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Milford Sound Cruise – Day 54
Friday 20th May 2005
I had a very busy day planned today, and a very long drive also. I didn’t realise at the time, though, just how busy it would turn out to be. I was hoping for a great drive to Milford Sound nonetheless.
As Milford Sound was one of the places I was looking forward to seeing most on my trip throughout New Zealand, I had high expectations as to what I would see and experience. All the talk aimed my way, all the advice and information ploughed into my brain had created an image of grandeur and beauty surrounding Milford Sound. It is unlike anywhere else on earth as I had been told by many. It sounded ideal. I had read that the drive was something special in it’s own right.
I was awoken earlier than I had intended this morning due to someone’s phone ringing. What made it worse was the following audible conversation between the girl in the room and a family member on the other end of the phone. Most people in the room got up at this moment unsurprisingly. It couldn’t do me any harm – I guessed – to get on the roads early.
The drive to Milford Sound is down one track, and is absolutely stunning, as I had been informed. The views all about me made driving very difficult. All I wanted to do was to stand outside taking pictures of everything. Snowy mountains dominated the background, whilst lakes and rivers laid claim to the foreground. A sheer mountain drop lined one side of the road at parts, and a long tunnel had hollowed out the innards of a particularly large mountain in my path. Traffic lights signalled when I was allowed to travel down the rocky, bumpy, single-tracked road through the mountain tunnel.
There was a real feeling of isolation here. Few cars passed me along the way, and when I stopped at the roadside, not a single vehicle could be seen in either direction. I felt free and yet a little cold. At one point I stopped to admire fast-moving clouds as they swooped down the mountains and into a valley. It looked almost like smoke, and I have never seen clouds move so quickly in my life. It was here that I met a few other tourists in their camper vans.
I arrived at Milford Sound Lodge and was horrified when I saw the state of the hostel. It was awful. The rooms were very small and cramped, freezing cold and devoid of any colour or character. The bed frames were the only items in the rooms, with no quilts or cushions. The heating only came on in the evening, and you had to go outside to use the kitchen or the toilets. I didn’t like this hostel at all.
Anyway, I went to the information building to take my mind off the accommodation, and to find out about a cruise through the Sound. The friendly girl informed me of a tour that was leaving in about 30 minutes, and that I could join this cruise if I wanted. I did.
I waited at the waters edge for the boat to arrive, and for any other guests to arrive, whilst frantically squatting the air around my face for all the sand flies attacking me. A few others arrived, and looked equally harassed by the squadron of flies swarming around us. Hopefully we can evade them once on the boat. We all hopped on and set off into the eerie waters.
The scenery was so picturesque throughout the journey, and the recent rain had filled some of the streams a little, filling out the waterfalls that frequent these parts. The rugged terrain looked akin to that of Lord of the Rings, and I wanted to explore it all much more thoroughly. For now, though, I was content to sit back on the roof of the boat and watch it all slowly pass by.
The main waterfall was extremely beautiful, and our boat moved close to the spray created by the water that thundered down the rocks and into the river. I loved it all. Luckily, the weather held out and it wasn’t too cold.
I had also purchased a ticket for the underwater observatory, and an announcement over the loud speaker system alerted me to make myself ready to depart the boat, along with anybody else who had also purchased such a ticket. As it turned out, I was the only one leaving the boat. I was glad I did.
I was greeted by a guy giving the usual welcome speech that he must have given to countless people many times before. After a while, given that I was the only one there, the formality eased and I was given a brief tour without the bells and whistles. Once I was left to wander on my own, I was able to watch all the underwater species alive and well in the waters I had just been on. It was an eye-opener for sure, and many species I hadn’t expected to see were making a living in these waters. It was all very interesting and other guests arrived while I was there, but I had to leave now. A boat came to pick others and myself up from the observatory, and to take us back to the main land.
Having been lucky with timing today, I found myself in a position of having time to spare, and it was at this moment that I made a rash decision to travel back to Te-Anau, and not to stay in this awful place. So I did. But not before locking myself out of the room with my bags inside. Doh!
After getting my money back – shamefully – I returned down the long, winding road back to a place called Lake Manapouri, and to Freestone Backpackers. En-route I saw a Kea on the road as I waited to use the mountain tunnel. I had heard stories of these parrots attacking cars, pulling off windscreen wipers and the rubber that surrounds the doors. I don’t know how accurate this is, but I sat a little uneasy in the car. It is a great bird to see though, and I felt privileged to see it.
Night had closed in by now, and darkness made navigation difficult as I entered the property of this backpackers. A gate at one end of a small, country road was the entrance. The road eventually opened out to several driveways, none of which gave an indication as to where the backpackers was. It was dark, and no lights on the road meant I was relying on what was directly ahead only. I took the wrong drive as it happened, and it took me uphill. I had to reverse back down again using only my opened car door and the edge of the road as a guide. I hit a rock and was stranded.
An hour or so passed as I tried in vein to free the car. I jacked up the car in the dark to dig out the rocks behind my front tyre, but a large boulder buried deep in the ground stopped me from progressing further. Eventually I just backed the car up over the boulder and down again with a thud and a small amount of body damage, but was relieved to finally be free. I was cursing my decision to leave Milford at this point.
Having taken the correct route now, I found the reception chalet and booked myself in. The owners were having a natter, and were very friendly, offering to shake my hand as I entered. I explained my predicament, and how my hands had become black with mud, but they didn’t seem to take it on board. It was only after shaking my hand that they all, in turn, looked at their own hands and wiped on their clothes when they thought I wasn’t looking. They said I should have asked them for help, and had I realised I was right outside their place I would have done. Silly me. While I was here I booked a trip to Doubtful Sound for tomorrow, then was shown to my cabin where I was told there was an en-suit bathroom and kitchen. There wasn’t.
It is a nice place here, but the toilets were a separate block that you had to walk to. The kitchen inside the cabin was small, but it was far better than a lot of places I have been to, so I was happy just to sit down and relax at long last.
I was sharing with two young English guys who were just cracking open the beers. I hoped they wouldn’t start getting drunk and being sick everywhere. I took myself away for a while to get a takeaway back in Te-Anau, being careful down the driveway this time, and when I returned to the chalet, an English girl had joined the two guys. Drinking games were in full swing and they were all drunk at this point, beer cans on the floor and music thumping out of some portable speakers. It would be a long night.
I took myself to bed – part of me wishing I could get drunk with the others. I was extremely tired by now though, so I hit the sack and put a pillow over my head to drown out some of the noise. Oh well! At least I had a great trip around Milford Sound, which was the main point for today. I just wished I hadn’t crammed 3 days into 1.
Written by Daniel Stevens,
Founder of Roundtheworldtrip.org.
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