Amazing New Zealand – Part 2

The South Island, or Te Waipounamu in Maori, is as diverse as it is beautiful. From the extremely wet and lush West Coast to the semi-arid Eastern plains, and from the Tasman Sea to the highest peak of the Southern Alps at 12,316 feet the Island is a fascinating smorgasbord of nature and pretty nice people as well. The rough West Coast is where we turned our sights next. Leaving Fiordland behind we headed north on Hwy 6 to the Fox Glacier, Barrytown, and Punakaiki before making the turn to the east at Golden Bay.

We stopped for short breaks in Lake Wanaka and along the coast at Bruce Bay on our way to the Fox Glacier.

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Beautiful Lake Wanaka

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Commemorated our Anniversary at Bruce Bay with this little note among the hundreds or perhaps thousands like it.   This beach was awash with driftwood and these smooth rocks.

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the bluest fresh water
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Find Mercy

We had arranged a helicopter ride over and onto the Fox Glacier, but the ceiling was too low that whole day so we had to settle with going in on foot. Somewhere along the 30 minute hike out from the parking lot I must have dropped the car keys. Noticing they were nowhere to be found and in a panic we retraced our footsteps carefully back to the parking lot. The terrain along the path varies from smooth and clear to rough with small streams and standing water to step over and around. I began to second guess if I’d left my keys in the car, but I was certain I had them when we left on our hike. All the way back to the car and still no keys. Not to be found on the ground, and not in the car. We were miles from our hotel and I’d begun to think about what it was going to cost me in time and cash to have the car towed back to the hotel and have the rental car agency figure out if they had another key for me. Then, as if on cue, there was a tour guide with his hand up in the air, keys dangling and waving……. toward me. He must have noticed the stress on my face or my near frantic search of everything around me. He found my keys! This Chinese tour guide left his group on the trail and came back to the parking lot to find whoever lost those keys. He explained that they were just on the trail, but in a little notch between some rocks. He just happened to look down when he saw them. I couldn’t thank him enough. He wouldn’t accept any reward. He was grateful to be helpful and we were heading back up to the glacier.

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River of Ice

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Himalayan Tahr – unusually out in the open near the river. This animal is rarely seen except in the remote reaches of the mountains.
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Some trekkers out on the ice

One of the most enjoyable parts of our trip was our stay at Blue Waves Homestay in tiny Barrytown. The word “town” is a misnomer as there is no town within 30 minutes, but this place is pure heaven on earth. We were greeted by our host Dennis who was out tending to the lush surroundings on the property. Dennis is a retired search and rescue guy who can tell a story like no other. And does he have some stories to tell! He is animated, real, friendly and FUNNY!

Dennis warmly greeted us and showed us the house and our room, offered us a drink and immediately made us comfortable in his home. The property is simply beautiful. Raelyn arrived home from work later in the afternoon and advised us “tea” would be sometime shortly after 7:00 PM. Rae is equally delightful and enjoys a little playful banter with Dennis much to our entertainment. We decided to go for a walk on the beach across the street. It was overcast that day, but it didn’t detract from the fact that we had beach as far as the eye could see both directions to ourselves. The driftwood and the birds and a calm Tasman Sea at low tide made for some great photo opportunities.

The best part of our short stay was the meal that Dennis and Rae prepared. I’m not sure what was better, the food, including delicious fish caught by Dennis across the street, or the conversation. If you have even a passing interest in fishing you must ask Dennis about the “torpedo” Dennis designed to fish for deep water fish from the shore. You need to see it to believe it. I felt as though I was among old friends. Dennis cooked fish that he had caught just across the street and while eating we got to share in some stories of Dennis’ life working Search and Rescue on the West Coast over the years. Dennis’s best mate Neil was there as well and between the two of them we had some great laughs and learned some interesting facts about the area.

Another highlight was being handed a copy of Neil’s biography signed by both Neil and Dennis who is mentioned many times in the book as the two had worked for decades in Search and Rescue while Neil was a Senior Sergeant with the Constables Office in Greymouth. I read the 373 page book, Step Up to the Line, Biography of Neil Smith from cover to cover on the flight home and it was a continuation of the conversation we had that night over our meal.

I get the feeling Dennis can do or build or fix just about anything and having built the property with his own hands there’s just something special about it. The room was comfortable with great views of the sea. Breakfast was wonderful we only wish we had another day or two to stay at Blue Waves. If you’re looking to stay on the West Coast and enjoy some authentic West Coast hospitality I highly recommend this place. There is plenty to do in the area and I certainly plan to return for a longer stay in the future. Don’t forget to ask about the torpedo!

