Monday, July 21, 2008

Te Anau and Milford Sound Weekend

After a week of the fresher flu (it wasn't the flu, that's just a catchall term), I finally got out of Dunners, which was good because I was getting a little bit of cabin fever, if you will. I went with Karin and Becky to Te Anau. Our original plan was to do a day of the Kepler Track. However, Becky and I having been sick all week, and having a slight desire to be touristy, we changed our plans. Karin and I booked the bus and the hostel a mere 2 hours before the bus was leaving. There were actually only a few seats left, so we were pretty lucky. It is the off season so I guess it's a bit more reasonable to do that (except in Queenstown and Wanaka which are at the height of ski season). We hopped on the bus at 1:55 PM after getting lost on the way to the Intercity office. We couldn't sit together. I ate my Subway sub on the bus, despite rules against food (no one really cared). There was a 30 minute 'break' not long before changing buses at Gore at a cafe. We got into Te Anau after 7, so it was dark. We got pointed in the direction of our Backpackers (it was the Lakefront Backpackers, so not too hard to find) and checked in (there was a bit of confusion when we found out our first room didn't have enough beds left but we got some beds eventually). Then we set off in search of food. Of course, it being the middle of winter and an extremely small town, the supermarkets close at 7. There were about 3 or 4 restaurants actually open, some exorbitantly priced and some moderately priced but not cheap ($15 meals). We ended up going to an Italian place called La Toscana. I got pasta with spinach and cream sauce with pine nuts, it was extremely delicious. Then we walked back to the hostel to try to plan our activities for the next day. The hostel was really nice compared to our flats - it had some heat and the common rooms had a fireplace! Using the internet, we decided we would do a Milford Sound cruise and then the Te Anau glowworm caves, and we booked online. We then talked to some people in the lounge and discovered that the glowworm caves were geologically unsound.

The next morning, our Taiwanese roommate left an hour before we had planned to get up. This disrupted my sleep and I was not entirely thrilled. I need to remember my sleep mask whenever I go places. We got up and walked to the Info Centre to see if our bookings were through. It was just in time for the coach to Milford Sound to take people to the Pop Inn Cafe, which is where we, too, got breakfast. We then boarded the coach. It was more crowded than I'd expected but we were each able to get a window seat and not have anyone sitting beside us. The bus was shaped weirdly and the seats were angled toward the windows for maximum viewing. It was quite foggy/cloudy when we set off, and we couldn't really see the Murchison Mountains by Lake Te Anau. We were going through a beech forest just as the fog was clearing (right around when we entered Fiordland National Park). Eventually the bus stopped at the short track by the Mirror Lakes, which beautifully reflect the Earl Mountains. We then continued on, stopping also at Lyttle Flat (by a river), an area by a dramatically huge peak (Christina's Peak, I think?), The Chasm (where the Cleddau River has carved its way down through soft rock, an amazing sight), and at the entrance to the Homer Tunnel (which is somewhat terrifying, by the way). We finally got to Milford Sound after an absolutely amazing tour of Fiordland (at least the part along Milford Road). It was raining by this point but vision was not really obscured. Mitre Peak stuck out in its iconic shape. It's absolutely breathtaking, and I read that the Maori see it as a symbol of manliness. We climbed aboard our blue three-masted ship, the Fiordland Navigator, and claimed our free picnic lunches. We had time to eat before the boat departed. It was a two-hour cruise, and we saw many stunning waterfalls (a bonus of being there in the rain - most of the waterfalls are only there when it rains), fur seals napping on the rocks, and simply beautiful terrain. We got almost all the way out to the Tasman Sea. We stood out on deck in the rain for a large part of the journey, soaking in the views. The captain steered the boat right up under some of the bigger waterfalls (because Milford Sound is actually a fiord, carved out by glaciers, it is deep all the way up to land). This was one of the most amazing experiences I've had so far. I even got a sticker and put it on my Kathmandu water bottle. We got completely soaked, but it was worth it. The coach didn't stop on the way back, but the area was still stunning. We got back into Te Anau at about 5 pm. It was a 7 hour journey and truly incredible! We went out to the Chinese place for dinner, and hung out with people at the hostel, notably Caroline (who studied abroad in Sydney last semester and was my age and traveling for a couple weeks in NZ) and Jill (who was from Nebraska but had worked in Hawaii for a while on a cruise ship and was road tripping with a friend she had worked with on the cruise ship) and that weird guy (he was Kiwi... not much else known other than that). The English guy from the night before had left, pity, he was cool. We attempted to put together a puzzle that had come out of a bag and had no picture. Well, I just sat there looking through my guidebook to make my list of places-to-go-to (there's way too many). They actually made a surprising amount of progress, and by the time Karin and I called it a night (Becky was on the phone somewhere) it had been discovered that it was a castle of some sort.

We woke up early (7 am) to catch the 8 am bus back to Dunners. The bus trip was uneventful, except the driver, Robin, decided it would be a good idea to tell us all about every feature we passed (prisons, airports, nonexistent railroad tracks), which was annoying since I and everyone else around me was attempting to sleep. THANKS DUDE. Also we stopped for lunch and everything I ate was nasty. Other than that, not much to say. We got back in Dunners at about 1 pm, just in time to put down my stuff and then go straight to look at Greg's car in the North East Valley. That turned out to not take as long to walk to as I thought. We test drove the 1992 Nissan Bluebird (that's right, I drove!) and I don't want to get into it too specifically, but we have not bought it yet and it seems unlikely that we will. Seems like a good car though.

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