I finished my boat tour of Milford Sound by mid-day today. I only planned one night in the area but regretted that decision when I saw the vast number of walking tracks in the area.
I am heading to Queenstown now. No time scheduled for hikes but I do plan on making scenic stops along the way.
First I stop by the campsite in Milford Sound to get the perishables out of the refrigerator. Luckily they are still there.
Tutoko Suspension Bridge
My first stop is at the Tutoko bridge, the last remaining steel suspension bridge on the Milford Road. It is a beautiful day so there are beautiful views from the bridge.
The next stop is to see the Chasm, a series of waterfalls that form a deep and interesting chasm in the rocks. It is beautiful to see but hard to capture by photo.
Hundred Falls and valley area before Homer Tunnel
On the approach into Milford Sound I was so nervous and preoccupied with the steep and tight curves after leaving the tunnel I didn’t really take the time to stop and appreciate the area. On my return trip I am sure to stop and take some pictures. When it comes to Milford Sound the journey is really the destination. It is hard to resist all the scenic stops. This is probably why the drive is so long.
I have reached the tunnel again. This time with confidence! Unfortunately I am held up by the traffic light quite a while. It is a one-way tunnel and we must wait.
More stops along the way…..
I stop at the recommended Braken Hall in Mossburn for meat pies. It seems like the store might be closing soon. It is nice to get a little lunch break during my drive. I am much closer to Queenstown now.
Devil’s Staircase Lookout Point
A final scenic stop of the day is to the Devil’s Staircase lookout. It is a magnificent view of a big lake, over a part of Lake Wakatipu.
Finally I arrive in Queenstown and check into the holiday park. It is a funky holiday park. It isn’t cheap but is centrally located for easy access to the town area.
Today I am going on a day cruise of the famous Milford Sound in New Zealand. Milford Sound is a fiord – a slither of sea between high cliffs. The weather today is beautiful as can be but I am told it is hard to have a bad cruise….even if it is raining the resulting waterfalls are magical. I take lots of photos but unfortunately they don’t do justice. It is impossible to capture what I see, feel, and think while I am there.
In the morning I head down to the car park at Milford Sound area where the day cruises launch. There is a self pay machine for parking. There is free parking but further away so today I just pay. As I pay I am attacked by sandflies. There is a little shop in the visitors center where I pick up some bug spray. I hope it helps.
I have a little while before my cruise begins so I walk along the water. The views are amazing just from the short alone.
I head down to the pier to board for the cruise. Today’s cruise is a two and half hour cruise. It seems pretty short so I hope it is worth the overnight trip down here. Many come down here from Queenstown by coach for just a short day cruise. It seems like a super long day.
As the cruise starts we are already are greeted with a nearby waterfall.
As we head further and further the views keep getting better.
I admire the sides of the cliffs.
We catch some seals in the sun. I am loving the colors on these rocks as well.
We start to see all the waterfalls along the sides. It is beautiful. Apparently when it rains you will see even more. I’ve been told it is magical.
The boat cruises up to the cliff and the waterfall pours onto the boat and into glasses. They let us taste the fresh waterfall water.
We reach the end of the fiord. Beyond this point is the vast sea. We turn around at this point and head back.
We arrive back at the port. I walk around a bit more to take some more pictures before I head off to Queenstown.
I am not sure the pictures capture the feeling of the cruise but perhaps this short video will….
My drive to Queenstown has many stops so I’ll post more on that later.
This morning I am heading to Te Anau. Te Anau is just an overnight stop on my way to Milford Sound. I could drive straight to Milford Sound in a day but it is a long drive so I choose to break it up with an overnight in Te Anau instead.
From Moeraki the drive takes about 4 hours or so. I don’t stop too much on the way except a time or two for health breaks and great views.
I am running low on gas so I am happy when I find a rest stop Alpine Centre Cafe & Bar – almost at Te Anau – where I see a newly sheared alpaca who wants some snacks.
I am pleased that my holiday park for the night is right around the corner from the rest stop.
The glow worm tour is a cruise across a lake to a cave where they can be observed. I drive down to the port to catch my boat after I settle in at the campsite (settle in = put my perishables in the refrigerator).
