– Queenstown, New Zealand to Milford Sound –
We didn’t have to pack all of our bags up this morning. We are staying in the same hotel tonight. I guess we usually stay in one place two nights at least once per trip, but it always feels weird not to be rushing out the door with all of our stuff. It certainly makes getting out in the morning faster.
I have to say, our run this morning was gorgeous, if a little chilly. At least the wind wasn’t as bad as it has been some mornings. Queenstown is on a lake nestled beneath snow-covered mountains, and our run took us through the trees around the edge of the lake and into the city centre. It was very quiet out this morning, given the fact that it had been raining overnight, and sprinkled a little on us during our run. I guess nobody else wanted to get wet. We had fun.
Today our big plan was to drive to Milford Sound, which is a little over 3.5 hours each way. It was an ambitious goal, but as you can tell from the fact that I’m writing this to you right now, we did make it back to our hotel before the end of the day. It was quite a push though, I have to say, and past a certain point, there’s just nothing back there. It’s a desolate road.
We started our morning after we left the hotel at the grocery store (New World again). We didn’t feel like going back out there last night, so we waited until this morning. Today’s breakfast was mango cardamom skyr, apples, and a pastry from their bakery. I was surprised by how delicious the mango cardamom skyr was. I am normally not a fan of mango. In fact, I get mango and papaya confused, and I hate them both. One tastes like feet, and the other tastes like dirt, but I can’t remember which is which. Passion fruit is delightful, though.
My fruit prejudices aside, breakfast was nice, and we happily listened to podcasts in the car on the way to our turnoff to get to the lonely road back into Fjordlands National Park and Milford Sound. I probably haven’t mentioned it yet, but we didn’t actually bring a book for me to read aloud on this trip like we normally do. Mark thought I would probably enjoy looking around a little more than reading, and all of the roads twist back and forth up the mountains (I get carsick from reading on mountains). It’s been nice so far. This is where I give a shoutout to the Myths and Legends podcast, which we listened to all day yesterday.
It’s a little awkward to get back to Milford Sound from Queenstown, but really, it’s awkward from almost anywhere you can find reasonably priced and available accommodations, so we didn’t feel too badly about the 3.5 hour drive. We drive like that all of the time anyway.
Just to give you an idea, so you can sort of follow along, we took highway 6 down past Athol, 97 across to 94, then 94 through Te Anau and all the way up to Milford Sound. That’s just an overview, though, so don’t think I’m getting ahead of myself. In this story, we’ve just left Frankton and finished stuffing our faces with breakfast.
We didn’t really have any specific stops between Queenstown and Te Anau, but New Zealand is so gorgeous down here that you can’t help but pull off to take some pictures. We did try to keep it down to just a handful so we were sure we had time to stop at all of the things we actually wanted to see, but it was hard to choose.
Our first planned stop was at a pull off for Eglinton Valley, and man did we hit the jackpot. The stop was in this gorgeous, sweeping valley with huge, snowy peaks in the distance, a river in the center, and the surrounding fields just covered in spring lupins.
We couldn’t help but walk out to the river, which was a good distance from our car and across a little creek and a bed of smooth rocks. Some generous soul that visited before us had thrown a road sign across the creek, and Mark and I ventured across, doing our best impression of an olympian on the balance beam. Mine was a dismal impression, but I didn’t get my feet wet, so that’s a 10 for my floor routine, right?
The pictures turned out great, despite the bright glare of the sun. I guess the hole in the ozone layer down here really does mean business. Mark and I have been careful to be in the shade most of the time, even though it is colder, since people say you can sunburn really easily here. We’ve definitely seen a few crispy tourists. I bet it is even worse in full summer.
After the Eglinton Valley lookout, we stopped at Eglinton Flats, which is really just more of the valley a little further up the road. Instead of rocks and lupins, that portion of the valley is covered in tough, golden grass. It looks very much like portions of California. We also stopped at the Mirror Lake for a few pictures, but the angles weren’t right for a good mirror of the mountains on the lake, and the water kept moving, which ruined the effect. We’ve definitely seen better mirror lakes. There’s one in Denali National Park that was so perfect you could flip the photo and it would look about the same.
We skipped a few of the stops on the way into Milford Sound, thinking that we would finish them on the way out. Only a short distance from the sound is the Homer Tunnel, which is a mile long tunnel beneath the Darran Mountains that connects the valleys on either side. It is the only way to get to Milford Sound by car. There are traffic lights to control flow during the day, as it is a one-lane tunnel.
Our next stop was in Milford Sound, since we were staring by this point. The only restaurant was in the visitor center, and it was very expensive. We had chips in the car, so we just bought two sandwiches, then splurged on two more Bundaberg soda flavors: Guava and Lemonade. Both were good, but the Guava is way too sweet. I’m hoping we end up trying them all before we leave. I don’t even know how we will know if we missed any. I think this is the most carbonated drinks I’ve had in a week in a really, really long time. We’re talking 10 years here.
