|Tuesday 21 June 2011 Dundein – Te Anau
Up and packed and ready to hit the west coast. We left in fantastic weather about 9:30am and hit Route 1 however it wasn’t long until we came on some very overcast conditions but it was still fairly easy conditions. We stopped at Gore which was about the coldest town we’ve experienced. The temperature was about zero but with a sneaky little breeze and overcast conditions it felt a lot less. We braved it but quickly headed to a café for lunch and a nice warm coffee.
Heated and filled up we headed off to Te Anau which didn’t take us as long as expected and we arrived about 2:00pm where we headed down the main street to find the Info Centre to find out the low down on all things Fjord and Sound. NZ is interesting in that what appears to be an Info Centre (gov run) is actually a commercial operation that they tack onto the end of their name. The actual gov run Info Centres are the I-Sites (which we have been visiting) and we eventually found this at a very scenic location on the edge of the lake with the booking girl was very good. Doubtful Sound had winter specials on so we decided to book this for the following day and we booked Milford Sound for the day after as Doubtful is more reliant on weather and the report at this time had tomorrow as the best day. We also questioned whether there was any chance of cancelling due to not having enough passengers but our booking girl questioned this with the Milford Operator and was categorically told that this was not the case. More to follow on this one.
The day was still a pup so we checked in at our motel and then headed back into town to see what may be on offer for dinner and a look around the shops. The shops was a quick affair and as the day was a good one we intended to get a pizza and a six pack and head down to the lake but the best laid plans…. The pizza joint that was supposed to open at 3pm was closed for a month or so and nowhere else opened until it was dark so this posed a bit of a problem, however our solution was to just grab that six pack and head down anyway. It was very relaxing however at the end we were completely surrounded by fog that just seemed to get thicker and thicker. At this point we thought we would just get some supplies from the supermarket and order a pizza and head on back to the motel which we did over a bottle of North Island red which wasn’t half bad!
Wednesday 23 June 2011 Te Anau
Up early as we were getting picked up for our day tour to Doubtful Sound and on queue our bus turned up at 8:15 in total darkness. We were the first ones on however our next pick up wasn’t there so we picked up everyone else first (another ten people) and then went back to pick up four Asian women, only two of which were there after 8:30! The bus driver gave them a serve and all four eventually made it on fairly quickly after that. Their names were Wong which proves that only do two Wongs not make a right, four Wongs can’t tell the time.
With the bus driver still having a good ol’ whinge we made it to Lake Manapouri where we boarded a trusty little vessel to take us across the lake to the West Arm Hydro-Electric Power Station. The cruise over Lake Manapouri took about an hour and the lake was very misty so it wasn’t good viewing but towards the end it started to lighten and the guides were informative so the time passed quickly. The power station was very impressive which operates seven generators with 85% of the power produced going to the Comalco Aluminium Smelter about 160km away. The power station was actually built specifically for this and if it wasn’t providing power to the smelter could power the entire population of the South Island – about one million people. Smelting must consume a HUGE amount of power.
After driving down 2kms into the mountain to the heart of the power station we headed back up and then another 22kms over the Wilmott Pass and down to Doubtful to board our boat. Our cruise on the sound was about three or so hours and went out into the Tasman Sea for a short time and back in and around the sound (which is actually a fjord). We were escorted out of the Sound by a pod of very large Bottlenose Dolphins and were greeted out there by a few Buller’s Albatrosses. The Sound is very spectacular but is also very wide and quite different from the Norwegian Fjords we saw in 2004. The area however is totally protected and no one lives here so it is pristine forest and the waters are crystal clear and overall it is a sight well worth seeing. The weather was quite good as well with only a few clouds in the morning and fining up in afternoon for a clear steam back to Deep Cove – the mooring point for all Doubtful Sound cruises.
We then started our return journey busing back over the Wilmott Pass, over Lake Manapouri and then the final bus back to Ta Anau arriving close to 6:00pm in an ever increasing pea souper of a fog. We went out to grab some fush and chups from the local Diary Bro and it was thick as soup. So much so that Wuzz couldn’t even see the left hand turn back to our motel only doing about 20kms! Hence we drove straight passed it and had to do a uturn. We made it back in one piece and no damage and after a feed and clean up we had an early night as we had to be on the road by 7:15am to make it to Milford Sound by 9:30! Hope that fog is gone!!!!
Thursday 23 June 2011 Te Anau
We woke early and were on the road at 7:10, fuelled and rarin’ to go. There was rain overnight and whether this helped or not, the air was crystal clear and all the stars were visible – huge relief that there was no fog. The journey was actually very good and all we had to do was follow the suggested speeds on the bends and the take note of the “Ice and Grit” signs on the road and watch the sun come up over the mountains. There was a wee bit of fog (in NZ there’s a wee bit of everything) around but nothing to suggest we wouldn’t have a good day out and about.
We duly arrived right on 9:00 and after a quick trip to the I-Site we had a ten minute walk to the jetty and tour company desks in the large building right along side. We headed on over to our Milford Cruise operator – Mitre Peaks – only to be told they didn’t have enough numbers as yet to travel but more may turn up. As you can imagine this wasn’t received well but as there was still 15 minutes until book in we decided to check out what was on offer with the other companies. We found one that we were more than happy with and found out that they didn’t have enough numbers but if we came along they would be able to go. The time to check in duly arrived and we approached the sour old cow at Mitre Peaks again who tried a few tricks with us including a couple of porkies but was fairly quickly persuaded to see things our way and we obtained a confirmation receipt stating that they weren’t going that enables a refund back at the I-Site and we booked with Southern Discoveries. This turned out to be a great turn of events as the ship (total possible number of passengers 150) was really well appointed with great staff and only seven passengers for this trip!
We had a really great cruise of Milford with absolutely perfect conditions including a little mist, over night rain to fill the waterfalls and mostly sunny skies with little or no wind allowing us to spend the whole trip on the top deck. Milford is a lot narrower than Doubtful and has a much more fjord-like feeling like their Norwegian counterparts and to our way of thinking is more pleasant and eye-catching although this may be also due to the conditions and the great crew and ship. During our meanderings of the fjord we passed quite a few waterfalls, one of which our captain put us right underneath, a small bunch of seals, one seal catching and eating a Barracuda, some more Buller’s Albatrosses and some fantastic views of the snow speckled mountains and valleys. It really was a spectacular couple of hours.
We then headed back in our car with a few stops planned on the way home. Our first stop was The Chasm which didn’t have a lot to offer unless you went on a walk so we pulled up for a picnic lunch on the bonnet with a pesky and attentive Kea (Alpine Parrot) who was very determined to steal some of our food moving all around the car and then on the roof. When he didn’t think he was going to get anything he then started to try and attack the rubber on the car and was quickly shoo-ed away but wouldn’t take the hint. We then had a large number of tourists who wanted photos but we eventually left and the Kea left empty beaked.
Our next stop was outside Homer Pass and this time there was definitely something to stop for with the scenery something special with the peaks snow covered and the valleys very deep and green. From here we then stopped at a couple of lookouts and then finally at Mirror Lakes which was crystal clear and as the name suggests we could see the mountains reflecting in the lakes. Our drive back was nice and easy where we received our refund from the I-Site, took a few more snaps to add the couple of hundred for the day and headed back to the motel to drop the car off and then off again into town where we settled into the Cinema for a well earned vino in front of a fire and then into a 30 minute movie of the fjord area by helicopter set to some original music and well worth the entry money. The pub was beckoning so we headed over for a meal and a couple of brewskis and then a nice trundle back to the motel for a sleep and a sleep in as we didn’t have to leave Te Anau the next morning until check out time.