Monday, June 6, 2011

Te Anau to Milford Sound - New Zealand

With mountains in full view most of the way, we took the amazing road all the way from Invercargill towards Milford Sound only stopping for fish and chips and some duck feeding in the pleasant town of Te Anau.  After a long day on the roads and as dusk was setting in we had finally arrived at the well occupied DOC site called Lake Gunn where (after some jostling around for a parking space which wouldn’t offend the view of other campers) we pulled up the hand break and had quite a slanted night’s sleep.  The stars were an amazing sight to behold and even though we were slanted, with the lake lapping away at the pebbles in the pitch blackness it was all very relaxing.  The following day was to include our boat tour of the sound itself.  Having not often shelled out for the touristy attractions this was to be an exception as a floating vessel is the best way to explore the waters where the glaciers once stood.  We opted for a two and a half hour nature discovery cruise which was focused on the wildlife, geology and plant life of the area.

On the way to Milford Sound

Taking in the scenery

Feeding the ducks in Te Anau
Camped at Lake Gunn

We still had an hour or so drive ahead of us in order to reach the sound.  It was an immensely beautiful route of winding roads and bridges surrounded by snow-capped mountains, lakes and streams and would have been worth the trip alone!  Not long before arriving at the sound we went through a large drippy tunnel carved out of the mountain.  We arrived at the car park and boarded our boat.  Whilst we cruised round the sound, a massive fjord carved out by a glacier, the captain provided interesting information telling us the composition of the rock formations (including the semi-precious greenstone rock) and pointing out the fur seals that were having a nap on the rocks nearby.  Fortunately, or arguably unfortunately, there hadn’t been any rain for the past few days (unusual considering that there is more than a coin toss’ chance that you will receive rain in this region) which meant that we didn’t get the full clout of the waterfalls that occur afterwards which are said to be spectacular.  Nevertheless we were still grateful for the glorious sunny day as we drifted our way along the beautiful sound.  Whilst we really enjoyed the cruise, in hindsight we thought that the best option that we could have chosen would have been to explore the sound via kayak which would have allowed us to get closer to the seals and experience the tranquillity but we still really enjoyed ourselves.  

We had been chatting to a Kiwi on the boat and asking him about Jaffas, the popular Kiwi orange chocolate balls and about New Zealand in general.  At one point he dipped below deck and came back with a packet of Jaffas as a present for us both, this is the type of hospitality we received on a regular basis here and we happily shared the sweets out on the boat.

On the way to Milford Sound

One of many beautiful scenic photos

The mountain tunnel

Waterfall in Milford Sound
Friendly seals saying hello

Fault line: Pacific Plate meets the Australian Plate

Disembarking our boat

I had unfortunately managed to leave my lights on after going through the epic tunnel before arriving at the sound and we returned to a flat battery.  As most people were tourists there weren’t any jump leads to be found.  I asked a nearby contractor if he could help, he couldn’t but he mentioned that he had seen our van’s lights on and had tried to get in to turn the lights off but as it was a touristy location we had locked it on this occasion although the sentiment was nice.  It turned out that the Milford Sound caf√© had its own portable batteries for such an occasion which made me feel less silly.  We then got it going pretty soon and headed back through the tunnel remembering to turn the lights off on the other side this time.

With the gorgeous weather being such a rarity for the region and having spent a lot of time on the road recently we decided to spend at least another day here.  The DOC sites were cheap and practically empty and it would have been a crime not to spend longer in such luscious surroundings.  We changed our DOC site after the Cruise and ended up hanging out with a young German couple and two couples of expats who were great fun.  The stars were extremely vivid and one of the people was a professor at a university who was explaining the various constellations and balls of gases like the Coal Sack that can’t usually be seen. 

Camping day two

Night of chilly festivities with our German friends such as star spotting!

The following day consisted of moving a little further down the road to yet another DOC site but not before collecting plenty of firewood from various places for that evening.  On our wood collecting ventures we came across wonderful birds that were extremely friendly.  We even named an especially friendly example ‘Disney Bird’ as it was more like something from a children’s movie the way it followed us around and wasn’t afraid to sit close to us at the picnic table, it even harassed me when taking a pee in the bushes!  It was great to feel like the only people in the world in one of the most beautiful places we had ever been with our only responsibility being to get firewood and light it before it got too dark and damp.  We were camped close to a glacial stream which we dared each other to have a dip in the next day and it was quite frankly one of the coldest things I had been in.  I just about managed to get my head under before my body began to seize up and I had to get out!  Kate went in two and nearly floated off second time around.  We fortunately didn’t go in too far so the current couldn’t properly catch us.  Having had a couple of dips we decided that the dare was over.  

Relaxing is the order of the day

Campsite number three

Dipping in a fjord river can be a harrowing experience


Kate and the 'Disney Bird'
Queenie the camper looking insignificant in the landscape

We reluctantly left Milford Sound but were looking forward to Queenstown where we had begun contemplating doing a bungee jump.  The camper had lasted four nights without electricity and showed no signs of it running out.

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