We went to sleep in a funk, discouraged by the low clouds and poor views of Milford Sound. During the night we awoke to the sound of rain beating down. Rain on a camper roof can be a soothing sound, but not today. The sound of water dripping was everywhere. I counted 17 waterfalls coursing down the rock face near the campground. Yesterday there had only been five. Encased in rain gear we arrived at the dock with long faces. Even the tasty continental breakfast did little to lift our spirits as we pulled away from the dock.
The captain commented that this area gets eight meters of rain a year and is one of the wettest spots in the world. OK, but why did one of those meters have to fall while we were here? Two meters of rain have already fallen in January alone. The waterfalls did put on quite a show. As they hit rock ledges they would split and reunite a bit farther down. They would disappear behind a clump of trees and reappear with renewed energy. After about half an hour the boat reached the sea and the water got rough and the wind really blew. The captain talked about a lighthouse. Where was it? All we saw were low clouds.
We turned to sail back to the pier and it was as if Mother Nature had flipped a giant switch. The sun came out, the clouds blew away and the waterfall action was greatly diminished. Hooray! This was the view we had come here for. Steep mountain sides punctuated with snow patches glowed in the light. Their jagged tops gave mute evidence to the carving and grinding they had endured as the glaciers passed by. The captain skimmed the rocky walls and let the remaining waterfalls give us a cool bath. U-shaped valleys, with the so distinctive appearance of glacial activity, radiated out from the sound. Near the dock a glacier appeared. We had looked at that same spot yesterday and had no idea it was there. Those tourists who took the next sailing through the sound only got the blue sky view. We had seen that as well as the spectacular results of all that rain. Lucky after all.
The drive back out the Milford valley was spectacular as well, but you can only take photos of so many waterfalls. As we left the coast tour buses were coming in in droves. We felt quite smug. By staying in Milford last night, we were doing the opposite of what the crowds were doing. Our boat had been more than half empty and we had the road pretty much to ourselves. A real pristine experience.
We are camped on the shore of Lake Te Anau tonight, the largest lake in the South Island. This is a real tourist town and serves as the gateway for many Milford Sound visitors. We crossed the lake by boat and visited a glow worm cave. These worms are unique to New Zealand and glow in the dark. For 12 - 13 days they live in the cave in the pupa stage. They grow about seventy long, sticky strings to catch small insects that are attracted to the light they emit. Once an insect is caught their bite emits a paralytic and digestive enzymes. The bug is strangled in the threads and has its innards sucked out. The process reminded me a bit of a spider. Once the larva turns into a fly, it spends the next 36 - 72 hours mating. Then it lays eggs in the cave and dies. The cycle begins again. The glow worm cave resonated with rushing water which had created this cavern. We got on a small boat and the guide pulled us with a rope suspended from the ceiling to see the worms glowing lights. It looked as if we were studying constellations in the sky. A unique Kiwi experience.