Mitres peak - Milford sound
The sun takes a quick break behind Milfords highest peak
The road trip with Matt's family continued with a visit to Milford Sound; I wasn't too sure what to expect but knew water was involved as cruises were the big draw and we were booked on one later that day. The journey from Queenstown to Milford began ominously with grey clouds and rain which seemed to worsen the closer we got to our destination. Amazingly this didn't dampen our enthusiasm as the dramatic mountainous scenery we passed en route seemed only to benefit from the downpour as water cascaded through holes in the mountains creating a series of stunning temporary waterfalls.
There is only one way in and out of Milford, via a road which leads into the single laned Homer tunnel which goes straight through the mountains. At 1.2km it's long and going through it in the pitch black (save for headlights) is slightly scarey, particularly as it looks as though it's just been chiseled out of the bare rock and then opened to the public. The traffic lights only change every 15 minutes and our wait meant we got to see a Kea bird, a parrot mainly found in the mountainous areas (and described by a sign we
Reflections of Milford sound
one of the many beautiful views of some of the most dramatic scenery we have ever seen
read as a mountain clown) which spends most of its time on the floor or attacking cars.
As we got to our campsite the weather seemed to change and by the time we boarded the boat we had clear skies. The hour and a half long cruise was fantastic, we learnt Milford Sound is not really a Sound (as Sounds are made by rivers carving valleys out of land which are then backfilled by the sea, Milford however was made by glaciers carving the valleys and then backfilled by the sea, which makes it a fiord....you still with me?) before our sailing through it. Matt, Chris and Mozza made friends with an American guy working on the boat, who thrilled at having someone to talk and gave them loads of information about the area. At times there were almost too many sights to take in and we would have to keep moving from one side of the boat to the other to see huge waterfalls with rainbows as the sun shone through them, seals sleeping on rocks, sheer vertical cliffs and vast mountain peeks.
Later on that evening the 5 of us headed to a nature trail at
Dont ask !!
Chris tries to 'out stern' an Albatros in Akaroa
the campsite - after squelching through the mud lit only by a wind up torch we took it in turn to peek under a ledge to what looked like a mini version of the sky shining at night but was in fact a glow worm colony......a great end to a fantastic day.
Our next stop was Te Anu, and we picked it to break up what would otherwise have been too much driving. The town isn't really a big tourist place, there isn't heaps to do there and it's mainly used as a base for people wanting to make the trip to Milford Sound, where there seems to only be one place to stay (the back to basics campsite/hostel we stayed on). Our Te Anu campsite was excellent and after using its state of the art facilities to BBQ dinner we pigged out on enough meat to feed a small army and headed to a quaint little pub called the Redcliffe.
The South Island's roads have some tough terrain to cope with, especially the mountains and huge lakes, this means you have to sometimes travel quite out of your way to get somewhere that looks relatively close on
Sunset in Fiordland
The scenery around Milford sound takes your breath away
a roadmap. To get to our next destination, Oamaru, we needed to practically go back through Queenstown and decided to spend one extra night at the site we had stayed on previously.
Matt and I have been away since the start of September and our trip so far has mainly been in a permanent summertime, so to see snow on the way back to Queenstown was a shock to the system. The Remarkables, the mountain range which form the backdrop to Queenstown, were completely capped with snow by the time we arrived and at one point in the afternoon they actually disappeared as they blended in to the white clouds above us. Sleeping in Geronimo (our campervan) was only made possible with its built in heater, and at one point one of the strings on Matt's guitar actually snapped with the cold even though nobody was touching it. Despite the shock of the temperature drop, the change in season means we have been able to experience Autumn again for the first time since 2005, and there's probably no better place for it, the trees seem to show every possible shade from green to gold to brown and make a
really beautiful sight.
Oamaru had won us over when Winn read about it being full of 'penguins, jazz and cheese', the penguins of course were the main attraction and shortly after we arrived we made our way to the Yellow Eyed Penguin colony (or Hoiho in Maori, meaning noise shouter). We were advised that 5pm was the best time to catch a glimpse and sure enough we saw a penquin minutes after arriving. The penguins are said to be the World's rarest and extremely shy, meaning we had to view them from behind a fenced platform. Looking from our vantage point it seemed as though the penguins had trouble just crossing the beach but were able to make their way up the scrubland almost as far up as we were to get to their nests, one even managed to get behind the lookout area and didn't seem very shy as he stood and posed for photographs.
Conveniently the second penguin sighting of the day happens just after the first, so after heading to the Visitors Centre we were in our seats ready at 6.15pm for Part 2. The Centre is a conservation area for a Blue Penguin Colony,
Welcome to the all in one babygrow gang
Matt introduces the family to the joys of full length wet suits, whilst chris adjusts his gusset flap. Akaroa wharfside
which are the smallest penguins in the World at just 25cm tall (compared to the onces we saw earlier in the evening which grow to around 75cm). The Centre make no promises that you will actually see any of the little creatures but 10 minutes after we arrived a visitor spotted some out at sea through her binoculars and about 15 minutes later the tide brought in about 30 of the tiny penguins, who then proceeded to nervously scuttle up the beach, at times struggling to jump over rocks up the the nesting area where their partner penguins were waiting for them as the crowd looked on in awe.
