We left Te Anau early Saturday morning so that we would have plenty of time to make the drive to Milford Sound. Although there are lots of places to stop and hike from the scenic route, we only had a brief stop at Mirror Lake so that we could make it to our cruise in time. I'm not sure if we missed it, but the only reflections we saw at the stop was from what was effectively a duck pond. The mountains did shine beautifully off of the water, but I kept expecting to come up to a larger body of water. The 90 km trip takes two and a half hours, partly due to a long, steep, one lane tunnel. I think that Zion National Park could learn from this set up, they have a timed traffic light controlling traffic. Down and down we went, following the RVs and cars before us. Eventually we popped out on the other side of the mountains, but unfortunately with no change in the clouds and mist.
Soon after the tunnel, we arrived at the end of the road on the western shore, and left the car to go catch our cruise on Real Journeys. There are only a few companies running tours of the sound, and Real Journeys seemed to be a good compromise of price and length of trip, although our boat was much larger than I usually prefer. I've noticed that I'll take almost any opportunity to hop onto a boat, but in Milford Sound, it's really the only way to see the area. We took the nature tour, which was slightly longer than the other options, and landed us on a very big boat with huge sails. I believe it was one of the boats they use for the overnight cruises, and the berths looked rather nice as we peeked in on our way out (most likely how they intended it).
It rains 200 days out of the year at Milford, and around 7 m of rainfall, depending on who was giving the estimate. So the fog and light rain weren't unusual, but still disappointing as I had fantasies of taking some of the same, grand panorama photos as I had seen. In fact, it turns out that one of the preloaded backgrounds on my cell phone looks an awful lot like Milford Sound, a picture I've been seeing nearly every day for the past year. The views were still amazing, and the photos took on an ethereal quality to them, even if they weren't quite as spectacular as the postcards. The cruise itself was entertaining in several ways. Not only amazing vistas, but strong winds added an element of adventure on the top deck, and we were able to see porpoises jumping, and a congratulate a man on a fishing vacation who had caught a rather large tuna. Waterfalls and tree slides, as well as a variety of birds were also on the menu. By the time we got back in the early afternoon, the weather showed no signs of improving and the lingering mist had pretty much turned to rain.
Unfortunately we didn’t have a place in Queenstown lined up yet, so we wasted a bit of time after the cruise looking up places in books and making phone calls. With that darned limited check in time, we weren’t able to stop and enjoy some of the hikes on the way back out of Milford Sound like I had planned. But, it was raining quite hard by then and the likelihood of getting soaked lost the appeal. Our last bit of Milford Sound adventure was thanks to a kea who joined us while we were waiting for the tunnel. At first, I was delighted to see the parrot-type bird, but soon the stare of it's beady little eyes reminded me of the eerie ravens of Toolik, and I became nervous that the bird was going to join us in the car. Clearly it was used to hand-outs.
The drive to Queenstown was marked by quickly changing biomes. The air dried out and soon sheep dotted open pastures along the road. We had our first view of Lake Wakatipu from a picnic area near Kingston. Ema was amazed at the turquoise color of the water the rest of the drive into Queenstown. It was strikingly beautiful, and reminiscent of the lakes near Glacier and Banff. We actually made better time than we had predicted (translation: I drove less like an old lady than my co-pilot had thought I would) and we arrive at the Reaver's Lodge with time to spare. It's a strange old motel which has been converted into a backpacker's, with towels, private bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, lots of Brazilians, and lots of rules which you can be fined for breaking. After several long days of driving, we enjoyed a relaxing night in with dinner at the hostel and showed our age by falling asleep early and missing out on a Queensland Saturday night.
Sundays are fabulous days for sleeping in, and this one was no exception. I think there was still lingering exhaustion from McMurdo. With the full day to explain Queenstown, the pace was a bit more moderate. Having decided to nix visiting captive kiwis, the first stop was a beer at the wharf with plenty of people watching. A walk in the Queenstown gardens followed, as did some of the best fish and chips I've had since I fell in love with malt vinegar in York. Roadside stands are usually a good thing, and this tiny little one was only lacking in a liquor license. Souvenir shopping and dinner at a Speight's brewery followed, as did a gondola ride up to the Skyline Chalet. There were gorgeous views of the city and the lake, although we did pass on the "luge" course at the top. Lastly, a stop at the grocery store and back to the Lodge finished our adventures in Queenstown, with preparations to make the long drive back to Christchurch the next day.
|View of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu from the Skyline Chalet|