On this longest travel day ever, we arrived in San Francisco not long after taking off from New Zealand. Time is such a strange thing. And so, a wonderful vacation-to-end-all-vacations comes to a close.
The TranzAlpine train itself is very nice—much nicer than an airplane! Traversing through the southern alps, the views from the train would have been stunning had we left on time. As it was, we caught a few glimpses of the setting sun in the mountain peeks along the route, but darkness engulfed about half of the trip.
Franz Josef Glacier is both a city and a specific glacier. My favorite part of the day was our helicopter sightseeing tour that included seeing Mount Cook.
The long drive (290km) was filled with one stunning expanse of gorgeous and unbelievable, and “Stop, I’ve got to get a photo!” after another. This drive took us to the west coast of the south island.
We ended our day’s travel by crossing over an active runway, heading onto the Whare Kia (pronounced Fair-a-kia). I have so often used “amazing”, “stunning,” “gorgeous,” “unparalleled” etc. but words just fail to describe what we are seeing. This, too, is another stunning, amazing, gorgeous place.
Milford Sound gets an average of 21 feet of rain a year! This is hard to imagine! (By comparison, the Amazon Rain Forest only gets 9 feet of rain a year.) It can rain as much as 10 inches in a 24 hour period. I suspect this vast amount of rainfall contributes significantly to the abundant, rain forrest-like jungle that grows here, including ferns that grow the size of trees.
We arrived in Te Anau around 3:00pm. The first thing I said when I got out of the car was, “I’m not milking the cows in the morning!” Our destination looked more like a very lovely home than a lodge. In fact, we started to drive away, convinced we had pulled up onto someone’ large farm by mistake, when the proprietress came out to assure us we were in the correct place.
I then realized that she thought I was searching for a real Kiwi bird that had been shot, killed and taxidermied. I quickly responded, “No, no, no. I’m not looking for a real Kiwi that has been stuffed. I’m looking for a fuzzy toy replica of a Kiwi.” It took a second for this to register through her shock at what she thought I had asked. “Ooooooh!” She exclaimed with a huge sigh of relief. And we both laughed heartily.
“Views” is such an understatement. I’m sitting here, writing, looking out at Lake Wakatipu. The whole front of the villa is glass. A steamship, the TSS Earnslaw, commissioned in 1912 (the same year as the Titanic and built by the same company), is sailing out in the large blue-green lake against the backdrop of a stunning snow-capped mountain range, The Remarkables, at 10 o’clock, and a different cloud-capped mountain range, Cecil Peak, across the bay at 1 o’clock. I feel as though I’m the only person here in massive, unspoiled, natural beauty. I’ve never experienced any accommodation this lovely.
The weather here is very changeable to be sure, but today, near the base of Aoraki Mount Cook, the weather was mostly the same: heavy, low cloud cover and constant drizzle or rain. We never saw Mount Cook. In fact, a few times we couldn’t see anything.