Published: February 25th 2008January 31st 2008
Mitre Peak Reflected
Sunset on Milford Sound, Fiordland. South Island.
As most of you will know, we were both re-H-eally looking forward to going to Milford Sound. We were hoping to join the "comparison sound" clan and visit both Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, so that we could become official members of this pose - who, as I seem to understand it discuss their personal views on how each of the sounds compare when they meet fellow members. It's one of those things you come to experience when frequenting hostels, communal TV rooms at campsites or simply when you find yourself among pretentious travellers. Anyway, in this case and on this trip, our membership is null and void and this is due to money and time allowing. I still hold hopes of visiting both of the sounds in a day in my own helicopter with some kind of lah-de-dah champagne finale to that day. I am fully aware of how bitter I seem at these hopes... but all of us can dream a little.
So, 'sound membership' aside, I'll get on with the actual blog:
We'd planned ahead to take in Milford Sound in sea kayaks as the other options are to fly about in the personal helicopter trip, or to
With Fiordland Mountains in the distance. The one way return road leads from Te Anau to Milford, and everyone says fill up with petrol in Te Anau. I filled up most of the tank, and then worried hard as we rolled into Te Anau on fumes. FILL UP IN TE ANAU!
take a very dull and expensive cruise up and down it. This entry shall begin in the tiny town of Te Anau as this is where the one road takes you all the way to Milford. We picked up some provisions here and when Thom went to get some petrol he was wriled by the woman who came out of the station to serve us. Like I said before, this town is at the beginning and of course at the end of the singular road out to Milford, so as you can imagine they rely on making dosh out of the 2 petrol stations they have there. Anyone who knows Thomas will don a wry smile at this mention of him being wriled up, as you will know that when Thom gets a bee in his bonnet about something, that bee will inevitably sting him to the point of fury. So, when this woman rudely snatched the pump out of his hand and told him she'd just go ahead and fill er up, he decided to fight back. The woman was trying to maximise her profit of this sale with the use of fear tactics that we'd never make it
Trees in a Moss bed
Milford Road, Fiordland.
back without a full tank of petrol, and Thom was charged up for an argument with said rude woman, so he refused to believe her and argued it out with her that he'd driven through the wilds of Australia and was "more than aware of how far his motor would run on any amount of petrol". I'll let you all in on a funny little addage here, in that Thom's London accent becomes much thicker when he is a bit ticked off. I find this rather funny and end up giggling, which is NEVER good if he's in a bad mood. So when he got back into the van and over-revved the engine and then proceeded to tell me the story of the rude mare in the petrol station, I chose to swallow my giggles whole, and not argue with his estimation on our petrol levels.
The drive into fiordland was spectacular, and even though the driving was pretty taxing with sharp turns and tense gradients we still chose to stop as much as possible to do our best in getting it all into photographs. The sand-fly dial was cranked up to swarm level, but this didn't affect our mood
Milford Road, Fiordland.
of amazement of the scenery we were driving through. As the clouds rolled up together and the sun began to sink we found ourselves a sneaky little turn off the road where some workmen had dumped a load of gravel. We'd tried to park up at another free rest stop but a million other vans had had the same idea on saving money and they were way too over-crowded. Despite the mound of gravel, I shall leave the photographs to do the talking in where we did end up staying as it was thoroughly jammie.
Even though we were parked up this lovely spot of tranquility, our sleep was muchly affected by the heavy rain that began around 3am. Being inside a tin box the sound was unfortunatley very unlike the "Summer Storms Sounds" albums you can buy to promote relaxation, and instead it was just like many imps were jumping about on the roof with pressure washers inside their shoes (don't ask me where that simile came from!) We were out on the road in the pouring rain three hours later to get to the sea kayak meet point, afterall, we are English why would a little rain spoil
As can be seen here, they are indeed 'mirror' lakes. Nice tourist bus touch this. Milford Road, Fiordland.
our day. We squelched into a lovely lodge which was also the meeting point and sat about with several other dripping wet kayakers and were greeted and taken out to the launch point where the kayaks and kayak gear was. Our very friendly and enthusiastic guides got everyone kitted out in the full body stripey thermals, waterproofs and extremely un-vogue kayak skirts (like a big rubber skirt with a hoop in the bottom which you clip round the seat of the kayak to stop any water getting on your legs) and we all recieved the basic instructions of how you paddle and generally survive out on the water. As we were all practising our paddle-motion I was distracted by a very geordie "Eeeeeeeee God! What du wu all look like!" and after being sure it was indeed my geordie senses that were tingling, I marched over and carried out the standard 'geordies meeting in non-geordie place routine". For those of you baffled by this reference let me give you an example:
Geordie 1: Eeeeeee, where you from?
Newcastle / Ny'castle (depends on the purity of geordie)
Milford Road, Fiordland.
Geordie 1: Whey a nar that like, where bouts yer from!
Geordie 2: Ahhhh! (insert place of origin here) what aboot you? and what ye deeun here?
I don't know why but as far as my experience has gone in bumping into geordies in all manner of places around the world, we always seem to be amazed that another geordie has managed to crop up. It's like we all seem to think that geordies never get about, but let me assure you. We do! Anyways, I digress. It turned out that it was a geordie couple from Blaydon, who were completing a Round the World trip as their honeymoon, I'm also pleased to comment that they were taking the expected geordie behaviour of being overly chipper in the adverse weather.
