Apparently, the area was going on 7 days without rain, which they actually label as a drought, so the mountainsides which are usually replete with cascading waterfalls, now only had a few. We could see what looked like avalanche scars on the sides of the mountains, which were actually dried up waterfalls, now only trickling instead of roaring. That being said, there were still a handful that flowed faithfully as they have for thousands of years; and the captain even took us in for a really close look on the second day of the cruise.

The Milford Mariner

FYI, our cook looked like Santa

Large waterfall in the distance. Almost 2 times taller than Niagara Falls

A little later the first day, after the sightseeing of Milford Sound, we headed out to where the Tasman Sea began, and hopped in some kayaks to explore the caves and outcroppings along the coastline. For the most part this was an enjoyable activity, but for the second part of this little kayak journey, I had a fiesta of sand-flies pestering me and biting my sunburned neck. I honestly think I put off a pheromone or have sweet blood because they seemed to really like some people and leave others alone. A friend that Jacob and I had made on the cruise, Hazel, was nice enough to snap some pictures on her camera of us as we kayaked around. Both Jacob and I were scared to take anything out into the kayaks with us, since our perfect broneymoon trip had been slightly tarnished with my dropping of my iPhone into the Dart River on day 4. We got back on the boat as the captain circled the boat around Milford Sound again, trying to give us different views at different times of the day. It was at this point that we learned that the depth of most of what we were floating over was over 300 meters deep, because of glacial carving (around 1,100 ft if I remember correctly). That evening we watched a comical and informational video/slide show made by the crew about Milford Sound, which also showed just how incredible the area was while it’s rainy. After that we had a fantastic dinner and enjoyed the company of our new UK friends.

Tasman Sea behind me

Kayaking in Milford Sound

Entering the Tasman Sea

That night, Jacob got to see the Southern night sky (including the Southern Cross) for the first time, and I got to be reminded of just how beautiful it truly is. We chatted with some other passengers into the night, and then headed in to get some sleep for the next day, which was to be full of sightseeing on our drive back to Queenstown, since we didn’t do that AT ALL on the way in. 🙂

The next morning, Jacob got to witness this amazing dolphin pod miracle shown in the video below, while I was in the shower listening helplessly as the captain talked about how beautiful they were and listed off facts about the specific Dusky Dolphin species. By the time I got dried off and threw on some clothes, they had submerged or swam off to be awesome somewhere other than right by the boat. We also found out that all of the penguins that frequent the Tasman Sea edge of Milford Sound had literally all taken off 4 days before our cruise. We did however get to see some pretty sweet seal action on the way back to the docks. We watched as a couple of them waddled towards each other, mouth wide open (making, you know…that noise they do), and wrestled for best position on the rock they both inhabited. We got another great view of a beautiful waterfall and of Milford Sound in general, as the boat docked just moments later. We said goodbye to our new friends and set out on the road to try to get some nice scenery shots on our way back.

Open mouth fighting...

We stopped several times on the way back and got a chance to see some absolutely incredible scenery that we missed on the way in. I forgot to mention earlier, but to get in and out of the Milford Sound area, there is a mountain tunnel that you have to drive through, and there is a stoplight on either end to let you know if you’re able to drive through at the time or not. You can only go through every 15 minutes. On the entrance to Milford Sound side, there is a group (gang) of vehicle terrorizing parrots, which mostly prey on the rubber lining around the doors on the vehicle. From what Jacob and I heard from the ship’s crew, this behavior is taught by older generations of parrots, which goes to show that hate and terrorism are passed down from generation to generation.

We had to wait our turn and fight off the fierce parrorists (parrot+terrorist) I try.

