Down Under - Winter/Spring 2009 travel blog

Milford Sound


road to Milford

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Homer Tunnel

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Milford Sound

The weather was not our friend today. At first we didn’t mind since this was one of our longer driving days. We weren’t really sure how long. Each reference we consulted gave a different distance/travel time between Dunedin and Milford. It ended up being about six hours with a lunch break and included a four mile stretch of (motorway) expressway. Expressways are very rare around here.

Most people who tour Milford Sound drive in for the day and we’d read that it can get really crowded here. There are only about ten camp sites in Milford and most people stay two hours away in Te Anau. We wanted to do a good job of this highly regarded spot and feel fortunate to be able to spend the night. The fjords that give this area its name are truly remarkable feats of nature. Carved by massive glaciers thousands of years ago, they still carry a sense of power and strength. These scenic waterways were named “sounds” by the the early English sailor since they resembled the sounds of their distant homelands. True sounds are actually river valleys that have been filled as the land sinks below sea level. While the famous sounds here keep their misnomer, the area was properly named Fjordland to recognize the true origin of these rugged inlets.

This sound was rarely visited until the 1930’s when the road and the Homer Tunnel were constructed. The work was interrupted by World War II and was not finished until 1953. Many difficulties were encountered in the building of the tunnel. Extensive fractures in the rock meant melting snow flowed into the tunnel area and water accumulated at the work face. Avalanches were also a problem during construction.

As we neared Fjordland National Park, snow covered peaks came into view under mostly gray clouds. As we entered the park those clouds descended to cover the peaks and what the land looked like as we drove along remains a mystery. Occasionally the fog gave way to views of waterfalls, but they quickly disappeared again. As we waited in line for the one lane Homer Tunnel, we hoped that the sun would break through by the time we came out the other side. No such luck. We are here to tour Milford Sound, probably the most famous attraction in New Zealand, but if we cant see the mountain peaks and the sparkling waters below them, we will be sad indeed. The vegetation reminds us of rain forests so we suspect that the clouds and fog we are experiencing isn’t all that rare. Small comfort in that.

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