Fiordlands, Invercargill & Dunedin

December 26 (Boxing Day in New Zealand)- Queenstown to Te Anau

 Queenstown is one those places where you could stay longer, but we had places to go and things to see, so we headed South from Queenstown towards Te Anau, the center of the Fiordlands (spelt with an "i" not a "j"). The drive from Queenstown was pretty as always, although not quite as dramatic as the drive TO Queenstown. Also, the weather was beginning to get worse, so nothing looked quite as pretty, but the looming clouds did add some drama to the mountains.

We checked in to a very ordinary motel and as it was raining by now and the weather was cold, we were happy to spend the afternoon resting and blogging.

That night, we did go into Te Anau for dinner and enjoyed a rather good meal at The Fat Duck restaurant. However, when we came out, to my embarassment, I had left the lights turned on and the car wouldn't start. As it's an automatic I couldn't push start it. I asked a few startled tourists if they had jumper cables but of course they were driving rental cars as well, so no luck. Finally, I had to call (and pay) AA to come and jump start me. Took them two seconds of course, but that was no comfort. Oh well !

December 27 - Doubtful Sound

 Next day, the rain had blown over and we were greeted with a bright sunny day. Hooray !

 The only reason for anyone to visit Te Anau (besides the scenery) is to visit one or both of the two "sounds" accessible by road. The first and best known is Milford Sound, which can be reached by road from Te Anau. The other sound, Doubtful Sound, isn't quite as accessible but you don't need to hike for a week and sleep in a tent to get to it. We drove about 20 kms south to Manapouri and then took a passenger ferry across Lake Manapouri to connect with a road that leads to Doubtful Sound. The scenery from the ferry was pretty spectacular so we were beginning to wonder just how much MORE spectacular the Sound itself would be.

Waiting for the Lake Manapouri ferry

Mountains from Lake Manapouri

The view of the mountains from the ferry

Once we had crossed the lake, we were met by buses to take us through the mountains. However, our first stop was the hydro-electric plant built into the mountain, which channelled water from Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound to generate electricity. The unusual thing about the scheme was that unlike most hydro-electric schemes, the lake was already in existence and the hydro-electric scheme just diverted an existing flow of water. There had been a plan to raise the level of the lake by about 100 ft but that would have flooded many beautiful areas and after a huge debate, the plan was modified to keep the lake level at it's natural height.

 The tour buses actually drive almost 2km down a long spiral tunnel to the generating hall, where the electricity is generated.

Tour buses at the bottom of the 2 km tunnel (having turned round) and the generating hall.  Both are underneath about 750 ft of solid rock

So back on the buses, out of the tunnel and on to Doubtful Sound, where our tour boat is waiting.

What is perhaps the most surprising thing is that in this time of terrorism, unescorted and unsearched tour buses are allowed into the very heart of a major element in the country's power generation system. I guess they are just very proud of what they have achieved and want to show it off !

Waterfall from the road to Doubtful Sound and our first view of the Sound from the pass - note the road below

Our ferry was just docking as we arrived and then off we went for the classic three hour tour through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Here are a few examples of what we saw:

The name , Doubtful Sound, was given indirectly by Captain Cook, who when surveying these waters noted on his chart "doubtful harbour". He didn't mean to name the inlet, but the name has stuck.

As it rains two days in three in the Sound, so everyone kept telling us how lucky we were to see the Sound in sunshine. A day earlier, as we already knew, it had been raining solidly.

Once our tour was over, we returned by bus and ferry to Manapouri and then to our rather sad motel in Te Anau, but the images and memories of Doubtful Sound will be with us for a long time to come.

December 28 - Te Anau to Invercargill

 Our next stop was Invercargill.  We didn't know quite what to expect and as a result, we really weren't disappointed. Having checked in to our motel, we took a drive through the city. Apart from a couple of quite elegant buildings, there didn't seem to be much to see.

We couldn't decide if we wanted to go to Stewart Island the next day, which is the big "thing to do" in Invercargill, so we drove to the The Bluff, which is the southernmost point on the South Island and the nearest point to Stewart Island on the mainland. In the end, we didn't go to

This was our wedding anniversary (#27 can you believe ?) but we couldn't find a decent restaurant open so we abandoned the attempt and feasted on cheese and crackers (and a good bottle of wine) back in our room.

The Railway Station Hotel (the station itself is gone) and a rather impressive church

December 29 - Balclutha and the Caitlins

 We had originally planned to spend two nights in Invercargill, but having decided not to visit Stewart Island, we had no reason to stay. We had already booked (and paid) for three nights in Dunedin from the 30th, so we had to find somewhere to stay between the two cities. Some research on the internet the previous night had turned up one option - a small B&B just outside Balclutha, about ninety minutes from Invercargill. We took our time and stopped at some of the local points of interest along the way.

In the late afternoon, we arrived at Lesmahagow, a historic private house which is now a B&B. Built in 1915 by the local  factory owner, the current owners raised a large family and now welcome strangers into their home. We were greeted by Kate and Noel like old friends and although Noel kept himself pretty scarce, Kate was a very active host for the rest of the day.

The bedrooms were little changed from their original design, with the original ceilings and fireplaces still in place. Kate and Noel had decided against adding ensuite (private) bathrooms as it would have ruined the original architecture. However, in our earlier emails, we didn't really understand what the bathroom arrangements would be. It turned out that we had a private bathroom and a seperate private toilet, but they were both a walk down the hall. A good reason to wear jammies that night !

