One hundred and twenty kilometres away from Te Anau, up a narrow and winding mountain road, lies Milford Sound - However, it’s not really a Sound at all, it’s a Fiord. You see, a Sound is carved out by water, a Fiord by a glacier. So, why is it called a Sound? Well, it was named prior to knowing it’s true origin as a glacier-made fiord and was subsequently deemed to difficult to change. Sound
legit lazy, but it is what it is.
This image is taken at the swing-bridge on the way to Lake Marian as described below. Yes, the water is actually that colour. You can see Faith tempting fate on the bridge held up by only a few cables. It was very stable though, but swung wildly when we walked on it
Our day started early, 8am, under heavy skies, but no precipitation thankfully. We had been finger-crossing for a few days that it wouldn’t rain today as we were to take a cruise on Milford Sound and I was intent on spending the cruise on the top [open] deck.
After a lady at the local Te Anau service station scared the bejeezus out of me yesterday over the need for snow chains our first stop this morning was that service station to check the road conditions.
A word for the wise - It you are driving this road you must DO THIS as it is not one to be trifled with. It’s a serious alpine road and is subject to avalanches, snow, ice and rockfalls.
As it turns out the road was open and today had been deemed a non-chain day. There are several live-feed cameras feeding back road conditions to the locals here in Te Anau and the road-crews are up there 24/7 also feeding back live-time information. If it’s deemed a chain day and one is caught without them there are fines and the vehicle is turned back. We didn't need the today so we saves $30. off we went on our trip, snow-chainless and full of excitement for the day.
Our first stop was Mirror Lakes only 56 kilometres from Te Anau. Due to the low cloud there was no mirror-action today however it was a nice place for a leg-stretching session. There’s a series of very small lakes beside the road and a short five minute walk will bring one to them and on the right day the lakes mirror the mountains in the distance. My last post includes an image of this. The mirror scenario only happens in the morning so don’t leave this for your return trip - Do it in the morning on the way up. There's plenty of parking available at the side of the road.
We headed back up the road towards Cascade Creek passing through Deer Flat and Knobs Flat along the way. Cascade Creek offers camping, fly fishing and walking and it’s a pretty cool spot. We went for a small hike from here, a loop trail that took us down to Lake Gunn. The forest is amazing - Lush, wet, green and full of trees, alive and fallen, covered in moss and lichen of all types. It's a legit forest. It was also here we found the Red Beech forest as we wound our way to a secluded beach area on the lake. The air seemed fresher here, earthy and with the only nose being the birdlife and our footfalls it was a nice spot for a brief interlude from the drive.
From Cascade Creek and Lake Gunn we headed back to the road, ever-upwards. It was around here where we hit the snow-line; Mainly avalanche snow at this stage of the year and at this low altitude. It is also around about here where the road gets very twisty and narrow. There is always the danger of ice to watch for and of course avalanches.
There’s a seventeen kilometre stretch of road on which drivers are forbidden to stop due to avalanche-risk however there was a safe section where we stopped for a look at the scenery, the snow covered mountain tops, creek-flows and also found a few Kea birds nosing about.
We reached Homer Tunnel, at 945m above sea level, on a red light. This means we had an almost 10 minute wait whilst oncoming traffic had right of way - Not that any seemed to be emerging. We exited the car and had a look around taking a few photos.
The traffic lights at the tunnel. You can see the countdown timer for the stop. At the base of the mountain to the right of the snow you can see the entrance - The little black opening.
The tunnel, completed in 1953 after 20 years of work is a bit of a marvel, along with the road itself I guess. It is cut directly through the mountain rock and runs for 1.2 kilometres. The traffic lights allow traffic to flow only one way for a period of ten minutes and then the other way, and so on between 6am and 8pm every day except for when the road is closed completely. We were first in line so had no traffic in front as we made our way through. It’s a little odd knowing that a mountain hangs over ones’ head but we made it through to the twisty road that heads on down to sea level and Milford Sound itself. It's a slow-going road to drive and one on which the driver requires plenty of attention, but there's plenty to see for passengers with amazing postcard views on all sides.
