April Fools Day and we are off to Milford Sound – weather looking a bit dodgy unfortunately. Bus picked us up at the Alpine Cafe across the road from the Club Park. The tour started in Queenstown and we were the last ones aboard. A full bus (a good mix of Germans, Australians, Asians and Kiwis).
Left Te Anau and headed through the Eglington Valley. The driver made stops at places of interest and kept up a running commentary about all sorts of things – history, vegetation, swedes (the eating kind), farming, conservation, scenery, named mountains, road building, huts and tracks, deer and rabbit hunting and so on….. First stop was at at a lookout along the Eglington Valley.
Then Mirror Lakes for a short boardwalk – pretty crowded as other tour buses offloaded their passengers at the same time.
A little further on is Knobs Flat where there is a substantial loo block and Visitor Interpretative Display about the Milford Road. There is also a private Camping Ground here and a little further on a small DOC camp.
The bus then turned into a viewpoint with some impressive mountain views.
Arrived at the Homer Tunnel and had to wait at the RED light for traffic coming out from Milford. Tunnel was just as we remembered it on our previous trip through many moons ago.
Stopped again just after the zigzag on the other side to take in the views and check out the “best water in NZ” from the stream.
Arrived in Milford and the bus parked at the Ferry/Cruise Terminal and we received our boarding passes for the cruise on the Juicy boat. Boarded shortly afterwards and we left promptly at 1130 for our 2 hour cruise. Clouds were really starting to set in by this stage, Mitre Peak still completely visible but looking impressively dark and brooding.
Passed by the Bowen Falls then followed the southern side of the Fiord out to the Tasman Sea.
Lots of trickling waterfalls and other cruise boats doing the same circuit.
We didn’t venture far out into the open sea before we U-turned to cruise back along the other side of the towering walls and passing close to ‘seal rock’ where a few seals were resting.
By this time the low cloud had turned into light rain so it was not very pleasant on the top deck and most people were sitting inside and seemed to have lost interest in the views as a consequence. Some were reading, snoozing and even playing cards – I couldn’t see that was giving them their ‘moneysworth’ for the cost of the cruise.
But it was nice standing on the covered open deck at the back and I even spotted a pod of dolphins leaping over the wake of the boat but they were gone in an instant and too quick to catch a photo.
We had closer views of the trickling waterfalls and the boat did the usual ‘party trick’ of nosing into the waters of the Stirling Falls so a few brave souls could stand at the bow and get soaked in the spray.
We lunched on board – included in the price of the tour was a voucher for a large sized chicken or beef wrap and cups of tea were provided. If you wanted coffee that was extra.
All too soon we were back at the wharf where the terminal was jam-packed with people all waiting to get onto the next round of cruises – we had to practically fight our way through them to get back to the bus.
We made a few stops on the way back to Te Anau. First one was before the Milford Tunnel to The Chasm. A 15 min bush walk to view a torrent of water tumbling through rock cracks carved and worn smooth by the force of the water over the years. It was quite impressive.
After the tunnel we stopped on the side of the road for a quick look at Falls Creek – lovely blue water.
Then called in to the picnic area at the north end of Lake Gunn.
Made a couple of more stops to check out views and arrived back at Te Anau around 1600. We were dropped off at ‘our gate’ on arrival.
It was a good trip and we both enjoyed it – the weather could have been better but it was interesting to see Milford in a different mood.
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The next morning saw us heading back up the Milford Road (under our own steam) to visit a couple of places that the tour bus didn’t go to. There are several DOC camps along the road so no shortage of places to camp up. Spent the first night at the closest one to Te Anau (Henry Creek) which was pretty crowded with people as well as sandflies.
Looked in at Te Anau Downs where the water transport leaves to drop people up the North Arm of the lake to the start of the Milford Track. Walked along the jetty – the lake was eerily calm in the early morning.
From there the roadway leaves the lake and heads up the Eglington Valley.
We got as far as the Totara DOC camp and it was so nice there we decided to stop for the rest of the day. The Eglington River was running alongside us and tall mountainous hills across the valley.
It rained overnight but it had all cleared up by mid-morning so we moved on, stopping again at the Mirror Lakes to take a few more photos as it was a better viewing day than when we called in on the bus trip.
Some of the DOC camps further along were very small areas and one was closed due to the danger of tree falls. The last one at Cascade Creek is the largest camp and the busiest, being the last one before the Homer Tunnel. We decided we’d spend the night there, but as it was still early in the day we continued on to do some more exploring.
