Day 14 (September 21, 2012)   Milford Sound


Route for New Zealand's 11th day

   This is the day for Milford Sound, the impressive and narrow fiord with high rocky walls, plenty of tropical vegetation and water falls.

   The idea is taking the first cruise of the morning, which will sail across the highlights of this place explained in this mini guide: Cruize_Highlights.pdf

   This place is the wonder of this travel and we know it rains 300 of the 365 days of the year, so we must be ready for this. This rain rate is basic for maintaining this paradise, with all the vegetation, the water falls and even the fauna, with seals, penguins, dolphins, turtles, etc…

   After the cruise we would take the Milford Road back to Te Anau where we want to visit some caves which ceilings appear with stars due to the glowworms. These are insect larvae with the skill of making light in order of attracting food. The tour time is 2 PM:

   Once done with all the activities for today, our only purpose would be to get as closer as possible of The Catlins. Invercangill seems to be the right place to spend the night.

   The route would be 270 Km long, which should be covered in 3 hours and 20 minutes.


 Milford Sound cruise:   65 NZD
 Glowworm caves tour:  70 NZD


   The sun raises bringing light to our lonely place, along the river and the white mountains we must go through today. As we don’t want any issues with the time we are on the road very early in order of reaching the cruises terminal as soon as possible. Landscape on both sides of Milford Road is changing as we’re getting closer to the mountains, but the camping grounds keep appearing along the road. I don’t know that was the last one was based from.

   I’m still afraid about having to use the chains and seeing how the snow is closer to the road as we’re going on is not helping. A tongue of snow is across the road, but somebody has already cleaned the road. We’re grateful about that, despite there are several signs along the road warning about the avalanche risk and forbidding any stop of vehicles on specific parts. And then, Homer tunnel appears.

Milford RoadAvalanche sign in Milford Road

   I don’t know why, but I expected more of this tunnel. The sign is showing 3.81 meters high and, at that moment, I cannot say if our motorhomes are lower or not. I use the walkie-talkie to ask to the ones behind if they think – or can see – if my motorhome is small enough as per going into the tunnel and the answer is “No”. On despite of that, I think a lot of campervans of all sizes have passed across that tunnel multiple times so I go into the darkness closing my eyes. Nothing has happened; I can follow the line in the road praying for not having any kind of vehicle in the other direction as I’m driving by the middle of the road because of the narrowness of this tunnel. The light at the end means we’re saved this time, but it has seemed so long for me.

Homer's tunnelInside Homer's tunnel

   On the other side of the mountains the road snakes down steeply in sharp curves through the snow. I know just after going down is “The Chasm”, the stop we want to do. But it is not, we only find covered signs and a closed car park. Then, now through rainforest with the ferns we’ve missed for some days, the signs to the jetty appear. I already know only buses can go to it and campervans and cars must be parked around 300 meters before.

   We’re the first in the big parking except for one campervan which seems to be sleeping. From this spot we already have the views we’ve seen in all the postcards. We can see also some flying bugs, it’s weird, as we are not meeting any bugs at all. We’ve been in dense rain forest and haven’t seen any fly, spider or even ant on any of them. We put the repellent we bought in Northern Island as, although we don’t know if they are or not sandflies, we can see how we can reach the end of the travel without using it a single time.

Milford Sound from car park

   We can walk by a wooden pass through the trees to the terminal building, which is closed. There is an info note at door explaining opening time is 9 AM. Still 30 minutes! So we come back to the motorhomes and back to the terminal around 20 minutes later, when we can see the staff of the different cruise companies arriving at work.

Path to Cruises terminalCruise terminal building

   When they’re going to open we are more than one group waiting to come in. People is asking questions desk to desk but we know where to go as I already did that work: we go directly to purchase the tickets at Juicy Cruize desk. Finally we didn’t rent the campervans with them but we will do the cruise, for which we’ve just paid 55$ per person. As we have time now until boarding I go to Real Journeys desk because we want do the glowworm tour this afternoon with them and I book it for 8 persons. We pay 70$ per person here and we’re scheduled at 2 PM, but we must be there at 1:40 PM. It’s quite tight, but we will.

   We go outside to the jetty to make pictures of the landscape and the boat, which is the smaller one.

Inside the Cruise Terminal buildingJuicy Cruize boat

   It’s 30 minutes more what we must wait to sail on it and enjoying the one hour and a half cruise through what seems to be “The lost world”. This first cruise is the only one including free breakfast: tea or coffee and a big muffin.

