We pick up a young woman, hitch-hiking from Wellington to Stewart Island. We take her to Queenstown, by way of the Crown Range Road. A plaque at the top tells us that this is the highest sealed road in New Zealand. No indication on our free Jason's road map! 1076 metres above sea level, so well over 3 000 feet. Only sealed in 2000. Some road, some views! The lookout part way down is even better.
We rolled into Queenstown with plenty of time for a coffee and muffin, before phoning to check whether we can fly and cruise.
Tip for travellers: if you need to phone an 0800 number in a foreign country, kidnap a native and ask if you can use their phone.
The weather is deteriorating in the west, and there'll not be time to cruise the sound, but a flight with a brief stop is still possible. We go for it, since we don't have a day to spare. We leave our hitch-hiker by the road, and wish her luck.
We check in, and almost get a plane to ourselves, but two people cancel, and all nine of us go in one machine.
The views on the way over are staggering. I now declare officially that mountaineers are quite crazy. Vertical precipices, razor sharp ridges, multiply in all directions. Mordor on acid?
How is the pilot going to land the plane without clipping the rocks?
Of course, he does and we have half an hour to wander around.
But the Sound is very quiet. The only road in is closed, there's been a rock fall, and danger of more with the rain. No cruises are running, and there is only one other plane. The cafe's shut, but one set of toilets are open! We have time for a very short stroll, a few pics, and it's time to go back. This time I grab the chance of the seat at the front, though it turns out the view's not that much better. Spectacular in all directions. We climb to about 9 000 feet, before following one of the glacial valleys back to Lake Wakapitu and Frankton airport.