This is Blue Waves Homestay:

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looking back at Blue Waves from the beach

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our patio
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Rae, Mercy, Dennis, Jerry (I didn’t get the email on the V-neck)
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view from our room to the Tasman Sea

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From Blue Waves we headed north to Golden Bay.  A must see along the way is the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. The Pancake Rocks were formed 30 million years ago from tiny fragments of dead marine animals and plants. The water pressure and time caused the fragments to solidify in soft and hard layers creating the limestone layers that were then sculpted into the interesting shapes you can see today by wind and seawater. The hike is an easy 20 minute loop.

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We completed our trip up the West Coast with a couple day stopover in Golden Bay. Like the rest of what we’ve experienced to this point it was another beautiful destination. The Wharariki Beach (featured below), Farewell Spit, and Waikoropupu Springs were among the places we visited. Wharariki Beach is a good 30 minute hike from the parking area through sheep farmland over easy terrain. With Cape Farewell at the northern point it’s usually windy. Although wind and sand don’t normally make for a pleasant beach experience we had a calm enough day to make this really worthwhile. The vistas with their massive sand dunes and rocky sea views were spectacular. By sheer luck we were there at low tide which was good because more of the beach is accessible.

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Hope you enjoyed traveling with us to New Zealand!

NEXT: Abel Tasman National Park – Picton – Crossing the Marlborough Sound to the North Island – Wellington

Veterans Day – France 1918

Veterans Day observed annually on November 11, honors our military veterans. Uniquely it coincides with other holidays, including Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, celebrated in other countries that mark the anniversary of the end of World War I. Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. November 11, 2018 marks 100 year since the end of WWI.  My Grandfather William Strubeck, who I never met, fought and survived the war and although his unit was only deployed during the last two months of battle in France their contribution to ending the war is remarkable. Many years ago while doing some research I came across the History of the 314th Field Artillery Division compiled and presented by Linda Cunningham Fluarty on http://www.wvgenweb.com

Part of that history includes rosters where I found my Grandfather’s name and hometown, Hughestown, PA. Also included are some diary entries from the various gun batteries, and photos from Fort Lee, Virginia where the 314th was commissioned and where the division would return after the war. For many this would be their first and last home in the Army as they returned to the railroads, farms, coal mines, factories and other cradles of the continuing industrialization of the United States that would soon usher in the Roaring 20’s.

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Pvt. William G. Strubeck, 314th Field Artllery
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my Grandfather’s Draft Registration Card

September 23, 1918 —

Batteries “B,” “C,” “D,” and “E” left camp under cover of darkness
and marched north, toward their positions on the southern slope of Le
Mort Homme. Traffic was so congested that they were unable to reach
their destination before daybreak and so were forced to take cover in
the woods near Montzeville where they remained the following day.
The ammunition train was not functioning properly, which was a cause
of worry to regimental and battalion commanders. All wagons in the
regiment were used to haul ammunition. They were out all night on
heavily shelled roads carrying shells to the gun positions. This was
the first time that our regiment had been under fire.

Battery “E,” 314th F. A., made their first appearance in actual
warfare September 25, 1918, at Dead Man’s Hill. The position was
shelled lightly but the men were cool and collected at all times. As
we were not to fire until 5.30 A. M. of the 26th, we spent all our
spare time in making preparations to give the Boche hell. On the
night of the 25th the heavy artillery in our rear opened up for the
big drive and presented a wonderful scene which will be carried
forever in the minds of those present. At the hour our guns fired for
the first time against the Germans in the form of an offensive
barrage supporting our 80th Division Infantry, who were near
Bethincourt. There were several gas alarms, but these were false, so
there was nothing to hinder the firing of the barrage, which was a
success from the start to the finish two hours later. Several men
were lost in this position. Corporal Kirkpatrick had his leg broken
helping to move a gun, Private Dobbins and Cook Pultz were sent to
the hospital with influenza.

