Monday, December 7, 2015

7 Dec 15 – Day 8 (Milford Sound)

Woke up early today for our Milford Sound day trip. Before the trip, many people told us that it is always raining at Milford Sound. We were also checking the weather forecast before the trip and initially, it showed that most of the days would be raining or overcast. So far, we were really blessed to have pretty good weather with only one day of rain and one to two days of overcast. So we prayed very hard that it would be a good weather day today. As Milford Sound day trip was an optional tour, some members didn’t join. However, we managed to have a big enough group such that we were able to use our own coach and driver for the tour.

Since we didn’t have the whole group, we were able to space ourselves out on the coach, hence I chose a seat two seats behind the driver side. The driver provided us with some fun facts during the journey, for instance, most of the streets in Queenstown are named after cities in Australia. We traveled for an hour plus before we get a quick comfort stop. Then we continued for another one and a half hour before reaching our first photo stop, the Eglinton Valley in Fiordland National Park along Milford Road to Milford Sound. Before we got down the coach, the driver warned us not to wander off too far, especially when there was another tour group at the same place, and that we were to return to the coach on time, otherwise we would run the risk of being left behind. Took some photos then SWT and I went back up the coach. Just as we were getting up, we saw a Caucasian lady being left behind by her tour group. Told our driver and he said that he would be picking her up on the way to bring her to the next photo stop where her tour group should be. Our driver quickly gathered the rest of the group with the help from Cynthia, picked up the lady and we were on the way to the next stop, the Mirror Lake. The lady thanked our driver before running to rejoin the rest of her group while we got down the coach to do a short walk around the lake to take photos. It was a beautiful sight and it would have made a great photo if not for the light drizzle causing multiple ripples on the lake.

Hopped onto the coach to continue the journey and along the way, the driver told us that we would pass by a waterfall. It appeared on the left side of the coach where SWT was seated so she managed to take photos while I admired the scenery on the right side. Reached the next photo stop and we saw a couple of kea on the ground. Most of us quickly took a few quick shots of the surroundings and then focus on the kea. According to the driver, the kea can be very aggressive and we saw that there and then. A couple of the kea flew on top of our coach and started pecking at it. Got back to the coach to the next stop, Mount Tutoko – Topuni. We got off the coach to walk a bit on the bridge as well as to take photos before getting up to the coach again to go to the place where we were supposed to take the cruise. Reached there about 11:15am and made used of the washroom facilities while Cynthia went to get the tickets. She told us that usually she was not able to board the cruise ship with the tour group, however, today she was allowed to get on to the cruise ship with us and she was even given a lunch voucher to collect her lunch onboard the ship.

As it was still too early for boarding, we took some photos around the place and then went out to the pier to take photos of the cruise ships. It was windy and cloudy with slight drizzle. Soon, we were told to form a queue for boarding and had to stand in the drizzle. Boarded the ship around 11:30am, shared a table with a family of four. Made ourselves comfortable and then took out our lunch, the boysenberry Danish, which we bought the evening before. Cynthia distributed some chocolate bars to the group while the ship was leaving the pier, hence, that added on to our lunch. Despite that, our lunch seemed rather miserable compared to the cup noodles meal that the other families were having. Finished our food and sat for a while, enjoying the view through the windows since we had difficulty getting out from our seats with the family eating their cup noodles. However, the family was taking far too long to prepare their cup noodles, so we had no choice but asked them politely to make way for us to get out. Once out, we put on our hats and pulled up the hoods of our outerwear and headed up to the upper deck to take photos.

