insights from the ultimate cruising team

Queen of the South

Queen of the South

Having just spent a week in New Zealand’s magical South with my two teenagers, I had to take this opportunity to tell you all what a treat Queenstown and surrounds is (mostly because my friends and family are already sick of hearing me harp on about it!).  I’ll try not to use too many fluffy superlatives or wax too lyrical about it all.  To be honest, my vocabulary seems to be lacking anything that quite does it justice anyway!

Queenstown in autumn was quite simply spectacular.  Clear, sunny, crisp days with just a touch of snow high on the mountaintops and trees of all shades of yellow, orange and red made this an Instagram-perfect destination. 

Arrowtown in Autumn

It’s no secret that Queenstown is the adrenalin junkie’s dream.  You can find all kinds of adventures here including bungy-jumping, zip-lining, sky-diving, jet-boating, para-sailing and even these bizarre looking shark-shaped semi-submersibles that leap vertically out of the water.  Whilst we did tick a couple of those activities off the list, it was the scenic adventures that really stood out for me.   At every turn, there is a river, lake or mountain to explore.  I drove my kids crazy stopping on the side of the road every few minutes to admire the view or take a little side trip to see what we would uncover! My teenagers, on the other hand, definitely rated the jet boat ride up the Shotover and Kawerau rivers at the top of their lists.

The road between Queenstown and Te Anau

That being said, seeing teens reaching for their phones to take countless photos of the landscapes, rather than selfies, was somewhat gratifying!  When your teens can’t stop saying how incredibly beautiful it is, you know the scenery really is something else.

Queenstown is the gateway to Fiordland – think Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound.  But what a lot of people don’t realise is the distances involved.  Driving between Queenstown and Milford Sound takes over 4 hours each way.  That makes for a very long day once you add in a few stops (and there are some gorgeous spots to stop at on the way) and a cruise around the fiord once you get there.

One of the cheeky little inhabitants of the Fiordland National Park - the native Kea.

Doubtful Sound is only accessible by a cruise across the lake, a coach trip and then onto another boat to cruise the Sound.  Add on an extra 2.5 hour drive each way from Queenstown and again, you’ve got a very long day.

Although the drive out is very beautiful, seeing Milford and Doubtful Sounds by cruise ship definitely has advantages.  Instead of spending hours in a tour bus getting there, you can simply wake up, enjoy breakfast and sit back taking in the sights from your own balcony or up on deck. 

Milford Sound - still spectacular on a cloudy day!

To adequately describe the magnitude of Milford and Doubtful Sounds is impossible.  All sense of scale seems to go out the window.  While admiring a stunning waterfall, we were told that it was 50 stories high – and this waterfall was absolutely dwarfed by the mountains surrounding it. 

This waterfall is 50 stories high!

The days we visited Milford and Doubtful Sounds were wet and cloudy and, although you may think that was unfortunate, it really wasn’t.  It was the first decent amount of rain the region had received all summer and it felt like everything came alive.  The trees and ferns were all standing to attention, seals played in the water or lazed on rocks, waterfalls came out of nowhere and the mountain peaks shrouded in cloud were “totally a mood” as my teen described it.  The cool thing about this area is that the weather changes so rapidly that within minutes it will cloud in or clear up.  On the way out, we had the moody, mystical cloudy look and on the way back, it cleared up and we could appreciate the majesty of the mountains surrounding us.  It really doesn’t matter what the weather is doing, there’s no bad time to visit!

To say this region has been hard hit by the effects of Covid is an understatement.  Where previously you would see rows of tour buses lined up, now you see just one or two.  At lookouts and scenic spots where you’d be hard-pressed to find a spot, now you’re like to have the place to yourself.    

Lake Whakatipu, Queenstown

This is all set to change in the very near future with New Zealand’s borders having just opened up to 60 visa-waiver countries but it will take a bit of time to get back to the pre-Covid levels of visitors.  That’s why, if you’ve been thinking about visiting, now is the time to do it!  The area has had 2 years of just local visitors, so it’s looking exceptionally beautiful. 

There are plenty of rivers to explore, walking tracks and cycle tracks to explore.

Although not confirmed yet, cruise ships are tipped to be allowed back into New Zealand waters as of October 2022 ready for the summer season.  My advice?  I can’t recommend highly enough to take advantage of this window of opportunity and book your spot – seize the day, make it happen, get on board!  Enjoy fewer visitors, the expedition crew who can enlighten you on the history, culture and wildlife in the area, relish waking up in this incredible part of the world touted to be the 8th Wonder of the World. 

Look at that reflection!

And at the end of your cruise, add on a few extra days to hire a car and explore Queenstown, Arrowtown, Lake Hayes and Te Anau.  Enjoy the best of both worlds.  You’ll thank me for it!

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