Queenstown, South Island

On Kingston Flierour way from Te Anau to Queenstown, we indulged Brod in yet another geeky train thing.  This time it was a genuine antique steam train called the Kingston Flyer.  It is has a history in New Zealand railway folklore and now runs on *13Km* of track from Kingston on the shore of Lake Wakatipu to a turnround in the middle of nowhere.  This is the only remaining part of the main railway from Dunedin and Invercargill to Kingston, where the train used to connect up with a steamship to Queenstown.  Brod spent most of the time photographing the loco and standing grandly on the open deck of the last carriage like an American president going through the Wild West.

WeQueenstown spent 2 nights in The Lofts Apartments in the town of Queenstown.  Queenstown is a year round resort, with busy snowfields within 20Km of town during Winter, and a busy, sporty & warm climate during the Summer.  Queenstown claims it is the inventor of the Bungee Jump, it also lays claim to the worlds first commercial jet boat on it’s rivers.  Our plan was to take the Shotover Jet Boat, down river, however after a morning reading the local paper, and it’s headlines about how the river was closed, due to the police and rescue services continued search for the two bodies of two jet-boaters, we decided to give it a miss.

We took a drive out to the Kawarau bridge over the icy-cold river where there was a bungee operation to watch lunatics hurl themselves off.  Before you jump off, the staff at the top ask you if you want to stay dry, touch the water, or be completely immersed (upside down of course).  Judging by the reactions of some who got soaked, we are not so sure they paid too much attention!  One young lad of about 10 was having real last minute nerves, which meant the whole crowd watching started to cheer him on, we were standing next to the jump platform and had every sympathy with him!  After about 5 minutes of coaxing by one of the staff on the platform he went over.. poor sod, he didn’t look overly happy at the bottom either.  All jumpers Queenstown Bungeewere collected by a little rubber raft, bouncing about in the freezing cold torrent.  After which they had to climb up a bloody big flight of steps back to the top, usually freezing cold and all alone!  Seems a bit of a downer for NZ$165 each!

Leaving the madness of the jumpers behind, we drove up to Arrowtown, a former gold-minding town.  Here in the museum I found more of the Cowan clan, this time an owner of a coal-pit nearby.

After the shiteness of the Te Anau cuisine, we were pleased to be in Queenstown, where they appear to employ chefs and waiters with some form of training.  We had two very good meals here, including one, where we even ‘bought to t-shirt’.

Te Anau

On the 1st we drove from Dunedin to Te Anau via Bluff, basically going from the south-east to the south west via the south (..ish).

BluffBluff is the “town” that claims the crown of being the southerly point of New Zealand, even though there are really more southerly points… this one just happens to have Highway 1 starting there which helps.  Bluff is a land-spit about 20Km south of Invergargill, which is famous for oysters and an aluminium smelter.. oh and one of those wonderful signs with distances to London, Sydney, Beijing, New York, etc etc.  We grabbed a lunch in the Lands End Pub/Cafe that can only be described as the best of British Rail catering…  I guess when BR got privatised, they had to do something with the staff…. :)

Onwards then to Te Anau… a lake with a tiny town attached… famous as the jumping off point for trips to Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and various tramps and trails (many of which are 3-5 days long).  We found our motel.. which the Lonely Planet book describes at 80s exterior with a modern interior.. personally I think the Lonely Planet guy must of either been paid a fortune or was stoned…. as the interior is a throwback to 1982 and really really needs a design overhaul.

Te Anau itself… mmmm.. one high street.. one harbour… a bp station… 20 motels and a few campsites.  The real reason for coming here is to get to Milford Sound, and my act if I was made mayor of Te Anau, would be to build a bloody huge dual-carriageway by-pass around the town so people didn’t have to bother with the place.  I’m not saying the place is without it’s charm… the lake, with mountain backdrops is truely beautiful… but all the restaurants, shops, and service staff (out motel excepted) are locked in a really fucked up complancency of apawlingly dire service… “Ah.. yeah.. I know we have like 8 empty tables… but there’s a 20 minute wait for a table.. as the chef needs a break.. so sit down.. and someone will be with you in the next hour or so to take a drinks order from you…”  Gorden Ramsey with his Kitchen Nightmares would have a flipping field-day here.

On the 2nd we found out why the lake is so full, and everything is green.. it dropped 3 inches of rain on us.. in one day.

On the 3rd.. Milford Sound - Keait didn’t look much better, be we thought bugger it and drove to Milford Sound.. 120Km away, and a good 2hour ish drive.  The drive is just amazing, really amazing.  We stopped several times, where we met Keas (a sort of parrot), wandered into a rain-forrest, met more Keas… you get the idea.  The highlight was the Homer Tunnel… a  1.2Km long downhill barrel run, thankfully when we were there the traffic lights were on, as I am not sure how good my brakes were bombing down the suicide run to the bottom.  After the tunnel the road became worse, narrow, windy, some really impressive hairpin-bends on gradients…. all good fun.  The drive alone is worth doing, thank god we were not on a coach trip.. or it would of been filled of a 100 odd people saying “Wow.. fuck.. wow..omygod…”  We arrived in Milford Sound, had our sandwiches we bought in the supermarket in Te Anau (the cafe in Milford Sound made BR catering look top-notch).  Off to the harbour to join our boat with Mitre Peak cruises, one of of 4 or 5 companies that run cruises up and down the sound.  We picked this group as they seemed to be the smallest, and offer smaller boats.  The biggest crew are “Real Journeys” who run coachloads of folk in from Queenstown, and really looked a bit too big.. also their coach drivers appeared to be complete twats.. pulling straight out infront of huge trains of traffic and then going at 20mph… yay for bus drivers.. paint the bus white and you’d get the idea 😉

TheMilford Sound cruise is worth doing.. truly “awe-inspiring.. mindblowing.. jaw-dropping”.. all that sort of crap… really really “awesome”.  Mile-high cliffs, huge waterfalls, 500-odd metres deep.. all that jazz.

