Tuesday September 7
I thought Milford was a Metro-North train station
Today's activity should be very exciting. We're up early for a
trip through some of the most beautiful countryside in New
Zealand. Some of Lord of the Rings was filmed near here.
I'll let the tour operator's description speak for itself:
Travel along the edge of Lake Wakatipu
beneath the rugged Remarkables to Te Anau for a short break (morning
tea own expense). Enter Fiordland National Park pausing at the Mirror
Lakes before passing through Hollyford Valley. The road climbs to enter
the Homer Tunnel, emerging above the Cleddau Valley before descending
to Milford Sound. Here, we board a vessel for a cruise on the Sound
itself. You may see dolphins frolic alongside as you marvel at Mitre
Peak rising 6000 feet from the sound.
Courtesy of the Queenstown ministry of tourism, here's a map of the
The Trip to Milford Sound
The day started early, as evidenced by
my unusual photo of dawn from Queenstown-
But it was already going to be a rough
day, because I came down with a cold and was starting to feel lousy.
We were picked up at the hotel and taken on an
approximately 4.5 hour drive through southwestern New Zealand to take a
cruise on a boat on Milford sound. This was a good way to get an
idea of what the western mountains look like from ground level.
Since much of New Zealand is of volcanic origin, we were anticipating
some exciting views, which we got.
You can follow the trip by looking at the above map. We took
route 6 south out of Queenstown to route 94 into Milford sound.
Incidentally, these roads, which appear on a map as the major highways
in New Zealand, are the major highways. They are also two-lane
paved roads with an alarming number of one-lane bridges on it.
But on the plus side, there are NO STOP LIGHTS!
Below is a picture of some of the native scrub, including the red plant
called Red Tussock, which is apparently a pest to all except small
animals which hide behind it when the wind comes.
The bus trip was long, longer than I
felt I wanted. Here's Alex after about 5 hours on the bus...
Once we got through a lot of the scrub country between Queenstown we
got into some sheep country. Baaaah! I doubt the sheep
appreciate the beautiful mountains behind them.
We had several stops along the way to see some various places of
note. Here are all three of us with some of the mountains behind
us, I think Mt. McDougal is the big one. It sure is beautiful in
As you drive around you can see why Peter Jackson thought he could find
locations for all the scenes in Lord of the Rings in New Zealand.
It does seem to have almost every kind of topology and landscape
imaginable. Below is a very still lake known as "Mirror Lake",
named because you can see a mirror image of the land in the lake.
The Kiwis have a sense of humor, too. Here's the official marker
for the Mirror Lake. Note how it's oriented.
Now we're getting to some REAL
Further along, we come across a natural
formation known as "The Chasm". A river has flown through these
rocks for so long that they are extremely smooth. We think it
looks like Buddha.
After more driving, including through a
hand-hewn rock tunnel at about 2000 feet, we
arrived at Milford Sound for lunch on the boat. We went out
barely to the Tasman sea, then turned around and came back, which
seemed a bit like a gyp. We hoped to see some of the shoreline
from the sea, but that wasn't what they did. But we did get to
see the Tasman from the sound -
On the way back the weather changed, which isn't unusual for this
particular cove. See the low clouds?
But it was really beautiful. As the snow and ice melts off the
mountains, it creates lots of waterfalls into the sound. Here Jen
caught me smiling while being and having a cold.
Some Korean tourists really wanted to take our picture so we
accommodated them. They even did a pretty nice job.
On the way back we passed through more parts of "untouched" New
Zealand. Here is a shot of what much of the south island looked
like when Europeans discovered it. Mostly these grey spiky bushes
and other scrub grass.
The way home was a return by the same path, so I won't show more
pictures of that. It probably sounds like I didn't enjoy the
trip, and while it was great to see New Zealand's natural beauty, and
the amazing variety, it was kind of anti-climactic to drive 4.5 hours
to a boat, and then just go out and come back, and then be faced with
another 4.5 hour drive back to where you started. They don't
really have any choice in that, since there are no alternative routes
other than flying, but it was a VERY long day...
After dinner at the hotel, we hung around for a while, and Jen managed
to capture a pretty decent picture of the Southern Cross.
Updates since our return home
The trip was actually pretty good, but it was a very long bus ride to
be on when you're just getting sick on holiday. The bus driver
was really knowledgeable about everything in New Zealand, since he'd
been doing the trip for about 30 years. He said he had done this
trip more than 6,000 times so if we ever thought he was getting lost,
not to worry - he knew the way. That's good because there were
some times when you start to wonder...
We learned a lot about the land and history of New Zealand, such as the
plants and trees we saw, the kind of honey that they make (manuka)
which is also excellent as a skin cream. Alex bought some while
there to help with his cold and it really did help a lot. Manuka
honey is a darker, more flavorful honey which Americans find weird but
the Kiwis love.
Here are some additional pictures from this trip:
To get to Milford Sound, you have to go through the Homer Tunnel, which
was done much by hand from 1935 through 1953. It's a pretty
narrow tunnel - in much of it only one vehicle can pass at a time, so
they have a few passing bays which are barely wide enough for two
Some New Zealand Fur Seals lounging on the rocks:
A couple of better pictures of some of the many waterfalls at Milford