Well, here we are, again in Happy Diwali, feeling somewhat disappointed. Although NZ is a beautiful country, we’re kind of fed up with the awful weather it has been offering us to enjoy its bounty.
After our stop over in Te Anau (which embitterned us somewhat, as we discovered a pristine bathroom that belonged in a 5-star hotel on our way out, after showering in dank, cold, non-draining showers. No wonder there was no line up in the a.m…everyone was in the nice brand new one! I’m still upset over this, clearly…), we embarked on the drive to Milford Sound. It is truly stunning – very reminiscent of driving to Jasper or Banff, but with a different edge, and beautiful nonetheless. We stopped at a few of the interest points along the way: Mirror Lakes, the Chasm, Lake Gunn…to take in the breathtaking scenery, including many gorgeous meadows of pink and purple mountain flowers. At one of our stops, we met another Kea who was a real rascal – we had put out some chairs and were enjoying a lunch in the parking lot when he came running up to us and tried to get into our food compartment in the van. He also tried to get into my lap to eat my piece of pizza. Those keas really are little rascals, and you are really NOT supposed to feed them so that they don’t become beggars like this little guy had. He followed us around the whole time and yelled at us for not giving him food, but we didn’t give in. Little brat.
Upon arrival into the Milford Sound town (population: 200 in the summer, 60 in the winter) and decided to take a boat cruise to get the full effect of the mountains jutting from the ocean. We really wanted to kyak, so we booked it for the next morning. We decided we should do the cruise as well, as it would probably give a broader and less personal experience, whereas the kyak trip would cover less ground but get up close and personal. After blowing yet another torrential amount of our budget for these activities (we definitely need to do a lot of beach days in Asia to make up for this), we embarked on our scenic cruise in the afternoon.
There aren’t really any words to describe Milford – I will let the pictures attempt to do it justice (even though they don’t, really). It is actually misnamed as a Sound – it is really a Fjord, because glaciers carved out the valley into which the sea now exists. A Sound is where mountains actually protrude FROM the ocean. We enjoyed the two-hour cruise through the area, even though it was freezing cold and windy as hell. This area receives about 6 meters of rain annually, and yesterday was actually CLEAR. We were very fortunate. Our skipper told us that we were very lucky to see the mountains surrounding us – it is usually quite socked in.
After the boat tour, we were prepared to rough it and stay in a bare bones DOC campground for the night (since we’d stocked up on showers and food)….we thought that that was the only accomodation you could get out here. Well, turns out there is a lodge/campground, and it was the exact location where our sunrise kayak trip was departing at 7:15 am (and we had to be there 20 minutes early), so we decided to splurge and stay there and save the gas milage and sanity from driving from the nearest DOC (which was about 40 km away). We had no idea the lodge existed (it isn’t in any of our guide books), so that was a nice surprise.
Scott and I woke up this morning at 6:15 after a bit of a rough night’s sleep to get ready. The wind had howled all night long, and we were worried our kayak trip would get cancelled, and were almost secretly hoping for it because the rain/wind was so intense. At 6:55, we congregated into the common room with the other kayakers to wait. Our guide was late to arrive, and when he did, he said that we were on the borderline of cancelling the trip – the wind was registering as 15 knots at the entry point, which is right about where they cancel them. He wanted to leave us for another 20 minutes to check some of the other points on the route to see how it was registering. So, again, we sat and waited to see if our trip would go through or not (seems to be happening a lot to us here).
As we waited, we met a couple who is from the States, but has been here living/travelling since February and said that they haven’t really had nice weather in a whole year. They said it has rained about 70% of the time they’ve been here, so seems it might not actually be the Montgomerie curse bringing this on…although many of the locals have told us it is usually much hotter at this time of year. Sounds a lot like what they say at home, too. LOL.
So anyway, “Skirts” (aka Paul, our kayak guide) came back and told us that the wind was registering 40 knots further along the kayak tour, so it was a no-go. Feeling disappointed (but also relieved that we weren’t going to nearly die in the rain and wind), we have made our way back to the info lodge to get a refund (upside: we can now eat a little more than mac ‘n cheese over the next few days with the money back in our pockets). It would have been amazing to paddle the Sound/Fjord, but it seems it’s just not in the cards for us. Our plan was to take off this afternoon (the kayak tour was supposed to end at around 1 p.m.) and start heading Southeast and drive as far as we could in the daylight. We’ve decided to skip Invergargill (the Southern most city in NZ) and hit the East coast – over trip planning last night we decided we’d rather go to Kaikoura and try to swim with dolphins one last time (or maybe even dive with some sharks).
The drive out of Milford was amazing. The rain started coming down really hard, which created hundreds of waterfalls over the mountains. The road in and out is also stunning: you have to pass through Homer Tunnel which is controlled for traffic flow each way with traffic lights. The tunnel was created by blasting through solid mountain, and then you decend into Milford. Amazing. We couldn’t get over the waterfalls and beauty surrounding us in the rain, and it made it a very special way for us to leave this stunning place.