Today… the 4th.. we went off Quad-Biking…. a little mini-bus picked us up from the motel and then off to a farm in the arse end of beyond.  A group 6 of us were kitted out with welly boots, waterproofs, gloves and helmets and trooped outside looking like a group of complete herberts.  Onto the quad-bikes, given about 1 mins training (“Push this with your thumb to go… move gears with your left-foot… and keep up!”) and off.  We thought it would be a fairly tame little run around the edge of some fields with maybe the odd puddle… oh no no no!.. this was hard-core offroad military training.. up mountains.. across gulleys.. through rivers… 2 hours plus.  Highlights were bombing through stampeding cattle.. finally getting into 4th across the grass meadow at the end.. and hurtling down the mountain in what must of been a 1 in 1 (or 45deg down), not forgetting at least 50 mud-filled ditches which we threw our bikes into.  All of us, except our instructor Fraser were covered in mud and God-only knows what.  Stunning views on the way, cannot recommend it highly enough, one of the highlights of the whole trip, Brod only rammed into me once.. (and crashed into me another time too… though that was as I had managed to stall an un-stallable bike in  ditch with water up to my knees).

Back to the motel.. quick shower.. and off for another dose of dire service in a local restaurant.  This time it was the “big coach party” that was buggering everything up.. a party of… 10.  If a restaurant cannot cope with the odd big table it really needs help.

Te Anau QuadbikingTrying to avoid being negative.. generally the food in New Zealand is fantastic.. it just seems the further south we get, the more amateur the service becomes.  Off tomorrow to Queenstown, which is a far bigger, and more established place (and stuffed full of money) so we are hopefully of an improvement.  Also.. although I jest about the 1980’s decor of this motel.. the standard of motels in NZ is generally fantastic and for the price, blows the awful UK hotel chains like Travelodge, Premier Inn, Holiday Bin etc out of the water by a metric mile, why we put up with such shite in the UK is beyond me.  A new idea for a website is brewing….

More pics to follow.. when I find decent wifi..

Onwards to Queenstown!


On the 29th we drove down from Moereki to Dunedin which was another beautiful drive.  Dunedin comes from Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh.

On the 30th, we drove out onto the scenic Otago Peninsular to the very end, where there is an Albatross Colony… alas again New Zealand attempts eco-tourism… which means a rather untidy mess of a visitor centre and a really shite cafe run by people that should probably of remained in whatever institution they were plucked from… think 20 minutes waiting for a coffee, and all the tables outside covered in bird-shit.. yep… that nice.  The closest we got to an albatross was the video in the little display area…. pretty poor all in all.. but the drive out there was gorgeous.

Larnach CastleOn the way back, we headed for Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only castle, which considering the time it was built, back in the 1870s, was basically a rich mans folly. The Larnach story is an interesting one with the usual Victorian mix of marriage, lust, death and incest (well almost.. the son was only bonking the Step-Mother.. so not sure how that counts)… all good stuff :)  A really interesting house, great cafe (phew!) and stunning gardens with *awesome* views over the peninsular.  The castle also offers accommodation, and when we return to NZ.. we will definitely stay there.

Back to Dunedin for the evening, and off to “The Reef“, a surprisingly good little seafood restaurant, serving the best smoked salmon I’ve ever tasted.

On Dunedin Settlers Museum New Years Eve morning, we headed off to the Dunedin Settlers Museum, which was a rather split-personality kind of place, one half was as expected with displays of the early (mainly Scotish) settlers (including some Cowans.. woo!), a replica of the inside of one of the settler ships and various maori, chinese and other settler displays.  The other half, was a transport museum.. sort of… with displays of the old stage-coaches, trams etc.. but also they had managed to save the original art-deco/streamlined waiting room of the old bus station.. all rather odd.. but it worked.

In the afternoon, off on another train.. this time the Taireri Gorge Railway.  This line heads off from Dunedin’s stunningly over the top railway station to the arse-end of nowhere.. a former town called Pukerengi (population… 5), Dunedin Railway Stationvia a twisty route through tunnels, over bridges and wrought-iron viaducts.  The route takes about 2 hours each way, and thankfully had a buffet/bar.  The highlight, apart from the amazing views was the commentary which really deserves a post all of it’s own.  The “Little Katie on the Jigger” story will have to follow.  We are still not 100% sure if it was all a huge piss-take.. or if the guy really was being serious.

Dunedin was celebrating New Years Eve in “The Octagon” which sounds like a park.. but is really a road junction.  As the rain wasstarting as our train returned to Dunedin Station, we gave it a miss.

DunedinOn the 1st, we booked out a day early… I think it’s fair to say after 3 nights in Dunedin.. we’d done all we could :)  Off to Te Anau.. via Bluff..  More to follow.