Milford Road

Trip Start Feb 17, 2005
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Trip End Feb 27, 2006


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Monday, October 10, 2005

After a bit of a sleep in, I woke up at 8.30am and organised my things. It was going to be a long day, but I was on a high after the successful Doubtful Sound trip. It looked a bit cloudy, but I was confident of getting nice weather for the cruise later in the day. I went and thanked Jimmy for his hospitality and gave him a couple of beers that I had left over. My 3 nights at his beautiful backpackers provided some of my best memories in New Zealand, and I was genuinely sad to be leaving. I shook his hand and had a quick play with Shaka, his friendly Alsation, before setting off with Charlotte just after 10am.

At Te Anau, we spoke at length with an extremely helpful lady about the Milford Sound experience. She confirmed that the weather was going to be fine, and she told us stories of the various cruises she's been on in her time. I was just as excited about the journey to Milford Sound as the cruise itself, as the Milford Road is often described as the most scenic road in the world. Indeed, there is a whole leaflet dedicated to the various lookouts and short walks en route, which I duely bought.

At 11am, we were on our way, giving us just over 5 hours to travel the 120km - plenty of time for stops, walks and photographs.

Initially, the road travelled along the coast of Lake Te Anau, offering fine views of the lake and mountains. There had been a lot of snow in the area just 2 days previously, and the road was actually closed on Friday. But everything was fine now, and the fresh snow on the peaks just made the views even more picture perfect than before.

Our first stop came after we emerged from the trees to be greeted by a huge open space, with the mountains in the distance. The blue sky meant that we could see the peaks as clear as day, and as we were heading towards them, the views were just going to get better and better.

We did a 30 minute nature walk at Lake Gunn, passing through an interesting array of trees before arriving at a lookout on the pebble beach. The mountains were getting closer, so after finishing the walk we continued along the road, with expectation levels rising by the minute.

After a sharp turn at Marian Corner, we pulled into Popps Lookout, which turned out to be one of my favourite views in New Zealand. We looked down on a mass of trees, with the mountains in the background and a clear blue sky above us. I just stood there looking at the scene in disbelief! An encounter with another Kea distracted us briefly, as he was looking menacingly at Charlotte's car, but I could quite happily have stayed there all day.

Alas, we had lots more things to see and do, primarily a walk to some waterfalls that the helpful lady in Te Anau had recommended. We detoured a couple of kilometres off the main road, then walked through the forest for 15 minutes, with the sound of crashing water getting louder and louder as we approached. When we got our first glimpse, I was very impressed, as they were completely different to the ones I'd seen in the Catlins. There were a series of smaller waterfalls, creating a rapids effect, and it was really nice and relaxing to be there on our own. Further along the track was another bridge for yet more views, and I climbed onto a rock so I was directly above the flowing water.

We walked back the same way as we didn't have time to do the 3 hour track to Lake Marian. We crossed over another swingbridge, though it was Charlotte's first experience of one in New Zealand, and she took great delight in shaking it while I was trying to take a picture!

The road continued for a few more kilometres, with the snow getting thicker as we drove towards the Homer Tunnel. There were signs of the previous days' landslides, but the road surface was fine now. We stopped just before the tunnel and threw a few snowballs in a scene that the Lonely Planet describes as "a spectacular, high-walled, ice-covered ampitheatre."

The tunnel was very similar to the one at Doubtful Sound, and we joked about finding another power station at the end of it! Thankfully there wasn't one, just more amazing alpine scenery that at one point created a large silence between the two of us, as we just looked on in awe.

Time was passing by quickly, but we still managed to do a quick walk to The Chasm that was interesting, but less spectacular than the things we'd seen previously. At the car park, we saw 2 more Keas, one of them actually standing on top of another tourist's car! They are great birds to look at, showing beautiful bright colours when they spread their wings, but they are quite cheeky to say the least.

Shortly after this stop, we arrived at the tiny collection of settlements that are assembled at Milford Sound, before driving down to the harbour. The magnificent Mitre Peak overlooked our boat, the Milford Wanderer, and I could hardly wait to climb aboard...
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