Worlds' Heritage Site: Te Wahipounamu - Fiordland

Trip Start Apr 19, 2012
Trip End May 01, 2012

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Thursday, April 26, 2012

Day 7: Te Anau -> Milford -> Te Anau

We started our journey early, before sunrise, because the journey to Milford Sound (part of NZ World's Heritage Site) from Te Anau took us almost 3 hrs via Milford Road on the highest roads in NZ. Tip: Make sure you pump full tank of your petrol before leaving for Milford because there will be no petrol station for the entire journey. The drive was one of the highlights in our entire NZ road trip as we got to see lots of attractions with beautiful scenery along the alpine way from the snow capped peaks, the world's only mountain parrot, the pristine creeks, the deep fjords, the spectacular lakes, the winding roads, the beech forests, and the waterfalls. Lake Te Anau was huge as we drove beside the lake all the way (30mins) until we reached Te Anau Downs. From there, we then passed through lush farmland before reaching our first stop (A) at Eglinton Valley, only one of the few Fiordland valleys that are accessible by roads. The stunning valley was formed by the effect of an receding ancient glaciers over time and was sandwiched between two alpine ridges.  The viewpoint was a large meadow that offered vistas of the mountain scenery ahead. We passed through rest area called Knob's Flat before passing the road of old growth forest. Passing through these forests was like passing through a tunnel as we were almost unable to see the sky above.

Our next stop (B) was Mirror Lake, which showcased the outstanding reflective views of the Earl Mountains on a bright sunny day. The overall scenery was better than Lake Matheson but still couldn't beat Lake Hayes, which in my opinion, the best compared to the rest. Then we continued our drive until we stop at Monkey Creek (C) for another panoramic viewpoint similar to Eglinton Valley, this time it was Hollyford Valley, but much more beautiful with rugged alps and snow-covered ridge. As we were admiring the views, there was a NZ native, a mountain parrot, called Kea landed on top of our campervan pecking on the roof and also made loud squawking sound. It was with us there the entire time until we continued our journey. With that encounter, we managed to see 3 of NZ's "Big Five", the other 2 that we saw earlier in our road trip was Kiwi and Tuatara.

The next attraction was 1.2km Homer Tunnel. It was the only road link between Te Anau and Milford Sound so you won't miss it. But before we got there, the road would steadily climbed uphill until we reached some height above sea level (but not sure how high). The tunnel was dark, narrow and already installed with traffic light now. Only one traffic direction at one time with the duration 15mins for each direction. As we entered from east and exit at western side, we could see one of the most spectacular view ever - the Cleddau Valley. Tip: You must slow slow down as you exit the western tunnel as the view point is a very small area on your left . We actually missed it and could not stop in time, as our campervan was heavy, we could not reverse. Thankfully, I got my camera ready and managed to take shots of the valley. From the exit, then it was a winding, zig-zag road all the way downhill, and we had to be really careful because campervan was huge and heavy. But the sights of the Cleddau Valley must not be missed no matter what.

We skipped (returned on our way back) the next site the Chasm so that we can catch our pre-booked Milford Sound (E) cruise at 11am. We had a quick lunch in our campervan before we embarked on our cruise. First we saw the iconic mountain Mitre Peak, and across it was Lion Mountain, named due its shape formation, then Pembroke Glacier on Mt. Pembroke (remnant of historic glaciers that carved out Milford Sound), followed by seals 'lounging' on rocky terrains. We managed to see dolphins briefly, as they swam close to our boat for about a minute, before submerging and never seen again. We saw 2 waterfalls - Stirling which we went up close and a much shorter falls Bowen from far. These untouched fiords are a must-visit site. The cruise actually headed out to the open sea past Dale Point (northern point of Milford entrance) before making a U-turn back to the sound, fjord to be exact. It was getting colder as we headed out to open sea. I'm happy that I could fulfill my dad's lifelong dream to visit the majestic Milford Sound! Tips: Bring thick clothing for the cruise. It was very cold and the winds made it even colder.

The cruise took close to 2 hrs before we began our road trip back to Te Anau. Before we returned to the Chasm (F), which we skipped earlier, we stopped by an old historic suspension bridge over Tutoko River. It was the original bridge that linked to Milford Sound area and is now located side-by-side with its modern successor. The surrounding view was beautiful as we got to see the river below us and valleys on the horizon. This was ad-hoc and a bonus again, because it was not in any of the guidebooks. After that, we proceeded to the Chasm after we drove past Homer Tunnel again, this time from westside. It was a short 5min walk from the car park before we came to a bridge over the Cleddau River which offered dramatic views of watercourse that flowed into a narrow chasm (as the name suggests). From the bridge we looked down at rocks and potholes resulting from the Cleddau River's forceful flow as it gets channeled into the dark and narrow abyss below. As we were walking back to our vehicle, we saw an interesting two Kea-shaped figures on the mountains showing them kissing.

After that, we stopped by the Pops View lookout point (G) which offered a spectacular panoramic view of Hollyford Valley just by the roadside. We could see snow-capped mountains, valleys, the forests, and even some lakes on the distance. Just amazing. With that, we concluded our Fiordland exploration, returned to Te Anau and decided to explore the lake-town further. It was a quaint and small little township that nestled on the edge of a lake of the same name with lots of souvenir shops which were operated by Asians. We met Koreans, Japanese and even a Malaysian who had migrated and lived there for more than 20 years. Te Anau had the cheapest souvenirs compared to other towns. We did lots of souvenir hunting here, from fridge magnets, t-shirts, and soft toys. Over here, I also bought two different NZ beers - Speight's Gold Medal Ale and Monteith's Golden Lager from a local convenience store. I prefer the latter as it was less bitter and tasted much more smoother. After shopping, we spent time admiring the tranquil lake as it was so serene and peaceful. Great place for photography. We returned to our holiday park when the night came.

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