Arrowtown is one of my favourite places to spend time in NZ. It’s a bit tourist-focused, but I find it really relaxing and the variety of food, as always, makes me really happy.
Getting out to Milford Sound during this trip was always going to be a bit.. tricky. At least half of the group were not especially fond of waking up early early, or long car trips. I managed to convince everyone by promising that Milford Sound is an incredible sight, and woke up extra early to make everyone a delicious breakfast.
There was also the promise of snow.
Tate and I had been obsessively checking the weather app on our smartphones for up-to-the-minute snow predictions- “it’s going to snow at 9PM! it’s snow… it’s supposed to be snowing now!” – but they proved to be mostly inaccurate. This wasn’t the case for the road between Te Anau and Milford, which had been inundated with snow the previous evening and had been closed until further notice.
It was before sunrise and extremely cold outside, but sleepy and with full bellies, we set off. We chatted briefly while settling in on the road, but as soon as we were properly on our way, everyone quickly nodded off. About half an hour into our trip, the conditions changed and I realised that IT WAS ACTUALLY SNOWING OUTSIDE. I advised the sleepy inhabitants of the car and Rachael let me know that there was no way it was actually snowing. Carried away with childish excitement, I abruptly pulled the car over and convinced everyone to wake up and enjoy the snow with me. Tate and Tim obliged:
Not satisfied with stopping the car once to jump around in falling snow, I made an executive decision to pull over again when we were closer to Te Anau. In my defense, we were making excellent time and everyone was awake enough to enjoy it. I took the opportunity to Facetime with mum and show her the amazing snow.
We stopped briefly in Te Anau to enjoy some local coffee (it was fine) and to check the status of the road. We consulted some tour operators that were in the cafe and they agreed that the best course of action was to head out to where the road was closed and wait for it to open – the worst possible outcome would be that we’d get to see some beautiful countryside and then have to come back.
We drove for about half an hour, and then all of a sudden there was SNOW. EVERYWHERE.
Naturally, I forced everyone out of the car to play in the snow. Again.
After we had satisfied my urges to play in the snow, we were back on our way out to Milford Sound. We had been warned that the gate was still locked, and as we approached the tunnel there was a long row of cars, doors open, with tourists hurriedly fitting snow chains. We followed suit (and became experts in snow chain application) and were on our way again. We realised that the van in front of us was operated by the same company as our boat tour, so I followed it all the way to the terminal and threw Rachel out of the car to make sure the boat didn’t leave while we were parking and running to the terminal.
I’ve been trying to develop an appreciation for Pinot Noir and figured that Central Otago is probably the best place nearby to give it a go. I did a bit of research on wine tour companies before our trip and went with New Zealand Wine Tours Queenstown.
Our day started out relatively early – our guide Liz picked us up and took us for a scenic detour up to the Crown Range lookout nearby. On the way out Liz asked us what kind of wine we drink / enjoy back at home and got to know us. I loved her right away – she was friendly and really seemed to love wine and sharing her knowledge. She set us all at ease immediately and I was certain that we were in for a fantastic day.
We stopped at Peregrine Wines for a tasting first.
After Peregrine wines Liz took us to the Nose Restaurant and the Aroma Room. The Aroma Room was incredibly cool – it allowed us to develop a common vocabulary for the wine we were sampling for the remainder of the day. We followed the Aroma Room experience with a delicious platter lunch.
Our next stop was to Rockburn, further down towards Cromwell. The wines weren’t bad, but we found the service to be pretty cold.
After Rockburn, Liz took us out to Bannockburn for a visit to Akarua – perhaps my favourite winery of the day. I wanted to buy everything we tried – they had an amazing chardonnay, a lovely vintage brut, ice wine and finally, some INCREDIBLE pinot noir. I bought a few bottles (and then hoarded some via Dan Murphy’s upon my return to Australia), a couple of which we enjoyed in the spa.
At Brennan we were treated to a lovely tasting – fantastic Gewürztraminer, amazing Pinot Noir.. we were a bit drunk by this stage, but I still enjoyed a vertical tasting of their most recent Pinot vintages. The woman at the cellar door told us about their recent-ish win at the IWC with the 2011 B2 Pinot.
While researching things to do around Queenstown I came across a walking track in nearby Wanaka – Roys Peak Track – and fell a bit in love with the idea of kicking off our vacation with a day of exercise and amazing views. I bought some hiking boots and a wind proof jacket, breaking in both on the treadmill before we set off.
We’d planned for it to be a bit cold – I’d gone with three layers on my top half. I learned about 300m into the walk that this was a grave mistake, and Tim let me stuff my thermals and jacket into his pack.
We walked for a few hours, stopping every now and then to eat some muesli bars and INCREDIBLE New Zealand apples. In order to make it back to the car by sunset we needed to reach the summit by 1500.
It got to about 1440 when I realised I wasn’t going to get to the top with enough time to take photos and enjoy the snow. Joel scaled the side of the mountain like a goat, while Rach, Tim and I waited patiently (read- goofed around like idiots) in the snow and watched him reach the top. Bravo, Joel.
The view was stunning. We’d walked about 4.5km up the mountain (roughly 1000m of elevation gain) and the entire local area and surrounding range was visible. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was.
On our way back down to the car, everything started to hurt a little bit. Tim felt it initially, and about halfway down I started to feel it in my knees and calves. Luckily, a tourist from Hong Kong engaged our group in conversation (on a range of topics from asian food, aboriginals in australia, studying in HKG and ivan milat) and we were sufficiently entertained for the rest of the walk.
I was pretty shocked at how unfit I was for the duration of this walk. We’d discovered that there was a sake bar in town and I reminded myself of our wonderful Japanese dinner over and over again for motivation, but it was still really difficult, particularly as we neared the summit. I want to try the walk again next time – I really hope I can complete it more easily and without Tim having to carry the pack the whole way.
Queenstown – November 2014