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314th F.A. Fort Lee, Virginia – prior to shipping out for France

Below are a few MEMORIES OF BATTERY “E”

On the morning of the 26th we moved forward to Hill 277 where we
went into action in old-time open warfare style. An O. P. was
established on the hill and the guns fired without putting up their
camouflage, for the infantry was being held up by machine guns. It
was in this position we experienced our first air raid when ten
German planes, flying very low, fired on us for nearly half an hour,
but luckily no one was injured. The men also had their first
experience in digging dugouts. They worked several nights on them but
just when they were finished and ready to use we were ordered to
move. Our kitchen had not yet come to us but the men were cooking
their own meals, for we were getting rations daily. It was in this
position that the men gathered a bunch of old and new German
equipment and it was a common sight to see the men wearing German
shoes. Some men also gathered up German blankets, but were sorry
later, for they turned out to be inhabited extensively by cooties.
There were numerous gas alarms given in this place and on one
occasion an alarm given caused our Battery Commander to break all
records for a kilometer dash for his gas mask, but it proved to be
false. The machine gun section had an elaborate dugout, and when
Lieutenant Forst took it over for an orientation room he did not take
the good will of the section with him. Sergeant Vees found a keg of
German beer in an old dugout which proved to be a healthy beverage to
more than one of the Outfit; in fact, canteens carried very little
water as long as it lasted. Private Hackett was sent to the hospital
and Private Coleman Was very ill in an old German dugout. In the
echelon Private Steil was injured and Private Schnelle’s tent was hit
by a shell, but he was not injured.

October 31st to November lst. Hell on earth, or the Bois de
Rappes. When coming from the Romagne position the battery was lost
for a short time but after going through a small barrage, they
arrived at the Bois de Rappes, where there were both artillery and
infantrymen to help manhandle the guns into position. This was a very
dangerous job, for the flares from the German front lines lit up the
country and our horses and carriage’s could be seen very plainly. The
woods were shelled continually and thoroughly all night. Telephone
wires were being cut by shells every minute and it was a difficult
job to keep up communication. It was three o’clock before the guns
were properly placed and even then they only fired fifteen rounds,
Lieutenant Fiske acting as cannoneer. Corporal Falland was wounded
while helping carry other wounded men out of the woods. Privates
Smith and Nelson were seriously wounded, both dying later; Sergeant
Howard, Corporal Graves, Privates Miller and Hart were wounded.
Sergeant Wolfe’s gun was hit by a shell and put out of commission.
Lieutenant Robinson made a great impression on the men by his bravery
in looking out for them all the time we were in this position. We
were ordered out of here at one o’clock P. M. on November 1st with a
Halloween celebration in our minds that won’t be forgotten for some
time to come.

From November 2nd to 4th we were located southeast of Andevanne
and this proved to be our easiest position. The nerve of the German
aviators was displayed here when a German plane came over so low that
Lieutenant Fiske said that if he ever saw the aviator again he would
recognize him. In this position we received our first news of the
proposed armistice and of Austria’s defeat for the Allied planes
dropped circulars of information. We moved from here, for the Germans
were driven out of our range, and on this move the men forgot all
about the armistice and Austria. We pulled out in the evening during
a hard rain which had been coming down steadily for a day or so. It
was very dark and shell holes of all sizes were numerous. The roads
were unfit for traffic and in one place several trucks were broken
down so we had to resort to the field on the side of the road. It was
a tired and wet bunch that arrived in the Bois de Mont.

November 4th to the 10th, Bois de Mont. After making our worst
march we landed in the worst position for firing that we had during
our period of service. Trees had to be cut down for the guns to be
put into place and also to facilitate the delivery of fire. It was in
this position that we first had a good look at the Meuse River, and,
incidentally, also a good view of a hostile battery of 77’s which was
firing on the town of Mont devant Sassey. Battery “E” opened up on
them promptly and in a short time the Boche lost all interest in the
scrap and headed for Berlin.

November 10th we arrived at Mouzay, our last position. As
we were going into Mouzay we were held up by a slight road jam. In
reply to a question as to whom we were a machine gun sergeant from
the 90th Division said, “Let them go through, they are the 314th
Field Artillery and are fighting sons of –.” We were backing the
90th at that time and all of us felt that this was a tribute worth
having. After putting the guns into position about 500 meters out of
Mouzay the men, with Lieutenant Bailey and Lieutenant Robinson in
charge, were placed in houses in the town. Later Lieutenant Fiske,
coming in from the position, expecting a corn bill breakfast, found
Lieutenant Bailey and Lieutenant Robinson sitting before a big fire
drinking champagne, which the old French lady had hidden from the
Germans to give to the first Allied officers that entered Mouzay. It
did not take Lieutenant Fiske long to impress upon her that he was
one of them. We fired from here, but on November 11th, as we were
getting ready to move forward to pick a new position, the message
came in that the Armistice had been signed and that hostilities would
cease at 11 A. M. On November 12th General Bryson inspected “E”
Battery’s material and found it to be in fine condition, especially
Wolfe’s section, to whom he paid a very fine compliment.