Arriving at the Sound one is confronted by the first task…Getting a car park. Only coaches are permitted to head right up to the cruise departure docks and cars have to find a spot in one of three car parks below. It was not a busy day today so we were lucky to find a park quickly, but at $10/hour it wasn’t cheap. (It ended costing us $40 for our stay.)
This image of Milford Sound taken on the boardwalk which leads to the cruise terminal.
One of the falls we found cascading off the mountains above. See the snow-capped mountains in the distance? That's where this originates.
From the park we simply walked the short ten-minute-long walk up the boardwalk to the terminal, found our boat and headed out onto the waters of Milford Sound for our cruise.
We cruised out to the opening to the Tasman Sea and back which was really nice. The water was smooth and it wasn't too cold - About 7° C. The boat hugged the shoreline, not that there’s much of a shore as it’s all sheer mountain-sides. Waterfalls cascade down from the heights and the forest somehow clings to the sheer mountain sides.
We were lucky to see some seals basking in the sun and a couple penguins which is quite rare I’m told. The yellow-eyed penguin is endangered and it is apparently very rare to see them on the Sound.
The captain also nosed the boat up to one of the larger waterfalls which was fun…And wet. I can’t recall the name but it originates at three times higher than Niagara Falls although from the water the entire height of the falls can’t be seen.
This is a pretty self explanatory part I guess. After our cruise finished we headed over to the cafe and had a bite to eat before heading back to Te Anau. The cafe at Milford Sound has a fairly good range of hot foods, sandwiches and baguette's plus pretty good coffee. We we not intending to take a straight drive back though - We had a few extra stops to make along the way.
We pulled in not really knowing what to expect here but the twenty minute walk seemed a legit thing to do, so off we went. What we were to find blew our minds.
The trail takes one closer and closer to a booming sound and then opens to a small footbridge. A glance down simply takes ones’ breath away. Below, an incredibly fast-flowing waterfall falls away directly below one’s feet! The powerful flow is simply beautiful however it’s obviously incredibly dangerous. A fall would be the last thing you did I would say. The massive rocks below have been [are being] carved away by the water and take on curious shapes. Watching the water flow is a little mesmerising.
From there the trail snakes around a little higher to the river that feeds the falls and a second set of falls, this one even more dramatic. The creek, full of huge rocks and boulders, feeds downwards through a gully of massive rocks directly below the footbridge. The force of the water over thousands of years has polished the rocks away and sculptured them into amazingly creative shapes - Nature’s artwork!
I took a video on my phone which I think shows it really well and I’ll do a post showing that video on my return to Australia but here’s a couple of pictures. They don’t really show it that well. I guess you have to be there to get the full effect.
We didn’t hike all the way up to the alpine lake despite being really keen to do so. My mother in-law was not up to it and considering she only just recovered from near-death-cancer it’s understandable. We weren't about to leave her sitting in the car so we went only as far as the falls.
We headed over the swing-bridge to a series of waterfalls which were really nice. The trail went through a forest similar to that around Cascade Creek and then opened up to the series of very fast-flowing falls. There’s a few viewing platforms giving people quite a few different views or the falls.
After a while we headed back over the swing bridge and hit the road for Te Anau and dinner - All that walking, driving and cruising had left me with a powerful hankering for…Pizza.
We arrived back in Te Anau at just before 7pm meaning it was a pretty long day although it was a really nice one! Tomorrow we’re heading across Lake Te Anau to the glow worms grotto to check out hundreds of the little glowing buggers.
The caves they inhabit are only 12,000 years old and are still being carved out by the river that flows through them. Apparently there’s many twisting limestone passages, sculpted rocks, whirlpools and even an underground waterfall. Cool! We’ll be taking a boat across the lake then will hike and use small boats to tour the caves. No photography is permitted in the glow worm grotto - But I'm going to try and sneak one.
Anyway, that’s tomorrow. For now I think it’s time to relax on the couch with Faith - Relax is code for cuddle. We’re going to watch a movie as one of my favourites is coming on soon - Braveheart.
Design and create your ideal life, don't live it by default