Without taking a boat tour, and with the sharp wind blowing in off of the snowy mountains, we didn’t actually get to do or see much in Milford Sound. The lookout we’d seen on the map wasn’t that great, and the light was absolutely terrible for photographs. The sky was too bright and too dark, depending on where the clouds broke, and most of our photos are a little overexposed. There wasn’t much we could do to make it better with the stuff we had with us. Next time we visit, we will definitely take a boat into the sound, and we will be better prepared for variable lighting, I hope. Silly snow.
Once we had salvaged what we could in Milford Sound, we turned back down the road to see the sights we’d skipped in our haste to get our lunch. Our first stop was at The Chasm, which is even crazier than it sounds, given the name. I knew what was coming, but Mark was totally surprised. It was fun to watch him see it for the first time.
So, the viewing area for The Chasm is a bring over a portion of the Cleddau River in Fjordlands National Park, which encompasses Milford Sound and most of that corner of the island. Here, the river is forced through a narrow tunnel of rock, and the rushing water has worn away the rock face, making smooth pits and valleys and small waterfalls.
The Chasm is incredibly cool, and the sound of the water moving through the rocks is very loud and dramatic, which I think made Mark wonder what we were walking back to while we went. It’s a really easy walk through the rain forest, and because the water is farther down than the surrounding forest, you can’t tell what’s coming until you are on top of it. I highly recommend it as a stop along the road.
Mark took a ton of photos, but it’s really hard to capture the spectacle of the thing, given its shape. It’s one of those things that you really need to experience firsthand. He even convinced me to stick my toes off the edge of the bridge for his photo, even though I’m scared of heights (which I’m sure many of you already know). It’s good that he didn’t take a picture of my face at the same time, because I am sure I was cringing. It’s a little ridiculous. I’m still literally behind a guardrail. It’s not like I could’ve gone anywhere.
On our way back out, we took more photos of the Homer Tunnel, and on the far side, we finally got to meet the kea. The kea are a native bird of New Zealand (alas, we haven’t seen any kiwis). They are a large parrot species that lives in the alpine regions of the South Island, which does not seem like the right place for a parrot, but I guess it is a rainforest, so it makes a strange kind of sense.
The parrots we saw were hanging around outside the Homer Tunnel around the signs that warn you not to feed them. They were very clever, and seemed fascinated by the people taking their pictures, which definitely tells me that they’ve been fed before. We saw perhaps a dozen, and they hopped from car roof to car roof, searching for a handout and generally posing for the camera. They have humans figured out. You can’t tell in the photo I posted above, but their feathers are bright red beneath their wings. It was so surprising the first time we saw it!
After we reluctantly left the parrots to entertain other tourists, we stopped at a waterfall we’d seen on the way in that was right the road. The waterfall is named the Falls Creek Waterfall, which seems like a bit of an over explanation, if you will. It’s like calling the thing “Falling Water Waterfall.” Could they just not find anyone even remotely creative around when they named it?
After that, we had covered most of what we intended to see. We accidentally drove past one valley we wanted to photograph, but that’s it. It took a bit to get back down to Te Anau, as expected. We stopped there for gas and bit of a break from the car, which was nice. It was a very long day of driving. At least the payoff was nice.
Along Lake Wakatipu on the last stretch back to Queenstown, we stopped at Devil’s Staircase lookout, but we couldn’t for the life of us figure out what was supposed to look like a staircase. We looked all around and couldn’t find anything, so we finally just took some other pretty pictures and left. It turns out, or so the internet tells me, that the Devil’s Staircase is just the winding road there along the lake, which is actually kind of lame in my opinion. Who has a lookout for bends in the road? Meh.
There was a couple there talking photos of themselves on a giant rock over the lake with their drone, and I thought it was a little hilarious. They were trying to control the drone and pose for pictures, all while incredibly backlit, since the sun was directly behind them. Didn’t anyone teach them about light and photographs?
Just outside Frankton, we stopped for a few more pictures. Have I mentioned the deer yet? I don’t think I have. So, they farm deer here like cattle. You will just be driving along the road and suddenly spot a taller than average fence, then see a huge herd of deer. From what I can tell, most of the farms have Red Deer, though I won’t swear to it. It was strangely difficult to google.
What are they doing with the deer, you might ask? Well, the deer are livestock, just like any other. They use a lot of deer meat, but they also use hides, velvet, antlers, and really every other useful part of a deer that you can think of. It’s only been a thing since the 70s. I wonder if the locals just really like venison, or if they export most of it. Who is eating all of that venison?
In Frankton, we grabbed the cheapest meal of our trip, some vegetarian sushi and edamame. That spread below cost less than $18 in US currency. That’s cheaper than we can get grocery store sushi at home, and we watched this guy hand-make our sushi and slice it right before our eyes. How cool is that?
After dinner, we stopped at the New World grocery store again to pick up breakfast for tomorrow. Tomorrow is raspberry hibiscus skyr, croissants, and more apples. The apples here are out of season now, but still delicious. We grabbed apple turnovers for dessert, since sushi is a light dinner and the apples here are pretty good. I think we will be eating them very shortly.
Tomorrow we will do our run around the lake and into the town center again before we head off. We’ve got a bit of a weird day planned, driving through the mountains, down to the coast, and back up into the mountains again. Our trip is winding to a close, which is so disappointing. It’s been such a short visit!
– Trip Total : 11,826 miles –