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Queenstown -> Milford Sound -> Te Anau
05:45. The alarm clock rings. With a little time adjustment in the body, it was not entirely easy to get up, even though the big adventure starts today! The legs felt like lead and the head felt as if we had been at a real party yesterday. 12 hours time difference is not to be trifled with, but it helped that it was already light outside. We had booked a boat ride on Milford Sound at 13pm, so departure from the hotel needed to be no later than 28am. It's easy to think that a 5 mile drive should take less than three hours, but the roads here in New Zealand are mostly single lane roads with no roads, where no attempt at all has been made to straighten the road. It's simply more curves than straights. Add to that a large amount of buses with tourists and an even larger amount of tourists with rental cars driving slowly to look at the view down the road. We didn't dare to take any chances, but coldly calculated that it would take XNUMX hours to drive to the boat. We ourselves are very good at slamming on the brakes when we see something beautiful, but we realized that we would have to make very strict priorities down the road. If it's not hellish-sickly-beautiful, but just sickly-beautiful, we wouldn't have time to stay.
Had bought sandwiches, juice and yogurt with us from the grocery store in Queenstown the day before, so we had breakfast before we left. The hotel room had a well-equipped kitchenette, so we even managed to make ourselves a cup of coffee each. Unfortunately, we had forgotten to pack our kettle for the car, so it was simply a matter of Anders having to manage without coffee and being able to drive the whole distance without the possibility of stopping and getting coffee elsewhere than in Te Anau. Managed to check out after a long wait for a hotel guest who had been charged for a dinner visit they claimed not to have made. The hotel sorted it out nicely after a phone call, before the frustrated guest's top cap could fly into the air.
Today's final goal, Milford Sound, is a deep fjord in the Fiordlands National Park, just southwest of Queenstown. The fjord was formed when a large glacier melted and flowed into the Tasman Sea. The first European round-the-world sailors did not dare to explore the fjord, as they were afraid that the fjord would narrow and that they would get stuck in there without wind. Not until 1812 did Captain John Grono venture into Milford Sound with his ship and, amazed by its beauty, named the fjord Milford Haven. Until the 20th century, the Fiordlands were one of the least explored areas of New Zealand and it was not until 1888 when Mackinnon Pass was discovered that Milford Sound could be reached on foot. This pass is today part of the famous hiking trail Milford Track. Sixty years later, the Homer tunnel was built for car traffic, a tunnel that is still used today by all road-borne visitors to the fjord.
The area around Milford Sound is one of the areas in the world where it rains the most. Actually closer to 7 meters per year (!). Here in Fjordlands it rains daily and the weather changes faster than you can put on your rain jacket, which is one of the reasons why the walls of the fjord are almost always decorated with hundreds of waterfalls.
We began our long journey to our first stop, Te Anau. The road from Te Anau to Milford Sound is 12 miles long and is considered one of the most beautiful driving routes in the world, so our plan was to drive as much as we could the 17 miles to Te Anau, then have some time to stop following the road closer to Milford Sound.
The first stage was a very winding road along Lake Wakatipu's southeast shore, with beautiful views of the turquoise lake with snow-capped mountains. After the lake we came out among a completely different landscape of green rolling hills with sheep. The trees shone with their absence and it suddenly felt like we were in the lush greenery of Ireland. Although I read and understood that there are more sheep than people in New Zealand, I never thought there would be THIS many sheep! The ten miles from Lake Wakatipu to Te Anau passed worn farmsteads and vast plains of yellow grass balls. Everywhere along the road, along the hills, by the farms, there were sheep.
Stopped quickly in Te Anau and refueled and bought lunch sandwiches with us at Subway. There was also a large take-away coffee so that Anders would be able to drive the last two hours to the fjord. We barely had time to leave Te Anau before snow-capped mountains began to approach the horizon. Snow-capped mountains and a concerned policeman.
- "I have to apologize for the weather, it is almost 10 degrees colder than it usually is in December!" Our first stop was not a photo stop, but a police check. Had we received the "Driving in New Zealand" brochure from the rental car company? Was there an arrow at the speedometer with a left-hand traffic warning? Everything turned out to be as it should be, so we had to drive away from the nice police with a happy wave and a "Have a wonderful vacation in New Zealand!".
