Our first full day in Queenstown, we hopped on board a vintage coal-fired steamship, the T.S.S. Earnslaw, and crossed Lake Wakatipu to visit Walter Peak High Country Farm. It was a beautiful ride to another beautiful place. The Farm is a working sheep farm. We saw a very businesslike border collie herd sheep. Our tour guide then gave a sheep-shearing demonstration. The tour guide was a real character who delighted in pulling the wool over the tourists’ eyes, shall we say. We got a real kick out of him. The farm also had a herd of Scottish Highland Cattle, which we visited, and a small herd of fairly friendly deer. The stag had a very impressive rack, which he allowed me to touch carefully through the fence. The tour guide had told us that deer antler is much prized throughout Asia, being thought of as an aphrodisiac. However, I am not about to start sprinkling antler powder on my breakfast cereal for any reason!
I was lucky enough to be able to go on a trail ride at Walter Peak, along with 3 giggly, inexperienced and somewhat fearful teenagers, a very patient riding instructor/guide, and some equally patient horses. We got to see some of the farm not visible from the main homestead. I remember wondering if the guide was perhaps appreciating the scenery, and by that I mean the teenaged girls, not the mountains. Being who I am, I was tempted to quietly warn the guide, “Dude! Watch out-those girls are jailbait!” but was able to resist sticking my nose where it didn’t belong.
The rest of the trip to Walter Peak was spent enjoying a tasty lunch and visiting the other animals in residence, including other herding dogs. By then I was missing my own dogs and cat quite a bit. I really appreciated being able to pet some substitutes.
The next day, we headed off to Milford Sound with a very personable local guide by the name of Jim. The drive to Milford was quite long, passing through miles of gentling rolling green hills and farmland. We saw sheep, sheep and more sheep. New Zealand has up to 35 million sheep; I think we managed to see most of them on our trip. I’ve never, ever seen so many sheep. And unlike in the U.S., we also saw quite a few deer farms. The deer products are largely exported to Europe and Asia. Poor Bambi!
Over time the landscape became more mountainous and the road more curving. We passed by the clear waters of Mirror Lakes, through the mile long “Homer Tunnel” carved through the mountains, then stopped to see “The Chasm” where the river carved its way through the mountains. Eventually, to my queasy stomach’s relief, we arrived at Milford Sound and boarded a boat for a lunchtime cruise.
Milford Sound is stunning. There’s no other word for it. The mountains extend right down to the Sound. The water is clear and clean. We were lucky, it wasn’t raining that day, so we had a clear view of everything, including a couple of waterfalls, seals, fishing boats, and of course the mountains themselves. Since then we’ve heard that Doubtful Sound is just as beautiful, so if we ever return to New Zealand, off to Doubtful Sound we will go. It just wouldn’t be right to go to New Zealand, and not go to one or the other.
After the cruise, Jim dropped us off at the tiny little airport right by the Sound, and drove all the way back home by himself. We felt sorry for him. But then I saw the plane we’d be flying back to Queenstown in, and I felt sorry for ME.
I’ve never been thrilled when it comes to getting on an airplane. In fact, for the first 25 or so years of my life, I flatly refused to do it. As far as I’m concerned, people weren’t made to fly. It isn’t natural. Eventually I realized that if I were to ever do some of the things I really wanted to do, I would have to face my fears and get on a plane. After much work, I’ve been able to get on a plane for many years, but I still don’t enjoy it particularly, and am a white-knuckled flier
We were scheduled to fly back to Queenstown in a Cessna. An itsy, bitsy, 4 passenger Cessna. Holy crap. The only thing worse than flying in a big plane, as far as I’m concerned, is flying in a little one. I was glad I had emptied my bladder before seeing that plane.
The four of us (Leo, the pilot, another passenger and myself), stuffed ourselves in the little plane (most willingly, me not so much) and off we went.
There’s nothing like flying right towards a mountain to make you feel humble and insignificant; like nothing more than a gnat on the breeze, especially when you’re in a tiny plane. I was petrified the whole flight. Leo of course was having a great time and took some really nice photos. I do have to admit, when I let myself look, the mountains, rivers and lakes were beautiful. Fortunately, the weather was good and the flight quite smooth, but I still wanted to kiss the ground when we landed in Queenstown. I’m sure the pilot, who was very professional, thought I was a real boob for being such a coward. I can’t say I blame him.