Vehicle terrorizing parrot

"The Chasm" was tunnels of rocks that looked like honeycombs (formed by water flow)

Jacob being all GQ

Now little did we know, but after a few stops of breathtaking scenery, it was time to cross another to-do off our list. We picked up our first hitchhiker, an Aussie. Now, this was a first for both of us, so we were a little on edge. Whenever he said he just needed a ride a little ways up the road to where his car was broken down, both Jacob and I were thinking: “Suuuurrrrre ya do…..is that where you’re going to kill us both?” But when we arrived to his broke down van and saw his family waiting for him, we were elated to be alive. Well…we obviously had to do it again. Not an hour later and we see another guy who needed a ride, a Kiwi. This time it was for a lot longer than a few miles and we got to know the guy and to hear his life story AND about his artwork. After a while I looked over at Jacob who hadn’t said anything for a while. I thought he was mad at me for picking up another hitchhiker or for something else I didn’t know about. But it turned out he had a killer migraine and didn’t feel like talking to a body odor emitting hitchhiker or even me for that matter. We dropped our new buddy off at the crossroads to where he was going and made our way back into Queenstown where we rested and then went out for another night of exploring and nightlife, since it was indeed our last night in town.

I think Jacob and I both would agree that we couldn’t have hoped for a better trip. Just the sheer variety of what we did while in New Zealand was incredible. I mean…who skydives, rides in a helicopter, hikes on a glacier, tours glow-worm caves, kayaks down the river in the area where Lord of the Rings was filmed, takes a cruise of Milford Sound- all while meeting tons of people from countless countries around the world…all in a week? It’s fair to say that we were very blessed to be able to go on such a trip, and we thank you all for checking out some of our stories and pictures from our time there!


New Zealand Adventure: Day 5 (Jet Boats, Funyaks, & Isengard)

New Zealand Day 5 – Jet Boats, Funyaks, Isengard…and tragedy. (A guest post by: Jacob Matthews)

WARNING: This episode contains stories of love and loss, adventure, beauty and heartbreak. Grab your Kleenex.

The morning of December 18th started like many other mornings on this trip… EARLY. The combination of no air conditioning, the morning sunshine penetrating through the thin curtains in our room, being sunburned beyond belief, and the 7:30 am meeting time for the shuttle to the river meant once again little sleep. Barley functioning, we got dressed, packed our bag for the day trip, and made our way down the street to catch the bus to Glenorchy – (a 45 min drive from Queenstown North along Lake Wakatipu). Fun Fact here: Up until the 1990s the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy was a dirt road and took over 2 hours to make the one way trip. Praise God they paved that road.

After a chilly, scenic drive along the lake to Glenorchy we made it and checked in at Dart River Jet Safaris. (http://www.dartriver.co.nz/) Today the forecast was scheduled to be a little overcast in the morning, and then sunny towards the afternoon. Looking back I was glad we opted to reschedule and take this journey on a better and much more dry day. After checking in we were directed to the courtyard for a briefing on the gear we would be given for the day. Thomas and I got our wet suits, fleece, life jackets and booties and headed to the locker room to get suited up. After getting our gear on we headed to the bus to head down to the boat located at the mouth of the Dart River.

Once we got situated in our jet boat we started making our way across the corner of Lake Wakatipu into and up the Dart River. One of the coolest things about these Jet Boats is they were invented in New Zealand and designed to travel in very shallow water (probably only a few inches deep at times). The other amazing thing about the jet boat is that it is able to do some pretty sweet 360 degree spins. Several times in the lake and the river we were given a hand signal to hold on tight and then the driver would spin the boat sending a spray of FREEZING glacier melt water over us. It was extreme. We made our way up the Dart, weaving and maneuvering through a labyrinth of forks in the river and finally pulled ashore into another smaller river that converged about a kilometer downstream into the Dart. Now this smaller river was unbelievable. The water was crystal clear and an emerald blue color. This would be only a taste of what we’d see and experience later on in the day.

Cruising in our Jet Boat

Here we got out of our Jet Boat and were given a vessel to command of our own. Now just when we thought you couldn’t possibly top a Jet Boat we soon realized we were mistaken… it can get better. We were given an orange inflatable kayak (Funyak). Ecstatic and proud to test our piloting skills, we set out to tackle the river. As we headed down stream we ended up striking up conversation with one of the river guides. He was a pretty cool guy, named Tom, from Ireland who had moved down to New Zealand for a year to work and play on the amazing rivers in the area.

