Our time in beautiful Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula came to an end and we had a long road trip ahead of us to the Fiordland region. We turned a 4 hour car ride into an 8 hour ride since we wanted to take the coastal Catlins route. Just one hour south from Dunedin, right along the coastline, we started our exploration at Nugget Point lighthouse. Built in 1869, it overlooks a series of wave-like “nuggets” near the edge of the peninsula. We spotted tons of seals and sea lions. The views from the top were stunning. The walk to the lighthouse was about 1km but totally worth it, even on a hot day : )
From there, we continued our drive along the southeastern coast. Our next stop was at Purakaunui Falls. Leo and Mila loved climbing the rocks surrounding the waterfall, go figure :) It definitely was not the most spectacular waterfall but it was worth the stop. We also made a quick pass through the Curio Bay.
We planned on visiting a few other places but about 4 hours into our trip, we realized we only had about one eight of a tank of gas, yeah, not good…there was no cellular service in the area and once we finally got information about the nearest gas station, it was located 60 miles away…Note to self: alway have your tank full before a road trip and never wait until your tank is almost empty. Don’t worry, we did not run out of gas in the middle of nowhere and we were not eaten by local species (if that happened, you would not be reading this post). We finally reached a gas station and were saved! Our final stretch of drive took us to a small village in the middle of the South Island called Braxton. We rented an AirBnB house on a dairy farm. The living space was shared with the housekeeper, but since the house had 6 bedrooms, we did not feel cramped at all. Plus, the house keeper - Margaret, was very sweet which made our stay even more pleasant. We arrived at the house at 7:30 pm, had a bite to eat and went straight to bed.
Surprisingly, the next morning we slept in till 8:30. Right after breakfast we took a one hour drive to a town called Te Anau - the gateway to the Fiordland. The day was a bit cloudy which made it perfect conditions to explore. Rick took Leo and Mila to a local playground while I walked to the city center and searched for bikes to rent. We rented two bikes and a double buggy for the kids. The trail started on a paved path stretched along Lake Te Anau, but as soon as we left town, we were following a gravel road. It was a challenging ride winding through the woods and coming up & down mountains. I guess I should be happy that it was not me who had to pull the buggy with two little rascals - Rick got a full body workout, haha. The path was surrounded by beautiful mountains, forest and river. There were lots of hills and sharp turns and one of those turns got the best of Rick. As he was going down one of those steep hills, the speed of the bike overtook his strength and he wiped out. Luckily, the buggy with kids did not tip over and Leo and Mila were safe. However, daddy got a little banged up, ripped his pants and there was some blood, but I guess it could have been a lot worse. According to Mila, it was super fun and Leo just told dad to shake it off. At 11 km mark, we decided to take a break and have ourselves a picnic. We decided to turn around since we had to return the bikes within 4 hours. Biking back was much easier since, for the most part, you were going down hill. It was a fun and active day spent in the amazing nature of New Zealand. I still cannot get over the freshness of the air. It’s so pure and energizing, you almost want to save it in the jar and take it with you - how nice would that be?!
The following day we had an early wake up call at 5 am. We decided to head to remote fjord land, the majestic Milford Sound and put our hiking boots on ( 3 hour drive from our house). We chose to complete one of the most well known treks to alpine Lake Marian. The hike was marked as a 4 hour excursion in total, but honestly, we think Kiwis have different standards :-) The hike starts off fairly easy, you walk across a suspension bridge, then follow a gravel pathway and come to a gorgeous waterfall and some of the most spectacular scenery in fjordland. The water was so pure and clean you could see everything on the bottom. That was the easy part of this hike, I mean climb. As soon as you pass the waterfall the fun begins, or rather the real grind begins :-) You literally climb a very narrow pathway full of slippery rocks and boulders. Then you continue this exhausting fun for about 2 hours. At one point we got off the marked track and were lost. At this point we thought of turning around and going back but Rick went forward while the kids and I stayed put to find the track. Fortunately we were only about 50 meters from the marked path. That probably added a good 10-15 minutes of climbing through bushes and broken down trees. With that said, our hiking efforts were totally worth it; once we reached Lake Marian we were speechless. Right in the middle of these snow capped glacier mountains was this stunning lake. The sky was partly cloudy but you could still see the reflection of the mountains in the water, an absolutely fantastic view. We all just sat down and took it all in. The sweat, huffing and puffing were gone and we were breathing in fresh air. We soaked in this silent paradise for a good hour before heading back. Once again Leo was superman. He completed the whole hike on his own, never complained, led our family the whole time and was so into it. Looking back, almost 9 months ago in the French Alps we did our first family hike. We were so worried about Leo and his ability to finish the hike, we panicked at his every move. Fast forward to today, we don't even question his ability to do these hikes because he just does them. And he does them at an adult like pace. I guess practice makes perfect :-) Once we reached the parking lot, our legs felt like jello but we were so proud of our family. What an amazing adventure and family accomplishment!