The sky was overcast with slightly heavier drizzle which later on became light rain that forced us back to the lower deck where we had lunch earlier on. Sat around, drank some hot tea to wait for the rain to pass. After some time, the weather seemed to clear up and some passengers began to make their way up to the upper deck. Cynthia offered to look after our bags and so we put our stuff on the bench that she was sitting on and headed up again. The sky had indeed cleared up and showing nice blue sky which was picture perfect. SWT and I counted our blessings for the good weather. It was windy on the upper deck but we enjoyed the scenery very much and took many photos. The upper deck was really crowded with our tour members as well as some Koreans from another tour group. There were some broadcasting telling the passengers about the places that the ship passed by but, unfortunately, it was inaudible on the upper deck. Saw a number of waterfalls but they were more like streams because of the lack of gushing water. I could only imagine the magnificent sights if there was enough water to create the waterfalls. As most of the Koreans were crowding the front part of the upper deck, SWT and I moved to the back portion, partly to avoid them and partly to avoid the wind.

The ship went very close to some big boulders at one point in time and we could hear the broadcasting mentioned the word seals. Looked closely and there were indeed some seals resting on those boulders. Was glad to have my Sony Nex-3 with me so I was able to zoom-in to take photos of them. Soon we saw a better looking waterfall from afar and was told that the ship would steer really close to the waterfall for people to experience the waterfall. The passengers grew excited as the ship got closer and closer to the waterfall and many of us, including SWT and I, took many photos of the waterfall. When it was really close, I kept my Sony Nex-3 underneath my outerwear and took out my mobile phone to take photos. Being slightly daring, I went to the front part to experience the waterfall in close range and to take photos. Felt exhilarated and then rejoined SWT at the back. Took more photos of the waterfall as the ship steered away from it. We were really happy and glad that the day turned out to be good and enjoyable. Returned to the lower deck, joined Cynthia and the other members who did not go to the upper deck and SWT went on to show off her nice photos while making jokes. Thanked Cynthia for looking after our bags and soon the ship docked at the pier around 1+pm and we had to get off the ship.

Went to the carpark to look for our coach, boarded and soon we were on the way back to Queenstown. The driver continued his usual practice of providing us with information of NZ. He told us that we were very lucky because the day before there was a windstorm and the road to Milford Sound was closed. Along the way, he pointed out that NZ is prone to rock-slides and tree-slides. And since there are many occasions of rock-slides and usually there are not enough time to clear the rocks, what the Kiwis do was to just lay a road on top of the rocks and hence, the roads are usually quite bumpy. That explained why SWT was having difficult times on coach ride in this trip. After traveling for some time, we had a comfort stop closed to 3:30pm and opposite the shop was an open field with a few cute-looking alpacas. SWT, being the slightly unlucky one, was not able to snap front shots of the alpacas. Returned back to the shop to do a quick browse while waiting for the rest to get ready, SWT complained jokingly to Cynthia that she was not able to take nice shots of the alpacas. So Cynthia told SWT that she would get her chance in two-days’ time when we go to the Manuka honey shop that Cynthia recommended.

Continued the rest of the journey back and when we were near Queenstown, Cynthia reminded us the plan for the next day and she distributed the paper bags from the burger shop called Fergburger that she had recommended to us the day before. She had decided to order the burgers for us because we were such a nice bunch of people. She explained the process of ordering and paying again and also reminded us to get our souvenirs in Queenstown tonight before we leave tomorrow. She recommended that we get the Manuka honey hand cream that we saw in the various shops before from the DF Souvenir shop, especially since we have the discount coupons. However, she was quick to disclaim that provided that the hand cream was not out of stock due to the bulk purchase by one of the members. 

By the time we returned to Queenstown, it was already after 5:30pm. Asked to be dropped off at the town center so that we could buy the things that we had in mind from the day before as well as to get dinner from KFC which Cynthia recommended us to try. She said that the fried chickens are not as salty as those back home and that they are juicier. Walked around the town, popped into souvenir shops to check out the prices of the Manuka honey, royal jelly, hand creams and possum-merino products again. Confused by the vast price difference of the various royal jelly and concluded that it is best to get from the shop that Cynthia is going to bring us in two-days’ time. Saw some cute soft toys and took photos of them. SWT was contemplating whether to buy the chocolate from Koko Black but in the end, she gave up the idea due to the high price. Therefore, the next alternative was to go to the Remarkable Sweet Shop to get her chocolate fix instead. We bought three pieces of handmade chocolate each where mine contain alcohol and hers were of unusual flavors. On top of that, I also bought two long tubes of bubble gum for Ry.

