Highway 6 Revisited

Today’s title is adapted from the famous Bob Dylan album, Highway 61 Revisited. ¬†Highway 6 is the road that runs down the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island and we were back on it this morning as we set off for our next stop in Manapouri. We had decided to take a look at Queenstown on the way past as well. When she was here as a young woman, Ishbel chose her 21st birthday present here. It was a seascape painted by a New Zealand artist named Mark Thomas. She wanted to see if she could track down the gallery and maybe find out what that artist was up to these days.

There are two suggested routes: the easy one, which carries on along Highway 6, or what we’ll call the fun one: the Crown Range Road. This is the highest main road in New Zealand, peaking at 1121 metres as it traverses the Crown Range. The ascent and descent are full of hairpin bends and the locals are not averse to sharing both lanes as they go round bends, so it pays to stay alert. It’s worth taking this road for the spectacular views all the way along the route but particularly at the top of the pass.

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It’s always interesting when you’re looking down on an aeroplane. This is an Air NZ flight descending through the valley to land at Queenstown. This wasn’t the only flying object that Ishbel managed to capture while we were there.

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This New Zealand Falcon happened by while she had her camera out.

After having our cobwebs blown away at the viewpoint, we got back into the car and headed for Queenstown. We re-joined Highway 6 and were on a straight route into the town, until we passed Wet Jacket Wines, which offered not only wine tastings, but cheese tastings too. Unable to resist, we pulled into the car park and signed up for both. The cheese was all locally made and we bought a cheddar and a blue to have after dinner that evening. The wines were also local, but we didn’t buy any. They were nice, but the biggest red wine production in NZ is Pinot Noir, and I’m not a huge fan of that grape. My tastes are too crude, I guess. One other attraction they had at the place was a reconstruction of an old wool shed, which brought back childhood memories for our brother-in-law as he recalled the same tools being used on the farm on which he grew up.

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After this stroll down memory lane, it was back in the car and on to Queenstown. The town was very full when we got there but we managed to bag a parking spot just next to the main library, so it was easy to walk everywhere we wanted to go. Our first target was the Skyline, which claims to be the steepest cable car in the Southern Hemisphere, rising 450 metres to the top of the imaginatively named Bob’s Peak.

This was always going to be an interesting exercise as neither Ishbel nor her sister are particularly fond of heights. They decided to sit together facing the upward slope, which meant we got excellent views back down over the valley and lake as we ascended. Their view improved about halfway up when they opened their eyes.

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We declined the add-on activities that were available at the top – bungee jumping or taking a wheeled luge down a concrete ramp – for fear of invalidating our travel insurance. Instead, we had a nice, sedate coffee then went back down the hill.

We took a stroll around town and located the gallery where Ishbel acquired her painting all those years ago. They had some recent works by the same artist available but his style has changed considerably since then and his current oeuvre didn’t strike a chord with her. We wandered through a street market, and some musicians entertaining the cafe crowd that thronged the centre but didn’t find anything to detain us further so headed back to the car and, once again revisited Highway 6. We still had 170km to go before we reached our next AirBnB at Manapouri, so it was time to be on the move.

We were unsure how big or well stocked the shops in Manapouri might be, so we took our first opportunity to stop off and buy provisions for the evening meal. We bought some food but, more importantly, spotted an appropriate beer. Monteith’s brewery is in Greymouth, where we alighted from our train a couple of days ago, and they produce an IPA called Highway 6. It was fate – we had to have some.

We arrived at our “Crib” and settled in. I’m not trying to be gangsta. In the South Island, a crib is a holiday home. Once again, we had lucked out with views over the Waiau River which feeds Lake Manapouri – one of the deepest lakes in New Zealand being over 450m at its deepest point.

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After dinner and a taste of the delicious beer, it was time for bed. We had to be up early the following morning as we had booked a tour to Milford Sound. This is the place that 90% of people will recommend if you tell them you are visiting the South Island, so we were looking forward to the trip. We had decided to take the organised tour as it was a long drive there and back so we wanted to let someone else take the strain.

We were organised and ready to go dead on time the following morning. The tour started from Te Anu, a 20 minute drive away, so we set off as soon as we were ready, parked up near the pick up point, and had breakfast at a nearby cafe. The drive across had been quite foggy, but the forecast was for that to burn off as the day warmed up.

We got on the bus and set off, with everyone having a quiet time except the driver and guide, both of whom were very knowledgeable about the landscape through which we were travelling and very entertaining. We made a brief stop on the journey and the mist hadn’t quite cleared yet.

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As we got back on the bus, I noticed the lady who was sitting across the aisle from Ishbel and me. I wasn’t sure and obviously looked too intently at her as she started to appear quite concerned at my scrutiny but I eventually decided I was right and addressed her by name. She looked surprised but when I told her my name, she recognised me. My beard had grown since we last met, but she was a former colleague from my last place of work. The world is a small place.

But the main object of the day was to get to Milford Sound and enjoy our boat journey. We made it just on time for our scheduled 10:30 departure and boarded the Milford Mariner.

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We set out on the sound, which is actually not a sound (apparently) but a fjord. The inlet is narrow and surrounded by towering peaks that plunge down into the water on both sides.

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As we cruised along, we passed several waterfalls, with the flow from some of them creating dazzling sea level rainbows.

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From others, the water simply cascaded noisily down.

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We were lucky enough to have a beautiful sunny day at Milford Sound, which is the first place I’ve ever been where I was told we should come back when it’s raining. In the rain, waterfalls appear from every mountainside and vast quantities of water flow down into the sea. I was happy with what we got and with staying dry.

We once again saw dolphins and, once again, they remained too elusive to get a really good photo. They move too fast and pop up in unexpected places. These are not criticisms one can levy at the Fur Seals, who are content to remain in one place and offer up photogenic poses.

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We returned to dock and made our way back to the bus. After our early start and long day, it was a quieter journey back to Te Anu. We collected our car and returned to Manapouri. The weather was still lovely when we returned so we took a stroll around the town and stopped by the local pub for a drink before dinner. It was Saturday night and they had pulled out all the stops for entertainment. ¬†The local Young Farmers had organised a “Bark Off” where contestants were to bring along their dogs and their barks would be judged against their peers (pee-ers?) for the chance to win a range of prizes. Sadly, we found we had to leave before the competition got into full swing, but we did have the chance to scratch behind the ears of some of the contestants. And their dogs.

The road trip was now almost over. Our last night in Manapouri then we were off to the bustling metropolis of Dunedin.