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Published: March 11th 2016
We left Dunedin on Route 1 in sunshine once again. It really did lift our spirits. The road was quiet and empty of traffic apart from more of those classic cars pootling along in convoys. Many of the roads had rumble strips down the centre line; we weren't sure if this was to warn dozy drivers they were wandering out of their lane or whether to help with lane demarcation when the roads were covered in snow.
It was at about this time that we began to realise that New Zealand should be known as The Land of the Loose Chippings. Jeez, they were everywhere. Roadworks? Loose chippings. Lay-bys? Loose chippings. Car parks? Loose chippings. And when you're in a hire car where every bit of damage has to be paid for you made damned sure you got no damage from all those loose chippings. We'd read about the problem on the web before starting our travels in NZ so we'd taken out the type of insurance that would cover us for this type of damage but, even so, we determined not to put it to the test. It seemed we were fated to have an alert word at some
point in our driving, a bit like those S&M safe words (not that I know about these things!), and in New Zealand ours was 'CHIPPINGS!'. Steve said he hoped I would cop for the loose chippings sections as I had more patience than him and, on the whole, he got his wish but I scared myself once when I drove so slowly between a set of traffic lights controlling the flow of traffic through a long stretch of single lane road that the lights had turned green at the other end before I had exited the section!
As well as the farm animals (sheep, cows and the occasional deer escapees in much smaller numbers than the farmed herds) we saw the first arable farmland being used for crop cultivation (wheat and what looked like some form of root vegetable). We saw rural postvans, the same red colour as ours at home, but they only delivered to the postboxes at the side of the road as the actual houses/farmsteads could be miles down the track. Some of the distant mountains were capped with snow (yes, we could see to the top of them today!).
We arrived in Te Anau
about 2.30 pm, having had a lovely journey in the sunshine and we checked in to the Parklands Motel. This was our first choice motel but they could only accommodate us for two nights and we wanted three which meant we needed another night somewhere else. Easily sorted. We took a stroll round the busy little town and called in to the Fat Duck for a beer. Australia sells its beer by the schooner (about three quarters of a pint) but when Steve asked for two schooners the bartender looked at him as though he were speaking a foreign language. It's halves and pints in NZ though the lager-type beer we got (Hot Rocker) was dreadful so we moved across the road to The Ranch where Mac's lager was better, but not by much. Hmmmmm. More sampling needed. The town emblem here was a huge blue bird. I hoped it wasn't lifesized because I'd no idea what it was but it looked pretty scary. I Googled it later and discovered it was a takahe, once thought extinct but rediscovered around Te Anau and now there's a population of just over 250, following a careful breeding programme.
Te Anau was
to be the base for our trip to Milford Sound. We woke the next morning to an overcast day but, via Rowdy the cleaner's dog, I got chatting to his owner who said the area could experience four seasons in one day so we decided to give it a go. Many said the journey to Milford Sound was a treat in itself and to relish that part of the experience too. Well, it was a bit hard to do that because the overcast skies eventually began to emit light showers which turned into a miserable drizzle which turned into constant rain. 120 kilometers of constant rain. And the journey wasn't an easy drive - lots of twisty roads and the occasional one way tunnel. By the time we reached the car park for the boat departure point for the trip down Milford Sound the rain was a deluge. We dithered about what to do. In the end we decided a trip on the water in these conditions would be no fun at all so we'd give it a miss. I made a dash to the Visitor Centre to use the loo and buy a sandwich and found it full of
other wet and soggy travellers who were hoping the weather would improve but not looking too expectant. Many had travelled by car but some had made the journey on a bus and were stuck there until the return transport was ready to depart. Others looked as though they had hitch-hiked there and were now marooned. Steve didn't even get out of the car (no raincoat, remember?). As we sat in the car, girding our loins for the 120 km return journey, we saw what we thought was a bedraggled kiwi scrabbling around in the undergrowth, but I suppose it might have been a takahe. Who knows? Visibility was so reduced it was impossible to get a good look. That was about the only positive aspect of the trip out. On the way back we experienced another of the four seasons which meant Steve could get out of the car and we managed to see a reflection of the beautiful mountains at the Mirror Lakes. On the upside, the rain produced some spectacular waterfalls and the long delays waiting for the lights to change to allow us through the lengthy tunnels gave us an opportunity to get up close to the
kea who dodged the traffic expertly for the scraps of food we were absolutely forbidden to give them but everybody did anyway.
We got a takeaway to bring back to the motel with us and settled in front of the telly where Dan, Dan the Weatherman was telling us that both the North and South Islands of New Zealand were experiencing lovely weather apart from the Milford Sound area where a severe weather warning was in place. Steve had lost part of a tooth filling and, if I were at home, I'd be thinking of making an appointment to see my GP for a niggling problem that would not go away. Just terrific.
The following day we had to check out of Parklands at 10 am and couldn't check in to our second choice motel until 2 pm so we explored Te Anau town and its surrounds a little and found it a lovely place. We really liked it.
We'd deliberately scheduled an extra day in Te Anau to maximise our opportunities to see the Milford Sound. And, do you know what? Even though the day looked slightly brighter we decided we couldn't face the prospect of
a 240 km round trip that might just throw all four seasons at us and only end up in disappointment. So we moved our belongings literally round the corner to the Anchorage Motel with our own private garden area and wallowed in disappointment for the rest of the day. I didn't even have Rowdy to cheer me up!
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