December 15th, 2013
Lake Te Anau – a magic moment:
The first thing that happened to me on this day was the best thing; I opened the curtains and saw Lake Te Anau on a perfectly clear morning.
Last time I was in Te Anau it was the depths of winter. We arrived in the dark and left in sheeting rain and snow. My main memory of the place was the exceptionally drunk Australian guy we met in a bar, drowning his sorrows with a very good bottle of Pinot Noir.
This time it was perfection. The water was still, the light was magical and the whole place breathed wonder.
For those who don’t know, Milford Sound is one of several misnamed fiords in, er, Fiordland (the clue’s in the name). Geek alert: A SOUND is a flooded river valley (see Marlborough Sounds); a FIORD is formed by a glacial valley. Hope I have this right, geographers.
It is the most accessible and therefore the most visited of the Fiordland fiords. But even if you are a solitude junkie, don’t be put off. If you can get an early boat (10am or before), you’ll be done before the coaches arrive. And more that that, the Milford Road to get there is an experience all of its own. The scenery just gets bigger and bigger as you pass appropriately dramatic signs for places like *epic film voice* THE DIVIDE.
By the time you get to Milford, it’ll probably be raining. Again, don’t be put off. It is wonderful in all weathers but may think it is most wonderful in the eery, misty rain. And at the slightest hint of rain, dozens of tiny waterfalls around the cliff faces of the fiord come alive. It is spectacular. The wildlife is wonderful too – we saw seals and a brief glimpse of bottle nose dolphins cruising alongside our boat.
If you go to Milford, take insect repellent. The mosquitoes and sandflies surrounded us within SECONDS of us opening the car door. It was horrifying. Biblical even. We deeted up asap and escaped a mass bloodletting – but it was scary how quickly they honed in on us.
Also, once you’re there, definitely get out on the water. We did a 2 hour trip with Mitre Peak Cruises: fab, friendly, informative and their boat is among the smallest on Milford Sound so it gets you right up to the waterfalls and sheer cliff faces. They have tea and coffee a-go-go on-board (ideal on a drizzly day) and they take you right out to the ocean, so you can re-enter the Sound, much as the explorers of old would’ve done. With that in mind, you might want to take sea sickness pills if you aren’t great with waves.
For more fun facts about Milford Sound, just you wait…I was back there again a few weeks later and will be writing another post :o)
Crown Ranges to Cardrona
This is still a bit of a road-less-travelled…though for how much longer once the word gets out?
Until only a few years ago, the Crown Ranges Road between Queenstown and Wanaka was unsealed (i.e. no tarmac) which was seriously off-putting to all but hardened 4×4 drivers. It is still a hairpin-bend experience, so I imagine trailers and some motorhomes are put off, and the road does sometimes close after snowfalls in winter. But it is a superb drive and so much more interesting (and direct) than SH6. The steep hillsides pull sharply up from the road, clothed in green-gold grasses and the views back towards Queenstown as you climb are stunning.
Best of all this road takes you right past the historic Cardrona hotel up in the mountains. It’s the inn of a former gold rush area – but there’s not much left bar the hotel, the post office and a cemetery. It would’ve been rude not to stop for a drink in the beautiful beer garden, surrounded by the old outbuildings. And then dinner just seemed sensible – indoors by now to ward off the evening chill by an open fire.
Then on to Wanaka.