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Published: October 2nd 2008
Wednesday 1st October
What a night! At 0300 we were woken by strong winds, heavy rain, occasional lightning with the accompanying thunder. The van was buffeted by the strong winds and rain and we dozed fitfully, expecting to wake up with water all around the van and having problems getting out. No worries, daylight brought a few puddles and no hassle driving out.
Rags battled the wind gusts which hammered the van, and was happy to take a break in Invercargill, where we found a Countdown store. There was a New World store there but Judy wanted to see if they had different specials. Nothing great, just mushrooms and broccoli! They didnʼt sell wine there so we decided to go “dry” for a few days (except for the scotch & Coke we have).
After refuelling in strong winds and rain we continued on to Lumsden about 80km north. This little town had a welcoming carpark and toilet at their ʻi siteʼ where we had our lunch. From here we continued through more green paddocks and white sheep (14 sheep to every New Zealander) for another 100kms or so to Manapouri. Here we found the travel office of
Real Journeys where we parted with about $600 for their triple special which included a visit to a glow-worm cave, a day trip through Doubtful Sound, and a trip on Milford Sound.
The trip to the glow-worm cave was very well run,it consisting of a 20min cruise on Lake Manapouri, a talk about the worms, followed by a walk through a cave where we ended in a boat pulled along a cable by the guide. The cave was a vastly different experience to visiting one of our West Aussie ones. A metal platform and stairs had been built over the aggressive, fast flowing water that thundered through the cave! After transferring to a small boat we could hear the thunderous sound of a waterfall and the noise from other tour groups as we floated through the glowworm grotto. This cruise was in absolute darkness
and silence, as the glow-worms extinguish their phosphorescence if they hear a noise. We found it fascinating, it appeared as if there were LEDs in the roof and they were quite bright.
On our return to the wharf at Te Anau, we drove back towards Manapouri, turning off onto a dirt road opposite York
Rd where we had earlier spotted a good place to camp. Nice and quiet and far enough off the road not to be disturbed by the occasional car that went past. We had checked at DOC earlier on where we could find free campsites and were sort of told it was ok there.
Thursday 2nd October
We were woken by the many birds singing in the bush around us and after breakfast and a hot shower set off to be at the wharf in Manapouri by 0910. We were soon on our day trip to Doubtful Sound. Legend has it that Captain Cook named it Doubtful Sound as he was doubtful that he could exit it due to the prevailing winds. He didnʼt try.
Forty minutes later we reached the other side near the Manapouri Power Station and we there were taken by bus for another 40 mins the mountains via Wilmot Pass. This road was built during the 60s when the power station was built. It was the most expensive ever built in NZ. It winds its way through the peaks with a descent of 1:5 at one stage, the steepest allowed for any
bus in NZ.
The trip through Doubtful Sound was spectacular, with high mountains, waterfalls, and lush vegetation all around. The rainfall on this side of the mountain range reaches 7m/annum, with rain on about 200 days of the year. Today was one of those which did restrict visibility a bit but made for much water cascading down the mountainsides.
The return journey took in the power station and the bus wound its way down 250m along a 2km long tunnel. This tunnel was an incredible engineering feat, built in the 60ʼs before modern tunnel drillers were available. It was built using drill and blast excavation methods. There was a loss of 16 lives either here or in the construction of the road over Wilmot Pass. At the end was the power station itself, completely under a mountain between Lake Manapouri and Doubtful Sound. This station was built to supply electricity for Comalco, 170km away, to convert Australian alumina to aluminium. Conservationists had a lot of input on how this was to be done as the altering of the water levels in the lake would have
devastating effects. There is now a monitored agreement where the levels are rigidly
enforced and this seems to have been very effective.
On the final section back we sat with a NZ educator, Steve, who seemed to be doing a very similar job as Judy had been in Perth. This allowed for an interesting conversation and the trip seemed to take no time at all.
Originally we had thought of camping in the same spot as last night but we altered our plans and stayed at the Great Lakes Holiday Park in Te Anau. Camp fees are stiff here in NZ, we are paying $30 for a powered site (another camp wanted $38!) All we get that we havenʼt already got is a connection to the power and a longer shower in the morning which means Judy can wash her hair. The heater will definitely be used tonight!! We also paid for an hour of wireless Internet which we hope means that we can upload our blog tonight!
Friday 3rd October
After spending some time with our chores such as washing, emptying the grey water and toilet tanks, refilling the water tank and attending to some accounts via the Net, we were on our way shortly after
Mirror Lake on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound, Fiordland.
Today we were booked for a cruise on Milford Sound and had to travel 120kms north. When the sign said allow 2 hours to get there we thought they were joking. It did take us 1.5 hours however, winding our way up the mountains on steep twisty roads. We did stop a couple of times to take in views, one being the Mirror Lakes, ox-bow lakes which reflect the nearby mountains in their still waters.
From Mirror Lakes we began climbing, passing through beech forests that canopied overhead, sheer cliffs with water cascading down the mountains and no stopping areas due to avalanche danger. Recently an avalanche/slip had caused the road to be closed and we passed the road works where they were repairing this. At the summit of the climb you then drive 1219m through Homer Tunnel, which is cut through sheer rock, before the steep descent through the clouds into the Sound. Until this tunnel was opened in 1954 there was no vehicular access to Milford Sound.
Once there we were soon on the Milford Wanderer, a 34m cruiser set up to have live-on-board passengers. Ours was only a day trip of just over
2.5 hours, the galley staff spending much of the time preparing the meals for the evening cruise. The scenery was once again very spectacular, especially the many incredible waterfalls cascading off the mountains due to there being over 320mm of rain the previous night! Annual rainfall here is about 7m, with sunny days the exception rather than the rule. Today was no different, little sun. some rain, and visibility fairly poor. Mist and cloud hid most of the summits during the tour. A good running commentary was given by one of the crew, with points of interest being shown. We did see a large pod of dolphins a couple of times during the day as well as several young fur seals resting on the rocks. To add to the excitement the skipper drove the boat right up to the edge of the cliffs towering above us, allowing those still on the bow to have a sample of ice-cold water, then later a cold shower for those still there!
Captain Cook actually missed the entrance to Milford Sound when he sailed along the coast, he would be very surprised at the number of ships now plying up and down it,
They kept us company on the first part of our Milford Cruise.
full of tourists. The only other industry here is crayfishing and we saw many floats in areas where it was shallow enough for them to be set. This means areas where the bottom is less than the average 2-300m in depth.
A walk around the foreshore followed on our return, a kea, the local alpine parrot, was sitting on a table and enabled us to take some photos. This one was being fed by a tourist although this is discouraged. When we stopped at The Chasm on the way home 3 came out towards us very quickly, expecting food. We took photos but they were soon discouraged when no food appeared and they were off to find it somewhere else. The Chasm itself was a narrow opening in the rocks through which water gushed in huge quantities. It was particularly forceful due, in part, to the rain. Many photos were taken of this site although it wasn't easy to get a good one.
On the way up we had noted several camping spots and we stopped for the night at Deer Flats, by the edge of the fast flowing Eglington River. On the way in we stopped to
help a van which had run off the track to avoid another vehicle and become bogged in mud. The driver, another West Australian, knew very little about driving out of a bog and had spun the wheels to the point where a tow was necessary. Another vehicle with the wives driving had gone on to town to get help. We left them to it after a couple of attempts at getting out.
During the night the heavens opened and it rained steadily all night.
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