We find our heroines, Allie and Katie, leaving Central Otago and all its dryness for the wetness of the fiords of the south - well, so we heard, anyhow, for we managed to time our visit for two glorious days of fine weather, a rare phenomenon in Fiordland, even in summer. As we left Te Anau, the last town on our way, we took the road towards Milford Sound - a place which Rudyard Kipling once called the eighth wonder of the world. The road opened up before us and we couldn't help gasping.
We were on our way to Gunn's Camp, which is about forty minutes before Milford proper, down a long dirt road. The camp was possibly the coolest one I have ever stayed at. It looks like the huts have sat there unchanged for the past sixty, seventy years. In each hut is an old coal stove; the camp kitchen uses ancient old gas stoves; there are no microwaves, kettles or fridges; it's a primitive old camp that has a lot of character and also a lot of friendliness.
Once settled in, we continued down the road toward Milford Sound, through the Homer Tunnel which goes down through the mountain, and then pops out again high up, a strange feeling. Down, down on twisted roads, finally ending up at the sea, and at Milford Sound. Mitre Peak (in the picture below) is a famous image in New Zealand, but somehow seeing the photographs doesn't quite prepare you for the impressiveness of the real thing.
We booked tickets for a boat trip the next morning, and then made our way back to Gunn's, slowly, stopping at every little walk you can take through the rainforest to waterfalls, rivers and chasms. This is a place exploding with life.
The next morning, bright and early, we drove back to Milford to take our morning cruise at 8.55am. The boat we were on was the smallest of the options, and goes right out to the Tasman Sea to look back up the fiord. Free tea and coffee, mmMM. Waterfalls, seals sunning themselves on rocks, huge sheer mountains everywhere around you which somehow don't translate themselves onto film at all well - here is one of my best attempts:
The captain of the boat gives a bit of a commentary as we go; luckily, he has an incredibly dry wit and so it's all very interesting. He takes pleasure in taking the boat as close to the biggest waterfall as he possibly can, spraying, even soaking most of us who were brave enough to stay on the outside decks. Not recommended for winter, but a surprising thrill on this more sunny day. Finally we arrive back on shore. What to do now?
Well, climb a mountain, of course! The Routeburn Track, widely recognised as one of the Great Walks of New Zealand starts only ten minutes down the road from Gunn's. Although if you want to do the whole thing it takes several days and a bit of money for lodging in the huts, the first couple of hours take you up to Key Summit and to an amazing view. While the track was lovely, walking up throught the forest, once you get past the treeline it's just - WOW. And then once you reach the top, well, I could have sat there forever, gazing at everything around me. Definitely the highlight of the trip. I wouldn't say it was an easy walk for me, but all that just fell away once you reached the top, to views like these:
Eventually it was time to come down, and go back to Gunn's. The next morning, sadly, we had to go, but on the way out we were treated to Fiordland in cloud, a mysterious experience that we had so far missed.
Onwards to Wanaka...
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