Tag Archives: Te Anau

Milford Sound – one more off the bucket list

The South-West corner of New Zealand’s South Island is known as Fiordland. There’s a good reason for that – these mountains and valleys were carved through glacial action, just as they were in Norway and other places. Strictly speaking, Milford Sound was created by glaciation – but it fits the definition of a sound. “A sound is wider than a fjord, and it is described as a large sea/ocean inlet. A sound lies parallel to the coastline, and it commonly separates a coastline from an island. A sound can be formed when a glacier recedes in a valley it carves out from a coastline. The sea can also invade a glacier valley and create a sound.” [1]  Whatever you want to call it, we set off early if not very bright for a look at Milford Sound. The weather had settled in with wind and drizzly rain. But snow was settling on the heights and for us snow-deprived Aussies it was nice to see.

We drove for a long time next to Lake Te Anau. It was pointless to even try to take a picture but later the road veers to the right down a valley before turning left again to head through the mountains for Milford Sound. Every hillside sported a waterfall, every creek was full, white water bouncing over rocky beds. Now and then we’d get a glimpse of a snow-capped peak but mainly the misty rain clung close. It would be cold and wet out there.

Driving between the mountains

Dave told us about William Homer and James Barber, who climbed the mountains to reach Milford Sound (and then climbed back again to tell people about it). Homer proposed a tunnel through the Homer Saddle but it wasn’t until 1935 that work commenced. Dug by hand, the tunnel is 1.2km long. It’s had its ups and downs over the years, as you’ll read here, and it had to be deepened and widened to accommodate large tourist coaches like ours. We stopped briefly at the other end in a parking area with a view. Of sorts 😊

Despite the weather and that this was just about the end of the season, many people were waiting to take a cruise on Milford Sound. We were booked on the three-masted Milford Mariner. No, she didn’t use her sails. This was a kind of swings and roundabouts voyage. On the one hand we couldn’t see the magnificent peaks reflecting in calm waters. On the other hand, we saw waterfalls. Lots and lots and lots of waterfalls. Streaks of white thundered down every gully on every mountain. The wind was so strong that most of the lesser torrents never made it into the sea. The water was whipped away by the wind, joining the rain. Despite the weather, within the confines of the Sound itself, the ship rode smoothly. But outside the heads we ventured briefly into the Tasman Sea, riding a considerable swell. A few nutters braved the elements and went to stand on the bow. I think they were staff on their last voyage.

George doesn’t think much of the weather

There’s always 1 or more

 

 

See the water being whipped away in the wind

A hint of brightness between the peaks

A waterfall from a saddle

We headed back towards port and slowed for a close encounter with a waterfall. That’s a LOT of water.

To get the size of these waterfalls into perspective, that’s another tourist boat on the extreme right of the photo

Late in the cruise we caught a hint of blue sky

I was interested to know that “at 265 metres deep, most of the sound’s water is salty, but the top 10 metres or so is actually fresh water. It comes from the seven to nine metres of rainfall that the area gets every year, emptied into the sound via its many rivers and waterfalls. On its way, this runoff picks up tannins from plants and soil that stain the fresh water the colour of tea. It’s still completely clean and natural, but it blocks much of the sunlight from the lower salty layer.

The seawater layer is calm and a few degrees warmer, if a little dark. When you reach about 40 metres deep there is very little sunlight getting through, so all the marine life hangs out near the surface, including many species that normally live much deeper. We’ve got a unique mix of dolphins, penguins, fish, sea stars, seals, rare black coral and much more, so there’s plenty to look at.” [2]

On another trip it would be nice to visit the aquarium (see the previous link for more information) and maybe stay overnight on one of the boats. Sunrise/sunset would be amazing.

The weather cleared a little as we drove back to our hotel at Te Anau. It’s beautiful, gorgeous country. We stopped off at a place called the Chasm, a mountain stream a short walk into the rainforest. It gives a different perspective on the flora in these parts.

I managed to get a few reasonable snaps on the way back to Te Anau.

Tomorrow we would be heading over to the other coast to the quintessentially Scottish town of Dunedin, New Zealand’s very own Edinburgh.

