The Grand New Zealand Roadtrip

January 26, 2010

Day 15 & 16 : Jan 9th and 10th : Queenstown – Te Anau – Milford Sound

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:36 am


^Another digital composition. To know how it was created see this page.

I was going to head out from Queenstown towards Te Anau, a town which is the gateway to Milford Sound (and Fiordland National Park), both of them located in a region which is receives some of the heaviest rainfall on planet Earth.

Before heading out on my relatively short distance for today (108 kms) I met up with Vicky and her friend from the Kiwi Biker community. We met at a cafe for an hour and discussed various motorcycle related stuff like the difference in riding between India and NZ (and other developed countries) and how could Vicky ride a superbike like her Honda Repsol 1000RR in her age.

I would like my non Indian reader friends to see the website on The Great Indian Roadtrip which was done in 2006 on 5 two wheelers, one of them was a Honda Fireblade 1000RR. It should give you a little different perspective of India – fantastic roads, the mighty Himalayas, technology etcetera.

With her best wishes I head out towards Te Anau. It was generally cloudy and gloomy. Two years ago I had to wait for one and a half days before the rains stopped in Te Anau and I could ride to Milford Sound. I was hoping that somehow things would be better this time around as I really wanted to do the famed Milford Sound cruise.

One can adjudge the number of people Milford Sound (and other sounds in that area) attract by the number of beds that are available in summer for tourists : 3000 in a town with population of 1,900!

Te Anau lies on the eastern shore of Lake Te Anau which is the largest lake in South Island.

Seeing the weather I decided to head out to Milford Sound in a coach.  I had done the ride two years ago and wanted to do the cruise come what may. I booked the cruise with Real Journeys who would pick me up from my lodge tomorrow morning at 8.30 AM.

I checked in to the Fiordland National Park Lodge which was a headache to find because of a similar named (Fiordland Lodge) on the same road. My lodge was actually 28 kms from Te Anau towards Milford Sound (at Te Anau Downs) . Location.

The lodge was good for the price (80 NZD) and I got a room with the view of the Te Anau lake. That day it rained heavily and things were not looking good for tomorrow, even though I was booked in a coach. If it continues to rain like this, I thought, I wouldn’t be even able to take out my camera!

Next morning, I was ready at 8 AM. The bus came to pick me up at the lodge. The bus was a little strange in shape, it was swooping down towards the front giving it an illusion of being overloaded. Perhaps it was to get more grip on the windy roads to Milford Sound with more air hitting the incline and more downforce being generated: god knows. However I did find a possible reason to be : increasing the viewability through the glass roof on Wiki Pedia (Link).

There were quite a few tourists on the bus. The driver also doubled up as our guide who gave us various helpful insights over the PA system as the drive progressed towards Milford Sound. It was raining for sure, but this time I was dry and had no fear inside the bus. Dry spells in between the drive to Milford Sound made me wish that I was on the BKing.

On the way to Milford Sound there is the Homer Tunnel through which all traffic has to pass. It has lots of history behind it. It took twenty years to complete the tunnel. Lights in the tunnel and traffic lights were not installed in it until as recent as 2004. It is 1270m long is just wide enough to allow a bus and a small car to pass side by side, but not two buses in opposite directions. We had a small delay because of a campervan entering the tunnel from the other end after traffic lights at our end went green. It had to reverse 100 metres back to the opening to allow the traffic from our side to pass through.

The traffic lights do not work in winter since it is very dangerous to allow vehicles wait for 15 minutes at either end due to possibility of avalanches.

