Tag Archives: Fiordland National Park

The NZ Lowdown 6: Fiordland (Part II)

The Spectacular Milford Sound

Our day was off to an early start. Actually, earlier than necessary, because a small pattern had begun to emerge. Like many men, M has a TV addiction. And the remote control serves as an accessory appendage for him. By now, each morning has begun earlier than required, with some cricket on TV. And likewise no bedtime had swung around without cricket highlights from the day. This was all quite bewildering to me due to his acute revelation on Day 1 of our trip!

But anyway, the real purpose of our early start for the day was a guided day tour – the major focus being a cruise on Milford Sound. Our guide Andrew (oddly, a Welshman!) collected us at our hotel & a small group of us made the drive up from Te Anau to Milford Sound, stopping off occasionally at a few locations en-route for photo opportunities.

Milford Sound forms part of the Fiordland National Park (a World Heritage Site), and is reportedly the most famous tourist destination in NZ, in spite of its remote location on the southwest side of the South Island – literally at least 1-2 hours from anywhere. It is really something else to witness – Rudyard Kipling even described it as “The Eighth Wonder Of The World”. It’s actually a fiord, although was originally, wrongly named a sound by Captain Cook when he charted the area back in the 1770s.

In spite of the gorgeous weather the day before, our Milford Sound day was characteristically wet – the Fiordland National Park region experiences tremendous annual rainfalls, apparently on about 200 days or more of each year!  Nevertheless though, the scenery was spectacular, & I imagine it wouldn’t matter what kind of weather you visited this region in – each would bring its own, special mood to the region. I found the low clouds very mysterious during our cruise – very moody indeed.

Moody Milford Sound

We also saw plenty of wildlife during the trip – especially colonies of NZ fur seals on the rocks at the side of the water. They were thankfully completely unimpressed by the numerous boats cruising up and down the sound.

Basking NZ fur seals
Mitre Peak is one of the most photographed mountains in the country – typically you’ll see photos of it on clear blue sky days when it is reflected brilliantly in the water below. Our weather didn’t allow us this privilege, but it still looked formidable, rising almost a mile out of the water into the clouds.

The famous Mitre Peak
M stole my small camera. A few hundred photos later……
The Lesser-Spotted Brit!
We cruised along the sound for a couple of hours – it’s about 16km long & opens out into the Tasman Sea – and on our moody weather day, you can imagine how rocky the sea was when we reached it. Quite a ride, let me tell you! But one of the benefits of the area’s terrific rainfalls is that they really accentuate the waterfalls that fall from the sheer cliff faces rising either side of the sound.

The waterfalls were especially spectacular due to the day’s rainfall
After a bit of lunch and some coffee on the boat, we finished our cruise & met up again with our tour guide, & our small group drove south back toward Te Anau, with a few more stops en-route for yet more photo opportunities.

More moody mountainous terrain on the drive back to Te Anau
Another stunning waterfall captured on the way home, off Milford Sound Highway

More scenes from the journey home.
Still moody, but a little sunshine tried to break through by early afternoon
After we dried off back at the hotel, we decided to take a drive over to the Te Anau Wildlife Centre – a great little place to visit. We were lucky enough to see a rare, flightless takahe – a chunky bird that looks like a big blue chicken with a stout red beak. These fellas were thought to be extinct for the longest time, until a few pairs of them were spotted in the mid 1900s on the Murchison Mountains. They look a bit like bigger versions of the not-so-rare pukeko – and birds like this are thought to have been ancestors of the takahe.

A pukeko (left) and a takahe (right)
Afterwards we were feeling pretty exhausted to be honest, it had been a long day, although great fun and eventful. I should say that in addition to his cricket habit, M had begun to develop quite a taste for fast food “Commonwealth style” –  pasties, meat pies, and fish & chips had become something he’d beg for each day!  So for dinner I gave in to his addiction & we headed out so he could get his fish & chip fix for the day!

He was also quite taken by the newspaper wrapping!

In spite of the day’s amazing scenery, I think this was the bit of the day that he treasured the most.


The NZ Lowdown 3: From Greymouth to Glacier Country

On The Move After 2 Lovely Days In Christchurch!

First We Headed West

We took the TranzAlpine train across to Greymouth – this is reported to be one of the world’s greatest scenic railway trips, & I can believe it. The 140 mile journey took about 4 and a half hours, but the time whizzed by so quickly due to the constant sensory-overload from outside. There was even an open air viewing carriage where you could really feel the wind whipping through your hair (but hold on to your caps!) as you clung on to take photographs.

The journey takes you from Christchurch on the east coast, to Greymouth on the west coast, & you get to enjoy a whole mixed bag of beautiful scenery – from farmland to gorges to valleys, as well as spectacular mountain views as you climb through NZ’s Southern Alps, and then finally  you hit some rainforest regions, before reaching the final destination.

Seats are preassigned for you, so you may have a few carriages to walk through before reaching the open car, but we were very fortunate to be in the adjacent one.  And similarly we were only a couple of cars away from the café  – food onboard is actually very decent, as well as reasonably priced, although some folk had taken their own food along for the ride too.

Day 3 in NZ & M had already developed a taste for the local brew!
Once we reached Greymouth, we collected our checked-in luggage & headed over to find our rental car. One thing that M & I constantly bicker about is driving. More specifically, his driving. I swear he’s always in combat mode. I’m not a nervous passenger, but he is one of the most aggressive drivers I’ve ever driven with. So we’d agreed in advance that I’d be the one to start off the driving on our trip since I’m English & therefore used to driving on the left side of the road in the right side of a car.

Although it was nice to feel more independently mobile again, knowing we could stop whenever we felt like & drive wherever we wanted, I’d now lost the ability to stare lovingly out of windows at the beautiful scenes around me. But at least we were both also in agreement about the fact that we were happy to stop wherever and whenever we felt like.

Then South To Franz Josef

And so we set off in our car, headed south to the Glacier Country of Westland National Park, specifically to Franz Josef Glacier. The car journey was lovely, taking us through spectacular rainforest areas. By the time we reached our hotel in the village of Franz Josef, it was raining quite nicely, with extremely low cloud cover that looked quite eerie, hanging over the mountains. We drove out to the Glacier region & went hiking, in spite of the weather – have raincoats, will travel!

The walk initially took us through some rain forest, then across a rocky path through the glacier valley, along the icy flow of the Waiho River. Eventually we reached the terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier, which remained an impressive sight, despite the weather. The top of the glacier was still a brilliant blue color, even in the grey, misty conditions – quite amazing to think that this glow represents a million tons of ice!

Crossing the glacier valley toward the icy, terminal face
Arriving at the terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier
The glacier forms from heavy layers of snow that compact to produce the hard, blue ice. The combination of snow pressure and gravity force ice down the valley to within 200 meters of sea level where the face is constantly melting. Franz Josef is reportedly the most dynamic glacier in the world since its steepness & location allow it to respond very quickly to changes in temperature & precipitation.

It’s somewhat surreal knowing you are standing at the foot of an ice wall that’s as wide as a valley and has been known to be in the phase of advancing one meter each day.

We walked as far as we could, to within meters of the terminal face – the actual face is roped-off to tourists for safety reasons – to protect people from being caught by falling ice or river surges. Quite a sight though.

Eventually we realized we had soaked in more scenery during that day than we’d ever experienced in a single day previously. We hiked back to the car, & then it was off to our hotel to dry off before testing out some local cuisine & aperitifs to close out the evening!