The Sounds of Silence by Wet, Wet, Wet
Mar 12, 2011
|On to Te Arau by way of Mrs Clarke’s excellent coffee shop and a very impressive early settler museum in Riverton. Passed fairly close by the Moatts’ old farm near Clifden (which has its own suspension bridge just like Bristol) and got some small appreciation of how remote it would have been in the Fifties & Sixties. Te Arau is the tourist launching off spot for Milford Sound.
So next day we launched off ! The drive up to Milford is known for being spectacular and it certainly is ! We stopped off many times to admire woods, gorges, a super little lake that fully deserves its name ‘Mirror Lake’, the ‘Chasm’ which is where a torrent has forced its way through a hole in the rock and carved out a really deep, narrow, convoluted, well - chasm. There is also the poetically named ‘Knob’s Flat’. And then there is eventually, the Homer Tunnel – this was carved out by hand and on a 10 degree downward slope through the mountain at 1200 metres altitude, and it shows !
Finally made it through the tunnel, down crazy hairpin bends and on to the harbour at Milford to join our boat ‘The Wanderer’. This is the backpacker version of the overnight cruise – like a youth hostel at sea – but pretty comfortable and the food was excellent. The nature guide was not so great, but we met a lot of people, went out on the tender in a sheltered bay and watched others kayaking and swimming in the rain.
The Sound (really a fjord) is truly magnificent, with the mountains crashing down almost vertically from almost 2000 metres up straight into the sea. Apparently there is a layer of fresh water a few metres deep on the surface as a result of the 11 metres of rain that comes crashing down each year.
Up before first light, cooked breakfast, then out onto deck as we headed out to sea and back. Overnight there had been a lot of rain and the cliffs were smothered with waterfalls that weren’t there last evening. It was still raining – and how ! Still we braved it on deck until the skipper decided we were far enough out to sea and performed a quick turn in 10 metre swell, thus sending waves crashing through the gunnels me hearties, and soaking your heroes from knee downwards (we are sure we heard the cackle of kiwi laughter at this !). Just in case he had missed some of us, he then drove straight for one of the biggest waterfalls and performed a 360 degree pirouette to ensure that we got soaked from the knees upwards as well !
We were a very bedraggled crew as we left the ship and drove, dripping, back up to the tunnel, but we thoroughly enjoyed the experience and are game for more (of the same ?) tomorrow when we venture to Doubtful Sound (really a fjord – did I tell you that already ?)
Strike camp at 06:30 hours and press on to expedition base; our captain warns us we are in for a gloomy ride across Lake Manapouri (its original Maori name means “lake where it rains all the time” !) – so it proves to be. Comments like “on the right we are passing such and such an island” met with blank stares from the expedition members as there was no way to see said island through the murk. An hour later and we make landfall, amid warnings of rampant sandflys and yet more rain.
Rex, our driver for the next stage of the expedition, speaks like he is a recording (very strange), but succeeds in negotiating the steep pass and down the other side to Doubtful Sound and, hey presto ! the clouds part, the sun pokes its nose out, and our nice little old boat is there to whisk us off into the Sound (its really a fjord, or did I already mention that ?).
What a lovely day it turned out to be ! More and more blue sky but enough clouds to make it interesting; landscapes that shifted between something similar to Milford Sound, to Norway on steroids, to Scotland/Lake District on steroids. We saw little Blue Penguins, Crested Penguins and a Kea (indigenous mountain parrot); several pods of Bottle-nose Dolphins, one of which played in our bow wave for ages.
Overnight at Mossburn (tiny farming community) en route to Queenstown (will there be bungy jumping ? I hear you cry – well you will just have to curb your excitement and just wait and see)