29 Feb 2016

Over The Mtn's & Thru The Woods - NZL by valeriepeltier

15/34

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After asking 3 other intercity bus drivers if we were on their list we finally found our bus to Milford Sound. We were on what was called the awesome bus, which is just another one of their tour busses. Our bus driver was quite chipper and eager to begin our 2.5 hr journey. Once everyone was on the bus and situated, our driver began his prepared whirlwind of information which lasted for almost the entire drive. He pointed out mountain passes and valleys, types of trees, and many more things along the way.
Also since it was a scenic tour bus, there were a few stops along the way, allowing us 5-10 min at each stop to hop off the bus and take a few pictures.
Near the beginning as we drove alongside lake Te Anau, he pointed out what is called a Maunaka tree, which among many characteristics has medicinal properties. It also blooms with white flowers in the summer time which the bees collect nectar from and produce Maunaka honey. The branches from the trees are commonly used as walking sticks and ridge poles for shelters.
The temperate rainforest sections we drove through on the way to Milford consisted of a variety of different beach trees, ranging from red beach, to silver beach and further into the pass turning into mountain beach trees.
Our first stop was at Mirror Lake where he dropped us off at one end of the path, and allowed us 10 min for the 100m boardwalk following the stream with views of the mountain range in the background.
The next feature we passed on the bus was Hollyford Falls, which flowed directly beside the road where it narrowed into a one way bridge. As we drove across he slowed down so we had the chance to snap a quick photo but unfortunately there was no possible way of stopping for this attraction.
The Homer Tunnel, which is what made it possible to reach Milford Sound by vehicle was a fascinating underground adventure as you pass through the middle of the mountain. The dark tunnel allowing one lane of traffic through at a time. The thought of being in the centre of a mountain with thousands and thousands of pounds of rock surrounding you really puts things into perspective. The Homer tunnel spans 1207 meters in length, but by vehicle only takes minutes to drive.
Our last little stop for our bus adventure was in the Cleddau Valley on the other side of Homer Tunnel. As we exited the tunnel the road wound its way down to the valley floor with switchbacks the entire way. Our bus pulled in about halfway down the winding road, allowing us the chance to take advantage of the elevation near the top of the valley as a good vantage point for photos. The Cleddau Valley is one of the many fiords in the area, meaning that the valley had been carved out by glaciers.

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Once we pulled into Milford Sound, our bus driver pulled over next to the road where the Milford Sound Lodge was so that we wouldn't have to walk back from town. Negin, one of the girls I had met while in Te Anau was also travelling to the lodge on the same bus, so we all hopped off together and walked down to the lodge.
Since it was still morning, and we couldn't check in yet, we stored our bags in the storage room, grabbed a bite to eat and walked up the road to the Tutoko Mountain lookout, where a suspension bridge stretched across the river providing you with a view of the mountain off in the distance. The hike to the bridge and back was only about 3 km round trip so it brought us back around 3:30 to the lodge where we were able to check into our rooms.
As soon as everything was squared away we continued exploring. First heading down to the Deep water basin & airport by following the rocky path that lead us along the rivers edge. Realizing that the road it brought us out onto didn't actually take us to the fiord, we walked back up the road about 500m and turned down the main road leading to the ferry terminal. After about 2 minutes walking along the side of the road we noticed a path and took that instead. It lead us directly to the fiord and branching off to the foreshore loop track. Since we were still good for time, we wandered up the trail to the furthest point of the loop where it opened up to a grand view of Milford sounds most iconic back drop.
We took this opportunity to wander out to the waters edge to take some photos and poke about. I had stepped right up to the edge of the stones where the water began, and as I took my photo a boat driving by in the distance had created enough of a wake, for the small waves to encroach on where I was standing so I quickly backed up so my feet wouldn't get wet.
The black oyster catchers (birds) were loving the water as the milled about along the shoreline.
We ended up sitting on the bench for a little while taking a moment to let the view sink in, while the shade from the tree provided us with a cool spot to rest. As I sat there gazing off into the distance, I began to wonder if the bridge on the other side led to the set of falls next to the visitor Center.
When we got out to the visitor Center the lady at the desk said that it was closed to the public, but we were more than welcome to wander out onto the pier where you could get a half decent view of the falls from. We wandered down not staying long before making our way back to the lodge for dinner.

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As we left to go back for dinner, we had tossed the idea of returning to watch the sunset around, but decided that we would wait until after dinner to make the decision.
In the end we decided that it would be worth it since we only had the one night in Milford and it had been a clear skies all day. The walk to the fiord only took us 13 minutes since it was just the two of us this time, and we had a mission to get there before it disappeared behind the mountains.
When we turned the corner the sun had just perfectly slid behind the mountains which made for a perfect setting for photos. We hopped around taking photos from different angles here and there, then wandered across the areas where the tide had gone out. The silhouettes of the mountains casting shadows onto the water creating a mirrored effect. The sandflys buzzing about and the crabs burrowing into their holes in the sand, we took one last look as the sky continued darkening we began our walk back to the lodge for the evening.