Day 19: FOUR SEASONS IN A DAY
It was about 5am when we awoke and around 5:30am when we started to leave our motel in Queenstown. Today, we were headed towards Te Anau, and we were really looking forward to finally seeing the famed Milford Sound.
The drive heading west was pretty uneventful though the clouds were high enough that Julie and I could clearly see the tops of the Remarkables as we were passing before it on our way out of town.
By the time it was around 8am, we were in Te Anau. We were staying at the Anchorage Motel in Te Anau, and they were gracious enough to let us check in early, especially since we were spending the next couple of nights here. And after lightening up the car load, we then proceeded to continue north at around 8:45am.
The drive north was scenic as we at first were following along Lake Te Anau’s eastern shores, then we found ourselves within a wide flat area called the Eglington Flat. The clouds were still pretty high up even though the weather remained predominantly overcast.
Since we were starting to keep our fingers crossed for good weather and continued to come up empty, we figured that we mind as well be a little opportunistic in making our way towards Milford Sound seeing that the weather here was somewhat fair relatively speaking.
Eventually, the flat gave way to closing in mountainous terrain and we found ourselves following cars on the way. Julie was taking some remarkable roadside shots of the road we were passing through. Eventually at about 9:30am, we were at the entrance to the Homer Tunnel.
There was a traffic light there because apparently only one direction at a time could occupy the tunnel. The ominous-looking tunnel allowed us to enter, and we could see that it was a pretty long one at that.
Then, when the scenery opened up as we got out of the cave, we were greeted with an incredibly steep-walled valley where we really didn’t mind following people at this point because wanted to take our time and try to take in the scenery that was before us.
The road snaked its way down into the base of the valley and then we proceeded to beeline our way towards the township (if you could call it that) at the end of the road at the famed Milford Sound. It was too bad that the weather was mostly overcast and the clouds were pretty low because Mitre Peak was pretty concealed.
Still, Julie and I could see the top of Bowen Falls, but the problem was that the track going to the base of that waterfall was closed. That was a bummer because I was really looking forward to getting a closer look at that falls without having to go on a boat.
The visitor centre at the Milford Sound was kind of comical in that there were giant sandfly models hanging on the walls. I guess they knew about the deviousness of these bloodsuckers. Plus, there were also keas around to add insult to injury and amp up the annoyance factor.
Eventually at about 10:40am, we drove off and made a stop at the Chasm at about 11am. We took our time going on this walk hoping to see some waterfalls though it turned out that the Cleddau River carved such deep notches into the aptly-named Chasm that we could only hear the rushing waters and peer into the river disappearing into the cracks, but couldn’t have anything photo worthy to convey the waterfalls and arches in there.
There was a Japanese Tour that also happened to be here so Julie and I definitely weren’t alone on this visit.
When we had our fill of the Chasm, the weather started to come down. By about 11:30am, we were waiting our turn to go through the Homer Tunnel as the light was red for us. However, the rain really came down hard while we were waiting. In fact, it was kind of scary the noise the thick water droplets were making as our windshield was getting blasted by the sudden downpour.
Our windows were starting to fog up so we had to turn on the AC and the defrost.
Eventually, it was our turn to go through the tunnel to take a break from the chaos of the downpour. When we emerged from the other side, it was still raining, but at least it wasn’t as crazy hard as it was on the Milford Sound side from which we entered the tunnel from.
The drive then proceeded to return to the waterfall at Falls Creek, which our Tumonz software called “Christie Falls.” This time (it was 11:45am), we stopped the car past the deep gutter and pullout next to it so we could take photos of the falls from the bridge. Even though the falls was gushing, it somehow seemed less impressive in person than it was when we had first seen it as we were driving past from the Falls Creek Bridge.
After Christie Falls, we then took the signed turnoff to the unsealed road into the Hollyford Valley. The drive was surprisingly smooth for an unsealed road. We made it pretty quickly towards the end of the road at 12:15pm, which was near the Hollyford Track. That was where we found the trailhead for Humboldt Falls, which was signposted.
So with the rain still coming down (but not as hard), we donned our rain ponchos, braved the annoying sandflies, and then quickly walked uphill the well-developed track to the lookout for the very tall Humboldt Falls.
Further adding to the scenic allure of this place was a companion waterfall sloping in profile to our view that was about two-thirds the size of the more major waterfall. It was a pretty neat view and our time spent here was only tempered by the annoying sandflies conspiring to give us those really itchy bites.
After having our fill of the falls at around 12:30pm, we then hiked back downhill to get back in the car, then drove out of the Hollyford Valley and proceeded to go back south on the Milford Highway towards Te Anau.
As we were driving through the Eglington Valley, we made a quick stop at the Mirror Lakes, which was a disappointment. I’d imagine that it would have been mirroring had we been here either early in the day or near sunset.
But it wasn’t lost on us that they put the Mirror Lakes sign upside down fully expecting the tourists to see the sign being read right side up in the lake (which was really more of a “calm” section of the Eglington River). It was just that the reflection was rippling during our visit.
As we continued further south towards Te Anau, the sun started to come out and we could see fields of yellow flowers blooming alongside the road. We could also start to see Lake Te Anau, which was said to be the largest natural one in the South Island.
Eventually by around 2:30pm, we finally made it back to our motel in Te Anau, where we got out of our wet clothes and proceeded to do a little exploring of the town of Te Anau. Unlike Queenstown, it was a bit of a sleepy town even though most of the infrastructure here seemed to be largely geared towards tourism.
I recalled we were looking for a place to eat, and we eventually settled on this place that got good recommendations (I forget the name – Jack and Jill’s?). It was a bit on the windy side when we were waiting to be seated, but when we were eating, we looked out the window and saw a bit of hard rain.
After Julie and I had our dessert, paid the bill, and went back outside, it was still blustery and windy, but the rain stopped, the clear skies were back out, but the remnants of the turbulent weather we had just missed while eating was in the shape of a menacing wave-like cloud literally scraping Lake Te Anau. I don’t think I had ever seen a cloud that shapely do that before.
Indeed, four seasons in a day, and with tomorrow being the Doubtful Sound tour, we were hoping that the weather might calm down so we might experience that cruise under agreeable skies.