Lesmahagow, and  on the right, you can (just) see Kate setting the dining room for dinner

              Our bedroom    

                    Waiting for dinner

Having worked out the bathroom arrangements, we got ourselves settled and started to meet the other guests as they arrived or returned from their day trips. One couple was from New Zealand but had only moved here from the U.K. about eighteen months ago and the other couple was from the States (Seattle) so we had a lot in common. As we had dined on cheese and crackers the night before, we had asked Kate to prepare dinner for us and it turned out the other two couples had done the same. Dinner was served about seven thirty and was excellent ! Roast lamb, cooked with various herbs, with vegetables, followed by dessert and coffee. A couple of bottles of wine didn't hurt either and we had an excellent evening and probably one of the best meals we have had on this trip. Sadly, we have no pictures of this event, but we did get a picture the next day at breakfast.

From left to right :Neil (NZ), Cynthia & John (Seattle),Paul & Kris (Orlando) Ann (NZ)

December 30 - Balclutha to Dunedin

 We left Lesmahagow with some sadness. We had enjoyed the previous evening and felt like we had been staying with friends. But after a good cooked breakfast (bacon, eggs and mushrooms) we had to leave. It's only about sixty minutes from Balclutha to Dunedin so we deliberately took a scenic route to kill some time. However, the weather was getting worse and it started to rain and blow. After about an hour,  we decided we had had enough sightseeing and we set the GPS for Dunedin.

 Our accommodation for the next three days was "The Brothers" boutique hotel, which is a polite way of saying "small". We thought it must be run by two brothers, but it turned out that it was right next to a Cathedral and the building had originally housed "The Christian Brothers Order", presumably connected with the cathedral in some way. The location was very central although it was at the top of a very steep hill ! The rooms were very small and had no storage at all, so we spent the next three days living out of our suitcases - quite literally. The rooms did have new bathrooms which, although small, worked quite well. One assumes that originally, with no bathroom and (presumably) only a single bed, the rooms would have been quite spacious.

 "The Brothers" balcony and view of the Cathedral from the the balcony

 Having settled in, we decided to go exploring but the weather was still cold and gusty. We walked down the hill to the center of town and found the very famous Dunedin Railway station.

 Dunedin Railway station - outside and inside

As the weather was still very unsettled and as many places seemed to be closed, we decided to see a movie and as we were in New Zealand, we thought we should see Peter Jackson's (now SIR Peter Jackson's) latest movie, "The Lovely Bones" which we had both read as a novel. Suffice it to say, the movie isn't as good as the novel, but it kept us out of the cold for two hours. After the movie, we grabbed a quick snack and called it a night !

December 31 - Dunedin

Another blustery day so we decided to take a tour of the Otago peninsula, an area just outside Dunedin known for it's natural beauty. Our first planned stop was to be Larnach Castle - the only castle in New Zealand. Of course, it's more in the nature of a folly than a real castle as it was only built in 1871. We were all ready to take the tour until we discovered the admission was $25NZD each and neither of us was THAT keen, so we did a u-turn and kept going. 

 Our next stop was "The Penguin Place", which had been recommended to us. We arrived too early for the next tour, so we took off for Tairoa Head, where there is an albatross breeding center. However, there was an admission charge for that, as well, and it was literally blowing a gale, so we gave up on the albatrosses and went back to see the penguins.

 We had assumed that it was some kind of zoo, but it turned out to be a genuine penguin reserve. After an introduction, we were bundled into a bus and taken down to an area near the beach where the (very rare) yellow eyed and (less rare) blue penguins live and breed.

  The penguin preserve. Note all the covered tunnels and hides so the tourists can watch the penguins

The first thing we saw was a fur seal, which doesn't eat penguins, but the penguins are never certain about that, so they give them a wide berth. Once we had entered the tunnels and hides, we could see the penguins, although still from a distance.

So after about ninety minutes of penguin watching, we were taken out of the reserve and back to our cars. We were pleased to find the penguins were not in cages and we actually rather enjoyed our "penguin encounter".

As the weather was still cold and blustery, we worked our way out of the Otaga Peninsula and back to our hotel. As this was New Years Eve, we had always planned to be at the Octagon, the center of Dunedin, for the New Year's Party we knew the city had planned. However, as the weather wasn't that great, we couldn't see ourselves hanging around for hours, so we went back into town around 7:00pm and went to another movie - this time "Sherlock Holmes". If Sir Conan Doyle had planned for Sherlock to be an action hero, this movie would have met with his approval. It was enjoyable fun and kept us off the streets until about 9:30pm when we found a nice warm bar and nursed several drinks until just before midnight, when we went outside to enjoy the scene, the entertainment and the fireworks.

January 1 - Dunedin


We awoke to a big improvement in the weather - a bright clear day, finally. We hadn't really made any plans but Kris wanted to see a private house called "Olveston" that we hoped might be open, which it was. As it was a very pleasant day, we sat in the garden while we waited for our guided tour to start.

 The house, built in 1904, was the private home of a successful importer of expensive items such as furniture and artworks and in many cases, he seems to have kept the best for himself. The house was full of exquisite works of art as well as all kinds of china, Japanese artifacts and wonderful furniture, as perhaps you can see from the above photos. After our tour of Olveston, we still had the afternoon free, so rather against our better judgement, we decided to take yet another train journey, this time a half day Taieri Gorge Railway trip. We thought we had finished with railways on this trip but this is one of the highlights in Dunedin and frankly, we had nothing better to do !

 The train left from the Dunedin Railway station and after a few miles, turned off the main track to what was always a secondary line. When the line was closed in 1990, the City of Dunedin bought part of the line so that these scenic trips, which had already been quite popular, could continue.

If I stick my head out of the window, perhaps no one will notice that my allergies are killing me.


And so after four hours and a round trip of 116 km and more sneezes and sniffles than anyone could count, we found ourselves back at Dunedin station. After a quick meal, we called it a night and headed to bed.