Milford Sound & Queenstown

Mountains, fjords, waterfalls, jetboats and a steamship!

On our long bus ride from Dunedin to Milford Sound, we stopped for lunch in the small town of Te Anau, and for sightseeing at Mirror Lakes. The scenery gradually became more mountainous until we reached the 1.2 km-long (0.75 miles) Homer Tunnel. After the tunnel the mountains dominated in all directions.

Milford Sound

At Milford Sound we boarded the Milford Mariner ship on which we would stay overnight. On a short cruise around the glacial fjord we viewed several waterfalls cascading down the sheer rock walls, and a pod of fur seals basking on the rocks. A colony of penguins had departed for the summer just days before our arrival. Before an outstanding buffet dinner, some of us joined a guide in a small boat excursion, while others enjoyed some kayaking.

Visibility was a little hazy but otherwise the weather was perfect all afternoon. Overnight, however, the skies opened up and heavy rain fell until midmorning. The rain-swollen waterfalls increased dramatically both in number and intensity. At one point during our morning cruise at least 15 separate cascades were visible.


A four-hour, 288 km (180 miles) bus ride took us back around the mountains to Queenstown, about 70 km away as the crow flies. The picturesque Lake Wakatipu dominates the scenery throughout the area. The next day, after a walking tour of the town and lunch at a weekend farmers’ market, we headed to the Dart River for a jetboat ride. This was a highlight of the entire tour, combining spectacular mountain scenery with a thrilling high-speed ride along the shallow, winding river. Our driver-guide pointed out sites where some of the scenes in The Lord of the Rings trilogy were filmed.

On our last full day in New Zealand we visited the nearby historic Arrowtown. Its comprehensive museum offered good insight into life around the time of the local 1860s gold rush. For lunch Connie and I rode the Queenstown gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak for expansive views of the city and Lake Wakatipu.

Later, our tour group met for drinks and a wrap-up session where we reviewed all the many favorite experiences of our time in New Zealand. We then boarded the TSS Ernslaw, the only remaining passenger-carrying coal-fired steamship in the southern hemisphere. The 17 km (10.5 miles), 45 minute boat ride to Walter Peak would have taken five and half hours by road! After a sumptuous buffet dinner and a sheep-herding demonstration at Walter Peak High Country Farm, we enjoyed a rousing sing-along on board the Ernslaw on our way back to Queenstown.

Walter Peak High Country Farm panoramic lake view

The next morning Connie and I boarded our flight to Melbourne, Australia while the rest of the group returned to the United States.

Next: Melbourne, 2023


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