Sam and Stu's Kiwi Travels
Today we were heading to Milford for our cruise - so exciting!! We got up at 7:30 and were in town by 8:30 to collect our hire car. We stopped off at the McCafe on our way out of town for a quick sausage roll for breakfast and then hit the road. Stu drove to start which meant I got to gaze at the amazing scenery we passed. To start with we had to head towards a place called Te Anau which is 172 km from Queenstown (Milford is about 300km from Queenstown). The drive to Te Anau starts off on a winedy road that climbs the mountains (The Remarkables Range) surrounding Lake Wakatipu, so we saw some amazing views of the lake. Once you get out of the Remarkables, the roads get much straighter and flatter. There were mountains in the distance in every direction, and fields and fields full of sheep!! It took us about an two hours to get to Te Anau. We were expecting a reasonably big town as the only signs of civilization we'd seen in the past two hours were a couple of farms and B 'n' B's dotted about here and there, and a very tiny village we'd passed through about half an hour ago. Te Anau is known as THE place to stop off on the way to Milford Sound.....and it's about a quarter of the size of Folkestone (for those of you who have never been to Folkestone that means its very small!!). The town is made up of two pubs, a laundrette (which doubles as an internet cafe!), a 24 hour mini supermarket, a bakery, a gift shop, a couple of cafes, an indian takeaway place....and thats about it!! We stopped by Lake Te Anau to take some pictures and do a bit of filming, and then headed to The Moose (one of the pubs) for a quick cup of tea before we headed off again. While we were in The Moose we saw a travel report about the road to Milford Sound which said the road was passable but that they had had heavy snow and that more was expected this afternoon so chains MUST be carried at all times. Luckily our hire car had chains in the back so we were well prepared if we needed them! (I was pretty sure Stu would be able to fix them if needed as a lady at the rental car company in Christchurch had given him a little demonstration!). We had agreed that I would drive the bit from Te Anau to Milford (once again I was called upon to drive the tricky part!!!). We had to be in Milford for 3:10 to check in for our cruise so we left Te Anau at 12 to give ourselves plenty of time. The first part of the drive was much the same as the drive to Te Anau, lots of mountains, open plains....and again, fields of sheep (and deer). We saw lots of lakes and picture spots that we decided we would stop at tomorrow on the way back if we had time. About an hour into the drive the road started to climb quite steeply up the side of a huge mountain, and as we climbed the weather changed from a slight drizzle of rain, to sleet and then snow. By the time we reached the highest point we were driving through a snowy winter wonderland!!! It was really beautiful!!! We stopped to fit the chains as it was snowing quite heavily and the road was completely covered. Fitting the snow chains turned out to be a bit of a drama. Being shown how to fit them on a spare tyre, and actually having to fit them to a wheel when its attached to a car are completely different I was assured by Stu!! After taking the chains on and off several times a very wet and disgruntled Stu clambered back into the car to say he had no idea what he was doing!!! Oh dear!! Stu said he would rather drive without chains than waste any more time trying to fit them.....to which I said we were either fitting them ourselves or calling the AA to do it for us!!!! Luckily I decided to have a quick look at the documents that came with the hire car (perhaps to find the number for the AA!!) and in with our contract was a guide to fitting snow chains! Yey! So out we went again and this time Stu managed to fit them in record time! 45 minutes after stopping to fit the chains we were on the road again. It was still snowing heavily and we could only drive between 30 and 40km/h because of the snow chains so it was abit slow going. We reached the 'Avalanche Zone' that we had been warned about (you drive through a gorge that passes between two huge mountain faces - you can definately see why its called the Avalanche Zone!!) and held our breath as we ambled through the 17km 'No stopping Zone'. One you reach the 'Safe Zone' you come to the Homer Tunnel which takes you through one of the mountains (you come out about 40 mins from Milford). We could not believe this tunnel!! It was completely pitch black inside (there were no lights at all), it dropped VERY steeply down hill, it was barely wide enough for two cars and there were jagged bits of rock sticking out here there and everywhere!!! I was sooo happy when we reached the other side! We came out of the Homer Tunnel and drove straight into another Avalanche Zone!! There was snow everywhere and the scenery was amazing but again it was a no stopping zone so we coudn't stop for pictures :0(. As we descended down the mountains the snow gradually turned to rain again. We stopped to take off the snow chains (much easier than putting them on!!!) and finally got to Milford about 2:15. The weather in Milford was awful. There was terrential rain and gale force winds - not exactly the weather we were hoping for!! Luckily the cruise was still going ahead, so we had a wander around the terminal and boarded our boat 'The Milford Navigator' around 3:30. We were on the cruise with 3 or 4 other couples and a tour group from Australia. We were all gathered in the main lounge before the cruise departed and given a quick introduction and itinery by the captain. Unfortunately, as the weather was so bad, we were going to head straight out to our mooring this afternoon (usually you would do a bit of dolphin and sealion spotting and maybe go out in the kayaks :0( ) and hopefully the weather would improve for tomorrow morning. We were assigned our cabin numbers and off we went!!! Stu and i went straight down to our cabin to unpack - we were pretty impressed with our little cabin. It had a double bed, a bedside cabinet, a mirror, a hairdryer, an en suite bathroom with a toilet, a shower and a sink, fresh towels, a spare blanket and a collection of soaps and shower gels!! We also had windows either side of the bed, although pretty much all we could see at that particular time was a load of mist and the waves bashing against the side of the boat! We headed back up to the main lounge for a cup of tea and then ventured outside (in the wind and rain!!) to take a couple of pictures. We could barely make out the surrounding mountains but one thing that stood out through the mist were the beautiful waterfalls that were cascading down the sides of the mountains. We were both fascinated by the waterfalls and took a load of pictures before heading back into the warm!! As there wasn't much else to do on the boat I challenged Stu to a game of Scabble (there were a load of board games on the boat and the tour group were already hogging most of them!!!). Needless to say I whipped his ass by about 100 points so that was that. While we were playing we got chatting to one of the other couples who were on board (Shirley and Phil), they tried to come to Stu's rescue during the Scrabble but they couldn't save him!! Dinner was served around 6 and we shared a table with Shirley and Phil. We had soup to start, a lovely buffet for main with beef, lamb, roast potatoes, cauliflour, brocolli, salads, chicken drumsticks, sweet potatoes...I could go on! and then we had dessert!!! Banana cake, chocolate gateau, pavlova, apple pie, fruit salad....so many yummy things to choose from!!! After a slice of chocolate gateau, a slice of pavlova and half a slice of apple pie (hee hee...im a pigwig I know!!!) I decided enough was enough and we retired to the sofas with a bottle of wine to recover!!! Stu and I decided to take a wander up on deck after we finished our wine and discovered the skies had cleared and it really was a beautiful evening. The sky was a blanket of stars and we were surrounded by mountains which were silhoeted against the night sky. The gale force winds were now a very slight breeze and the sea was calm - we could hear the waves lapping gently against the side of the boat. It was absolutely gorgeous. We sat out on deck for a while, enjoying the peace and quiet, before heading off to bed.