November 11, 1918 —

The batteries delivered some previously planned fire on the Bois-de-
Chenois, Femme St. Martin and road forks and ravines north of Baalon.

At 9:15 word was received by telephone from Brigade that Germany had
agreed to an armistice and that hostilities would cease at 11:00 A.M.
We were to cease firing at once.

This news was transmitted to the battalions. The message had hardly
been sent when Brigade called us again and ordered fire on a battery
that was shelling Mouzay. This order was countermanded before it was
executed. We were told not to fire unless we were actually fired on
and then to only return shot for shot.

39 men from the 314th F.A. died in action or due to illness and 115 were wounded. _________________________________________________________

I hope you enjoyed reading these accounts as much as I did. They paint a vivid picture of what war was like then and now. I am grateful to all who have answered the call to serve America and protect the freedoms we all enjoy.  Below are some family photos of our legacy of service.

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Why we fight for freedom
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Riverine Squadron One – deployed to Haditha Dam on the Euphrates River
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LT Joshua Strubeck – United States Naval Academy, Class of 2004 (award the Bronze Star for action in Afghanistan).
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Welcome Home!
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LT Strubeck on patrol as part of a multi-national force in the mountains of Afghanistan
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My father Seaman 1C Robert B. Strubeck – WWII Saipan and Tinian
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With my parents at my retirement ceremony after 22 years of service
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My hero
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Builder Construction Apprentice Jerry Strubeck – Naval Mobile Construction Battalion THREE – Okinawa, Japan
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Grateful for their sacrifice – the day I was promoted to Chief Petty Officer

Amazing New Zealand Part 1 of 4

Of all the places I’ve dreamt of visiting New Zealand was always near or at the top of the list. In photos the country seemed mystical to me. Always amazed by the beauty of its mountains, fjords, glaciers, waterfalls, and beaches, the culture and the people, I had to see for myself. This is the first of four blog posts on this amazing place that will culminate in a shire on the North Island.  When I planned our trip I knew I needed three weeks just to scratch the surface. After months of reading and researching I put together an itinerary that would take Mercy and I on the ultimate self-driving tour from South Island destinations such including Christchurch to Queeenstown, to Te Anau, to Milford Sound, to Lake Wanaka, to Fox Glacier, to Barrytown and Punakaki, to Golden Bay and finally Picton. From Picton we turned in our car and crossed the Marlborough Sound to the North Island city and capital of New Zealand Wellington. Having spent the majority of our time on the South Island we made our way directly to Lake Taupo, Rotorua, Waitomo, Hamilton and finally wrapped up our trip in Auckland.

GETTING THERE: We flew Virgin Australia non-stop from Los Angeles to Sydney and connected after a short layover to Christchurch. Returning we flew from Auckland non-stop to Los Angeles.

The absolute best way to get around New Zealand is by rental car or camper van. Since we were planning an assortment of accommodations from B&B to apartment to hotel we decided on the car. With driving in New Zealand there are a couple of challenges, but they’re easily overcome. The first is New Zealand, like the UK, Australia and Japan is left side drive. We overcame this by adopting a simple pilot-co-pilot plan. As the pilot I drove and kept my eyes on the road and Mercy as my co-pilot repeated the term “keep left” early and often. Another thing is that because everything is reverse on the steering column every time I turned on my turn signal my wipers came on instead. I’d like to say I overcame thins after a couple of days, but old habits are hard to break. The price of gasoline at $2.14 NZ per liter or about $8.08 NZ per gallon ($5.63 USD) might bring sticker shock to the uninitiated, but for those who have driven in other countries in Europe and parts of Asia I feel like we’re pretty spoiled with our prices in the United States. On the plus side there’s no traffic outside the major cities and the drivers are plenty courteous. One word of caution: Don’t speed. I got a speeding ticket and a mild rebuking by the local constable in-between Golden Bay and Picton. The officer told me, “now see what you’ve done…. you went and drove too fast and now you have to pay the consequences.” “What do you think of that?” Add a kiwi accent for effect.

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Official New Zealand Driving Hat – gives superpower to drive on the left side of the road
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Mercy gets her turn driving on the left

After an overnight in Christchurch we headed to The Hermitage. This is a beautiful alpine lodge setting in the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. This is a perfect accommodation to use as a base for a couple of days exploring the Tasman Glacier and other area attractions.

