Devil’s Staircase, one of the most beautiful places on the Road from Queenstown to Te Anau
Leaving Wanaka, we took the road south towards Te Anau, passing through Queenstown. Te Anau is a small town on the doorstep of the Fiordland National Park, a region in the southwest of the South Island, where the fjords of New Zealand are located.
From Wanaka to Te Anau it is approximately 230km, and once again the trip goes through beautiful landscapes that deserve to be photographed.
Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park
But what is a fjord anyway? A fjord is a long and winding “arm” of the sea, usually in between mountains. Milford Sound is New Zealand’s most visited fjord. Of its “brothers” within Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound is the most famous and accessible, as it is possible to reach it via State Highway 94.
There are other fjord options in the region, such as Doubtful Sound. However, the logistics are a little more complicated. Doubtful Sound is the deepest of the fjords, and also one of the longest. To access it, the starting point is the city of Manapouri, from where you have to cross Lake Manapouri by boat.
How to get to Milford Sound?
The bad weather on the trip to Milford Sound damaged the landscape on the road and ended up preventing us from stopping in some places.
The closest town to Milford Sound is Te Anau, where we stayed for 2 nights in an AirBnb. Milford Sound is almost 2 hours by car from Te Anau, it’s 120km through Milford Road (SH94).
Anyone staying in Queenstown can take the InterCity bus to Milford Sound. However, it takes more than 4 hours to travel, and you end up limiting the boat tour times.
As in all of New Zealand, the road to Te Anau is full of sheep!
If you are going to Milford Sound by car, don’t forget to fill the tank: the last gas stations are in Te Anau.
On the way to Milford Sound, there are several points of interest with short walks that are worthy to stop, the main ones are:
Mirror Lake, one of the stopping points on the road to Milford Sound, inside Fiordland National Park
Approximately 60km from Te Anau is the entrance to Mirror Lakes. It is not difficult to understand the reason of the name: the reflection of the lake is perfect.
To get there, just park beside the highway, in the marked spaces, and follow a short and easy trail through a wooden platform. The lake is literally beside the highway.
Mirror Lake, in Fiorland National Park, entrance from Te Anau to Milford Sound
Cascade Creek / Lake Gunn
After passing Mirror Lakes, continue for another 18km (towards Milford Sound) to Lake Gunn Nature Walk. The entrance is just after a small bridge.
The 1.4km circle trail starts at Cascade Creek, a stream of green and crystal clear water. The walk passes through many trees and Lake Gunn, from where you can see a beautiful view with mountains in the background.
The Homer Tunnel is a 1.2km long tunnel that is on Milford Road itself, about 25km from Cascade Creek. The tunnel is 3.8m high and originally was all gravel. Before being transformed into asphalt, it was the largest gravel tunnel in the world.
The Homer Tunnel is considered a landmark as an engineering work for its extension, since it was mostly dug by hand, and in a remote location with difficult conditions. Its completion took almost 20 years. Partly because of its interruption during World War II, but also partly because of the avalanches that threatened the area. Workers had to sleep in tents in an icy, mountainous area, where there’s hardly any sun for much of the year. Some even died in the avalanches, and many were injured with rocks that rolled from the mountains.
Even today, the tunnel is a single lane, and its traffic is released through a traffic light, at predetermined times. The surrounding landscape is magnificent, full of snowy mountains. At the east entrance (closest to Te Anau), there is a space on the right side for parking. Depending on the time of year, you can see glaciers over the mountains, forming cascades of snow on the stone walls.
The incredible view of the Cleddau River shaping the rocks and forming a canyon in ‘The Chasm’
At approximately 8km from Homer Tunnel (towards Milford Sound), is The Chasm Walk. It is a small trail that crosses 2 bridges overlooking the course of the Cleddau River.
The river goes down its course passing some violent falls, forming a series of waterfalls. It’s impressive to see the formations of the stones that were shaped by the force of the water.
The trail is easy, accessible, and is about 400m long. There is ample parking space on the left for those heading towards Milford Sound.
What to do in Fiordland National Park?
Our tour in Milford Sound – the fog took over and the visibility of the tour was terrible.
The most popular activities in the fjords are boat and kayak tours, to contemplate the giant mountains rising from the sea. Normally also part of the tour is the sighting of marine life, such as seals and bottlenose dolphins.
An important tip: book the tour a few days in advance, but check the weather forecast. On rainy and foggy days, the visibility is terrible. Companies hardly ever cancel the tours, unless the safety of the tour is at risk.
Bottle-nosed dolphins passing by our boat at Milford Sound
There are several companies that offer boat trips in the fjords. We hired Go Orange, for NZD 45.00 per person. It was a 2-hour tour, leaving at 9 am. Unfortunately, the fog occupied the entire area and we couldn’t even see the mountains. We still want to go back to this place to be able to see the fjords appropriately.