Left the shop and we headed over to the DF Souvenir shop to get the Manuka honey hand cream that we had been seeing from the various shops before. Unfortunately, that brand of hand cream was really out of stock. Checked out the other brands and in the end, we decided to get the Alpine Manuka honey body lotion instead because that item was having a buy-5-get-1-free promotion. So we took a pack each. Not willing to leave without a product from the Wild Fern brand, I bought a tub of body butter. Went on to the section where the shop sells possum-merino products and found two beanies which look rather nice. Checked the tags for the percentages of possum and merino and got confused. SWT told me that higher percentage of merino means it can keep the wearer warmer. She walked off to see other things while I lingered in the section, trying to decide which beanie to buy. In the end, I decided to ask the sales staff for advice. Turned out that the higher percentage of possum means it can keep the wearer warmer. Told SWT about it and she said that it is better to trust the sales staff since they should know better. 

I had gotten all the things that I needed to buy but SWT was still shopping for stuff for her niece and some ex-colleagues. Walked with her, giving some suggestions here and there as well as helping her choose and check the items. Finally, we were all done and proceeded to make payment. Took out the discount coupon and got our 5% discount off the total price. Left the shop as happy customers and we went to look for the KFC to get our dinner. Browsed through the menu and SWT said she will get the chicken wrap kid’s meal. With no one to share a meal and not willing to let go of the chance to try the fried chicken, I ordered the 2pc Quarter Pack which consisted of 2 pieces of fried chicken, one regular fries, one bread roll, one whipped potato and a regular drink. Walked slowly back to our hotel, settled down and discussed about which burger and sides to order for the next day. In the end, we decided to order the venison burger called the Sweet Bambi and a box of 6-piece crumbed calamari to share since Cynthia warned us that the burger is relatively big and SWT is a small eater. Wrote our orders, the costs and the amount enclosed on the given envelope before putting the money inside. Called Cynthia in her room before walking over to pass her the envelope.

Knocked on her door and she invited us in but we stopped just enough to close the door behind us. SWT handed over the envelope and took the opportunity to complain jokingly that the Wild Fern hand creams were out of stock. As it turned out, Cynthia also didn’t get to buy as many as she had intended. She was only left with one when she visited the shop couple of days ago in the evening. Chatted a while more and I signaled to SWT to move off so as not to take up more of Cynthia’s time. Returned to our room, opened up the curtain to get a great view of the Lake Wakatipu, took photos of our food before sitting down to eat and chat. The fried chickens were indeed less salty, very tender and juicy. Fortunately for me, they were smaller in size too compared to those back home. However, I was still unable to finish all the food and so left with the bread roll and the whipped potato. Rest a while before taking my shower, packed an overnight bag for the next day as suggested by Cynthia and went to bed.

Thoughts: Was really glad that I joined the optional tour to Milford Sound and took the cruise. Even though the traveling hours were long, we got some great photo stops along the way in the Fiordland National Park. The sky was overcast with slight drizzle initially and even rained for a while, fortunately, the sky soon cleared up and gave us blue sky to compliment the beautiful scenery while we were on the cruise. Would have been great if we were able to hear the narration while cruising. After listening to the information given by the driver, I concluded that NZ has a lot of lakes, rivers, mountains, green rolling hills, glaciers, windstorms, tree-slides, rock-slides, sheep, and so on. The Kiwis live in the wonderful land of nature and at the same time face the various dangers post by the nature. I guess it is a love and hate situation.

Though was a bit disappointed that I could not get the Wild Fern hand creams, I was happy to have managed to get a possum-merino beanie. Dinner was great even though it was just KFC because we got to enjoy the meal leisurely at the comfort of our hotel room and admiring the wonderful view of the Lake Wakatipu.

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