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New Zealand - A Tale of North and South. Part Three

By Conor Delaney

Today was a great day. Having booked online, I managed to find a company called Milford Sound Scenic Flights:

which offers a great opportunity for you to explore from above and below. Named Fly-Cruise-Fly they pick you up at your accommodation in the morning using a local small bus company, drive you 5-10 minutes to the airport, check you in and within 15 minutes you're on a flight over the New Zealand Alps looking down at millions of years of free-thaw action, glaciation and geological movement. Honestly, it was the best flying experience I've ever had (although the helicopter ride at Iguazu Falls between Argentina and Brazil was spectacular as well) and the pilot Andy was an ace with more than 30 years' experience. Not only that, he was a genuinely lovely guy with a reassuring personality which is exactly what you want flying over mountains, lakes, rivers and ocean. He gave expert commentary on the history of the place and the route was interspersed with his experience and calm descriptions of the stunning scenery below. At this point, I met an American of Indian descent as well as two Aussie ladies from Sydney and the four of us laughed the whole way through the cruise of Milford Sound (included in the ticket). Andy brought us from the plane on a short bus ride to the jetty and we joined some more people on a cruise of the Sound (two huge and gaudy Cruise Liners with thousands of passengers on board were also there but it didn't impact my enjoyment of the scenery) which is a must do in New Zealand. There's commentary, but I didn't listen to it as I bonded with the Aussies and American. It was a coming together of the English-speaking world and all the humour that goes with it. Very well travelled people and stimulating conversation!

So after the cruise, you hop back on the 45 minute flight back to Queenstown and the whole thing takes less than 3.5 hours. The driver picks up you at the airport and drops you back to your accommodation. Milford Sound Scenic Flights have this down to a fine art and like me, if you don't have four or five days to hike the Milford Treck, you didn't bring your hiking gear, you don't have pots and pans and you didn't book the cabin in advance and you don't want to pay a local company thousands of dollars to walk up a hill (which many people do as they don't have the confidence to do it alone nor the time to arrange in advance), this is a great option and I highly recommend it.

One of the best moments in New Zealand was picking raspberries with Olivia from Dunedin and Peggy from the accommodation I stayed at. Previously in the day, someone had tried to stop Olivia picking raspberries from a bush on public land and when I showed up later we weren't harassed. I guess some people just have too much time on their hands, stopping a boy and her mother's friend from grabbing a few berries off a bush for breakfast. We picked three containers of the berries and yes, devoured half of them on the drive that followed! Early January was the perfect ripeness and the berries were sweet and delicious. Following this, knowing I had worked in real estate, Peggy took us to see some of the more salubrious parts of Queenstown (amongst the finest real estate in the Southern Hemisphere) just outside the town. Queenstown's growing as people seek escape from city life in nature and thrills if they ever get bored with the incredible scenery (which they never do). Skydiving, biking, bungee, jetboat, kayaking and canyoning are all activities you can do here.

One of my favourite drives was to Kingstown, where there's a heritage railway still in use and a great cafe where the barista gave me two mince pies and a delicious latte. I also drove to Cromwell, purely because of the name and because it was recommended to me by a friend of mine who works in the wine industry. This is where all the best fruits are grown in the region. There's everything here, they grow it all. Very British in nature, the town has a long history and even a heritage section which I really enjoyed, including the old church. I stopped for the "Real Fruit" ice-cream which was absolutely incredible. The place is called Jackson Orchards, just off Highway 6, and you have to go there. There's a shop full of fresh fruits, preserves, nuts and ingredients with incredible quality and many locals were also in buying supplies for their homes. Friendly staff and a real institution, great quality and a break from the driving.

Those who know me know I enjoy a glass of vino and a good meal, well wait until you here about my experience in the Central Otago Valley in Part Four of my South Island experience......

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