Home > New Zealand > Day 5: On to Milford!

Day 5: On to Milford!

04 June, 2010

Turns out we picked a pretty nice spot to pull over.  After being honked at by a bunch of passing trucks, we woke up to find two really cool things.  1) Out of our side window was a range of snow-capped mountains, and 2) It was warm out—like really warm—enough to be in a t-shirt when the wind wasn’t blowing.

We ate a quick breakfast of eggs and bread and were on our way.  We had another hour or so to Te Anau, so we passed the time listening to Eddie Vedder in the Into the Wild soundtrack.  It set the mood perfectly.

We pulled over at one point to take pictures along a river.  When pulling in to park, though, I pulled our front tires into mud and got stuck.  A few quick turns of the wheel and a burst of gas got us out, luckily.


On our way to Te Anau, Kat and I stopped on the side of the road to take some photos looking into Fiordland. This is where we got stuck.

By the time we got to Te Anau, it was nearly lunch time.  A quick trip to the grocery store got us stocked for the next few days.  We saw a nice looking lunch stop, The Sandfly Café, across the street.  I got a flat white and Kat got “the best latte I’ve ever had.”  (It’s true, I even agreed with her.)  It had just enough coffee and the smoothest vanilla I’ve ever tasted.

Sandfly Cafe

Once we got into Te Anau, we grabbed some coffee at the Sandfly Cafe--it had the best latte that Kat or I have ever had.

We walked around town a bit, especially down by Lake Te Anau.  It was very pretty and the sun was hitting in just the right way for some great shots.


Lake Te Anau, and one of the seaplanes that could take you on an air tour of the area.

The drive to Milford is only 120km (80 miles), but it takes just about 2 hours.  The first half is easy, but it quickly gets windy and icy, drastically slowing the trip down.  Still, it is by far the most beautiful drive I’ve ever done.  You start out along Lake Te Anau with rolling hills.  As you enter Fiordland National Park, though, the rainforest quickly takes over.  Great expanses of dry riverbed (at least this time of year) stretch out beneath the vast mountains of The Southern Alps.  Some areas are permanently frosted because they never see the sun, and others are so warm that you could get a suntan there.  One of the most diverse areas I’ve ever seen.

Only a Boat

The boat that heads towards the start of the Milford Track lands at this dock. Not sure if this is the ferry that takes you or not.


The Mirror Lakes, one of the stops along the way to Milford.

At one of the lookouts at which we stopped, a large bird swooped down from the trees just as I got out of the car.  I tried to take a picture, but he was too quick.  When I turned around, though, he had plopped himself down right on top of our van and sat firmly.

Kat and I took tons of pictures of him, not sure what type of bird it was.  At a cross between a parrot and the kaka I saw at Zealandia, I assumed it was unique to New Zealand.  We played with him a little while longer before saying goodbye to Kyle (our name for him) and driving off.  (We later found out that it is a Kea—a mountain parrot.)


Kyle, our Kea.


Though we didn't know it at the time, we found out that you're not supposed to feed the kea. Not only does it screw up their diet, but it makes them less afraid of humans, sometimes leading to their death or (more likely) them eating the rubber molding on your car door frames. Apparently it's a tasty treat for them. (Taken by Kat)

To get to Milford Sound, you have to drive through the Homer Tunnel, a 1000+ meter tunnel cut through the mountain.  It’s too small for steady 2-way traffic, so stop lights at either end alternate every 15 minutes.  While waiting for the light to change on our side, we took a chance to explore a huge (mansion-sized) block of ice that had fallen off from one of the mountains into a nearby valley.

After getting through, it’s like a portal, and you’re transported to a place even more beautiful than the one you came from.  The road sloped down in sharp bends as gorges and peaks alternated around you.

Heading Towards Milford

The view after getting through the Homer Tunnel and down the bottom of the valley.

When we finally arrived at Milford Sound, it was nearing sunset.  We hurried out of the car and walked the 15 minutes from the car park to the actual sound to try and see it.  Though you can’t quite see the sunset on the horizon as I had hoped, I still got a few nice shots.

Milford Sound

One of the most photographed areas of New Zealand.


So many tour boats in the harbor at Milford.

We cooked a quick spaghetti dinner and then went back out to the water for some pictures.  By this time, it was dark and the stars were out, so I took my tripod and remote, hoping to take some long exposures.  We walked out to a spot we had been earlier in the day, only to realize that the tide had gone way out.  It looked as though half of the sound had dried up, but it was so dark that it was difficult to tell for sure.  Still, it felt eerie to be in a spot that had been covered in 2-feet of water just a few hours earlier—like I was doing something wrong and the sea would soon come back in to punish me.

I took a series of long (>5 minute) exposures.  Out of the four that I took, I got one great one from a shot that took just under 10 minutes.  You can see the star movement very clearly, appearing as shooting stars.

Starry Night

Kat and I walked out to a sandbar in the middle of the the sound and took this ~10 min. exposure. I wish I had more time to try a longer shot, but it was getting cold and the tide was coming in. Also, I was mostly shooting in the dark on this, as I couldn't really see anything through the viewfinder and didn't get an idea of what I was looking at until at least a 5-minute exposure.

The nearest DOC site was back through the Homer Tunnel, at least an hour back towards Te Anau.  So, once again, we looked for somewhere on the side of the road to park.  Most of the car parks here have signs for no overnight camping, so it was a little more difficult.  We finally found one that looked good, so we pulled over.  We weren’t quite off the road as far as I would have liked, so I backed up to try and get further off.

And I got stuck.


This one took a lot more finesse to get out of, and took us a good 5 minutes of fidgeting.  The good news is that if we were stuck, we could just sleep there (albeit on a weird slope).  No worries though, as we got out just fine.

Now we have found a much more secure location—a mini-car park just down the road.  This one is pavement, so we won’t get stuck.  (That was our rule after this: no more trying to sleep in anything that isn’t pavement.)  It’s pretty far off the road, and seeing as the closest two towns—each with population < 100—are more than 2 hours apart, I don’t think we’ll be getting too many people driving by overnight.  It’s looking to be a decent, albeit cold, night.

See the full set on Flickr! (Photos will be uploaded as I go through each day.)

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