For the more adventurous, Fiordland National Park offers several hiking options – most of them more demanding. You can check more details on the park’s website.
Te Anau Bird Sanctuary
If you are staying in Te Anau, take the opportunity to visit Te Anau Bird Sanctuary. The site is a sanctuary for native birds that have suffered some type of injury and are still unable to survive in the wild.
Te Anau Bird Sanctuary is free, but you can make a contribution to help maintain their work.
One of the “stars” of the place is the Takahe, a bird endemic from New Zealand, now threatened with extinction.
Arriving in Queenstown!
After another 170km of tireless road trip…we finally arrived at our last destination in New Zealand! Yes, I am referring to the world capital of adventure and extreme sports, Queenstown!
Queenstown is located on the shores of Lake Wakatipo, on the South Island of New Zealand. The view from inside the city is magnified by the proximity of the mountains called The Remarkables.
During the winter, many people practice skiing and other winter sports at the Remarkables.
Although well known, Queenstown has a population of only 15,000 inhabitants and is classified as a ‘resort town’, a name designated for places that live of tourism.
People who live there have told us that “nobody comes from Queenstown”. I don’t know about that, but it is really noticeable how many people come from other countries or other regions of New Zealand. Many people who live in Queenstown today are there for an exchange, internship or Working Holiday.
Where to stay in Queenstown
Our AirBnB in Queenstown with a view to the ‘Remarkables’
Queenstown is a really small city, the center is easily reached on foot. The center of Queenstown is in the lower part, very close to the lake. A good point of reference is Readings Cinema.
Fot those without a car, it’s worth trying to stay close to the center. Although prices are usually higher.
Since we had a car, we decided to stay in an AirBnb in Fernhill. This neighborhood is a little further from the center, but it took less than 10 minutes to reach by car. In the end, the location was excellent because it was in a higher spot and the view to the Remarkables was really memorable.
Getting around Queenstown
Queenstown to Glenorchy road – one of New Zealand’s most scenic roads!
Public transport works very well in Queenstown. The regular fare is NZD 5.00, but you can pay only NZD 2.00 if you purchase the GoCard. The card can be purchased at Queenstown Airport or on the bus and costs NZD 5.00. Check out more information on the Otago Regional Council website.
If you stay in the center, you may not even need public transport. Queenstown is small and you can easily walk or cycle. The tours often include their own transport, it is worth checking each case.
The car is very worthwhile for those who want to explore the region in their own time. The topography of southern New Zealand provides wonderful scenery, with mountains and lakes everywhere. For those who like to drive, I recommend renting a car to visit neighboring cities like Arrowtown and Glenorchy.
What to do in Queenstown
The giant Lake Wakatipu
Queenstown is New Zealand’s extreme sports capital. Adventure activities that can be done in Queenstown include bungee jumping, skydiving, paragliding, balloon rides, rafting, jetboat rides, offroad trails, cycling, among others. All you have to do is choose. I will describe in more details below the ones we did.
First of all, what I recommend is to plan right from the start what you intend to do. The Queenstown tourism website has a lot of information about the activities. Some activities have very limited places and without prior reservation you may simply not be able to do so.
In addition, the agencies that sell the tours are free to negotiate values. That said, if you hire a “package” with the same company you can get some discount.
It is worth researching and negotiating prices. Many agencies sell tours not only from Queenstown, but from other places as well. We negotiated a “combo” with 2 tours in Queenstown, and one in Australia, which would be our next destination. That way we got a reasonable discount.
Considering that the prices of this type of activity are very high, any discount is more than welcome.
Jetboat “ripping” at Shotover Canyon
The jet boats were invented by the neo zealanders themselves, and today they are used as a tourist activity. Jetboat rides in Queenstown involve a few minutes of adrenaline on a jet boat that spins along narrow stretches of a canyon and spins 360 degrees.
You will notice that there are a few companies offering this type of activity, each one in a different location.
We chose to do it with the Shotover Jet, which runs through the Shotover Canyon, basically because it is the most traditional. The time in the boat is 25 minutes, and the regular price is NZD 149 per person (ouch!).
The ride was really fun. We left there soaked, but we had a lot of laughter. I recommend!
At the time of the “jump”
Swing is an activity very similar to bungee jumping. But the swing’s trajectory is like a pendulum, not vertical. So you get a free fall for a little while, but then you start to be pulled laterally by the rope until it stops completely. The good thing is that the transition is so subtle that you don’t even feel it.
I had never jumped anywhere and was terrified of it. I agreed to jump as long as I wasn’t alone and could go backwards. In fact, in swing you may jump any way you want. People who jump often usually seek to innovate by playing in different ways.
