Six am alarm call this morning. We had to be up, packed, parked the car and ready for our tour bus pick up at 7.30am. We made it easily, without a real rush. The motel owners had been kind enough to allow us to leave our car parked on some spare land whilst we were doing the tour.
The tour bus arrived on schedule and we were pleasantly surprised that it was a large comfortable new coach and we were the second pick up. We had wondered if the bus was coming from Queenstown and that we would struggle for seats. As it was we grabbed the two best seats at the front. We were greeted by Simon the driver, who is best described as an ageing hippy that time forgot and had been left to brew in Ten Anau. Apparently he had already completed his paper-round before coming to pick us up. He was however very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the history and nature/fauna in Fiordland.
We picked up a few more people on route and then to our surprise started making our way to Milford Sound with the coach ¾ empty. On route we made lots of stops to see waterfalls and views etc. The 3 hour journey passed very quickly and enjoyably.
At the Milford terminal we were given our boarding passes and a decent packed lunch to take on board. To our delight we were directed to the largest and newest catamaran. We boarded and were then told we were the only 14 booked on that trip. The boat had capacity for 150. It felt like we had our own private charter. We had 1 crew member for every 3 passengers.
Milford Sound is rightly known as one of the most spectacular places on earth. Photos and descriptions cannot do justice to the sheer size and majesty of it all. It is also one of the wettest places on earth with more than 30 feet of rain pouring down during an average year. We had carried waterproofs and various layers of clothes half way round the world for just this. Today though they were not needed though. In fact the weather was extremely kind to us and it was quite warm although we ended up putting on a jacket once the boat started to move when we were standing on deck. They say that the Sound looks better in the rain. Perhaps it does, but I would take a warm dry trip to get the feel and sight of the place any day rather than getting drenched.
It was great being able to move about the decks without other people getting in the way and getting almost a personal tour from the crew. The absolute highlight was when the boat was taken nose first into a waterfall that is taller than Niagara. We were treated to what they called a Glacial Facial with the spray covering us. There were lots of squeals of laughter from everyone.
Milford Sound is not actually a Sound. It was incorrectly named. It is actually a Fiord as it was made by a Glacier. I really didn't mind or care to be honest as we thoroughly enjoyed the trip. We saw some seals and much to Karen's annoyance whilst she was in the toilet we saw some dolphins.
All to soon we were back on the bus and after a few more stops to see some more waterfalls and some amazing Kea Parrots in a lay-by we were dropped back at the motel.
We hopped in the car to start the 2 ½ drive to Queenstown. We made it in good time as the temperature hit 31c.
Queenstown was not what I expected. For a start it was full and I mean really really full of people. Everywhere else in NZ had been deserted. That was obviously because every single person is here. Noticeably most of the people here are backpackers or Silver haired couples (we don't place ourselves in that category - yet!) The place seemed brash and rather in your face. It is quite compact with several interesting streets full of shops and restaurants.
We wandered round getting our bearings enjoying the sunshine whilst looking for somewhere to eat. Everywhere was full and we struggled to find something reasonably affordable with a table. We ended up in an Irish bar overlooking the Lake. The food however was the most expensive of the trip and easily the worst.
After this we walked around a bit, stopping to look at some of the buskers on the main drag at the end of the Lake. Like the ones we have watched previously at places like Key West, their acts was all build up and very little substance.
By now the sun was going down and hundreds of people were sitting in and around the beach area watching the sunset. Many backpackers looked set for the night with large amounts of alcohol by their side, playing cards or frisbee or other such pursuits. We stood and watched for a bit, took some photos before a lovely stroll back to our motel which was quite centrally located. I am still not sure yet whether I like or Queenstown. I think it the sheer volume of people that has thrown me.
Tonight I had another conference call with my team and client back in the UK. Technology still fascinates me in how we can chat over Wifi and share documents remotely Karen was not too happy as the meeting went on for longer than I had anticipated and as the room was quite small meant she struggled to get to sleep. She did also worry that as one of the people on the call had his camera on so we could see him, that everyone was also watching her laying in bed! However I know from my HP days to always make sure that this is switched off.