Down Under – Queenstown

Down Under – Queenstown

June 1, 2023 by umanath nayak7

This idyllic picture postcard town is why New Zealand is one of the top destinations for those wishing to explore nature’s landscape and scenic beauty. Although the town and surroundings offered a host  of exciting adventure activities, the highlight for us was the scenic drives along the lakeside, exploring the LOTR shooting locations and the unforgettable cruise through the fjord.

It was well past 7 pm when we got out of our hotel perched on the edge of Lake Wakatipu. Outside it was bright as if it were late afternoon. We had dinner at a lakefront restaurant soaking in the view of the mountains in the distance and listening to the lady on the guitar singing in the background.

In the morning we picked up our rental car near Queenstown airport and over the next five days drove through the New Zealand countryside; along lakes, mountains, valleys, the meadows and the sheep. We watched as excited kids bungy jumped at the Kawarau suspension bridge – touted as the world’s first commercial bungy jumping site.  As we drove along Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy we understood why this region must have kindled the imagination for filming Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. A sense of Déjà vu comes over when you think that you have been here before, albeit through the movie trilogy.  The drive takes you away from the lake, the land changes to a rugged mountain-side bereft of vegetation on one side, dense forest on the other and a bare isolated tree dots the landscape.  The asphalt road ends and a gravel path takes you to Paradise, another of the LOTR shooting locations. It takes a bit of courage to continue driving with hardly any vehicle passing and the network spotty at best.

The next day we drove over to Fiordland. We had booked our stay at a lakeside lodge in Te Anau.  On the way, we had a pleasant surprise coming across a bunch of Alpacas grazing at a farm. We stopped and stared at these sheep-like animals with their long necks that actually belong to the camel family. They stared back.

After a good night’s rest, we explored the southernmost part of the island of New Zealand along Lake Manapouri right up to the Southern (Antarctic)  Ocean and reached Gemstone Beach. Millions of pebbles of various sizes, shapes and colours greeted us on the beach sending us on a crazy treasure hunt looking for semi-precious stones.  We retired early that night in anticipation of the drive and the cruise along the fjord, the Milford Sound.

Tour companies discourage tourists driving their own vehicles to the Milford Sound cruise departure point. They say that you can better appreciate the beauty of the surroundings along the route without the responsibility of driving. But I beg to differ. The excitement of driving with no idea what panorama beholds you at the next turn is part of the experience of Milford Sound. You also get the liberty to stop anywhere you wish on the way and revel in the beauty of the landscape for as long as you desire.

And that is exactly what we did!

The cruise itself along the Fjord (a narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs) was a surreal experience. The cliffs surrounded by clouds interspersed with waterfalls – the waters you can taste as the boat takes you to the cliff edge; and the sea in front create a mystical feeling (shades of planet Pandora in the Avatar movie). The boat took us to the point where the Tasman Sea enters the land forming the fjord and on return, we stopped to watch a seal lazing on the rocks.

The one downside of the Milford Sound experience is the sandflies that incessantly buzz around you while you are waiting to get on the cruise. So be sure to carry your insect repellent and use liberally. But once on the cruise, they leave you in peace to enjoy the beauty and splendour of what Rudyard Kipling famously described as “the eighth wonder of the World”.

Next….Down Under – Sydney

For more graphics follow



  • Jyotsna Rao

    June 2, 2023 at 7:55 pm

    Wonderful description of New Zealand. Matched how I imagined to be. The country along with Australia that’s on my wish list to visit. Look forward to the Sydney chapter. Bill Bryson:s travelogue about Australia furthered my interest in it.


  • Pingback: Down Under - MELBOURNE - Dr. Umanath Nayak

  • Ashok K Alimchandani

    June 2, 2023 at 9:21 pm

    With a population half of Hyderabad city, New Zealand seems the ideal place to go to get far from the madding crowd. Your description is so vivid, it makes one feel as though one is experiencing the place itself. Certainly a must go place for a driving aficionado- makes me feel like packing my bags pronto. BTW, is an Indian driving licence valid in New Zealand?


    • umanath nayak

      June 2, 2023 at 9:55 pm

      Yes very much. Being part of the commonwealth, like us, they too drive on the wrong side of the road; not the right side (like the Americans love to say)😊


  • Chandana Chakrabarti

    June 2, 2023 at 9:42 pm

    Thank you! You’ve just whetted my appetite for the New Zealand trip that’s been tugging on my heartstrings !!!


  • Pragati

    June 2, 2023 at 11:37 pm

    Beautiful virtual trip! Enjoyed the write up!👌


  • Vasavi J

    June 3, 2023 at 12:26 pm

    Must have been an incredible experience watching nature’s many facets in a single town; especially the Alpacas, the seal and the pebbles!🧡


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright 2020. All rights reserved.