 

A detour to Arrowtown and then Te Anau

It was just as well we enjoyed the sunny day at Queenstown. The clouds were already gathering as we drove away. Today would be a short drive to the village of Te Anau on the shores of the lake of the same name. But on the way we took a short detour to the restored village of Arrowtown and its beautiful museum.

On the way we crossed the Shotover River, home of one of the best-known jet boat adventures. It’s pretty, as well.

As mentioned earlier, this area was opened up by gold miners. Alluvial gold was found in the Arrow River in 1862 and the miners flocked in to make their fortune. As in Australia, hopefuls came from everywhere, and as in Australia the Chinese were not popular with the European miners. They were forced to set up their dwellings at the edges of town. Reading through some of the exhibits in the town’s museum, I got the idea that eventually a certain level of respect developed. But the Chinese were not entitled to New Zealand pensions. In fact, while much is said about Australia’s white Australia policy, New Zealand wasn’t much better. I found this article interesting.

A rainbow over Arrowtown

Chinese people in any case generally wanted to be buried at home with their ancestors and did their best to make arrangements to go home before they died, or have their bodies taken home. Dave told us about a ship taking home 500 deceased Chinese which sank in Hokianga in 1902. There’s a memorial in Arrowtown set up for the Chinese and it is visited – if only for a few minutes – by the many Chinese who visit New Zealand every year to pay their respects. [1]

You can read a bit more about Arrowtown’s colourful past here.

By the 1960’s the town’s population had dwindled to a few hundred. But since then, the town has resurrected its history. The old main street looks as it would have in the town’s hey day and you can visit a reconstruction of the Chinese settlement down by the river. It’s a short drive from bustling Queenstown, a nice break when people get sick of flinging themselves off bridges with rubber bands around their ankles.

George and I had a great time wandering around the museum. In fact, once or twice he was quite naughty. Then we took a stoll down the main street.

George chatting with some of the locals

We beat the rain out of Arrowtown but it followed us along the hills as we headed for Lake Te Anau. It’s possible to do a day trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown but it’s a helluva day. Breaking the journey at Te Anau was sensible. We got a chance to admire the beautiful scenery. Being Australian, all that green in the pastures along the range of hills was something different. Except maybe if you’re Tasmanian.

By the time we reached our hotel, the weather had set in. We couldn’t see the other side of the lake and although the township was a short stroll from the hotel, Pete and I, having actually crossed the road to the lakeside during a brief break in the drizzle, decided staying in our digs was prudent.

George looks over at the lake

Like most of our group, we had lunch at the hotel. After the disappointment of the seafood chowder in Queenstown I hesitated for a moment before I ordered. Folks, it was lip-smackingly delicious, thick and hearty and full of seafood, served with grilled bread. We had two nights at Te Anau and a LOT of people ordered the seafood chowder as an entree. I certainly did.

Our server at lunch was a young South African named Henk. He was here with his fiancée who we met at dinner and also at breakfast. They were due to go home next week for the off-season but then would return and apply for permanent residence in New Zealand. Good luck to them.

While at Te Anau we were offered the chance to visit the glow worm caves, an optional extra to the tour. You went across the lake in a boat, where you had to crouch twice to slip under a couple of low-hanging rocks to get into the cave. Then you travelled in a boat, in the dark, to see the glow worms. Dave made it clear it was cold, damp, and claustrophobic so nobody could pretend they hadn’t been prepared. I am a bit claustrophobic – getting stuck in a lift in London for a couple of hours a few years ago wasn’t exactly pleasant – but perversely, I’m not too bad in caves, so I was game. Until Dave said you had to sit bolt upright in those little boats as though you were having a school photo taken. The whole trip would take about two and a half hours. My back tapped me on the shoulder and told me to forget it. So I chickened out.

As it happened, the tour was cancelled. Apparently the water level in the cave had risen so much in the cave that the tour wasn’t possible. But hey – this is the internet. Come and join me.

We enjoyed another lovely dinner. Tomorrow we would be off to Milford Sound, where I would tick off another item on my bucket list.