We decided to drive another 30km to the heart of Milford Sound. The drive was awe-inspiring, huge mountains surrounded us from each side with waterfalls from the melting glaciers falling from the edges. The views were so powerful it makes you realize how tiny we are. It was definitely an intense day, leaving the house at 7am and returning at 8pm. Nevertheless, it was something we will never forget. Another priceless memory to add to our treasury box of experiences.
Our last day in Fiordland we booked a full day cruise exploring Doubtful Sound Fjord. We were up at 5 am, in order to make the drive to the town of Manapouri, where the trip started. We checked in at 7:30 and boarded the cruise by 8. First, we took a 30 minute ride across Lake Manapouri to West Arm pass. Then we had to jump on a bus ride (another 30 min) that took us to Wilmont Pass and Doubtful Sound. From there, we finally boarded a luxury catamaran and cruised around the Doubtful Sound for 3 hours. My oh my, where do we begin. The views were simply breathtaking! The wilderness and picturesque of this place was out of this world. There is no picture or video to justify the beauty of that fjord. This fjord is home to bottlenose dolphins and seals - we were lucky enough to witness a group of seals sunbathing on the rocks of the fjord. What made this day even more special was the perfect weather conditions. It was magically sunny, not a cloud to be seen and bright blue skies. It rains 250 days a year in Doubtful Sound, we apparently were in the minority today. It was so calm, the captain was able to take the catamaran out of the fjords into the Tasman Sea and do a U-Turn at sea, giving us a look back into the fjords, something he says he is rarely able to do. A highlight of this cruise was the “sound of silence” - since the water was very calm and the weather conditions perfect, once we came to a secluded area of the fjord, the captain turned off the engine and everyone had to stay quiet for 5 minutes (not easy to do this with two little kids, they were good for about 3 of it) and everyone enjoyed a magical few minutes of complete silence. The cruise was worth every penny and definitely one of the most memorable moments of our world tour. The crew had two boxes of toys for the kids as well as crayons and books, which made Leo and Mila very happy. Rick and I would take turns watching them while the other would go outside and just enjoy this stunning scenery. If you ever decide to visit New Zealand a trip to Fiordland and cruise with Real Journeys is a must. Super friendly and professional staff, could not have asked for a better experience. We are so in love with New Zealand and without a doubt, it is a special place to visit; and perhaps stay a while.
That day was also “moving” day for us. After the cruise we had a 4 hour drive to a town in Central Otago called Alexandra. It was probably one of the best drives we ever did - once we got closer to Queenstown, we drove along Lake Waikapata. It was simply stunning! I am serious when I say that pictures do not justify the beauty of these places - you really have to come here and see it for yourself to understand how magical it is. Since we did not eat much all day long, we were starving and guess what we had for dinner - Domino’s Pizza! (please don’t judge!). It was our cheat meal and as soon as Mila and Leo saw an image of pizza they were jumping around like kids who have found Nemo! We all went to bed with pizza bloated bellies : ) And let me add one more thing - our cabin rented on AirBnB is simply perfect! Cute and cozy, overlooking the mountains! I cannot wait to explore this region for the next week, yay!