In free fall at Shotover Canyon, Queenstown
In Queenstown there are a total of 4 locations that perform bungee and swing activities. The tallest of all is the Nevis, with 160m of height. We did the Shotover Canyon Swing, held in the Shotover Canyon. The same company performs the Swing and also Shotover Canyon Fox, a zip line with free fall.
The Shotover Canyon Swing is 109m high and 60m of free fall. It’s a few seconds of adrenaline, but it was really worth it, and it makes you want to go again.
The regular price of this activity is NZD 249 per person – regardless of whether you are doing it alone or in pairs. Transport is included. Photos and videos are charged separately.
View from the Queenstown Skyline to the city with the “Remarkables” in the background. Now imagine that view with sun and blue sky.
Skyline Queenstown is a park built on top of the mountain called Bob’s Peak. The main attractions of this place are the gondola, the Luge Run and the incredible view of the city from above. The park also has a mountain bike trail.
We purchased the ‘Gondola + 2 Luge’ combo and its cost was NZD 55 per person. This combo allows the person to use the gondola to go up and down the mountain and do 2 Luge Run races. This is almost as if it were only 1, since the 1st race is mandatorily done on a training track.
The price the park’s access by gondola (without the luge) is NZD 35.00 per person. Tickets are sold on site. We bought it there and we had no problem.
What is Luge Run?
The ‘luge’ is a type of sled designed for winter sports. In New Zealand, cities like Queenstown and Rotorua offer luge run as an entertainment option. It’s not like a kart race; in ‘luge run’ the person starts the run alone, being able to overtake or be overtaken after a few meters.
The track is always on a slope and usually has several curves. At the Skyline Queenstown Luge Run, the track is 800m long. Each person controls their own speed. It’s fast, but a lot of fun.
I recommend going on a clear day so that you can better enjoy the view from the top of the mountain.
What else to do in Queenstown
“Burning sky” in Queenstown – the incredible view of the dawn sky with the “perfect distribution” of the clouds.
Queenstown, although very touristic, is a very pleasant city, with a beautiful mountain landscape. I guess even those who do not enjoy adventure activities will enjoy staying there for a few days.
Queenstown has many shops, cafes and restaurants. The cinema is “boutique” style, small and super charming, with a vintage look.
Fergburguer is a very popular burguer place, it has the reputation of having the best burger in the world – we liked it, but we don’t think it’s the best we’ve ever eaten.
Fergburguer’s burger, in Queenstown..
For those who like cookies, I highly recommend visiting Cookie Time. The place has a childish appeal but the cookie is really tasty and always has some promotion or gift.
Queenstown also hosts a number of seasonal festivals. Click here to access the events calendar.
Queenstown’s surroundings also offer many possibilities. The region is a wine producer, and some wineries are open for visitation. Arrowtown and Glenorchy are also 2 nearby cities that are worth a visit.
The friendly city of Arrowtown, at 20km from Queenstown.
Arrowtown is a city that looks like it came out of a wild west movie. This charming city is only 20km from Queenstown and is an excellent option for a day trip.
During fall, Arrowtown looks especially beautiful with the color change in the trees.
The colors of the Arrowton trees in the fall with the Arrow River – it’s worth a 1-day trip!
The city is of historical importance during the gold mining period. Mining was an important economic activity for the province of Otago in the 19th century. Currently, people practice “fake mining” on the River Arrow.
Curiosity: River Arrow was the location used by Peter Jackson to film the scene in which Arwen outwits the Nâzgul while taking Frodo to Rivendell, in the film Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Start of the trail to Macetown, in Arrowton
Another city that was also important during the mining era is Macetown. Macetown is only 15km away from Arrowtown, but there are no roads connecting the 2 cities. Macetown is now an abandoned city and has become a historic reserve. People visit this ghost town on trails (on foot or by bike) or on 4x4 tours.
Photos of Glenorchy and the road – swipe sideways to see all.
Glenorchy is at the northern tip of Lake Wakatipu, about 45km from Queenstown, on the South Island of New Zealand. This small village is one of the gateways to Mount Aspiring National Park on the west coast of New Zealand.
Because of its location close to the mountains, Glenorchy is the starting point for some 3-5 day trails, famous for the beautiful landscapes of Mount Aspiring National Park, such as Routeburn Track. There are also jetboat and funyaks (inflatable kayaks) rides on the Dart River.
But even for those who don’t intend to do extra activities, Glenorchy is worth the visit. It is an excellent place to have lunch and spend the afternoon. In addition, the trip itself from Queenstown to Glenorchy is very scenic, with the view of Lake Wakatipu on the road and the mountains in the background.
If you have a 4x4 car, you may want to risk taking the road from Glenorchy to Paradise. The road arrives at the place that was used as ‘Isengard’ in the filming of The Lord of the Rings. It was a path we tried to take in a low car but ended up giving up due to the conditions of the road and flooded stretches.
Visual of Lake Wakatipu, on the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy.