Queenstown and a scenic flight to Milford Sound 🛩️
Queenstown was the last stop on our New Zealand trip, and we started our journey there from the farm we stayed at in Twizel. We couldn’t miss “that tree”—the Wanaka tree—a lone tree that is thriving in the shallow depths of Lake Wanaka. Since we still had some time before being able to check in to our Airbnb in Queenstown, we ate lunch in Wanaka at a small cafe. I honestly wasn’t hungry for lunch because I hadn’t done a lot of exercise or movement, so I hadn’t worked up an appetite. But I chose the brunch special on the menu which was salt and pepper calamari.
Our drive had been almost three hours to Wanaka but we had another 90 minutes or so to get to Queenstown. We were able to check in once we arrived, and then drove downtown to drop off our rental car as we wouldn’t be needing it for the remainder of our trip. Queenstown is not exceptionally walkable… if at all. 😂 Unless you are staying in the heart of town. Anywhere with a good view would warrant a rental car because it would be up steep hills that would be extremely tiring to climb. The villa we were staying in was about fifteen minutes’ walk to town, but the two small hills we had to climb felt like hell especially when we were tired.
We took the rest of that afternoon to explore Queenstown near the water, and do the harbour walk that loops around near the beach and Queenstown Gardens. We just followed the walking path close to the water and continued going around. It’s a lovely short walk.
We ate at a place called Pedro’s By The Lake for dinner, a Mexican tapas restaurant with some very good food! During our stay in Queenstown we also spent a lot of time walking around and exploring the esplanade, the shops, and basically just going for a wander around.
The following morning we had booked a tour with Milford Scenic Flights, the Fly/Walk/Cruise/Fly to experience Milford Sound. It was fairly easy to book and organise, and we chose this option (despite the cost being a bit over $1000) because we felt it was best value for money for what we were after. I have heard that walking the Milford Track is marvellous, but we didn’t have the time, nor did we have the preparation (Nick and I have not yet done a multi-day hike). Driving to Milford Sound would be a lovely drive, but again we didn’t have the time to drive from Queenstown for several hours there and back. The package consisted of a free shuttle bus pickup from our accomodation, a scenic flight to Milford Sound, a three hour hike doing part of the Milford Track, a boat cruise, and a flight back to Queenstown. It was a very full-on day from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
The day started with us trying to grab a rudimentary snack from McDonald’s, but they were annoyingly closed for some kind of cleaning or maintenance, so we had to go to a convenience store. Then we had to make the pretty hectic walk up the hill back to our Airbnb, but all of this in time for a 7:05am pickup. 🥱 I was starting to panic and hoped we hadn’t forgotten anything in our day bag.
The flight to Milford Sound would be about 35 to 40 minutes. Getting us prepared for the flight was alright, but it was on the flight that I really started to feel ill and felt myself going into a state of panic, and I couldn’t wait to land. I’ve only had a panic attack once in my life, and it was enough for me to know what being close to one feels like; I’ve had a couple of emotional meltdowns that I know when I’m about to have one… so I don’t normally get motion sickness but a combination of things made the flight uncomfortable—being a small jet, seating only seven or eight people, you could really feel the turbulence; I was split from Nick and sat at the back while he sat next to the pilot; the air vent above my seat wasn’t working so I had no way of easing my motion sickness. Above all, just a whole bunch of nope. I had to get the sick bag in case I was going to be sick. The pilot wasn’t particularly friendly and while I was there feeling rather traumatised and needing some space, she made it feel like feeling sick was extremely uncommon.
We got our lunch bags with food and snacks—for the most part, I think we were pretty well catered for, as dietary requirements were adhered to and there was more than enough food for the day. Unfortunately our hike ended up feeling rather rushed. We had maybe a half hour delay or more because the skipper who was supposed to pick us up from the terminal and transport us by water taxi was on another job. We had to wait around while our hiking guide contacted someone else.
We barely had stops on the hike; just a fifteen to twenty minute break before we completed the return part of the trail. The Milford Track seems rather approachable and mostly flat, but to complete the entire track would take three to four full days. You can book accomodation in huts, and just bring your own sleeping bag. Maybe completing the whole hike is something I would consider one day, but I haven’t put too much thought to it. I know there are other hikes I would want to do around the world and they don’t necessarily have to be multi-day hikes.
The next part of our day was a scenic cruise which was a couple of hours on the water, driving out into the point at which the sound meets the Tasman Sea. There were some intense waves. The captain steered the boat directly into some of the icy cold waterfalls—with fair warning for the passengers outside on the deck—I had a poncho, but I didn’t particularly feel up for the surprise of cold water. I was getting just a little bit seasick from the waves.
After having such gnarly weather throughout our New Zealand trip, and it being incredibly cold, we were grateful to have some sun during our day out at Milford Sound, and no rain.
On the flight back, we had a different pilot, who asked if anyone wanted to be at the front. I asked if I could at least be in the middle or somewhere that wasn’t the back of the plane, because I had such a terrible experience on the way there. He asked if I wanted to be at the front instead, in the co-pilot seat, and said it would definitely help a bit with the motion sickness. I didn’t want to take that seat in case someone else wanted it, so I asked first… turns out the group were alright with that.
