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Te Anau, Manapouri, Doubtful and Milford Sounds.

NEW ZEALAND | Friday, 12 October 2007 | Views [947] | Comments [1]

To be woken in the morning by yes you guessed it, more rain.  We were planning a drive up to Milford Sound, but the road was closed due to avalanche; so it was a lazy day for us checking out what the area had to offer us.  We decided that a visit to Doubtful sound is in order, so we booked ourselves on a cruise for the following day.  It was still raining when we set off in the small boat across Lake Manapouri, then on to a bus to visit a Power Station on the edge of the Lake.  The access to the station was through a tunnel that was 2 k long and went underground for 200 meters in to a mountain.  It was more exciting for Andy I think, than it was for me.  Then it was back up the same tunnel, a tunnel that had been blasted through solid rock and spirals its way around due to the depth it needs to go; that’s the reason for its length.  The remaining road trip to Doubtful Sound was on the manmade road up and over the Mountain, a road manufactured to purely build the Power station; the road was built to allow the supply of large equipment and manning.  This part of the trip was pretty much in the rain and cloud so not a lot to describe.  All of that said, the resulting trip was well worth it as you can see from the photos.  Huge waterfalls that added to the already ‘haunting’ atmosphere.  We headed out on a smaller boat than other tours, only 20 people on our boat; compared to the 90+ of the other operators.  The smaller boat added to the ‘fun’ when we started off, there was a very large 4 – 5 mtr swell in the Tasman Sea that day which made the ‘sound’ (actually it’s a Fiord, but named a sound by the first people to find it; even though they didn’t enter it.) a little rocky to say the least.  We ventured out a little way towards the sea until it became clear that not many of the passengers felt ‘safe’ in a smaller craft, the skipper suggested that we head into one of the fiords ‘arms’ which spread out in each direction; a very good choice.  The waterfalls were at full flow, the photos do not show you just how high they were due to the ‘dwarfing effect’ of the mountains surrounding us; look at the Milford Sound photo’s to see what we mean.  Some of the waterfalls are said to be over 400 mtr’s high, but the Mountains they come down off are in the 1000+ mtr’s mark.  The road back over the mountains had cleared a little from the trip over, opening up a world of appreciation of what effort went into building this ‘road’.  We must say, for a small outfit; our tour company made it a great day to remember and well worth the choice of a small local company.

The weather we were in was forecast for the next day, and yet again the Milford road was closed; we thought ‘one more day’ and we’ll move on.  As the road was closed again we decided to drive as far as we could, so after passing through the ‘Safety’ road inspection.  This hut is a full barrier system with one man who checks weather you have Snow chains if required, and you tell him your plans and he then allows you trough according to their guidelines; they take in really seriously if you venture on without the correct equipment (very heavy fines) We ventured up the road to as far as allowed and turned off to see ‘Gunns Camp’ what a place, a hostel that uses the original huts used by the people who build the ‘Homer’ Tunnel.  The fridge is under a small water fall, that keeps everything cold, the huts are heated by a stove which you fire up and maintain within the hut and the best bit; if you want a hot shower they will light a fire under the 1000 litre metal tank for you and whoever wants one.  They have no phone, and the generator only runs between 1800 – 2000 hr’s nightly so they can only be reached via e-mail between those hr’s; what an amazing place to stay (already regretting that we didn’t) We awoke the following day to the say news, although the weather had broken an Avalanche had closed the road yet again; at least we weren’t stranded at Milford like some were (they did escort some out through when they had cleared most off of the road)  With this news, yet again we changed our plans and cut our losses and headed out of town to Invercargill; more of that later.  We watched the weather reports for Milford road with interest while in Invercargill, and after three days it cleared and we headed back up; no stopping straight up to Milford ‘just in case’

