Well done if you made it through my last post! Apparently I had a lot to say about the Milford Track, so I’ll try and be less wordy on this post.
After our 4 day adventure on the track, we decided it was time for some well earned lazy days in Queenstown. We decided to shell out for a nice hotel in Queenstown (though it was still cheaper than our bunkbeds on the track) with a hot tub, BBQ, and gorgeous city views. We checked in with our families to wish them a belated Merry Christmas and caught up on our laundry. We wondered into Queenstown for a few hours and did a little bit of shopping along the waterfront then stopped into Speight’s Ale House for a flight.
We’ve gotten pretty into craft beer since moving to Vancouver and love trying out flights of different beers. But this was a lot harder in New Zealand. Domestic beer is definitely more expensive, but craft beer is just crazy expensive, selling for $10+ a can in stores and $12 for 350ml in bars! So we were shocked when our little flight came out to $25 (they usually go for ~$7 in Vancouver), but I guess that’s just the price you have to pay in New Zealand. We did still take the opportunity to drink local as much as possible.
Wine on the other hand is comparable or cheaper to BC and there’s a lot of great wine in New Zealand. We decided to book a biking wine tour out of Queenstown and spent a full day biking to the different wineries in the Gibbston Valley. It’s a self guided tour that starts in the historic town of Arrowtown, which is this cute little “wild west” style town. We biked along the river out of Arrowtown until we reached the Gibbston Valley, where we biked to as many wineries as we could!
Before we hit any of the wineries though, we had to stop along the Kawarau River for a little Lord of the Rings viewpoint. The scenes where the Fellowship is boating along the river after leaving Lothlorien were filmed in the Gibbston Valley, not too far from where we were biking, so we popped up to one of the river viewpoints for a little look. While we were checking out the landscape, a bus pulled up to the edge of the road and a bunch of people jumped out on what turned out to be a “Lord of the Rings film locations” tour!
They all crowded in front of our view, so we stuck around to hear some of the tour guides interesting tidbits of information about the location. Apparently they had to shrink the fellowship in their boats to make the river look bigger and the location where we were standing was actually where the two kings of Argonath had been digitally added in (although replicas were still constructed for the filming – not to size obviously). We also learned that apparently Peter Jackson wanted to have orcs shooting at the fellowship while they were in the water and have Legolas shoot back, hopping from boat to boat. But just before filming, the entire river flooded and they lost all the filming equipment, so they abandoned the shoot. Peter Jackson got the opportunity to try again though when he shot The Hobbit, if anyone remembers the scene with the dwarves in the barrels!
The wineries are all gorgeous and it was fun to cycle between them trying out different wines. What I found really interesting is that there was really only 4 wines you could get at any of the wineries because of the soil and weather conditions in that region. Pinot Noir is the only red wine you can really find and is by far the most popular; the other three are Pinot Gris, Reisling, and Rose. I’m a white wine drinker, so I had no complaints! My favourite wine of the day was Peregrine Wines Rastaburn Riesling and my favourite winery overall was probably Mt. Rosa. Mt. Rosa is the last winery we did and is located at the top of a hill. The hill really didn’t look like much, but it was really hot out and we were pretty wine-weary at this point, so it felt like quite the strenuous bike ride to reach the top! We did also stop at Cargo Brewery for a flight, which is located in this old converted church. It has a really nice vibe and you can sit outside on the lawn, but I did feel like a heathen buying beer from a church on a Sunday…
After our few days in Queenstown though, it was back on the road! Our plan was to drive from Queenstown to Fox Glacier, but we didn’t have much planned for in between. Probably for the best because it was another gorgeous drive. We drove over the Crown Road to get to Wanaka and were constantly pulling over to snap photos of the view looking back towards Queenstown. I also had the delight of discovering that there is such a thing as yellow lupins!
We stopped for lunch in Wanaka and went for a little walk to see the famous Wanaka tree (#thatwanakatree). Seth didn’t really believe me when I told him we were going to see a famous tree, but he had to admit I was right when he saw the crowd of people snapping photos of it down along the beach front. I’m a little bit sad we didn’t have time to do the Roy’s Peak hike in Wanaka. For some reason I seem to have missed that hike in my research, but upon discovering it I was really aching to climb it, but sometimes you just can’t fit everything in and we decided to skip it.
The drive through the Lake District after Wanaka was probably one of my favourite stretches of road on the trip. You leave Wanaka and drive along Lake Hawea, before returning back to Lake Wanaka again. Both lakes are incredibly scenic and make for the most gorgeous viewpoints as you drive along between them. The mountains get bigger as you approach Mount Aspiring National Park and we decided to do a short walk to the Blue Pools.
I’m not sure “blue pools” is the best name for the hike, it’s really just a blue river, but admittedly very pretty. There was a lot of people enjoying the beautiful weather there, so I decided to go for a swim, but it was all glacier and snow melt (just like the Milford Track) and freezing cold. In retrospect, most of the rivers are freezing and the ocean seems to be the warmest place we swam!
The highway continued on to Fox Glacier where we were planning to ring in the new year and go on a heli hike. It ended up being quite the adventure, so more on that in my next post!