Postcard from paradise
|The historic steamship maneuvering the waters of Wakatipu. This 1912 make is the only existing commercial steamer in the southern hemisphere.|
“I am alive,” was the first thing that occurred to me as I swayed in the air. The stunning beauty around struck me as an afterthought. I had just jumped off the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand – the birthplace of bungy. This 43m jump is the first bungy to have come into existence 25 years ago and is nestled atop the spectacular Kawarau river – the location for the ‘Argonath’ sequence in The Lord of the Rings.
|World's first bungy over the Kawarau river.|
But our stay in this adventure capital of the world was to be more surreal than this. Apart from being the go-to place for adrenaline junkies and Peter Jackson fans, Queenstown is touted as a must visit destination for its access to Milford Sound – a fjord situated within the Fiordland National Park in the country’s South Island.
We had little expectation and loads of curiosity with respect to the two-hour cruise in Milford, which took a day’s travel to and fro from Queenstown. But, from what began as an ordinary cruise trip turned out to be a dramatic journey... a mind-numbing adventure in its own right.
After a lavish lunch spread, I went on to the yacht’s rooftop to discover the extraordinariness of a place which Rudyard Kipling had called the eighth wonder of the world. Amidst freezing temperatures and strong winds, I quickly found a spot where I could stay put without getting blown away. But blown away, I was!
I looked around in disbelief as the yacht sailed through this inlet of the Tasman Sea surrounded by large cliffs and glaciers on either side. It seemed like a no-man’s area, engulfed by haunting silence. The only sound to be heard was of water rushing through a humongous waterfall at a distance. Everyone stood still, almost shell-shocked at the beauty we were amidst. To top that, it wasn’t a sunny day, which made the mist-covered cliffs visually more intense. As we cruised towards the waterfall, the captain’s commentary began. We were approaching the Sterling Falls, he announced, one of the two permanent waterfalls of Milford Sound. And the ones interested in a little shower should stay outdoors, he continued. I couldn’t take the captain’s word for it. Did he mean we are going to go under the falls? It sounded exciting enough though to hang on and see what the shower was going to be all about.
|Cruising along in Milford.|
The falls appeared majestic, living up to their name. We were coming closer and closer. It was getting colder and colder. The wind was now carrying the water from the falls and making a hard splash on our faces. The captain was so wrong about the shower. This was going to be nothing less than diving into a whirlwind.
Before I could make up my mind about not drenching the multiple layers of clothes I was wearing, the yacht was right under the falls. I ran inside and so did my fellow adventurers, who had decided to stay outdoors with me. Indoors, the cameras had taken position. People were clicking away to glory, only to make me wonder what the pictures taken from under a waterfall would look like.
Just then the yacht started moving away from the Sterling Falls. The storm passed, giving way to the uncanny silence yet again. I went out in the open and watched another cruise heading towards the waterfall behind us. In the front lay another highlight of the journey – a rock covered with sleeping seals. The cameras screamed action, waking up one of the seals from its siesta. It posed for the shutterbugs before dozing off again. Milford is also home to penguins and if you are lucky, you might spot dolphins and whales too. We had to be happy with sea lions.
The morning after was reserved for cosying up to nature’s perfect photo frame – Lake Wakatipu. Our hotel’s room opened up to this longest lake of NZ around which Queenstown is built. The town clearly owes its paradisiacal quality to Wakatipu, which is bordered by the Southern Alps on one side and pine trees on the other. I sipped on coffee and watched a steamship pass by from in between the snow capped mountains and pine trees. It was a view for which you would never want to leave Queenstown. But it was time to say goodbye.
|View of Lake Wakatipu from our hotel room.|
How to get there?
Travel time by air (Mumbai to Queenstown): 20hrs 15mins. There are a number of connecting flights to Queenstown from all major cities in NZ apart from bus services and driving routes.
Where to stay?
Most hotels in Queenstown are situated on Lake Wakatipu’s shore. Make sure to get a lake view room.
For info on bungy and Milford Sound, log onto: