Queenstown, Milford Track & Milford Sound

We took a trip south over the holidays down to Queenstown. We spent a few days in Queenstown before heading off to Te Anau to start the Milford Track. The hike takes four days and you travel through some fantastic forests and cool glacial valleys that are chock full of waterfalls if there is heavy rain (which there was for our trip). On the third day you ascend 500 meters and pass over the top of Mackinnon Pass which is at an elevation of close to 1100 meters. There is a sheer drop at the top called the “12 Second Drop” … named so because it would take you twelve seconds to hit bottom if you fell. Knees … weak …

There are stunning views of the mountain ranges that jut up around the pass as well as the steep valley walls leading up to the pass on either side. There is also a hut on one side of the pass with an outhouse that allows you to have some “private time” with a magnificent view through its window.

You then descend almost 1000 meters which can be tough on the rickety old joints. Day 3 ends as you limp into Dumpling Hut. I pretty much hit the bunk in the late afternoon and didn’t get out of it until the next morning. Luckily, the Danversarian sherpa was able to forage and put a feed on. Mmm … freeze-dried chicken tikka masala …

We weren’t able to get as many pictures as we wanted because it was a hassle getting the camera out of its waterproof sack with all the rain. Many of the pictures we were able to take didn’t turn out that well because it was overcast, foggy and so forth. Luckily, there was a bit of sun for the Mackinnon Pass.

This first picture is Queenstown, specifically the view of the the Remarkables across Lake Wakatipu.  We took a guided tour of the area and saw some of the places where the Lord of the Rings were shot.  My favorite was the Fangorn Forest site, where we were told that “this isn’t the actual location, it’s about a mile down the road, but it looks just like it.”  I thought about paying with little sheets of colored paper that were not actually legal tender … but did look just like it.

Another view of mountains across Lake Wakatipu is below.

This is another shot from the tour around Queenstown.  The scrubby little trees were the ones seen in the shots from above of Ian McKellan riding toward Isengard in one of the movies.

I’ve skipped ahead to the Mackinnon Pass on the Milford Track for this next picture below.  I may post some more pictures of Queenstown and Te Anau later.  This is a shot near the 12 second drop.  You can vaguely make out a rainbow.

The Kea is a kind of a parrot that range from the valleys all the way up to the alpine zones.  They are pretty curious and boldly tear into any gear lying unattended.  We were had to keep an eye on our food when they were around.  Cheeky buggers.  This guy was on a bush right at the edge of the 12 second drop.  The cliff actually overhangs the drop … which I didn’t know until we made our descent from the pass.  Just thinking about it makes my stomach queasy.

A small mortar and stone monument was built on the pass.

The following pictures are all from Mackinnon Pass.  It was one of the few times when it wasn’t completely overcast so we completely lucked out.

This shot is from the hut on the pass.  We stopped here for a midday snack and had to fend off persistent Keas.  Were able to make coffee on a gas stove in the hut.

The outhouse had a spectacular view.

And here is the view from inside the outhouse.  A bit stinky.

It looked much better in front of the door.

Some sort of alpine lily.

Now I’ve skipped ahead to Day 4 where we reached the end of the Milford Track and took a short ferry trip from Sandfly Point to Milford.
Although the mountains aren’t incredibly tall (Mitre Peak is about 1700 meters), their slopes are quite steep and rugged and just dwarf the various cruise ships tooling about.  There is vegetation on the slopes, but many of the rock faces are barren and numerous waterfalls starkly cascade 1000 meters down.  While people suggest that the truly fantastic views are available only when the rare sunny and clear days occur, I was happy to see the area during the rain and drizzle.  Looming and lurking.  That’s what leaps to mind.  The peaks loom and lurk behind clouds and fog.  Creepy.

The scale is hard to convey, but I was able to get a ship in this shot below.  If you squint you can see it in the lower left near the bottom of the waterfall.  The ship is probably a bit smaller than one of the dinner cruise ships on Boston Harbor, but not that much smaller.

Finally, some sleepy fur seals.

Have oodles more pictures but have to organize them.  Will post soon.

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