   The snowed peaks contrast with the dense green vegetation enveloping all around. The fiord is a quite narrow water way between tall vertical green walls from the top of which magnificent water falls can be seen here and there. Until the boat reaches the infinite Tasman Sea, where it turns around and come back.

Cruise through Milford SoundCruise through Milford Sound

Cruise through Milford SoundCruise through Milford Sound

Cruise through Milford SoundCruise through Milford Sound

   Landscapes are stunning and our cameras work with no rest although we can check they’re not capable of taking all what we’re seeing and living.

Milford Sound

   As a perfect end, the boat approaches to one of the water falls to stand quite in the end of it for a morning shower.

Waterfall in Milford Sound

   It is a wonderful experience and we’ve been feeling like living in a world only seems to exist in movies.

Under waterfallMilford Sound jetty

   Show must go on and, although we don’t want to leave such nature wonder, we must be on time at next. We take the road back and feel afraid again when reaching the tunnel, hoping doesn’t getting any incoming vehicle in our way.
End of Homer tunnel
   But that was not possible, the next cruises time is the one for the people coming from the cities in coaches and we keep meeting them all along the trip to the tunnel. We wait at the entrance for the last vehicle to leave until it is “clean”, but the rest are not doing the same and, in the middle of our drive we start meeting the buses. We freak out at this moment, I remove my wing mirror and try to get as much at the left as possible until a noise makes me stop, the coaches are not stopping and pass by our side slow and so close I even could touch them with my hand. We’re forced to end and are grateful to reach the end of the tunnel.

   Milford Road to Te Anau is a two hours’ drive but we knew we could do it in less and we’re in Real Journeys offices building, along the lake, at 1:20 PM. We haven’t stopped a single time in our way. When I asked on Juicy Cruize desk about The Chasm I got a confirmation it is closed. Covering the signs and closing the access to the parking is the way of closing a peace of forest.

Lake Te Anau from the Milford Road
Head quarters of "Real Journeys" by the lake

   We get the tickets but we’re not getting enough time to lunch as boarding time is just after parking the motorhomes. In the meantime, we’ve been able of checking what the noise we heart at tunnel was: there is a quite ugly scratch in one of the tallest motorhomes, in the left side of top over the driver cabin.

   Two cruises in a day Only this one is quite different as it goes through the lake very fast. It’s a 30 minutes trip starting with the views of the snowed row of mountains at the bottom and ending in the middle of some islands until we end disembarking in one of them.

Views from Te Anau Lake
Views from Te Anau Lake
Views from Te Anau island

   A guide from Chile has taken our group for him because of the language, so we’re going to get a “private” tour in Spanish. He explains the details of the river which, coming from the top to the lake has been opening the caves on its way, just before getting into them.

River in Te Anau's islandAttending guide's explanations

   We’re the first group in passing by the very low entrance, leaving the rain forest behind, into the darkness, which can be barely saved by the soft lights in the metal pass ways we’re walking over. It is completely forbidden to use any kind of camera. It seems these animals are very sensitiveEntrance to the glowworm cave to light and noise, so that’s why is so dark and why we’re asked to don’t talking. After some falls inside the walls we take a boat and float in completely darkness and silence to a part where the only we can see is the group of blue points, as if they were making constellations inside the cave. At that moment, although we’re all seated together, we can only hear the noise of the running water. Our guide uses as less as possible his lantern for the tasks of tying or untying the boat. The experience is magical.

Clean shores of the island

   Once out of the caves we go to the visitor center where there is an exhibit about the fauna in the island and we can assist to a presentation with videos about the life of the glowworms. It’s strange and very interesting.

Return to the boat from the islandHall inside catamaran

   After the return trip through the lake we’re back in our motorhomes and ready for driving to Invercangill. We’re quite satisfied with what we’ve eaten in the island: giant cookies and some sweets. So we’re not going to stop until reaching our destination.

   As it is still daylight we choose the scenic route passing by Manapouri and reaching the South Coast quite sooner, instead of the one marked at the map at the beginning of this page. This allows us to see the typical vegetation of the Southern Coast still at daylight and amaze us with the shape of the trees, constantly hit by the wind coming from the sea, as per growing with a 90 turn in their trunks, with the tree being parallel to the ground.

Peculiar trees of New Zealand's Southern CoastTown in Southern Coast

   We’ve chosen Beachside Holyday Park, just outside Invercangill, which we get at dark, just before finding out how the road we were following to come here ends directly on the sand of the beach. It’s because of the help of a car that we turn around in the beach and get the right turn to this park.