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This was definitely the highlight day so far. The drive to Milford Sound was spectacular, the fjord itself was also, and the drive back to Te Anau was also good. Used about 3 full rolls of 36 exposure film today!
Dawn at Te Anau
We woke up just before 7 and snoozed a bit until 07:40. Rose and had usual cereal and toast brekky, then departed for Milford Sound. Nearly got a great shot just before sunrise (at about 07:40 - pretty late!) but was about a minute too late as the sun burst over the mountain range in the distance.
On the road to Milford
The road to Milford was described as one of the most scenic in NZ by our guidebook, and there weren't wrong. We headed up a valley full of farmland and slowly it gave way to wilder countryside, with a braided river flowing through large stands of piney-looking trees, alternated with open areas of golden grass with long seed stalks - looked sort of like shortish wheat. We stopped numerous times for photos. But mostly the photogenic thing was the huge mountains in the background. Unfortunately, the weather worsened steadily as we drove, closing in with rain and foggy low cloud. By the time we reached the best stuff we couldn't see much of anything. But there was a general gist of huge cliffs/mountains of stone rising into the cloudy heights.
Knobs Flat, along the road
Eventually we came to the Homer Tunnel, where we stopped to gawk at the unmelted snow left over from presumably last winter. Then into the tunnel - a downhill tube bored through solid rock - quite impressive. Michelle took a photo when I had high beams on - we'll see what the rolling 2 second exposure looks like! Out the other side we stopped for impressive views down the otherwise closed valley. Rock walls everywhere.
Rocky walls near Homer Tunnel
A short was down the road was a lookout spot called "Chasm". When we stopped there was another car already there, with two keas sitting on it. There were signs showing "no feeding the keas" in pictograph form. I stepped out of the car and was besieged by sandflies! The first real sandfly problem. I spent the next 5 minutes spreading insect repellent all over me.
First view of Milford Sound
The rain got heavier as we descended the valley and was quite generous when we reached Milford. First up we spread more insect repellent on, then dashed over under brollies to the souvenir shop/cafe. Michelle had coffee and a cheese scone and I had a pie and drink. Then we walked over to the cruise terminal and checked in for the 13:00 cruise. The prospects for a good view of the mountains near the fjord were dim, but at least we would see the water gushing down the rock. A half hour wait sitting down made us glad we weren't Korean tourists - waiting for another cruise leaving the same time as us and standing in a queue the whole time. Our boat was mostly full of Americans and Germans, with a few Asian and French thrown in.
Waterfalls on the Milford Sound cruise
The cruise began in the rain and we could barely see the other side of the fjord (we hugged the south wall on the way out). We saw heaps of water rushing off the rock into the water, and heaps falling out of the sky and on to us. I took lots of photos of mist-shrouded peaks and had to keep dashing in off the back deck to wipe the camera and lens dry. We saw lots of waterfalls, which the ships' captain said weren't going just a few hours earlier, before the rain started. Fortunately, we ended up getting the best of both worlds, because once we reached the ocean and turned around, the rain stopped, the wind died right down, and the clouds lifted somewhat and even parted in a few places. So the mountains we missed going out we saw coming in, with the added bonus of sheets of water gushing down them. The sunlight and cloud made some great scenic views of the mountains.
Sun breaking through over Milford Sound
Back to the wharf and we took the short walk around the point to see Bowen Falls close up. Then walked back to the cafe for another pie while Michelle had another scone. And we were out of there! By now the rain had returned and was falling quite heavily. No matter - it kept the sandflies at bay.
The drive back to Te Anau was better than the drive in, because the weather cleared a bit as we hit the really scenic mountain bits around the Homer Tunnel, and we saw some beautiful backlit cloud-shrouded mountains, with beam of sunlight piercing the cloud cover and making it look just wonderful.
Back at Te Anau we cooked the stir-fry vege mix with rice for dinner. I had a black forest Magnumoid ice cream from the corner store across the road when Michelle bought juice. Then showers and relax to bed time.
Tomorrow - back along the Queenstown road and on to Wanaka.
Accommodation: YHA Te Anau: $36.
Food and drink: $16.90.
Milford Sound cruise: &$78.
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