After leaving Mackenzie country, we ping-ponged our way through the Southern Lakes district, as we tried to figure out where we wanted to be and also to find the good weather. We drove through the impressive Lindis Pass, and then through the wine and fruit country (stopping to get fresh cherries, mandarins, and kiwifruit) before heading to Queenstown, a bustling ski town on Lake Wakatipu.
Queenstown (population ~30,000) is an adventure junkies wonderland, with activities like bungy jumping, sky diving, and the shotover jet easy to find there. We decided to leave that for the young whipper snappers and instead stopped in to have a cup of tea with Jeff’s sister and extended family before heading onward to Glenorchy, a small town at the headwaters of the lake (population ~not very many, by my estimation). Jeff and I had spent part of our honeymoon there 10 years ago, so we visited to reminisce.
Our time in Glenorchy was short but meaningful. There was more fishing, photography, and relaxation. Glenorchy is a sleepy type of town, but what it lacks in square footage, it makes up for in things to do. There are numerous gorgeous tramps (aka hikes) that begin from here, including the famed Routeburn track, along with jetboating the Dart River, horseback riding, and other such outdoor activities. Also parts of the Lord of the Rings were filmed here, which makes it an area of interest as well. For us, it was more about reminiscing than adventure, but in the end, we did book a scenic flight to Milford Sound for the next day.
So we rose early (!) for our flight to Milford, one of the most beautiful fiords in the world, only to find out that a southerly front was moving in and the flight was cancelled. Bummer! Maybe next time. (Our “next time” is getting pretty busy!) Since we were already up, we went ahead and did some early morning fishing, as we watched the front continue to move in and cover the mountains. Incredible how fast it can happen! We then went and had coffee and a muffin, and reminisced that at that very table 10 years ago we had seen a woman walking a sheep on a leash with her dog unleashed beside her. That memory made us smile and will always say “Glenorchy” to me. [Notably, the leash laws have changed now…as posted signs tell us that all dogs must be leashed. The signs don’t mention sheep. Hmmm.] Anywho, after our trip down memory lane, we decided to leave Glenorchy for greener pastures.
We successfully drove our way back into good weather, so we stopped at a local winery for a leisurely lunch and to enjoy the heat. This is where I should comment on the food in New Zealand. To accompany our wine tasting, we split a BLT (the B is different here, heartier than our American B) and a homemade honey soy roast chicken and corn pie. They were both divine. To me, most things taste better here, whether it’s the coffee and fresh-baked muffin at a bakery, or a lunch like this one, I think it is the fresh food that makes all the difference (or maybe it’s laced with crack, I don’t know, but it’s good!). Tomatoes, bread, cheese, and milk all taste so rich and decadent, even in some of the simplest recipes. And because good service is important here (and tipping is not), that just adds to the delightful eating experience. Needless to say, our winery lunch was lovely.
Then it was onward and upward to Wanaka, our desired destination (based on an impromptu decision, since neither of us had a particular hankering to go there). We made our way into the center of town and I barely recognized it, it had grown up so much in the past 10 years (population ~5,000). Much like most of our other destinations, it is a town on a lake with beautiful mountains as the backdrop, so it is stunning. But also, at first glance, Wanaka seems to have become a bit of a mini-Queenstown, with people (mainly tourists) everywhere and most shops geared for the tourists. Jeff and I checked the information center for campsite options and then hightailed it out of there.
As we pulled into our campsite in an isolated area alongside Lake Wanaka, we instantly knew this was a place we could stay happily for several days. [Trust me, it surprised us as much as it surprises you!] If the weather cooperates, that’s exactly what we’ll do. Hopefully we gadabouts can set down roots for a bit!