We turned right to drive along the Hollyford Road to go and see the Humboldt Falls at the road end. A steepish 30min return walk to view the falls which drops 200 metres in a three tier cascade. We were not disappointed when we got to the viewpoint. There was plenty of water in the falls and we got a bonus view as the last two days of rain had also created two more cascades, one on each side of the main drop. Comments from other people have said that the falls were not much to see when they’d visited. Rain sure does work ‘magic’ in the Milford area.
The Hollyford Track starts at the end of the road over a swingbridge and there is a boat ramp here too, so presumably they motor down the river to Lake McKerrow.
On the way back there was another swingbridge over a rocky part of the river with fierce rapids and a rough very wet track led off over the other side to Moraine Creek.
Further on we also checked out a signpost pointing to an historic grave which we found right on the riverbank after a short walk through the trees. Apparently he’d set off with the area Postman to deliver mail to Martins Bay but the pair got caught in bad weather and circumstances. After several days of struggling Donald became ill with hypothermia and exhaustion so the Postie carried him back down into the valley. 16 days after they set off, they arrived back at this spot where they were finally discovered by a Search Party. The Postie was taken to Queenstown and recovered but Donald was too ill to be moved far and died a week or so later and was buried at this spot. Tough days!!
We also made a stop at Gunns Camp and I wandered around and ‘cheekily’ took a few photos of some of the ‘quirky’ things there. This is a ‘pay’ campsite run by a charitable trust but it’s of historic significance for the Gunn family who pioneered tourism in this area.
Davey Gunn bought it in 1952 and after him his son, Murray Gunn, ran it for 51 years. He was the one with the sense of humour – on the signpost the top arrow points to ‘heaven’ and the bottom one points to his own monument ‘Gunns Rest’.
It was originally a camp for the Roadsmen who worked on the construction of the Milford Road and some of the original huts are still being used for accommodation.
We then returned to the Milford Road and drove back to Cascade Creek camp and found a spot for the night.
Went for a walk nearby through the ‘moss’ forest to the eastern end of Lake Gunn – a circular loop of 40 mins. Found the lake outlet which runs past the camp and becomes the Eglington River.
A sign challenged kids to spot the goblin ‘face’ on one of the tree boles – not sure if we found the correct one but reckon we did find a goblin lurking on a tree root!
Next morning we woke up to a cloudless sunny day so it was a great opportunity to go back to do the walk up to Key Summit. Back up past Lake Gunn again (looking spendid in the sun). Pulled into The Divide carpark at the start of the Routeburn Track and where the Key Summit walk also starts.
We followed the Routeburn Track for about 45mins and then branched off towards the summit. It was a steady ‘slog’ uphill all the way and even steeper once we left the tree line towards the top. Thankfully the last bit was a zig-zag path rather than steps which I always find tougher on my legs.
What an amazing 360° view from the top at 918m (which we worked out was a 400m climb up from the carpark). The huff & puff to get there was well worth it!
Little glaciers on the sides of the Darren Mountains and down in a hanging valley was Lake Marion. There is a track up to it from the Hollyford Road but we’d been told it is a very hard walk so we weren’t planning to attempt it…but at least we can say we’ve ‘seen’ it.
There was a 30 min Nature Walk at the top of Key Summit to view little tarns and boggy patches, deep spongy mosses, low growing alpine plants, stunted bushes, tussock and tortured looking beech trees heavily ‘carpeted’ in mosses (thought to be around 400-500 years old). The only sign of life we saw were a few hardy looking brown grasshoppers but apparently birds do venture here.
We spent some time at the top just gazing at the views towards the Humboldt and Darren Mountains and down into the Hollyford, Greenstone and Eglington Valleys. It was quite overwhelming – on such a perfect day it was hard to imagine being here on a snowy, windy winters day. The best photo right on Key Summit that sums it all up was just a perfect ‘postcard’.
After spending over an hour at the top we reluctantly returned to the track and in no time it all, it seemed, we were back at the carpark. The sign says 3 hours return and all up it took us around 3½ hours including all the time we spent at the top, so we felt pretty proud of ourselves.
We drove back along the Milford Road and ended up back at the Totara DOC camp again for the night.
We arrived back at Te Anau the next day and spent another 3 nights at the Club Park.
Visited the local DOC Wildlife Refuge and saw a couple of Takahe wandering around their enclosures. A volunteer told us there were chicks this year but a local falcon got them! They are now planning to put a covering over the area – now that doesn’t sound like rocket science!!
Also drove to the lake outlet gates – amazing forces of swirling waters – you’d be drowned there for sure if you fell in.
Done our time in this area – moving on tomorrow (08 April).