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the view from our room

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The two highlights of our stay in this area were the Blue Lakes excursion with Glacier Explorers and our amazing ski plane glacier landing with Mount Cook Ski Planes. For the former Glacier Explorers picked us up at The Hermitage and took us to the boat landing maybe 20 minutes away where we donned our life jackets and boarded a zodiac-like custom MAC boat and made our way onto the milky colored lake for our hour-long trip. The ride offered spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and an up close view of icebergs small and large and an opportunity to taste the water from a 500-year-old ice crystal scooped up from the remnants of a fallen sheet of ice that recently tore away from the glacier. The guides are professional and well versed in the geology and history of the area, the formation and transformation of the lake and the local flora and fauna. This is a must-do experience on the South Island and is highly recommended at $170 NZD for adults and $87 NZD for children.

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One of the best experiences we’ve ever had traveling anywhere was our ski plane flight and landing on the Tasman Glacier. The pictures tell the story, but Mt. Cook Ski Planes safely gets you there and provides an experience like no other. I’ll caveat my enthusiasm about this trip by warning that this is not cheap. But, if you’re going to New Zealand and are carving up your budget make sure you plan well enough in advance to schedule and book THIS excursion. You won’t regret it. We chose the Grand Circle tour on the ski plane. This 55 minute flight offers amazing mountain and glacier scenic views of the Southern Alps, the Fox Glacier and the Franz Josef Glaciers. The flight also briefly navigates north along the Tasman Sea before crossing the breathtaking snow-capped peaks before a landing on one of the glaciers. The take off and accent up the mountain was thrilling with the craggy edges of the mountains rock formations seemingly within a few yards of the wing tips. The landing was a little bumpy, but fun and stepping out of the plane onto the frozen glacier was incredible. It was so quiet and bright. Our pilots Ross and Sam were friendly and knowledgeable and really loved their job. Heading back Ross jumped into the tail section and Mercy got to be the “co-pilot” for our decent.

http://www.mtcookskiplanes.com

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landed on the Tasman Glacier – altitude over 10,000 feet
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our pilots
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the mountain can receive as much as 160 feet of snow accumulation in the winter. More than 23 feet remain through the summer after the melt

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looks like snow, but that’s ice and its about 2,000 feet thick at its thickest
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co-pilot for the return trip

From Mt Cook we headed to the Queenstown area and opted for a B&B in the quaint picturesque town of Arrowtown. Arrowtown is a living historic settlement established during the Otago gold rush. Most of the old pioneer constructed shops and churches and cottages still stand and there is a Chinese settlement with restored buildings along the river that is worth a visit.

While staying in Arrowtown we took in some excitement in the adventure capital of the Southern Hemisphere, Queenstown. It doesn’t matter the time of the year; Queenstown has something to do for the adventure minded traveler year round. We spent a full day walking around the town, visiting museums, eating a famous Lamb Burger at Furgburger (must do) and taking a wild white knuckle ride down one of the world’s most dangerous roads into Skipper Canyon for a Jet Boat ride on the Shotover River with Skipper Jet. If the ride in didn’t kill you the Jet Boat ride just might. Actually Mercy and I are all in for high adventure within reason and this seemed reasonable enough and I’d do it again. The ride down the 16 mile long steep dirt road unprotected by guard rail makes the drive along the Amalfi Coast seem benign. What’s remarkable is the skill of the drivers that take dumb tourists like us into these places. The road is so narrow that if two vehicles need to pass one may have to back up to a mile or more to allow passage. The cliffs are hundreds of feet high and the views are spectacular. One word of caution if you decide to take your rental car down that road: Don’t do it! Your insurance won’t honor anything that happens on this road. At the bottom we enjoyed an equally hair-raising JetBoat ride on the Shotover River.

SKipper Canyon

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no guard rail and a long way down

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overlooking Queenstown

On to Te Anau, Milford Sound and adjacent sites. Here I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. This was a nice wind down from the high adventure activities of the previous days. We took a boat onto Milford Sound which is beautiful and took a scenic drive and did some trekking and exploring in Fiordland National Park.  Getting lost in this amazing country was a pleasure.  If you have three weeks you can put a good dent in  New Zealand, but if not you can always return again as we plan to.

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NEXT: FOX GLACIER, the WEST COAST, GOLDEN BAY