Our trip down the river so far was so beautiful. We were surrounded by towering mountains as we paddled through minor rapids. We ended up pulling into another small stream that was flowing into the river. This area opened up in to a picturesque valley guarded by mountains. As we made our way upstream the water deepened and became calm. We found ourselves in the most amazingly clear, emerald blue water. We paddled our way upstream into a small canyon to investigate the source of this beauty and as we turned the last corner in the canyon the rocks opened up to reveal a small waterfall – the source of the stream that originated as glacial runoff from further up the mountains. Again, the water here was so pure and clean you could drink straight from the river. We filled up our water bottles and made our way back to the downstream to the valley. We made it into this valley called “Paradise Valley” to stop and have lunch. There couldn’t have been a more picturesque, beautiful place to stop, rest, eat and take it all in. We conversed with many others in our group and took more pictures before getting back into our funyaks.

Time for another Fun Fact: The Dart River Valley and surrounding mountains including the Mount Aspiring National Park are considered a “World Heritage Site.” World Heritage Sites are reserved for places around the world with “special cultural or physical significance” like the Pyramids in Egypt, The Great Wall of China, and Stonehenge…no big deal. (Below was our view from where we stopped to eat lunch. The sun had burnt through the clouds at this point.)

Heading back down the river, through Paradise Valley, we made our way through several rapids then ended up in the flat river basin.. the place to take out our kayaks and the end of our day’s adventure. It was at the point that our Ireland friend and guide informed us that we were literally standing in the heart of “Isengard” from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. (http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Isengard) He then pointed out some small rolling hills on the other side of the river basin and said “Those hills over there… that’s the Shire.” (Only in an awesome Irish accent) (http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Shire) Well.. nerd alert here.. Thomas and I were beyond excited to see and be standing in these epic locations from the films. It immediately made us want to go watch the films again.

Isengard

As we pulled up onto the bank of the river to disembark our kayak Thomas noticed he was missing something and had a white panicked  look on his face. He very worriedly asked me: “have you seen my iPhone?” Thomas tucked his iPhone inside his tight life-vest during a rapid and soon realized it wasn’t there anymore. Now you’re probably asking yourself… why would you bring your phone out to the middle of nowhere in New Zealand when there’s no phone service anyway? We both brought our phones because we used them as our cameras for this trip. After looking in the boat and realizing it wasn’t in there, another guy in another kayak mentioned that he thought he saw something bounce out into the river just a few minutes before we had pulled in, but wasn’t sure what it was, so he didn’t say anything. Sad, distraught, defeated, sunburnt, and tired Thomas gazed out at the river banks praying that he’d get a glimpse of his phone. There was a small sliver of a chance that we’d find it, because it was wrapped up in a waterproof casing. But to no avail… the phone was gone. The really, really sad thing was Thomas had a TON of pictures and videos that we hadn’t backed up yet from our previous 4 days in New Zealand. Luckily, we had taken mostly the same pictures at the same time when we came across scenery that was too beautiful to pass up, so the damage wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. The hardest hit, was the realization that we had lost our pre-skydiving video interviews (which were absolutely amazing).

Tom stood like this for almost 5 minutes straight...

{{Hey guys, it’s Thomas. Just wanted to take this time to apologize to Jacob, because there were a ton of pictures on my phone of him standing in the most beautiful places on Earth. Sorry Jacob! I owe you big time, man}}

We were sad, but not defeated. We were still on vacation in the most beautiful place either of us had been, and honestly, what cooler place to lose your cell phone! Better than a McDonald’s bathroom, right?! We boarded a four-wheel drive van and drove back through the Shire to Glenorchy. Interestingly enough, we saw a bunch of production trucks and trailers in the Shire as they had just finished filming “The Hobbit” the new Lord of the Rings film a week or so before we arrived.

Part of the Shire

Some production trailers still parked in the Shire

Back at the Dart River Safari lodge we got changed, hopped on the bus and made our way back to Queenstown. Exhausted, overwhelmed by the beauty of New Zealand, and defeated by our loss we returned back to Queenstown in time to take a nap, grab a late dinner, and hit the club below our hostel. We met up with our Brazilian friends again for a while and then hit the hay as we had a 4 1/2 hour drive to Milford Sound the next morning.

Another brilliant Queenstown sunset

To be continued….