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Published: April 6th 2020
One of our unspoken rules is that the driver makes any real-time navigation decisions. Depending on the adventurousness of the driver, this can result in some expected destinations. And no, I am not currently talking about the scurrilous tale that I tried to drive us over a cliff in Spain.
Our goal for the day was to follow what is known as the Great Southern Scenic Route along the south coast of the South Island, to Stirling Point, then on to Te Anau, our base of operations for the next couple of days. Stirling Point is in the small town of Bluff, the southernmost town (although not the southernmost point) in New Zealand, and the southern terminus of Hwy 1, which traverses the length of New Zealand. The southernmost point is actually Slope Point in the Catlins, but there is no there there. Te Anau is one of 2-3 central locations for Fiordland National Park.
We had way points in the GPS, but came to a sign that said it went to the Scenic Route. GPS was not taking us that way, but I decided to take it anyway, not wanting to miss anything. As with most such decisions,
it turned out to be a great diversion from our more planned course. As is frequently true in New Zealand, Garmin is apparently unable to distinguish between a well-maintained gravel road and a paved one, and we drove for several miles on such a gravel road. But the route took us more along the coast, past the shores of Catlins Lake (actually a tidal estuary), past a stop to walk to Purakaunui Falls through a scenic and calming rainforest, thence on to Bluff, sort of addend of the world kind of place. You look out and see Stewart Island and beyond that nothing until Antarctica. The signpost there is a famous tourist photo op. From there on to Te Anau you roll through more hills and increasing views of the Southern Alps. Those mountains, during our visit, had only occasional patches of snow visible, but are the mountains seen as a series of snow-covered peaks in the Lord of the Rings series. Along our route was the beautiful spot called McCracken's Rest, which marks the extreme southwest point of the New Zealand highway system.
Te Anau is one of three towns that serve as hubs for visitors to Fiordland
National Park, perhaps the most famous place in New Zealand to visit. It sits on the shore of the beautifully blue Lake Te Anau. Te Anau is touristy, but pleasantly so, and is a small place close to Milford Sound and the departure point for Doubtful Sound at Manapouri. Unfortunately, the tourist developers are trying to consolidate their operations for cost savings by headquartering and operating out of Queenstown, which means that their customers have to ride extra hours in buses. Hopefully they will be unsuccessful in doing that.
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