New Zealand – Glaciers and Fjords part II

The next stop, after a relatively tedious drive, was Te Anau. A pleasant little place in it’s own right, but it’s prime advantage as a location is that it abuts the massive mountain ranges that form Fiordland in the south-west of the south island. My first trip was up the Milford Road to… yep, you guessed it – Milford Sound. This is the most famous of the New Zealand fjords (mistakenly called sounds by early explorers), and the easiest to get to (leave Te Anau, turn left on the big road, go straight on). I had already decided that I would go on a cruise elsewhere, so this journey was purely for the drive and the views. Halfway along the road were the Mirror Lakes – inspirationally named because of their mirror-like quality – and you can see how reflective they were in the pictures below. I think I stayed here two or three times longer than anyone else, just to try to get the perfect reflection in the water. As at Lake Matheson, I was cursing ducks 🙂 Fortunately, patience was rewarded, and I managed to get one of the best photos I’ve taken so far in my trip…

Further up the road, it started to head into real mountainous areas – signs prohibiting any stops due to risk of avalanches, which I wish I had ignored. I did manage to stop in a few of the ‘safe stopping’ areas, but the views there seemed a little… less, maybe? I also had to contend with a flock of keas who started to pull chunks of rubber seal from my car windscreen. I headed through the pass to the top of Milford Sound itself – a raw rock tunnel which emerges from a sheer cliff – before winding down to the ferry terminal. I hope that the boat trips there are impressive, as the departure point wasn’t all that. It is possible that I was starting to become jaded by the constantly amazing views, and I needed something really spectacular… Doubtful Sound, my next destination wouldn’t disappoint. A couple of stops on the way back were very pretty, but soon I was back in Te Anau, packing for the overnight cruise.

The cruise on Doubtful Sound started with a quick scoot across Lake Manapouri, followed by a bus ride over a pass. Doubtful isn’t accessible directly overland, unless you’re a complete nutcase tramper (two such beings were spotted at the dockside), hence the transfer. At the Manapouri side is a hydro power station – geekily interesting, as they use the 80m height difference between the lake and the sound to generate power, and actively control the level of the lake at the top end to prevent any environmental damage. The boat that was to take us out was the Fiordland Navigator, a three-masted scow, purpose-built for the fjord tours. It was very nicely appointed, and thankfully underbooked with only 27 pax instead of the 80 capacity – this allowed me to pinch an empty 4-berth cabin to myself, good for me, and good for others who wouldn’t have to endure my snores. The first day of the trip took us up through the fjord towards the Tasman Sea, with stops for a bit of kayaking (harder than it looks) and a quick dip. I foolishly thought that quite a few people would be going for a swim, so decided to join them. Naturally, I was the only guest who turned up on the rear deck in my trunks, but I still managed to dive into the water from the middle deck. It was cold. 9c. Not something I’ll try again in a hurry (even though I did do three dives into the water!) You’ll also notice, in the picture below, my use of the eternally classy ‘Close your eyes, and hold your nose’ technique – the height of cool. After that break we reached the sea, and spent some time seal- and penguin-spotting. I managed to see a few Fiordland Crested penguins, but tragically the pictures were worse than rubbish, as the sun was directly ahead. No matter – I can remember how cute (and a bit daft) they looked. An added bonus turned up at dinner – anyone who had gone swimming got first pick at the buffet! My plate was stacked very high – a 12″ plate would have come in handy 🙂

The next day took in a bit more cruising, including a ten minute stop with the engines off – all you could hear were the occasional bird and the wind in the masts. It was a really good chill-out moment, and beautiful to boot. I was tempted to try and stay on the boat for another circuit, but that would have just been greedy, so it was with a little bit of a heavy heart that I disembarked for the journey to Manapouri. Back in civilisation, I rolled into the car, then rolled down the road to my next stop – Bluff, and the southern end of the country.

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