We have seen what I believe is the most beautiful place today. Today was (even more than usual) a day of Wow's. I could use so many cliches about the scenery we have seen today. I shall try to refrain though.
Yesterday we had a stunning drive to Te Anau with views of snow capped Mountains meeting the sea. Te anau was itself a pretty town centred around the lake with the same name backed by Mountains. Lots of people use Te Anau as a base to get to Milford Sound and we did the same. We didn't really know a lot about Milford sound but had read and seen pictures of it's beauty. We decided we would quite like to go there, but found out that snow chains might be needed for the drive there as parts of the road have dangers of avalanches. This was quite a daunting prospect for someone who has only been driving for a year and who knew nothing of snow chains until that day. The next day we checked at the information centre and they informed us that although there were going to be strong winds, snow chains would not be needed and there was a low chance of avalanches. We decided to go.
Not far out of Te Anau the wind began buffeting the van about and we considered turning back. However, I felt o.k with it and it wasn't constant so we decided to press on. We were glad we did. The lonely planet says it's 119km from Te Anau to Milford on one of the most scenic roads you could hope for. It wasn't lying. It was beautiful. Mountains, farmland, beech forests, then as we passed into the Fiordland National Park it seemed to get even more dramatic with the Mountains towering further above. We stopped at a few places to admire the views; Waterfalls falling down Mountains far above us (and some not so far above us) an icy blue river rushing away from a backdrop of snow covered Mountains and at 'The Chasm' where a short walk through a damp forest of moss covered trees brought us to a place where we suddenly heard a low roar. We looked at each other wondering if we were going to witness an avalanche, but we found the cause of the noise when we rounded a corner, over a bridge and were greeted with a powerful torrent of water (the Cleddau river) cascading through eroded boulders in a narrow chasm. Tim remarked that it and what we had seen so far was awesome. He meant it in the true sense of the word, not the slang way it can be used and I agreed with him then and even more thoughout the day. It was a fitting way of describing some of the sights.
In the Chasm car park we saw a Kea, a Parrot which only lives in Alpine areas. I thought they looked quite a drab and sad parrot but characterful all the same. I felt sad when I saw people feeding them bread to try to get a photo. There were blatant signs up asking people not to. It's not good for the Kea. People make me angry. They seem to think that signs like that don't apply to them .How would they like it if the wildlife started throwing dead prey and nuts and seed at them?
Throughout the drive we drove throughout Avalanche risk areas. Even though there was a low risk of an avalanche it was still quite exciting to drive through. There was evidence of past avalanches, with piled up snow and rocks at the base of Mountains near to the road. The risk areas appeared to me to be even more wild and beautiful than the non risk areas. I have often thought that is true for a lot of Nature. The wilder and the more dangerous = an intense beauty.
The most spectacular of the risk areas began from an exhilarating plunge into darkness into the Homer Tunnel. It seemed to go into the depths of the earth and even though I had my lights on and there were dim over head lights it was difficult to see anything. However I did see water dripping down the sides of the tunnel. This didn't instill confidence and as I drove through I thought of the amount of snow I had seen over the tunnel's entrance. I was concentrating so much on driving in the dark that I didn't even register a car passing me on the other side. Tim mentioned it and I think he was a bit concerned when I sounded surprised..
Emerging from the tunnel we descended down a winding road overlooked by what looked like a massive wall but which were ice carved Mountains, down which ran more waterfalls. A very dramatic sight.
Arriving at Milford sound the rain had set in. This was no surprise as Milford gets 7m of rain a year. We decided, since we were there to go on one of the cruises. There were a few to chose from and they all looked pretty similar. We were a bit concerned that it would be a waste of money what with the rain and mist hovering over the sound, but the guy selling us a ticket assured us it would still be spectacular. Well, he would say that wouldn't he?
However, he was telling the truth. Initially I thought sailing along in the catamaran did not give much of a different perspective from what we had seen driving down, but as we rounded a corner all those thoughts dropped away and all I could think and say was, “Wow!” It is difficult to convey how beautiful it was. For the next two hours we sailed through the most beautiful place I have ever been. We sailed in the Tasman sea in a fiord surrounded by sheer Mountains covered in foliage and trees interspersed with many waterfalls cascading down. We sailed very close to two of these waterfalls and it was at this time when I looked around and felt overwhelmed and moved by what I saw. Everywhere was perfect. Again, it is hard to describe, but at that moment I appreciated the sheer power of nature and how tiny and inconsequential we are. For once the bad weather was a blessing; it only added to the dramatic and magical scene. Most of the waterfalls are only there when it rains and the wind was causing some of them to blow upwards as if they were upside down! The wind was very strong and standing out on the deck was quite dramatic. At one point there was a really strong gust of wind and I couldn't walk. I had to cling on to the side. It sucked my beanie off my head and unzipped my mac! Luckily, I managed to grab my hat. One of the crew said that this is Milford sound at it's best and apparently the Skipper was very excited by it! He certainly sounded it over the tannoy.
Other people were obviously very excited by it too. In particular a Japanese man who was going crazy trying to get photos of his family. He was running all over the boat shouting “here here, photo here” with his family obeying his orders on where to stand in front of various beautiful spots. As the whole cruise was one big beauty spot I think he spent the whole time running round. At one point I saw his wife running, with him barking orders behind her whilst she panickly cried, “where, where” (do you want me) This really amused me and Tim as did a woman wearing a shower cap over her hat.
During the cruise we looked out for dolphins and penguins which sometimes can be seen. We didn't see any, but Tim and I both saw a seal pop out of the water and wave his fin before he went under again. The drive back was equally lovely as on the way there even though the rain had set in. All in all it was a perfect day.