We have seen a few of these set ups now and the animals never cease to amaze me, for example the penguins here go out to sea all day to catch fish individually but on their return will wait off shore making noise to see if other penguins are around so that they can all make the trip back to shore in a larger group, one will even go on the beach first to check the coast is clear for the others....though he somehow failed to notice the large group
AAhh, this is a little awkard isnt it
Carla runs out of topics to discuss with a penquin in Oamaru.
of tourists lurking just out of view!
Heading into town for dinner the campsite manager told us about a shortcut through the park with the advice "it's not lit but you'll be sweet as, just follow your nose", 15 minutes later when following our noses turned out to be an inadequate way to find your way through an unlit park we arrived back on the main road about 3 minutes walk from the campsite; needless to say on the way back we we avoided the shortcut.
Originally our final stop on the South Island was going to be Mt Cook but a message was left on our blog by somebody mentioning Akoroa as their favourite place on the island and somewhere that they had swam with dolphins. We decided to take a look into it and when Matt's parents (who now live in France) found it has French history and the influence is still present today, they didn't take much persuading. Matt, Chris and Mozza also fancied swimming with dolphins although at that point I could only think about how cold the water would be.
Akoroa is really pretty and there is a definite French-ness to it
Im Batman !!!
Chris embraces the liberated sense of self that the all in one babygrow/wetsuit gives you.
with street names like 'Rue Balguerie' and many French inspired places to sleep and eat. By the time the following day came I had stopped worrying about the cold and Chris about the possibilty of sharks (though Matt's advice to him to try to avoid looking like a seal nearly fell at the first hurdle when Chris' wetsuit had what looked like a tail) and the 5 of us got aboard the boat and headed out to sea.
About 15 minutes into the trip, once we had got out of the bay, the water (which we were told was 12-14 degrees - half that of Asia) got very choppy with a swell of 2-3 metres), I didn't think we would be able to get off the boat at all so was surprised when the skipper announced that they had spotted dolphins. At this point we had to wait to see whether the dolphins were in the mood for people which they show by swimming around the boat and being playful. These particular dolphins are Hector's and are the World's smallest and rarest (there's a theme with this blog...) measuring around 1.3 metres, after watching them for a few minutes
What happens next....?
..after egging Mozza on to jump a small hurdle in his slip on 'Dad Sandalls', me and Chris both feel very guilty as he goes AoverT and loses the ability to speak due to being severley winded
we were told we could join them. Matt was first in and the look on his face as he hit the water really made me not want to get in, when I eventually did it was cold but not nearly as bad as I had been expecting, we were wearing 5mm wetsuits so once the sea started to get in between them and our skin it definitely warmed up. Unfortunately on that occassion the dolphins weren't interested and we all had to get out and stand dripping on the boat while we headed off in search of more.
Our second dip struck gold and soon enough me, Matt, Chris and Mozza were bobbing about in the sea along with an English guy and his 2 sets of twins as dolphins swam amongst us and Winn looked on calling to us to let us know when the dolphins were heading towards us. By this point we were pretty far out at sea and the swell meant that at times we couldn't actually see the boat which was a pretty exhilerating feeling. The dolphins would swim right up to us and then disappear under at the last minute or dive just
Life on the open road can do funny things to a 'bloke'
OK so it aint the NME but it has a very informative section on the menopause !
above the surface giving us incredible close up views. After about half an hour it was time to leave, which was probably for the best, as despite the wetsuits best efforts my lips and fingernails had started to turn slightly blue. Happy with our animal encounters we headed to Geronimo and the 85km back to Christchurch where Chris treated us all to a great curry back at the restaurant we began the South Island adventure at 2 weeks earlier.
Our 2 weeks with Matt's family seemed to go over all too quickly and after an emotional goodbye they headed off to the airport to fly home. Back to just the two of us we had a strange day in Christchurch where we felt a bit flat after two weeks of being so busy and having lots of people around us. The following day we had a full day of travel to get to the North Island, a 5 hour bus with soothing Richie Benaud style commentary (this bridge we are approaching, may not look very interesting...but I can assure you she is!! her life began almost 150 years ago.....etc needless to say we slept most of the way) and
This waterfall only occours after rainfall - or as 'Duncan' the american tour guide told us 'its Sem eye permanent'
a little half hour break in Kaikoura and then a 4 hour ferry crossing where Matt's sea sickness tablets once again saved the day and it was in fact me who was sat outside feeling terrible.
Next stop Wellington.......
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