This post was updated on March 26th, 2017
Queenstown is located at the north-east shore of Lake Wakatipu and was founded during the gold rush era in the 1860th.
In the 1970th the town transformed itself from a rather indistinctive small town into one of the leading holiday places world wide, well known for its attractions like bungee jumping, paragliding or wild-river rafting. So I had many options to choose from for what to do with my day off when I first started making my plans.
When I learned in which hotel we were supposed to stay, I researched its location in Frankton — a suburb of Queenstown — and found that it would offer me a good starting point to take a photo of the rising sun over Peninsula Hill, if I could manage to get up latest at 5:30 a.m.
A trip to the Milford Sound
But then, I had to get up early anyway because I was booked on a flight-cruise-flight tour to see the Milford Sound in the Fiordland National Park. I was picked up by bus at 7:10a.m. at my hotel to be taken to the airport. From there I took a plane to the Milford Sound Airport before embarking on a boat to travel through the entire fjord to the ocean and back — a 16 kilometer long cruise, one way.
The Fiordland Nationalpark is — with 12,000 square kilometers — the largest Nationalpark in New Zealand. Due to its special geological formations, its landscape and the flora and fauna, Fiordland National Park has been accepted into the Te Waipounamu / Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area. The Nationalpark consists of 14 fjords and five greater lakes, which are surrounded by steep mountains.
Milford Sound is located at the north end of the Fiordland Nationalpark and it is — despite its name — a fjord and not a sound, since it was formed by the erosive effects of a glacier.
A prominent peak at the south end of the fjord is Mitre Peak, rising 1692 meters above sea level. Its summit — actually consisting of five peaks — reassembles a bishop’s mitre, of which it got its name.
Milford Sound was first discovered by the Māori more than 1000 years ago.
The sound’s Māori name, Piopiotahi, means a single thrush: the mythical hero Māui is said to have brought a thrush with him from Hawaiki. When Māui was crushed between the thighs of Hine-nui-te-pō (the goddess of death), the bird fled south, to give its name to the sound.
First in 1912 a European settler, John Grono, landed in the sound and named it — after Milford Haven in Wales — Milford Sound.
The sound is the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand, and the annual rainfall of about 6,813 mm creates dozens of temporary waterfalls of which some reach a length of 1000 meters.
Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls are the two permanent waterfalls of Milford Sound, of which Bowen Falls, a horsetail waterfall of 162 meters, is the highest and possibly the most impressive one.
But not only the fjord cruise is impressive; the flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound is quite scenic in its own.
After disembarking the boat I was taken back to the plane, which took me back to Queenstown. But since two passengers, who the same flight with me, had to get off at Glenorchy, we did not get the direct transfer back to Queenstown but took a different route via Glenorchy.
Lakeshore, Forest and Bird walk
After I had arrived at the airport in Queenstown I was taken back to my hotel, where I had a 2-hour break before my next adventure started.
I had for some time thought about what type of excursions I wanted to participate in while I had my day off in Queenstown. My main goals with these were to see as much of the area as I possible could in the short time that I had, but then I wanted my excursions to be of a type where I would be able to take photos. So I had decided to go on a “Lakeshore, Forest and Bird” walk with a local guide. A week before we arrived in Queenstown I had learned that they had not gotten any more reservations but mine, so it was not sure if the walk would take place as they had a minimum of two participants for a tour. But just a few days before I arrived in Queenstown the guide informed me that they would make an exception and take me on that tour as the only participant.
So I was again picked up at the hotel, this time by the guide and owner of the organization that arranged this tour. We drove to a forest at the shore of Lake Wakatipu, between Queenstown and Glenorchy. During the walk Peter, my guide, explained to me the different plants and their usage, as for example the Mānuka plant in the photo below.
The fruits of the plant are edible and mānuka infusions have been used by the Māori to deal with stomach issues. Later research has shown that the leaves of the Mānuka contain an antibiotic that reacts against the Staphylococcis aureus.
We finished the walk a little earlier than usual, so Peter decided to take me to Mount Creighton from which I would have a great view towards Mount Earnslaw — or Pikirakatahi as it is called in Māori.
Turning around at this viewpoint, I also had a great view over Lake Wakatipu.
15,000 years ago during the last ice age, a huge glacier moving from the north west carved out what is now Lake Wakatipu. The lake is relatively thin, but the mountains run straight into the lake, forming a deep canyon, 399m at its deepest point.
Lake Wakatipu is the second largest lake in the Southern Lakes District, covering 290 square km. At its widest point Lake Wakatipu is five kilometers wide, and the total length is 84km.
The Maori legends state that the giant Matau was burnt to death in his sleep after he abducted a chief’s daughter, burning a massive hole in the ground and melting the ice and snow of the surrounding mountains, forming the lake. The lake is a large “S” shape, like a giant, curled up and sleeping on its side. Matau’s head rested at Glenorchy, at the north of the lake, and his feet south in Kingston. Queenstown sits on Matau’s knee.
One of Wakatipu’s mysteries is the rise and fall of the lake by about 12cm (5″) every five minutes. Legend states that a Giant’s heart is impossible to destroy, and causes this rise and fall, while science says it is due to fluctuating atmospheric pressures. But across the lake from the town below Cecil Peak is a little island visible only from up close, from above, or from a different angle. Some say Hidden Island is the still beating heart of the Giant Matua…
The Maori people first inhabited the area in a search for food, ponamu or greenstone, and the flightless Moa. The north of the Lake is one of six of the country’s main sources of greenstone.
Return to Queenstown
After this great day Peter drove me back to Queenstown, where I spent some time in the botanical gardens before meeting up with Solo in the early evening for dinner.
After dinner we decided to walk back, on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, to our hotel in Frankton, where we spent some time in the bar looking at some photos that we had taken. First here, when we looked at the photos that I had taken in Milford Sound, I was able to understand the beauty that I had seen there.