New Zealand- Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 372 (182)

Te Anau

Tuesday 15th March (2005)

The ongoing saga with the camper-van problem back home sent me running around this morning trying to make phone calls and exchanging e-mails. The lawyer that is handling the case for us is now really starting to irritate me. I eventually had to tear myself away or risk us leaving too late in the day to get to Milford on time for our cruise around the sound. As it was, I already lost out on breakfast. Sandy hastily packed a few rolls so that I would at least have something to eat for on the road.

We took things slow on the way up to Milford Sound. Although my morning was a bit rushed, we intentionally left plenty of time to complete the journey so as to enjoy the scenery along the way. We stopped several times to admire the mountain landscape as well as a few other points of interest. The snow-capped peaks were clearly melting and the resulting trickles of waterfalls added a very dynamic feel to the whole landscape around us as we traversed through the valleys and gorges. We eventually arrived at what looked like a very long one-way tunnel that was bored straight through one of the mountains. There was a sign indicating that the intervals between red and green traffic signals was fifteen minutes so we parked the car along with numerous other cars and busses and went for a stroll. Just about a hundred metres over to our left at the foot of one of the mountains, there was what looked like a fragment of melting glacier. It was actually compact snow rather than ice but it was melting at quite a rate and several huge, dripping tunnels had already formed beneath it. We took our time to photograph the strange phenomenon from all angles before getting back into the car and tacking onto the end of the small queue of cars now waiting for the green signal. The tunnel was about a Kilometre long and we were in for a bit of a treat when we reached the other side. A huge pair of Kea parrots was sitting there perched on the railings on the side of the road. We stopped to snap several photos of them too before continuing. Keas are quite tame and only found in this part of New Zealand. We’ve seen several signs at rest stops and so on explaining all about the birds and warning people to not feed them. It was a real thrill to get right up close to another vary rare native species.

The mountain landscape on the other side of the tunnel was no less spectacular and we continued to make progress towards Milford with another few stops here and there to enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings. Having eventually arrived in Milford and the head of the sound, we parked in the one and only car park and made our way over to the information centre. Pretty much everybody that gets this far does so with the intention of taking a one and a half hour or more cruise on the sound. The one main building here is essentially one huge booking hall for all the cruise operators, of which there are about half a dozen. We located the check-in desk for the company we chose to cruise with and I paid NZ$40 (€23,20) for each of our boarding cards to the two-hour cruise we had planned. The check-in building has several displays of native wildlife and a few exhibits of Maori art but it couldn’t have been more than half an hour before we were able to board our vessel. Although the boat can accommodate up to one hundred and fifty passengers, probably no more than about thirty actually boarded for our sailing and we were soon on our way with a near empty boat. The sun was out in force and the conditions could not possibly have been any better. The water was calm and the boat moved effortlessly through the sound with no rocking or swaying. I was actually quite glad for us to have gotten under way when we did since the ever-present and extremely irritating sand flies were nibbling away at nearly every part of my exposed flesh whenever I stopped moving.

Milford Sound is actually not a sound at all; it’s a fiord. Apparently it was originally misnamed but that name is now so engrained into the psyche of everyone that knows of it, it is now well and truly stuck. The scenery is what brings busload upon busload of tourists to Milford Sound and with good reason too. Cruising leisurely through the fiord between the near vertical cliff faces that have been carved out by the various ice ages is a simply magical experience and you are completely spoiled for choice as to which awe inspiring vista to look at next. The boat does not move terribly fast but fast enough for the scenery to be constantly changing as you go. Our cameras went straight into overdrive.

Depending on the amount of recent rainfall, there can be anywhere from two to two thousand or more waterfalls streaming down the cliff faces on either side of the fiord. Two are permanent, and there are a few semi-permanent. One is over three hundred metres high but looks deceptively dwarfed by the sheer height of the close by mountain ranges. The boat made it all the way out to the Tasman Sea before turning around to hear back down the fiord again. All through the cruise, we were treated to running commentary from the captain on everything from the history of the fiord to the flora and fauna found within it. On the way back, we passed a juvenile seal colony and the captain was able to move the boat up quite close to the rocks where they were frolicking around.

We got chatting to a young Dutch backpacker who eventually asked us if he could hitch a ride with us back to Te Anau, to which we agreed. He has apparently been moving around New Zealand purely by means of hitchhiking and is a true backpacker in that sense. In chatting to him in the car, we discovered just how much more money we are spending than it can be done for. It does have to be said, however, that your comfort and convenience of travel are largely directly linked to the amount of money that you spend. To each his or her own.

On the way back towards Te Anau, but before we passed back through the long tunnel again, we stopped at another scenic point of interest known as The Chasm. After a brief walk through the forest, we arrived at a bridge that had been spanned across a fast flowing creek. Beneath the bridge was a huge chasm that had been eroded by the flowing water over many thousands of years. The resulting carvings from the rock were quite spectacular and this made the whole detour very much worth the effort.

Back in Te Anau, I picked up a fresh chicken and some bread from the supermarket to whip us up a late dinner, which we cooked and ate in the main kitchen. It was quite a large bird so we gave much of it to some other travellers that had already sat down to eat. I think they were Danish but wherever they were from, they were certainly glad to receive the food.

Our new Dutch friend had nearly completely filled his digital camera’s memory card so I offered to burn his photos onto one of his blank CDs. We did this in our building’s common room and the two Israeli travellers that were sharing our unit with us also had full memory cards so I offered them the chance to burn a CD too, which they eagerly accepted.

It turns out that the Dutch kid and the Israelis are thinking of taking the near enough exact route as we are for the next few days. We’ve agreed to take the Dutch guy along with us and I dare say we will meet the Israelis on the road again somewhere too.