Visiting New Zealand: The Otago Region and Milford Sound

Today, we’re onto part 2 of our trip to New Zealand. (Miss part 1? No worries. You can read about our time in the Waikato region here.) 

Let’s pick up right where we left off. After a few days in the north island, we hopped a plane to check out the south island of New Zealand, specifically the Otago region. Home base for us was a beautiful apartment at the edge of Queenstown, a little resort town nestled in the mountains by Lake Wakatipu.

The full front wall of the apartment was glass, so we started every day with this extraordinary view.

Not bad, yeah? 

Now onto the highlights of what we did while we were there.

Queenstown Hill

Our first full day in Queenstown included hiking to the top of Queenstown Hill. As you might expect, the hike is uphill the whole way, which is not exactly my ideal kind of hike, but the views at the top are spectacular. It’s truly impossible to capture in a photograph. You could turn a full 360 degrees and see amazing views at every angle. 

The hike back down was much more enjoyable and allowed us to really appreciate the beauty of the woods. The forest felt a lot like the ones at home here and in the Pacific Northwest, but there were definitely differences in the details.

Queenstown Garden

Passing through the Queenstown Gardens became daily routine during our time there. The gardens were conveniently located close to the downtown area and we found parking there to be easier than navigating downtown streets. It’s a beautiful and varied park. We very much enjoyed our daily stroll through it, even when we got caught in the rain.

High Country Horses, Glenorchy

One of our favorite activities we did while on the south island was horseback riding in Glenorchy and Paradise. We booked our riding day through High Country Horses and opted for their Paradise combo package, partly because it included the most Lord of the Rings sites. 

The ride was split into two parts. The first ride was in Glenorchy. We rode through fields of lupins and crossed a river deep enough that our feet were in it (a super cool but disorienting experience). We lucked out with the lupins being at peak bloom — the horses were pleased about it too. They’re like candy to horses. Yum!

After lunch, we were driven to Paradise (through the woods used for Lothlorien!) to ride another set of horses through the area used for Isengard (image below). The design for the ents were inspired by a particular type of tree growing in the area — you can see some in the pic below Isengard. We also rode by where Boromir had his final battle with the orcs and heard a funny story about how a past horse-riding group accidentally rode by as Hugh Jackman was running naked through a field for a Wolverine movie. What timing! 

All in all, a good time with beautiful views and fun stories, though we were a bit sore for the next couple days after our 5ish total hours on horses. 

Milford Sound

The day after horseback riding, we took an hour long scenic flight in a small 6 seat plane to Mildford Sound for a day trip. Milford Sound is technically a fjord, not a sound, and is considered the jewel of Fiordland National Park. After arriving, we took a cruise through the fjord where we saw seals, penguins, waterfalls, and cliffs covered with dense rainforest. 

After the cruise we went kayaking with a small guide-led group. The weather was perfect — sunny and warm but not too warm. 

After kayaking we spent some time in an underwater observatory. Unlike an aquarium, the fish were out in their natural habitat, free to come and go as they pleased. We were the ones contained behind glass. Sometimes there were lots of fish swimming by, sometimes nothing. It was a neat facility. 

A short cruise back to the main dock and we were back on a little plane for our scenic return flight to Queenstown. We really liked our return pilot Elliot; he was a cool guy. We took tons of pics with our phones through the windows, but here’s a small selection to enjoy.

Bob’s Cove & Twelve Mile Delta

On our final day in Queenstown, we hiked parts of Bob’s Cove and Twelve Mile Delta. The top of the picnic loop at Bob’s Cove held some amazing views of the water on both sides of the peninsula. 

Included in this little trek was a visit the Ithilien camp in Lord of the Rings where Sam and Sméagol have their discussion about taters and watch the Easterlings and Oliphants pass by.

Sam: “What we need is a few good taters.”
Sméagol: “What’s taters, precious? What’s taters, eh?”
Sam: “Po-ta-toes! Boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew…

For reference, here’s a still of that scene. We didn’t have it on hand, so I didn’t quite get it lined up perfectly, but it’s close!

Sorry if you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan and my references sprinkled throughout this post are lost on you. I hope those of you that are fans have enjoyed it!

To finish off the trip, we flew back to Auckland the next morning where we had about 2 days time to explore. We’ll cover what we did there in our third and final post about New Zealand, and then we’ll be back to sharing our more usual content of cats and house projects. 

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