|Te Anau, New
Friday, Dec 31, 2004
Friday December 17th - Day 234
A cloudy, showery day spent driving the southern scenic route to
Invercargill. It's a wild, rugged, exposed, wave lashed coastline.
We had a walk and our sandwiches at beautiful Nuggett Point, a lighthouse
topped promontory that overlooks the only place on mainland NZ where
fur seals, sea lions and elephant seals coexist.
An unsealed road then led us to Cannibal Beach, home to a breeding
colony of the Hookers Sea Lion, and sat right in the middle of the
beach was a 400kg male monster and his sleeping girlfriend. They're
deceptively fast and have quite a bite, so we viewed from afar,
Back on the road we stayed on the southern scenic route all the
way to Invercargill, where we found a dodgy looking motel to stay
Expenses - to follow
Saturday December 18th - Day 235
With a day of heavy wintry showers forecast (snow down to 600m)
we decided to continue on to Te-Anau, the lakeside access town for
It was another long drive as we followed the longer scenic route.
Low cloud and snow covered the Takitimu Mountains before we brushed
the edge of Lake Manapouri. We arrived in Te-Anau late afternoon,
it was cold and raining with the mountains surrounding Te Anau shrouded
At the visitors centre we learnt its best to just turn up at Milford
and book a trip on the sound from there, and also that the weather
forecast wasn't brilliant.
Expenses - to follow
Sunday December 19th - Day 236
The boats at Milford Sound run tours throughout the day from 9am
to 4.30pm. It's a 2 hour drive to Milford and at last nights team
meeting, it was decided that we should leave early, arriving in
time to take the first boat if the weather was good, if not we were
there in position to take advantage of any breaks.
The chances of having a clear day at Milford Sound are fairly remote
as it recieves a staggering 6-7 metres of rainfall each year.
Our travel alarm jumped into life at 5.30am, we were allowing ourselves
an extra half an hour because snow had been forecast for the Milford
road last night.
I checked the weather outside, the mountains were still covered
in cloud and it was windy, it wasn't looking too hopeful. Rene Van
Winkle was refusing to budge, its tough at the best of times to
extricate the human koala from her bed, but at 5.30am, with a cold
room and Rene lying over an 'on low all night' electric blanket
(dangerous but nice), my chances were slim.
Blatant lies about the outside weather did it in the end and by
6.15 we were on our way. The Milford road travels deep into the
heart of Fiordland National Park, part of South West New Zealands
2.6 million hectare World Heritage Area and one of the great wilderness
regions of the SOuthern Hemisphere. So we had a hunch it might be
The road runs along the edge of the once glacier filled Lake Te
Anau, passing undulating farmland, mountain beech forest and Te
Anau Downs, before entering Fiordland National PArk and the Eglinton
This beautiful valley has the Earl Mountains on one side and the
Livingstone Mountains on the other, red beech is the dominant tree
and native grasslands and wetlands fill the vally floor. Lake Gunn
marked the end of Eglinton valley and the road turns and climbs
towards the coast, following the Hollyford River between Mt.Christina
and Mt. Charlton.
This is where things changed, having turned to the west the cloud
dispersed and suddenly we were driving under blue skies, and hard
though it is to imagine the scenery became even more dramatic and
It's 7am and there's not a soul about and through narrow U shaped
valleys, with incredibly steep and bare sides, rising to a snow
covered 2000m, it feels as though the glaciers that ground their
way through here have only just left. The scale is mind blowing
and however far you lean forward with your face against the windscreen,
looking up, you can't see the peaks. So we got out for a look.
Stunted silver beech, mountain ribbonwood, hebe and fuschia grow
in this harsh climate on ground laid bare by frequent snow avalanches.
The road then rises towards the Homer tunnel which is preceeded
by a staggeringly colossal natural amphitheatre formed by Mt.Talbot
and Mt.Belle. The tunnel is named after Harry Homer who discovered
the Homer Saddle in 1889. It's a rough hewn 1200m long, steep gradient,
dripping black hole of a tunnel and more than a little claustrophobic.
On the Milford side we emerged back into the sunshine and the spectacular
Cleddan Canyon. More mountain magnificence in every direction as
the road descended into Milford Sound where silver beech, tree ferns,
mosses and other ferns thrive in the wet conditions.
There's little accomodation at Milford Sound, a couple of backpacker
lodges, one of which is solely for the use of trampers completing
the four day Milford Track. There's also a small cafe/shop and the
vast wharf visitors centre, where tours on the Sound are booked.
