Wednesday February 12, 2014
Sunday after Moeraki, we drove thru Dunedin, and thru Gore, and on to Te Anau which is the Gateway to Milford Sound and other local attractions. We checked into a new and inexpensive holiday park for two nights. Meg wanted to take a cruise on Doubtful Sound. It is a full day pricey multi leg trip. There were just a few openings on the first trip Monday at 8AM.
An early rise at 6:30A to be sure we were able to drive the 30 km and planned to have breakfast at the boat. But, the morning had amazing ground fog which shawled the shoulders of the mountains, and flowed across the valley and flats. Lake Te Anau had a white blanket. The sun just broke above a ridge and painted the land gold and the fog shawl tops pale-yellow. Sheep were grazing in the field beside the road as usual. Across Lake Te Anau, the mountain peaks poked above their fog shawls. No time for breakfast; it was near boat loading time.
The cruise on Doubtful Sound is a three legged affair. Leg one is a lake cruise of about 45 minutes to the 7 generator hydro-electric plant buried in a mountain. The head is about 180 meter from lake to outflow. A tour of the plant is included. Then a 30 minute bus ride over a mountain pass to the dock of the Sound cruiser. Leg three is the reverse without the plant tour. Leg two is the cruise on the Sound which was quite lovely. Walls of the two thousand foot high mountains are close to the water and rise very sharply.
We were treated to some fur seals on rocks where the Doubtful Sound flows into the Tasman sea, bottle-nose dolphins, and a few uncommonly seen crested fiord penguins.
Returning to Te Anau at 3P, I decided that we had the time to drive to Milford Sound (5 hours round trip) before dark set in. The weather for Tuesady was to be cloudy and showery. Not a good idea to spend that time driving to Milford for “bad light”. The first hour of the drive reminded us of Wyoming with flat range land and foot hills and mountains; The Tetons. The light had the made the gold fields pop. Closer look had sheep instead of cattle; red tussock grass instead of sage brush. A pasture of a thousand sheep might occupy a fenced area the size of 8 football fields.
The last hour of the drive into Milford is a “5-pointer”. Right hand on the wheel, left hand on the gear shift, left foot on the clutch, right foot on the brake/gas, and your butt firmly planted. There are turns, curves and hills; 15 kph, 25 kph, and 35 kph, kinky twisty above a drop of a half of thousand feet. Few guard rails exist so rock slides and tree avalanches can be cleared easily.
The bridges and the tunnel are one lane. The tunnel has a sign to announce when the light will turn green again.
After 8 minutes, the last vehicle out was a tow truck with a camper van on the hook. Kea birds (large parrot related birds) land on your car and peck at any rubber visible, leather is also very attractive. They will tear these things apart. Do Not Tarry. The road from the tunnel drops dramatically and breathtakingly to the sea. Now it is another 5-pointer plus apprehension.
Milford Sound is a tiny town whose main reason to be is the amazing dramatic scenery and the cruises of the Sound. Here the mountains are far more dramatic than Doubtful. We sat at the van and ate a supper of bean salad and blue cheese. From there we could see the highest peak visible from the village at nearly 5000 fet high with snow and clouds on their the peaks. My advice is to get to Milford in the afternoon, camp/lodge the night, and then take the first cruise of the next day for the mirror water and low fog of the Sound.
“Travel light and wear a smile.” Jack Holmes