It was some kind of euphoria that made us feel a bit like gold miners. We wanted more, and more, and more. It really seemed that every mile we trod, the best wonders were still to come. Where one lake ended, another one would start. So we ended up at Wanaka lake and we knew about this famous tree growing in the water, but we didn’t know where it was.
The music of a piano led us to it. A young man was playing a real piano just in front of the tree, on the lakeshore, almost on the water. It was unreal, even now, when I think about it, I wonder if it was a dream. Ah… sometimes music is enough to take you far away! Wanaka was the first urban center we found, a small but very lively town.
We simply let the day go by, watching the light changing its color on the mountains around the lake and on its crystal clear waters.
We stopped nearby, a little bit above the level of the lake, in another free campsite near the tiny Diamond Lake, in a valley which is surrounded by mountains under an incredible sky. We woke up at dawn to watch the sun lighting up the mountain and making it a big red presence. The dew covered the fields of golden grass, making it shine like silver threads.
The low clouds gave us a drowsy morning and new colors to observe along the Mount Aspiring road towards Arrowtown, a very small town that the amazing Alfie’s kitchen guys had suggested us.
Arrowtown is on the Otago, besides the river Arrow it derives its name from. It used to be a mining town and many gold diggers, mainly Chinese, swarmed here in search of fortune.
Walking through its narrow roads was like traveling back in time, more precisely, like going back to the Far West period.
We moved on and quickly crossed Queenstown. We knew we would come back to Queenstown at the end of our journey (that’s where our plane would leave from) so we only crossed the center to get some gas and to buy avocados and local salmon, which is delicious, just like the greenshell mussels, giant mussels you can only find in New Zealand. We ate on a big rock with a view on Wakatipu lake, enjoying very much that moment.
We then moved along the lake on Kingston Road, one of the most beautiful roads I have ever seen. Francesco drove for a long time until Manapouri, passing through valleys where the fawns were not used to see cars and people. We did not cross anybody for miles and, when I got off the car to stretch my legs in front of a field with at least 300 fawns, they all stared at me amazed. Then one fawn started to run and they all followed it in a din of hooves, crowding up in the farthest corner of the fenced field. They all kept staring at me with a thousand round eyes until we left!
That night we stopped in a regular campsite, most of all because we finally wanted to take a warm shower. We found Possumlodge campsite, a simple but cozy, family-run campsite, one of my favorites. I found a small market of props in the kitchen, at the guests’ disposal!
Milford Sound was a little bit closer now, but before reaching it we crossed Te Anau, where we spent the whole morning, exploring the center and finding a little but comfortable café where we had breakfast with cappuccino and carrot cake. We also walked on Te Anau lakeshore.
Then the roads and the landscape started changing considerably. The vegetation became thicker, from yellow and dry to green and lush. The roads would cross a wet and dark undergrowth: the bark of secular trees was covered by moss and there were very thick ferns. Our soundtrack: Beach House.
This is where we saw for the first time the signs “Don’t feed the keas”, that is, the parrots living only on New Zealand mountains which assaulted our caravan (trying to take off the cables and antenna with their beak!) before Homer Tunnel, a long road tunnel in the Fiordland region linking Milford Sound to Te Anau and Queenstown.
At dusk, in what I call the “magic hour”, when light becomes golden, we reached the wonderful Milford Sound. I still remember the smell of that place, which reminded me of Venice lagoon. We stared enchanted at the landscape from the pier, where the short cruises into the fiord sailed from. We reserved ours for the following morning, early morning, because we did not want to miss the best colors which usually coincide with dawn and sunset. We stopped at the only campsite of the area (Milford Sound Camping lodge), a bit expensive but very nice, with many bright new structures, made of wood and glass, I definitely suggest it! That night the full moon was exactly behind the mountain under which we were sleeping. The moonlight drew its profile, so we seemed to be surmounted by a big dark presence… almost an alien presence, we said, in Arrival style!
Milford Sound cruise time! At the beginning I was a little skeptical, because this is one of the most crowded tourist destinations, even in low season, but I changed my mind five minutes after sailing into the fiord. The morning light on the mountains, the tall Tasmanian Sea waves strongly shaking the catamaran, the color of the water, the freezing wind, the low clouds and the waterfalls (the captain took us just underneath them!) made it an unforgettable experience!
When we came back from the cruise we left and found a trekking path on our way back which was reported on the map and did not seem too long: Lake Marian Track.
We entered the thick wood, crossed the river on a suspended bridge, walked on wooden steps along the river rapids. The intense smell of musk, the sound of water, the secular trees and luxuriant ferns seemed to get thicker and thicker. We could not reach the end of the trail because there was too much mud and a thunderstorm was approaching, obscuring the sky and turning off the light in the underwood… It was so dark that we decided to go back.
Avett Brothers as our soundtrack and off we went. The dark mountains became softer and greener, then the hilly countryside and their endless herds of sheep came back again. And then… the most beautiful day for me. We left early to see the Ocean. We passed the little Far-West-style town of Tuatapere – where we bought two ice-creams at a super freaky minimarket – and we arrived at Te Waewae Bay, at McCrakens lookout view where we remained speechless in front of a 360° view on the Pacific Ocean.
We went down to the beach to touch the water, the sound of the waves was almost deafening, so powerful and amazing. We remained there for a long time and I had my great connection moment (see Part 1). This was the farthest and southernmost point we reached, then our trip became a long journey back home – with many more stops on the way, though.
The first one was the road to Queenstown and our first solitary stop in a camp free area. Normally we always found someone else, who was travelling by car or by caravan, but at the Fairlight Railway Station, a very old abandoned railway station near the wood, there was nobody except a giant and bright moon. It was very creepy. We knew that nothing wrong would happen, in fact I would say that camping in New Zealand (in allowed free areas) is as safe as in one’s own garden… but that place… that deep silence and that old station made us shiver. We moved to the closest “town”, Garston, which consisted only of a gas station, public bathrooms and a small house, but it was enough to make us feel not so “lost”!
Queenstown, finally!! After experimenting such a wild and intense Nature for days, I really wanted to go back to civilization, to see people.
It was another warm sunny day, the last one – we spent it on the lakeshore with its yellow trees. We literally connected back with the world, we found a wifi and after sharing some stories on Instagram the first messages started to arrive. They all said more or less the same: “Are you in Queenstown? Go and eat at Fersburger!!”. So we went. Ah, it was so great, no wonder it is considered the best hamburger of the country!!. I did not even take a picture – I was so intent on eating and enjoying that delicious giant sandwich.
I loved Queenstown, its English gardens, its secular trees and its relaxed atmosphere. It was a perfect last day. We even treated us with a night in a comfortable pay campsite in the center, the Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park.
Last day. Departure and rain – the first rain… almost like a sign that it was “time to go!”.
I said good-bye to this land as if it was an old friend, before embarking the aircraft. From up above we saw the snowy mountains and Wakatapu lake and then only the blue Tasmanian Sea… just like in a dream, when you fall in deep sleep and images end. This is the feeling that I still have and that I will cherish for my whole life: the feeling that it was a beautiful dream, because it is hard to believe that such landscapes truly exist, even though we saw them with our own eyes.