After a few miles of driving we came to our first stop, Mirror Lakes, where the Earl Mountains are reflected in stagnant watercourses. The mountains were so close that it was barely possible to photograph them even with a wide-angle lens. It is not difficult to find the beautiful places after the road, because even if not all places are well marked, just stop when you see a long line of parked cars. We stopped at the flat green meadows at Knobs flat and also at a stream with lupines at Walker's Creek. Then we dared not stop any longer, as the clock began to rapidly approach one, so we began a steep climb along crooked roads towards Homer Tunnel. In several places the road has had to be rerouted due to large landslides that have washed away the original road, during the winter months both avalanches and rockfalls are common. Had to wait a while at a red light to go through the one-lane tunnel, but in less than 10 minutes we were suddenly on the other side of the ridge and almost at Milford sound. 28 miles and 4,5 hours later. There has been much talk of the possibility of building a large tunnel towards Lake Wakatipu, to drastically cut the distance to Queenstown by several hours, but it is a controversial proposal that is not popular with either locals or nature lovers. Today, almost 1 million tourists annually visit Milford Sound, despite the long distance. With a new tunnel, many more people would want to come here, which would strain nature to its limit and destroy the pristine feeling that can still be found in Milford Sound. Caring for the environment is important here in New Zealand, so my feeling is that the shortcut will never be built.
The road continued downward now, down towards the bottom of the fjord. Everywhere after the mountain walls there were waterfalls, and the greenery is unimaginable. Thanks to the high mountains, a climate zone of its own is formed here, which can feed this cold rainforest with constant moisture.
We arrived in good time and ate our brought Subway lunch on the jetty before jumping on Real Journeys large cruise ship. It turned out to be basically just us and a few hundred Japanese people who were all more interested in eating their bento box or taking selfies with selfie sticks than enjoying nature. Very interesting that you travel so far without being interested in the beauty around us? But the boat trip was definitely worth the early morning, with amazing fjord views and misty mountains. The weather changed as soon as we entered the fjord, from riding in a sunny landscape on the way from Te Anau we were now surrounded by low clouds and cold winds. We saw several New Zealand Fur Seals hanging on a large rock, but we didn't see any dolphins. The boat trip ended after 2 hours with the boat basically driving under a large waterfall. We actually got some sun during the boat trip as well, which is unusual.
After 2 hours of fresh sea breezes it was time to head for the night's accommodation in Te Anau, but we took a short walk out onto a pier by the harbor to see if we could get a better view of the fjord. With our eyes on the landscape, we happened to irritate Mr. Oyster Catcher and wife, who angrily flew at us and threatened us not to come nearer. Snoopy and cautious, we backed away from the angry bird and jumped into the car.
Before we reached the Homer Tunnel we stopped and did another 20 minute hike the Chasm, a large gorge created by a wild waterfall on the Cleddau River. We also found a beautiful bridge with a wild river that gave us perfect long exposure shots with mountains in the background.
Fiordland hotel was a bit outside the center of Te Anau, but despite the cheap price turned out to be perfectly ok, despite a slightly shabby exterior. Everything in the room was very fresh and smelled clean, although the furniture was probably old enough to be written off by now. But the beds were harder than the hardest. The fact that there are also heated mattresses with hard plastic parts in each bed makes you feel like the princess on the pea. There were 4 beds in the room, so there was plenty of room for the three of us. Newly renovated bathroom and refrigerator and coffee maker added to some pluses.
Took the car down to the center, where it turned out there was a large selection of restaurants. In the end it was dinner on the outdoor terrace The Ranch: the little one ate nachos, I ate roast beef with mint sauce and vegetables and Anders ate pork ribs. It got chilly pretty quickly when the sun went down, but with fleece jackets it was no problem to sit outside. For dessert, there was a large Pavlova (which of course is New Zealand's national dessert) and a boysenberry sundae.
A really good day simply!
By the way: Wifi is exotic here and the internet is both slow, limited to a certain number of devices, timed to one hour or costs money. So, unfortunately, there probably won't be as much streamed Christmas calendar as the daughter would have liked.
Have you been here? What did you think of the destination?
Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.