And so we approach the main event. Francine booked our overnight cruise aboard the Milford Mariner on Milford Sound way back in February; some dates were full even then. The cruise was tonight. Today we made our way from Te Anau to the Milford Sound “settlement”. Unfortunately, following yesterday’s beautiful blue skies, this morning had dawned grey and overcast with low clouds shrouding the hills/mountains surrounding Lake Te Anau.
There is but one road into and out of Milford Sound so our return journey tomorrow morning would necessarily retrace our inbound steps. It’s as journey of 120kms (allow 2 hours) so leaving at 10:30 and with a check-in time for our overnight cruise of 16:00, we had time to dawdle at various touristy attractions en route.
At the first of several stops, Francine tried a shot across the lake for reflections but in all honesty, the solid grey sky didn’t really do it justice.
There was better fortune at a second stop when we spotted an expansive swathe of mixed colour lupins, with a suitably situated parking place, actually part of a Department of Conservation campsite. Naturally, there were several cars already there with people taking various shots of the mass of lupins. The good thing was that the parking area was inaccessible to the swarms of tour buses which leave from Queenstown every morning on day trips. Francine is fond of saying that she doesn’t want harsh shadows for flower photography. She certainly had no shadows of any description this morning.
The first part of the road to Milford Sound was proving pretty easy. Our next stop was at the so-called Mirror Lakes. This time we did run into tour buses – seven of them, most of which seemed to be loaded with Orientals armed with their selfie sticks and assorted cameras. Orientals appear to be a strange breed – well, several breeds – in that they don’t tend to take pictures of just scenery, they really want themselves standing in front of said scenery. Standing in front of said scenery is often accompanied by a strange Churchill-like V-sign made with both hands. I presume this has nothing to do with victory, which is what Churchill meant, but I confess to being bemused about what it might mean. Stupefying! In any event, the Mirror Lakes weren’t doing their job today in the lack of sun, not that that deterred our Oriental friends. We didn’t bother.
Still with time to burn, we were attracted by a 45-minute nature walk advertised at the southern end of Lake Gunn. This was decidedly a botanical nature walk with no critters in evidence but the woodland did look positively primordial, again, with most of the trees with smothered in mosses and lichens. So, a clean and damp environment, then. We stopped here for lunch again but could not fling open Busby’s rear doors because a sand fly scourge descended upon us. Sand flies, Francine has decided, are somewhat worse than mosquitoes because they gnaw a bare patch and leave anticoagulants to keep the blood flowing. Charming!
There was a stop at which we were supposed to be able to see a Kea. Keas are a New Zealand native lumbering parrot which can actually fly. We did see one but it was marching along the tarmac of the parking area so it wasn’t a great photo opportunity. Had to be done, though, for the sake of completeness.
By now the 120kms journey was beginning to be feeling arduous due to all the stopping. I was relieved to make our last stop in the queue to get through the 1.2-kilometre tunnel just before the descent towards Milford Sound itself. Like most of the road bridges in New Zealand, the tunnel is a single lane so is traffic light controlled. The wait can to proceed can be up to 5 minutes. I was even more relieved when, on exiting the tunnel, we did so into brighter weather with the clouds breaking and allowing sun to shine through. Perhaps our Milford Sound cruise would be brighter than we had been led to believe.
Busby was going to be spending a night alone in a car park. Mind you, most car parks are at least as good as many of the New Zealand campsites, short of an electric hook-up, of course.