Milford deserves a little section of its own. WHAT a drive, we headed up the Milford road but unlike before we went straight on up the mountain trough the safety barriers which were now open.  As soon as you turn the first bend you understand just why they not only shut the road, but take this road so seriously.  All the way along the mountain road there are signs ‘Avalanche area, no stopping’ (but still people stopped, true IDIOTS when you see what’s around you and what it can do) We tried to get some photo’s to show you the remains of the Avalanches, which were still very visible (while Andy driving through, we like to point out)  The ‘Homer’ Tunnel is a manmade tunnel through solid rock, which has a gradient of 1 – 10 it’s over 1200mtr’s long and drops by 120 mtr’s on its way through; only has lights during Summer so its quite a different experience to drive along.  Once you come out of the tunnel your greeted with the amazing alpine views, and a road with speed limits as low as 15 kph; which allows the passenger to take in the views and drops that the driver is s**tting themselves about falling down.  We arrived at our Hostel around 1600 hr’s and it was great, set a five minute drive back from the ‘Sound’ (same mistake as with Doubtful sound) in the middle of the rain forest.  The five minute drive to the sound is the real eye opener; you turn the corner to be greeted by the Mitre Peak Mountain; one of the tallest Mountains coming straight out of the Sea in the world.  Snow capped Mountain ranges on all sides, this is an area that you can understand why it gets cut off so often, a true vision of the opening half of Peter Jackson ‘King Kong’ which if not filmed here, could’ve been.  No fuel for visitors, there is an emergency supply only and you are told this whenever you book a night anywhere here (choice of two places) We parked up to take in this view and found ourselves drawn to walk the foreshore, which is actively encouraged here.  The sun started to set, and we looked forward to watching this spectacle; how wrong you can be!  The Sandflies were hungry in the late evening sun, and we didn’t put on our insect repellent; big error.  We and everyone else, who had thought about the sunset, called it a day and went to our accommodation to escape this ‘best kept secret of the Fiordland area’  What a clear and beautiful night sky (bl**dy compact camera) sorry no photo’s same problem as Fiji.  We awoke to the sound of the birds and the waterfalls that fall about 50 mtr’s from the hostel; it was the most perfect clear Blue day for our booked nature cruise.  We set off in the twin hulled cruise boat with less than half its capacity on board, 47 on a 140 boat.  Within 10 minutes we had pulled to one side of the sound to see a small Seal having a sunbath on the rocks, stirring from its sleep to have a scratch; spotting us decided to retreat up the rocks to sleep in peace.  We had set off before the Seal noticed us anyway, onto the next area of nature interest; which to be honest was interesting to only a few Andy being one of them.  The rocks all around the sound contain minerals and metals which, because they are wet; wept the various colours out of the rocks.  Iron = Brown rust and Copper = Statue of Liberty Green to name a couple. Onward we went, and then it happened; the Penguins.  Sorry the photo’s are not that clear, but they were so small; no bigger than a size 8 UK show (about 250mm maximum) 3 of them came out of the trees, along the rocks to say hello and then jump in for a swim; they were SO funny to see.  After they had set off out to Sea, we set off to Sea ourselves; funny how the Sea swell can change so much.  Hardly a ripple really, considering we were in the Tasman Sea looking back into Milford Sound; we passed the ‘Kissing Turtles’ rock formation on our way in.  Through the Sound onto 1 of only 3 permanent waterfalls in the Sound, the crew asked for volunteers to go onto the Bow of the boat to experience the power of this 150 mtr’ waterfall up close; Red waterproofs were handed out and off we went under as close as the Skipper could get.  We were there; you cannot imagine the power this thing is.  It takes your breath away to the point were you have to turn your head away to breath in, the spray ‘hurts’ your eyes as you look into the Waterfall and it finds every gap in your waterproofs to get you soaked through; it lets you know that Mother Nature is the boss here.  Then on the way back in past ‘The Lion’ formation of rocks, we saw a couple more lazy Seals taking in the Sun rays.  No running away from these little boys, it was too hot to move so they were staying put until it suited them.  We think that after all the hassle getting here it was without any doubt WORTH IT. 

On our return run down to Invercargill, we pulled into a Hostel called ‘Freestone Backpackers’ thought we would spend the night to relax (my family will know why Andy chose this place, the name!)  What a place, the views are amazing; sunsets something to see. Something of an experience, NO power, lights solar powered so need to spare the battery, horses roaming around eating the grass wherever and whenever they chose.  Anyone reading this that is planning a trip to New Zealand MUST go here, without a doubt one of the best places we’ve stayed; good on ‘Jimmy’ he has built everything himself here including his house on the hill.

Tags: The Great Outdoors




Its so nice to be able to read great comments about Freestone backpackers. This is my dads place, where I grew up, and I think it is an amazing place with great views...

  Amanda Calder Jun 28, 2009 10:21 PM

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