With the weather nigh on perfect, a breeze was rippling the water
so the postcard scenes of a mirror like sound were out, we boarded
the first boat out (there were at least half a dozen others) at
The Maori name for milford Sound is Piopiotahi, after the native
thrush Piopio which is now thought to be extinct. Maori and their
ancestors collected pounami (greenstone) from Anita Bay in the sound,
but it was a sheltering from a storm Welsh sea captain, John Grono,
who named the sound after his birth place, milford Haven. This is
one of NZ's biggest tourist attractions and frankly it would be
rude if it wasn't.
16km of fiord (in geographical terms its not a sound) leading out
to the Tasman Sea and in places 265m deep. In all places though,
its dominated by the towering, sheer, glacier scarified, weather
worn peaks and cliffs that surround it ,in particular the 1692m
high, Milford Sound icon that is stunning Mitre Peak.
On the lower slopes of many of the peaks, red, silver and mountain
beech cling precariously to the rock, only keeping a grip by intertwining
root systems. Tree avalanches are common after heavy rain, leaving
great vertical scars on the landscape.
The deluge of rain that cascades into the sound creates an amazing
natural phenomenon, with the freshwater forming a permanent layer
on the sea surface. Because of the washed down material and nutruents
in the fresh water, its kind of tea coloured and acts as a sunblock,
replicating deep ocean conditions and allowing deep ocean species
to thrive only metres below the surface.
Towards the mouth of the sound it turns direction and narrows, and
once out in the Tasman Sea its hard to tell theres any entrance.
Captain Cook missed it twice.
A stiff and cold headwind escorted us back through the sound, as
did at one point a couple of dolphins, surfing through the bow wave.
We also passed close sun basking seals and 100m high water falls.
Once again though, its the landscape that stays with you after you've
left Milford Sound. Seismic shifted, glacier hewn, geographic wonderments
as far as the eye can see, and today looking their absolute best.
Chilled to the bone, it took about an hour in the car to thaw, and
it was mid afternoon by the time we arrived back in cloudy Te Anau.
Expenses to follow
Monday December 20th - Day 237
Having decided to spend Christmas in Kaikoura, we thought it best
to start driving in that general direction. So we did.
More snow had fallen on the peaks overnight and the Eyre Mountain
Range looked magnificent as we scooted around them on our way to
Queenstown. The last 45km of this road follows the edge of lovely
Lake Wakatipu from kingston to Queenstown, with James Peak on one
side and Mt Dick on the other.
Roads already travelled took us through Cromwell and on to Omarama.
before turning off toward tiny Twizel.
At Lake Pukaki, we stopped briefly to photgraph a slightly hazy
and distant Mt Cook.
This area of expansive high ground is known as Mackenzie Country
after the legendary (in these parts) James 'Jack' Mackenzie who
stole sheep and wandered them round up here. Back in 1843 the region
was uninhabited, but after he was eventually caught other settlers
eralised its potential and followed in his rustling footsteps.
Passing through the small, sleepy towns of Fairlie and Geraldine
we weer soon crossing the vast Cantebury Plain heading for Christchurch.
Afte the almost deserted roads we'd been experiencing, it was quite
a shock when we joined Highway 1, and we realised why there had
been 40 car crash deaths so far in December.
Single lane roads, with the odd double lane overtaking stretch,
and impatient people driving right up the arse of the car in front
is a recipe for a pile up and as the death toll show there's plenty
Every day, the news on the radio has reports of an horrific accident,
although the headlines for the last couple of days are all about
the shark attacks in Australia. A man was taken by a shark on the
Great Barrier Reef, a week or so ago and now an 18 year old, who
was on a surfboard being towed by a speedbaot was attacked and ripped
apart by two Great Whites off the coast of Adelaide. An horrific
story, and as in the film 'Jaws', there is now a flotilla of vessels
out trying to catch the sharks, despite a heart wrenching plea from
the boys parents to leave them be.
Before we reached Christchurch we turned off Highway 1, back on
to a quiet twisty scenic road that took us to pretty Akaroa, sat
on the dep inlet that is Akaroa Harbour amidst the undulating, volcanic
eruption formed, green hills of the Banks Peninsual.
As the weather has been unseasonaly cold we've kept moving in South
Island like a pair of Texans doing Europe and including todays 8.5
hour drive we've clocked up 3,338km in 10 days.