Blog Day 234 Sunday 25th Dec 2011
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!
First off it doesn't feel like Christmas day at all! In fact it doesn't even feel like a Sunday! We are up early and down in the lobby in our Santa hats by 7am. The staff on reception are all in fantastic spirits and before we know it we are holding a plastic glass of bubbly and smiling for the camera. The Milford Explorer bus picks us up at around 7.30 and after a photo in front of the bus we jump on and hit the road.
The Milford Sound is meant to be a stunning area and our bus driver (Ringo) does a great job in getting everyone looking forward to it. He does this trip every day and has told us that after 2 years he still isn't bored of the drive there.
We have a few scheduled stops before we get to Milford Sound. The first of which is at the little lakeside town of Te Anau for breakfast. Being Christmas day Dan decides to treat himself to a nice sized fry up with Trish choosing the more subtle option of a toasted bagel with jam. We are not holding to much hope on Dan's fry up though as the café is run by Asian people and the eggs we got served up in Thailand weren't that great. However when it comes out we are pleasantly surprised! Sausage, bacon, hash browns, beans, toast and perfect eggs! Happy Days!! Trish's bagel isn't that bad either.
Our next stop is in the middle of a field, which doesn't sound to exciting, but the mountains etc. that surround the field makes for a fantastic photo. A little further up the road there are mirror lakes, which again provide some nice pictures, then we stop at a small stream where the water is so fresh that we are told we can fill our water bottles up.
We make our way through the homer tunnel, which was named after Harry Homer, the bloke who started the construction project (no relation to Homer Simpson). It began in 1935 as a work project for the unemployed. The tunnel was carved out by hand - which as you can imagine was not an easy task - and explains why it is not one smooth curve. The tunnel is 1200m long, has a gradient of 1 in 10, and is pitch black. It's a bit nerve racking as we drive through, as the tunnel is also only a little bit wider than the bus itself! The view at the other end of the tunnel is spectacular! We can see all the way down the glacial valley and are surrounded by epic cliff faces hundreds of meters high. The rest of the drive down to Milford Sound continues in this vein.
We reach the ferry terminal at Milford right on time and are put straight on to the boat. A buffet lunch is waiting for us onboard. It consists of pork belly, chicken drumsticks, potato salad, noodle salad, coleslaw, samosas, spring rolls, bread and ice cream. However it is a far cry from any Christmas dinner! Across the boat there are a bunch of Japanese tourists that have also been full catered for. They have a full on Japanese feast all set out in Japanese crockery. We are amazed at this special treatment but are both in agreement that we would rather be eating what we are compared to what they are.
The next 2 hours is spent cruising our way through the Milford Sound (which is actually a fiord). The scenery here is amazing again with giant mountains rising up out of the sea and the occasional cascading waterfall. We even see some fur seal chilling out on a rock in the sun (why not it is Christmas after all).
We are taken to an underwater observatory to view the marine and coral that inhabit the Milford Sound. Apparently there is a thin layer of fresh water that sits on top of the salt water here. Only weak streams of light are able to pass through the water, which results in coral formations growing near the surface (these formations would usually only be found out in the deep ocean). It's all very interesting indeed.
After about 30 minutes down in the observatory the boat returns to pick us up, then it is a straight dash back to the port. Back at the port we all jump back onto the bus for an even straighter dash back to Queenstown. It's been an amazing day and to be honest our eyes actually hurt from all the beautiful scenery!
We make it back to the hostel just in time to grab ourselves a beer than get down to the beach for 1 more amazing sight, the sun setting over the lake and mountains. The beach is packed with people BBQing and generally having a good time. We go for a short stroll and come across a street entertainer doing magic of all things. He is very good and even manages to throw a playing card onto the roof of a nearby building.
Back at the hostel we jump onto Skype and catch up with family, its quite weird watching Dan's family opening the presents that we had sent over only a few weeks ago. Its great to see every one and we fill them all in on how our Christmas day went. It's safe to say that we wont be forgetting it any time soon!