New Zealand journey – Queenstown & Glenorchy

Southern Alps from the air

Southern Alps from the air

When I think about New Zealand the first thing that comes to mind is the magnificent scenery portrayed in The Lord of the Rings movies. So not surprisingly, a week long road trip through parts of the South Island felt like a journey into the Middle-earth. This was not a wildlife watching trip as I was travelling with friends but New Zealand’s spectacular scenery more than compensated for the lack of the wildlife spotting focus.

Southern Alps

Southern Alps

We started the trip in Queenstown – a cute little town perched on the edge of Wakatipu glacial lake and fringed by the mountains of the Southern Alps. It has a buzzing atmosphere of an alpine village and a population of 1900 people – which is 100 people less than the occupancy of World Square complex where I work in Sydney.

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu

The first order of business for me was to check out Wakatipu lake and to see what water birds were around. As expected, there were some New Zealand scaups and Pacific Black Ducks around, as well as some Bkack-billed gulls and Pied Cormorants.

New Zealand scaup

New Zealand scaup

Little pied cormorant

Little pied cormorant

And then out of the water came a Great Crested grebe! I’ve been chasing these birds from Russia to Australia but could never get close enough to them. And here they were – practically in suburbia, two adults and two young. These birds have some amazing courtship dancing moves that they synchronize with each other while running on the surface of water. Though I was a bit late for that.

Great Crested grebe

Great Crested grebe

Great Crested grebe with young

Great Crested grebe with young

We ended the day in the frozen interior of Below Zero Ice Bar, where everything is made of ice and the temperature is kept at a snippy -8°C.

Warming up the ice bear

Warming up the ice bear

The following morning we headed to Glenorchy. It’s a small town set against a background of lush beech forest and rugged mountain ranges 45 km from Queenstown. Glenorchy’s impressive scenery is quite popular with Hollywood film makers. Most notably the area was used as a  location for Isengard, Lothlorien and Amon Hen in the Lord of the Rings movies.

Typical New Zealand scene

Typical New Zealand scene

The road from Queenstown to Glenorchy is considered to be one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand, however we were there on an overcast and rainy day and most of its spectacular scenery was hidden behind low-hanging clouds.

Female Paradise Duck

Female Paradise Duck

The road from Glenorchy to Paradise is supposed to be even more spectacular than the road from Queenstown, but the weather remained all doom and gloom. And it was a rather washed-out doom and gloom that didn’t add drama to the landscape, but blended all the colours instead. We did however find some Paradise ducks, that could have given the town its name.

Snowy mountains in the rain

Snowy mountains in the rain

One thing I wanted to see in New Zealand, apart from the obvious landmarks, was red beech forest – a cool and wet temperate rainforest with trees covered in thick coat of moss. The Glenorchy to Paradise road travels through at least three patches of red beech forest. These beautiful areas were used as filming locations for Lothlorien in the Lord of the Rings.

Mossy log

Moss-covered log in red beech forest

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu

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