We were also told that during avalanches the wind accelerates through the valley to speeds over 200kmph and moves over boulders (and any vehicles) weighing tonnes! However sophisticated avalanche and weather warning systems are in place and many times the road to Milford Sound is closed following their advisory.
The road is one of the more dangerous public roads in New Zealand, with injury crash rates around 65% higher than the rest of New Zealand’s network, and a fatality crash rate of almost twice average (per vehicle kilometre travelled), making it the third most dangerous section of New Zealand’s State Highway network (as of 2008).Stopping is prohibited on long stretches due to rock or snow avalanche dangers, and the road is often closed in winter, with the carrying of snow chains mandatory during snow conditions. Helicopters are used during winter to drop explosives onto snow build-up zones above the road in order to cause controlled avalanches. However this does not eliminate the danger that road traffic may be hit by an uncontrolled event, especially in the area of the Homer Tunnel portals. (WikiPedia)

There are also no petrol stations from Te Anau to Milford Sound (120 kms). If you are here on a sunny day you must do a self drive. See my blog entry from two years ago when I was riding on a Kawasaki Concours 14.
A Sound or a Fiord is u shaped valley cut through land by glacial activities. Viewed  from the top they look like cracks and fissures in the land filled with water.

Milford Sound is unusual in that it contains two distinct layers of water that scarcely mix. The top few meters is fresh water, fed from the high inflows from the surrounding mountains, and stained brown with tannins from the forest. Below this is a layer of cold, heavy, saline water from the sea. The dark tannins in the fresh water layer make it difficult for light to penetrate. Thus, many deep-sea species will grow in the comparatively shallow depths of the Sound. (WikiPedia).

I was on the ship named Milford Wanderer, one of the six ships operated by Real Journeys in this region. The ship had two levels, a cafe, toilets and was generally spacious. I was on the 2 and a half hours Milford Nature Cruise. Surprisingly, the weather actually began to clear up with lots of blue patches in the sky and sunshine! I actually couldn’t believe my luck. Though it was generally cloudy, it did not rain even once during the course of the cruise.

As our ship departed deeper into the sound it became clear why this is branded as one of the most beautiful places to visit on earth. I felt like being transported to the movie sets of Jurassic Park.  We were sailing through a deep valley on a road of water, with steep cliffs on either side having some of the densest vegetation I have ever seen. Owing to the recent rains there was uncountable number of waterfalls of all sizes sprouting from all places on these cliffs. They almost seemed like the cliffs had developed bulging veins in excitement of the rains. Lots of clouds were also caught in between these high cliffs and it seemed that they were resting before crashing in the waters below as rain.

I was almost hoping to see a Archaeopteryx flying across over to the cliffs with a loud shriek.
In the words of Charles John Lyttelton, 10th Viscount Cobham, Governor-General of New Zealand (1957-1962) about this part of Fiordland:

“There are just a few areas left in the world where no human has ever set foot. That one of them should be in a country so civilized and so advanced as New Zealand may seem incredible, unless one has visited the south-west corner of the South Island. Jagged razor backed mountains rear their heads into the sky. More than 200 days of rain a year ensure not a tree branch is left bare and brown, moss and epiphytes drape every nook. The forest is intensely green. This is big country… one day peaceful, a study in green and blue, the next melancholy and misty, with low cloud veiling the tops… an awesome place, with its granite precipices, its hanging valleys, its earthquake faults and its thundering cascades.” (Source: Wikipedia).
I will let the photos speak for themselves than try to compete with Mr.Lyttelton…


^A small spoof. To see how it was created visit this page.

Vicky with her Fireblade

To Milford Sound in the coach..

In the Homer Tunnel..

The Chasm (Below)

A stopping point on the Milford Sound road called ‘The Chasm’. This is a 20 minute return walk where foot bridges will lead you over the Cleddau River with spectacular waterfalls that have sculpted rocks over time.

^Mirror Lakes are also a small stopping point on the Te Anau – Milford Sound road. On a clear and calm day the Mirror Lake will reflect the surroundings to perfect precision.

Milford Sound Cruise Photos (below)

Sunshine!

Yes those are Seals!

2 Comments »

  1. it’s great to be in a country like New Zealand enjoying the beauty of nature and the ride on a bike………..
    I liked it a lot??????

    Comment by Siddhant Mishra — January 26, 2010 @ 6:45 pm

  2. Superb.. ‘m speechless again…

    Comment by debarpita mohapatra — February 10, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

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