Now we are three!

Trip Start Nov 09, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Monday, March 12, 2012

The road from Te Anau to Milford Sound is a cul de sac, albeit 120km there then 120km back, and you are warned before you leave that there are no petrol stations or food shops so before we left we filled up with diesel and provisions. It is one of the highlights of most people's trip to New Zealand and we were about to find out why. The whole area is a World Heritage Site and incorporates snow covered mountains, fjords and some of the finest walks in the world. (The Milford Track is reckoned to be one of the top walks in the world. However as it is reckoned to be a five day walk we had already decided not to attempt it.)

The first part of the journey was not that spectacular, but soon the road approached the more mountainous areas and the road began to gently climb. Along the way we stopped at the Mirror Lakes which reflected the green of the moutains all around. Once part of a river the lakes have long since been left undisturbed. We stopped at the information / picnic areas along the way trying to decide which walk to undertake. Many sounded good but when we got there they looked as if they might not be so special. We finally decided that the 3 to 4 hour walk up to a glacial lake sounded something a little more out of the ordinary. However if we were going to undertake it today we would be rather too late and tired to find somewhere to stop for the night. So we set our sites on one of the last two campsites along the road and found a spot by the water's edge, adjacent to a 45 minute woodland walk.

This walk surprised us both. The woods were substantially red beech, though nothing like the UK beeches. Everything - the trees, the undergrowth, the ground seemed to be covered in a blanket of moss so vibrant in colour. And all around us everything was so peaceful and calm. Quite a most magical, restful place. At the far end of the walk the path followed the shore of Lake Gunn. We followed the outlet stream from the lake playing Pooh sticks along the way. We returned to our home on wheels, cooked a meal and marvelled at the scenary all around us as we enjoyed our night glass of wine. Can life get any better?

We settled for the night. However sometime in the middle of the night I awoke with a start. It was pitch black, but I could hear what sounded like a rustling of plastic bags somewhere within the van. When I put the torch on the sound stopped. This continued on and off for the rest of the night.  In the morning when I sat up suddenly again Annie asked what is it, but this time she was the first to spot the little mouse standing a couple of feet from our bed next to our recycling bag. The mystery was solved, though the mouse soon ran off and hid. This tale to be continued.....

After breakfast we headed off for our chosen walk. Along the way a couple of breathtaking laybys above steep ravines with views across the mountains on the other side. We left the main road and travelled 1km along the gravel track to the car park / starting point of our walk. After leaving the car park we had to cross a wide river over a suspension footbridge. Probably more than 50m across, with signs warning 'no more than 10 persons' the bridge swung a little to easily as soon as anyone stepped on it. But we managed to cross without any mishap, even stopping for a photo or two on the way.

Almost at once the path started to climb. The woodland all around was similar to last night, a mass of moss covered trees, mosses everywhere, and that fresh woodland smell. The sound of water grew louder and louder and soon we found ourselves right alongside, and at times directly over, a cascading river carving its way through the rocks. The path at times on board walks, with sections of  wooden steps winding its way through the trees, and over the rocks - at times jutting out over the cascading river as we continue to climb.

After a while we seemed to leave the river and a sign indicated the start of the walk to Lake Marion one and a half hours away (each way). Interesting that there had been no mention of cascades on this walk, so that had been a bonus.

For the next hour and a half we climbed, and climbed, and climbed. The path never seemed to stop climbing. Most of the time the path led us through the beech woodlands like a scene from the hobbit. Occasionally the path crossed scree paths where the melting snows clearly brought down endless bolders, sweeping away everything in their path. Crossing one there were warning signs telling us not to stop and as we looked upwards we could see why. The bare mountain side obviously released the unsteady piles of rocks and bolders every time the melting snows or rains decided to carry more scree before them and could fall at anytime.The path was a moving feast as we clambered over the current route.

We didn't see many fellow walkers but the few we met returning from the top encouraged us on. Eventually the ascending path seemed to flatten out, the trees became less dense and we were greeted with the awesome sight of Lake Marion. A glacial lake surrounded by a horseshoe of mountains. There were plenty of patches of snow all around from which waters cascaded over the sheer mountain rock faces below. We sat in awe spending around an hour taking it all in, and enjoying the refreshments we had brought with us.

Soon enough it was time to head back, the impending descent perhaps even more challenging than the climb up. As we entered the woods before us one of the many toilet cubicles we have come to expect through the wilder parts of New Zealand. No running water, obviously built over a large pit full with saw dust etc doing whatever it does. Yet here a three hour round trip from anywhere was plenty of toilet paper and a toilet brush. Who has the task of  replenishing these?

We retraced our way back, the return journey no less awesome than the way up. We decided to return to our previous nights camp site by the woodlands and the creek. What an awesome day we had had. After we had settled for the night a different sound was to awken us tonight. Was 'Morris'  still on board, we couldn't tell. Tonight it rained, and rained and rained.

When we finally awoke and looked out the windows the gentle brook beside us had turned into a torrent of water rushing by. Where the water had previously wound its way back and forth across the wide stony river bed now there were no stony islands to be seen. The river had increase in width perhaps three fold, it seemed to sweep all before it. We had seen first hand how the changing rivers here can react so quickly to the weather.

Thursday 23rd..Today we continued our trip along the Milford Sound road. Our destination to reach the end and then return to Te Anau (120km back). All around the mountains were draped in low cloud revealing themselves here and there. The road continued to climb, the valley continued to narrow. All around were waterfalls from the melting snows, enhanced by the overnight rain. We approached one of the highlights of the route. A single track tunnel, over 1.2km long, with a 1 in 10 slope controlled by traffic lights. As we waited for the lights to turn green below us and to the side was a considerable amount of snow, several times taller than us. (On the return trip we walked across and took pictures of us standing in the snow cave formed from an earlier avalanch from which the melt waters were flowing.)

Once out of the tunnel the road descended back and forth around an endless series of  hairpin bends. Even in second gear the 'van kept running away from us and time and again I had to apply the breaks. From over 3,000' to sea level the road continued to descend. Along the way was a carpark for 'The Chasm'. We parked up and followed the well trodden path through the woods. Eventually we could hear the sound of the water. Nothing had quite prepared us for this. A water course had been squeezed through a tiny gorge and the force of the water was cutting itself deeper and deeper. At one point it seemed to fall down an 80' pit of it own making. After last night's rain the river was swollen almost to capacity and the sights and sounds were unbelievable. The walkways crossed directly above the raging torrent below. Awesome. Never seen anything qutie like it.

We carried on to the end to reach Milford Sound. Something of an anticlimax really. Yes there were a number of sailings you could take along or around the fjord(s), but the prices were almost extortionate and to be honest the ferry crossing from the north island into Picton was just as spectacular. So we headed back to Te Anua. Three days well spent, can photos ever capture the richness of the sights we had seen. The memories will remain with us for ever.  

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