Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Majestic Milford Sound and catching up with friends in Te Anau!

So we left Queenstown on the Stray Bus at the crack of dawn...it was still dark at 7am! The good thing was that as we were leaving Queenstown we got to see a magnificent sunrise over The Remarkables (a quite remarkable mountain range surrounding Queenstown).

It took us roughly 3 hours to reach Milford sound. We stopped on the way in Te Anau, (pronounced Tay-Arnew) where we tried to figure out how we were going to get to our boat cruise the next day. Basically, Stray only spend one night in Milford Sound at the off-the-beaten track location of Gunn's Camp. Today's weather forecast was rain, and so we decided to extend our stay to two nights, so that we could do our boat cruise the next day in the sunshine. However, we didn't realise Gunn's Camp is actually a good half hours drive from Milford sound, with no public buses on route, and only hitchhiking available to use (with a good hours walk to the main road) we realised we'd screwed up!

So. What we had decided after being told all this by the company of the boat cruise, was that maybe we could see when we get there, if there was availability to change to today with our Stray bus group at 3pm. The weather wasn't looking great but it was basically almost our only option, other than paying $120 for a round trip with a local pickup service. So we hoped and prayed on the hours journey from Te Anau to Milford sound that A. there would be space and B. the weather would clear up a little!

We stopped on the way once we got to Fiordland National Park for picture spots. Such as the mirror lake, and just before the tunnel heading through the mountain. Fiordland National Park is amazing, just huge towering peaks, some snow-capped, and loads of waterfalls (at least the rain was good for something). The thing is is that the west coast of New Zealand on the South Island and Fiordland National Park, is the wettest area ever, it's actually been dubbed the wettest place on earth (move over UK). Rainfall can reach 250 mm (10 in) during a span of 24 hours. On the forecasts all you ever see is maybe one or two days of sunshine, the rest is rain, so you have to be very lucky to see the sun! However, everyone we'd heard who'd done it in the rain, said that it was even more beautiful, because of the HUGE waterfalls it created through the sound.

Well, we definitely saw those, both driving through the National park and in Milford Sound itself. There were waterfalls everywhere! However, we were suuuuuuuper lucky...as when we arrived at the boat check-in, A. there was space and we only had to pay $10 for the price difference and B. the sun decided to burn through some of that cloud, and the rain had stopped - so we ended up having the best of both worlds; the joys of the waterfalls and a little blue sky! Woop! We unfortunately weren't able to see the top of Mitre Peak (the tall famous mountain at the entrance to Milford Sound), but I guess you can't be greedy when luck strikes. So we boarded our boat and went on our hour and a half cruise around the huuuuuge Milford Sound.

Milford Sound (also called Piopiotahi) is a Fiord (wrongly labelled a Sound), within Fiordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site. Carved by glaciers during the ice age, it has been judged the world's top travel destination and labelled the '8th wonder of the world'. There are peaks up to 1200metres, some snowcapped, and there are many waterfalls. Seals and Dolphins (even Whales) can often be spotted - and we were lucky enough to spot a pod of Dolphins and some Seals lounging on the rocks in the sun. There is one waterfall, Lady Bowen Falls, which is actually 3 times higher than Niagara Falls, but due to the optical illusion presented by the huge peaks surrounding it, actually looks way smaller than it is. But boy is it powerful - we got very wet underneath it on our boat deck! The tour took us all around the Fiord on both sides and also out to the opening of the ocean where we saw the Dolphins. And thankfully the sun stayed out for the full hour and a half. We got some stunning pictures and even a little burnt.

Then we headed back on the Stray bus and towards Gunn's Camp, where we would stay for two nights, but there was no phone signal and no wifi, and limited electricity (from 6pm-10pm). So it was going to be a secluded couple of nights. But I was looking forward to it, time to catch up on some reading. We did a river walk the next day, had good Pasta, tried a bush walk but it got too slippery so we turned back, and then played some games, like battleship, trivial persuit etc, talked to people (yes we actually talked rather than everyone sitting on their phones) to bide away our day of rest. It was like going back to the old days when internet and phones didn't rule your life and it was great, so refreshing. The couple who owned the camp were also very lovely and had made the place very unique.

On the Monday we hopped off the Stray Bus in Te Anau for two nights where we did a few walks around the lake and ate amazing Pies at Miles Better Pies (the best pie I have ever tasted!) we had one a day while we were there. They had Thai curry, Satay Chicken, Venison, steak and bacon, steak and cheese, lamb and mint, you name it they had it; all freshly baked! We also met our friend from Sweden, Ivana, and her boyfriend Adrian while we were there, as they were working in a hotel there for the next couple of months. So we had a great catch up which was lovely and vowed we'd see each other again when they finished work. And in fact they are coming to stay with us at our hostel in the Catlin's next week!

Our next stop was Dunedin which we couldn't wait for! It was a whim decision as we'd been contacted on HelpX for a WWOOFing spot in the Catlins and had wanted to go to Steward Island before but the ferry was too expensive. So instead we decided to head to Dunedin as it was only an hour from the Catlins. So we booked our 4 nights there, and took the Intercity from Te Anau (we were going to use Stray but it meant spending a night in Invercargill and there was nothing to do there so we thought we'd save money). We'd heard lots about Dunedin and couldn't wait to go there...plus we'd contacted an old Kiwi friend from Australia (currently living in Nepal, but was from Dunedin) and found out she was actually HOME, so we were going to get to see her while we were there - amazing! Dunedin was awesome...more about that in the next blog.

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