Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Zealand December 2011 - Exploring Queenstown And Getting To The Milford Track

***This post is part 7 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***  

Getting into Queenstown from the airport is very easy with the Connectabus service. It costs only 6 NZD and runs every 15 minutes directly into the downtown area. Once there, it is walkable to most of the main tourist sights, although there are also many hotels and backpackers lodges on the outskirts of the city where a taxi might be needed.

We had booked two double rooms at the Aspen Lodge Backpackers, which is about a five-minute walk from the center of town. The setup was very basic, but at the very least our units had a shared private bathroom. The lodge also has dormitory-style rooms with bunk beds and community bathrooms. The Aspen Lodge Backpackers was perfectly comfortable for our one-night stay, and I was especially happy with the high-pressure shower and plentiful hot water.

Aspen Lodge Backpackers

Queenstown is a fairly small city, with a total urban population of about 10,000 people. It feels that way too, with only a few busy streets downtown. It caters heavily to thrill seekers from all over the world, who come to experience the "adventure capital of the world" with bungee jumping, skydiving, paragliding, rafting, and jet boating. I considered doing a bungee jump in Queenstown when planning this trip, but I think nerves got the best of me once I actually arrived!

Downtown Queenstown

Queenstown Mall

Lake Wakatipu

The city is very beautiful, with Lake Wakatipu on one side, and mountain ranges surrounding the others. The Queenstown outdoor mall has restaurants catering to just about every taste, and plenty of souvenir shops as well. There is a gondola to the top of Bob's Peak that affords spectacular views of the city and lake below. Once at the top, you can also partake in a number of activities like bungee jumping, paragliding, mountain biking, and even a fun luge ride.

Skyline Queenstown

Bungee jumping at the top

Luge ride

Queenstown is a popular departure point for both Milford Sound and the Milford Track. Many people take one-day bus tours to Milford Sound, or book the more expensive option of flying in. Flying is the much quicker option, especially since the road into the sound is actually a huge roundabout, bypassing mountain ranges and lakes.

Since we were headed to the Milford Track, we had to take the road option. The initial leg was getting to the small town of Te Anau, which marks the first and only rest stop along the route. This was the only leg that was not included in our Milford Track booking through the Department of Conservation. We reserved the Queenstown to Te Anau bus in advance through the InterCity Coachlines website. Once we got on board, we were surprised to find out that the entire bus was part of a one-day Milford Sound tour, and only the four of us and another gentleman were getting off at Te Anau to continue on to the Milford Track.

InterCity Coachlines bus to Te Anau

Lake Te Anau

Te Anau serves as a gateway of sorts to Fjordland National Park, and all cars on their way to Milford Sound or the various hiking trails must pass through. It is a quaint little town with a population of less than 2,000 people, but it has plenty of restaurants and accommodations catering to the thousands of tourists that visit each year. The Fjordland National Park Visitor Center is also in Te Anau; this is where you go to present your booking confirmation for the Milford Track and obtain your official tickets.

From the visitor center, we boarded the Tracknet shuttle bus, which drove us approximately 18 miles north to Te Anau Downs, a simple boat dock marking the departure point for the Milford Track. A ferry was already waiting for us here, and we soon set off on the one-hour boat ride, which offered some stunning first views of Fjordland National Park. We disembarked at Glade Wharf near the northern tip of Lake Te Anau. This is the official start of the Milford Track.

Tracknet shuttle bus to Te Anau Downs

Ferry to Glade Wharf

Glade Wharf - official start of the Milford Track

Here we go

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