I was hoping sitting in the front would be miles better than anywhere else, but it made only a small difference. I was still very unprepared for any unexpected turbulence and hated those stomach drops, but this time I felt a bit more well looked after, and I felt more like I could enjoy the view compared to on the way there.
The shuttle bus dropped us back to where we were staying, where we had a bit of a break before heading into town for dinner. It was very cold, temperatures in the low teens (Celsius—about 50ºF), and even though we wore layers of clothing, we were still not prepared for such cold. We wanted to eat at this restaurant called Finz but ended up having to book a table for a later time, and do something else in the meantime. They were that busy. We could also only secure an outdoor dining table, so we were pretty cold—they were nice and gave us double the blankets though. 😂
The following day was our last full day in Queenstown, and we didn’t have anything planned. There is certainly no shortage of adventure activities you can do in and around Queenstown, but as it was the end of our trip and we just had a big day for Milford Sound, we didn’t try to pack anything in. We had brunch at a nice place called Yonder, which we also ended up going to the following morning.
I still had the energy to do a giant walk. It’s very typical of me that I want to do giant walks or hikes when travelling, sometimes pushing a little too hard. Nick has no shame in pointing that out. We didn’t want to do a hike up the Queenstown Hill because we weren’t prepared, not even with a bottle of water, but I definitely was in the mood for a long walk. 😆 Nick did a quick search on his phone since he really wanted to ride the Queenstown gondola to see some views. We decided to climb up and then be rewarded with a trip down the gondola.
The Tiki Trail is the designated hiking trail that gets you to the top of the gondola ride, but there is also a gravel road for vehicles. Since we were walking in a part of town that wasn’t directly connected to the Tiki Trail, we ended up partially walking up the gravel road then connected to the Tiki Trail.
We got a little confused because mountain biking trails crossed the trail, and we encountered another hiker who started walking up the mountain biking trail… 😰 It was Nick who pointed the correct way to me, but the other hiker continued to climb up the biking trail. We hoped he would be fine (and not collide with a mountain biker), but there wasn’t much we could do but continue on our way.
The view from the top was wonderful. I wasn’t at all interested in going on the luge—I don’t regret my decision, but some people recommend it!
We tried the famous Fergburger afterwards, as a bit of a treat after a big hike. We were able to grab a seat inside just as someone left. The place is very popular and you’ll more than likely have to queue, but they are open pretty late.
It was maybe not a burger I would rave about, and not really the best burger (I don’t know what the best is, to be honest), but I definitely had no complaints. It tasted good.
For dinner we stopped by a place called Margo’s with Mexican inspired share plates. The service was great and there were lots of taco options on the menu, including vegan options. I didn’t have any, but I would be so curious to know how good they are, since I have had some very good vegan Mexican food.
Nick took this photo on our way back to our Airbnb from dinner. It was the last time we’d be walking up this extremely steep hill, since the next morning we’d be going downtown and catching a bus from there to the airport. Look—we’re fit people, but the hills are still a challenge when you are done at the end of a day and want to rest.
The next morning I stopped by Foursquare, a supermarket, to buy some toffee candy called RJ Mackintosh’s. It is a very odd name, and it sounds even more odd that I wanted to buy them, but they are only available in New Zealand! I found some Australian suppliers, but they charged a lot for shipping and I figured I might as well grab some while I was in NZ. The funny thing is, I found out about the toffee candy because we got some in a small jar during our farm stay.
Then it was back at the Yonder cafe again for breakfast and I decided to order the same thing as Nick. This rarely happens! He likes a “basic” scrambled eggs and bacon, while I tend to explore what the eatery might specialise in. But I just felt like something “basic” too, so there you go.
After taking our time in the cafe, we headed out and located the bus stop that would take us to the airport. After hanging out in the gate lounge for some time, we were on our way back home, and also decided to fly back on a Saturday so that we had the Sunday to recuperate before going back to work. Queenstown itself was lovely, and I wouldn’t mind coming back, but I would probably explore more things outside of Queenstown and use it as a base. It definitely had a resort-like vibe that I wasn’t a big fan of (but that’s just my personal taste). I think the city itself has more to explore in terms of hikes, too.
Other posts about this New Zealand trip:
- Auckland adventures in rain and shine
- Hobbiton, Rotorua Canopy Tour, and Redwoods tree walk
- Taupō: Natural wonders and natural waters
- Windy Wellie 🌬️
- A short stop in Christchurch
- 🥾 Sealy Tarns and Hooker Valley tracks at Aoraki/Mount Cook
- Staying on a farm in Twizel
Overall, it was a good, well-balanced trip. We discussed how all the activities were well spread out, we saw everything we wanted to see this time, and covered good ground. Despite the weather mishaps, things ran smoothly and we didn’t have to deal with any cancellations or last-minute changes. New Zealand, thanks for having us! 🥝