For the next leg of our journey we headed south to Queenstown.  It sits on a big blue lake (Wakatipu) surrounded by... you guessed it - gorgeous mountains.
The weather was mostly rainy while we were there.  Luckily for us, our vacation rental had absolutely AMAZING views so whenever the clouds did clear, we could enjoy the scenery right from our windows.  Below are photos taken from the bedroom and the balcony that ran in front of the dining room and living room.
When the weather finally cleared, we headed out to explore.  We drove along the lake to the small town of Glenorchy and explored various side roads.  We pulled over as we found a riverbed full of lupine.
The roads took us through a lot of farmland and I got a kick out of the sheep and cattle grazing with huge mountains behind them.
We had a blast in this area.  We saw lots of waterfalls and snowcapped peaks.  Plus we stopped for lunch at a little cafe that had delicious scones, chai tea and homemade pumpkin soup!
The next day we drove along the lake before leaving and got to see more Paradise Shelducks!
The water is so clear and blue, it reminds me of the caribbean.
We also drove up a really steep road to a ski resort, closed for the season of course.  It gave us some great views of the surrounding peaks.  We had noticed that a lot of hillsides were covered in a yellow bush.  Turns out it's called broom and not great for the farmers.  But sure is pretty...
Our next stop was the far southwest area called Fjordlands.  We'd booked an overnight stay on a boat on Doubtful Sound.  Unfortunately the weather had turned bad again and we didn't get to see much of the mountains although we did get glimpses of waterfalls here and there.
Even though the boat trip wasn't as scenic as we'd hoped, we still had a great time.  The boat was really small (only 11 guests and 2 staff) so we got to know everyone well.  We enjoyed hot tea and good conversation with a couple from the UK and another couple from the states.  We also had amazing food prepared by Jenny, the boat's cook.  For breakfast she made croissants from scratch and they were the best I'd ever tasted.
We didn't let the weather stop us from exploring.  When we got to our overnight destination we took a couple kayaks out to get up close to some of the waterfalls.  It was another memory I'll cherish.  It was so peaceful and quiet on the water and since Jason and I were the only ones on our boat to brave the misting rain, it felt even more special.
As we waited to catch the ferry back to town, a Kea came to say hi.  I really hoped to get a photo of the underside of one's wings since they are a pretty rainbow of colors.  I didn't manage to get a good shot, but below you can see some of the blue feathers as he preens.
The next day we drove the road to Milford Sound.  We'd done this drive last time we visited but I don't remember it being this stunning.  If I thought the drive down the Mt Aspiring road was full of waterfalls... then this was taking it up several more notches.  Last time we were here was in the fall, I'm guessing spring snowmelt and the rain we were having added up to the spectacular display that we got to see.
First we stopped at Mirror Lakes - 1 guess as to where it gets it's name.  Then we took a short walk to an unnamed waterfall that I'd read about online.
They were a good balance to each other - the Mirror Lakes overlook was full of a ton of tourists but just a 2 minute walk off the side of the road.  The waterfall path was difficult to find - it started in the parking lot of a campground and we only found it because the nice lady running the small shop told us where to start - there were orange triangles marking the path like you see for cross country ski routes.  We were the only people on the trail which was wonderful after all the tourists at Mirror Lakes.
It was difficult to truly capture the surroundings... we were driving through a deep valley and on either side you would see tons of waterfalls cascading down cliff faces.  Some of the parking lots or pull outs were temporarily closed due to avalanche danger but the drive was so unbelievably scenic, I felt like a kid in a candy shop.
We stopped and did a short walk into the forest.  Probably because it was later in the day, there were very few other people and it was nice to experience the quiet.  This area is so primordial looking, you feel like a dinosaur will come crashing through the ferns.
We stopped at a pull out and realized that the 2 keas hanging about were obviously used to being fed and were not shy at all.  I tried to tell them we wouldn't feed them but that didn't stop them from checking that I didn't have something yummy hidden up my pant leg.  One of them jumped on top of a nearby car and hung out on the top for quite awhile after it drove away!  Very persistent - cheeky kea!
Still having fun with my long exposure shots...
So to finish up this part of our journey we splurged on a helicopter ride - just us and a pilot.  We had done a short flight in Kauai and loved it and this scenery was just as jaw-dropping.  We even got to do 3 landings - one at a beach, one at a lake in the mountains and then a mountaintop landing!
I'm just going to say that I'm sure there's too many photos below, but in my defense I took over 900 photos on the helicopter trip - so certainly not as many as I could have posted, hee hee
Below you can see a swath of that yellow broom weed I mentioned earlier
When we deciding to book the trip we explained to the tour company that we were hoping to see lots of snowcapped mountains... they certainly didn't disappoint!
We had such a great day for weather - our pilot said it was the best day for sight seeing and flying that he'd seen in MONTHS.
The mountain lakes and waterfalls and overall beauty of the area were just unreal.
And this is why it's called Fjordland National Park...
Our first landing at the beach... check out those crashing waves!
We didn't stay long as the sandflies were merciless.  We asked our pilot if they'd be better at the higher altitude landings but he warned that unfortunately they were basically everywhere.
By the way - the lake you can see out the window - that's Lake Ronald!  How about that Uncle Ron! :o)
As we got ready to land at our next stop we were lucky enough to see some deer.  Not the best photo but just wanted to show that :)
Speaking of not a great photo - there's an attempt at getting a shot of the kea in flight.  Very blurry but you can see the cool colors!
We were very lucky when we landed at this lake - turns out that various helicopter companies can land at various shared locations but they also get some "one off" permits.  This lake was a one-off meaning to be used the one time.  Felt pretty amazing knowing that we were probably the only people to set foot there in quite some time.  After landing we felt even more lucky because somehow the sandflies didn't even have a permit for the place.  We were able to have a lovely lunch and enjoy strolling around.  As soon as we landed we realized that several kea were checking us out from the trees and it was cool to see them acting inquisitive but naturally so rather than being used to handouts.  They were cautious but curious and I realized that unlike the others I'd seen so far, none of these had tags!
 I thought it was cool how the wind was blowing the water into spray.
And to go along with Lake Ronald - Aunt Beth, that island is apparently Elizabeth Island!
Our last landing.  Lovely little mountain ponds with puffy cloud reflections...
I especially loved this area that the pilot shared as one of his favorites - the lakes connected by waterfalls and surrounded by rugged peaks...
I think you can tell from that smile - this was a truly EPIC day!!

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