So when everyone was out on the water and had managed to figure out how their kayaks worked we all "rafted up" (joined our kayaks together by holding hands) and recieved the kiwi de-brief. It was marvelous, I was in fits! We were told to make sure we came to the surface if we capsized, and if any cruise boats
were out on the water to just make sure we looked cool at all times. We were also told that the company accepted no responsibility in any emotional damage occured, as the dual kayaks were often referred to as divorce kayaks, as they can cause many a couple to fall out (with each other, not the kayak itself). The person in the back is the one who steers the vessel with peddles, and the person in the front is supposed to navigate. This becomes problematic when the person in front doesn't shout or turn round to tell the steerer which direction to go in as the person at the back can't here the person in the front when they speak facing forward. I was in the back steering and Thom was in the front shouting. We all split off into smaller groups and we paddled off (with geordies in our group) with our guide Blake, who was taking us on a different route to everyone else. He warned us that we should stick as close to the rocks as possible as the middle of the sound had a strong current building with the weather. I am pleased to say that
Mirror Lakes, Milford Road, Fiordland.
me and Thom were doing ok at this stage, divorce kayak wise. But as the weather began to turn even uglier our teamwork and tolerance dissolved. I couldn't hear a bloomin thing from Thom and was trying to explain to him that he needed to hold his paddle more centrally if we were to ever stop veering off in circles. He got more and more angry at me not hearing which direction to steer in and this made him hold his paddle worse and worse. Along with all this the current was building more and more. Things were not tranquil and picturesque in anyway, we were soaking wet, getting blown about all over the shop, and both paddling furiously out-of-time with each other and getting more and more angry as this went on. It was like Hawaii Zero, not 5 0! Somehow, we managed to finally get next to the rocks out of the ferocious winds and water and we all had to hold ourselves onto the rocks to stop from being caught up in the current again. We watched some seals for a bit, and then Blake said he reckoned the weather might get a bit wet soon. We
Milford Road, Fiordland.
were all shocked by this and he exclaimed that this was no where near real rain and that we should carry on. So we did.
A 1270m long tunnel that runs straight through the Main Divide, allows access from the eastern valleys to the west and access to Milford Sound. Was a little scary when you drive west to east uphill in the dark.
15 minutes later, Blake made us raft up and said we needed to make a safety return back to calmer waters by making our backs face the strong winds and surf the waves back towards land.
When we got to safer waters and returned to paddling as normal he said we were caught up in the "Roaring 40's" which meant the wind was travelling at 40 knots directly from the Tasman Sea which tunnels its way into the sound around the fiords. We couldn't see any of the other groups out on the sound at all, and he decided that this was because they all were unable to get out as far as we had.
It was in this rain, shivering cold and soaked to the skin, not on speaking terms with Thom that my inner uberwench prevailed. I could hack this, and we could make it back to land soon if we just got on with it all. As my imagination usually takes over in times of need I decided that I
most probably decend from vikings somewhere in my lineage, and that skilled paddling in cold waters was most certainly in my marrow. I told Thom to zip it with the arguing and to rest his arms (he'd pulled his shoulder with the lop sided paddling) and that I was going to save the day. So with an image of being a red-headed Viking goddess firmly in my mind I set a wise frown on my face and paddled in a calm rhythmic manner and as expected got us back to the shore before the rest of the group. To be fair to him Thom did join periodically, but only under my "Left! Right!" instructions.
Milford area wildlife
While Laura cooked up a treat in the van, in a dodgy reststop before Milford, I photographed the beginning of the rainstorm that hindered us so much. Milford Road, Fiordland.
What was supposed to be a leisurely morning paddle on the calm, picturesque Milford Sound, had turned out to be a test of the wench most uber. Me and Thom were back to being friends again as soon as we got out of the divorce kayak and I felt invigorated and intrigued by the nordic goddess I didn't know was inside of me (perhaps this is rationale enough for me to spend a couple of months in an inscence filled tent somewhere in India or Mongolia
meditating to find more out about her?). As both of us were heavily pooped and the rain showed no signs of easing up we decided to camp up in Milford in the hope that we might see the beauty of the place the next day. That afternoon, after ringing ourselves out and playing a very long game of Monopoly with bourbon and cokes (I won, and I never win Monopoly!) we returned to the van and watched the river -which is an inlet to the sound- carry many a hefty branch along at great speed. The mountain next to our van on the other side of the river was like a big colander with waterfalls shooting out of it all over.
Storm clouds wrapping around the mountain faces
Bart looks tiny in this awesome landscape. Milford Road, Fiordland.
The next morning we awoke to see that the river we'd been watching was actually a stream and that colander mountain was waterfall-less. We got the lovely photos of how Milford Sound looks on the postcards and then headed back to Te Anau to do a little bit of tramping on the famed Routeburn Track, which was simple gorgeous.
On every downward hill we drove we coasted along in neutral.
Turned out those
petrol levels were not in Thom's favour after all, but don't say I didn't tell you all that. Lol!
Only one-way to go.
Milford Road, Fiordland.
There are more photos below