We start off with a breezy boat ride ride on the lake. I take in the breathtaking views as we cross the lake.
Once on shore they split us to two groups. My group tours the area around the cave while the tour guide talks about wildlife and the vegetation.
Then we enter into the cavern house where we learn about the glow worms and are given special safety instructions for the viewing. Glow worms are actually fungus gnats in their larvae stage. They glow to attract prey that they feed on and appear in the darkness. Tour guides do not let us take pictures or video inside so I’ll try to best describe the experience: First we walk into a cave along a series of platforms. It gets progressively darker inside. I can start to see little bits of the worms in the moist parts of the cave above and beside us. We eventually get to a set of stairs that lead to a platform where there is a little boat. There are two long benches where our group splits along facing outwards the boat to the sides. There is a boat guide who has a light as we board but after we are safely boarded turns off this light and guides the boat only by grabbing a chain above and pulling us down a water tunnel. At first it isn’t very impressive. Just faint glows but eventually we float to areas with more densely populated worms. Our guide tells us to look up and he glides us by and turns the boat around so all have a great view of the glowing above. We go through a couple sections of these before we return to the start to walk back out the tunnel.
There are multiple scheduled times of the viewings so we wait for our boat to return with another group by the shore.
Soon we take the boat ride back to our starting location. The temperature has dropped and the wind is strong. Only a few of us brave the ride on the top. I spent so much of my travels hot so I take advantage of this moment of coldness; although I regret it later in the evening when I cannot get warm in my van.
Once back to the campsite I prepare my dinner and head to bed. It is late but still light out. It is January but I have to remember this is their summer and the sun sets later.
That evening the campervan is so cold so it makes me want buy another blanket. I have a hard time getting comfortable to get a restorative sleep. I don’t see any stores on my way to my next location so I hope I’ll be ok for the next few days.
Next morning drive to Milford Sound
In the morning I am driving to my next campsite in Milford Sound. I’ve been warned about the narrow, curvy roads and tunnels of this part of the drive. I am nervous but I’ll take it slow and drive during the day.
It is on this drive that my GPS starts to crap out on me. Luckily I have backup systems like google and maps.me and the drive route seems pretty straight forward.
There are a couple stops along the way as well as some walking tracks. I unfortunately do not schedule time for any walking tracks, New Zealand is too big of a country! I do make a couple photo stops though.
Cascade Creek Road
The drive takes somewhere between 3 to 4 hours. I stop along way many times and drive slower than the speed limit just to be safe. Most of the ride is pretty easy but the last probably 45 minutes is the most challenging part: narrow and curvy roads, inclines and declines, and the famous tunnel everyone talks about. The tunnel goes through a mountain and only allows for traffic in one direction but a light outside each side lets the traffic flow in.
It is really interesting driving through the tunnel but don’t get me wrong I’d probably feel different if I was driving through at night or in inclement weather. I am lucky because the weather is spectacular.
So I have arrived at my campsite which happens to be the smallest I’ve had so far but the facilities are nice. The real annoying part of the stay is the sandflies. They are eating me alive here. It is my first real run-in with them in New Zealand. I’ve been keeping score with all my run-ins with wildlife and I’ll add this to the list of my enemies: geckos, monkeys, fur seals and now sandflies.
I check into the campsite and look at the list of all the great walking tracks I probably won’t get to do while I am here.
I empty out the icebox of my van and take the goods to the refrigerator of the campsite in order to keep things cold since the chill box only works when the van is on. I am tempted to eat dinner at the fancy restaurant at Milford Lodge tonight but I must finish my perishables since they probably won’t keep for my upcoming daytime activities. I contemplate leaving my groceries in the lodge fridge while I am out on my cruise tomorrow; you are supposed to date your goods with your checkout date but how will they know if I fudge the date a bit?
The sandflies are ruthlessly attacking me. I hide out in the van with the windows shut and nap. The nap is well needed. I didn’t quite sleep well last night because it was much cooler than I expected; I was kept awake because I could not get warm enough. I wake up from my nap but still too tired to do any walking around or exploring right now so I purchase a gigabyte of data to surf the web (15 NZD in these parts!). Best to save my energy for the Milford Sound cruise tomorrow and the drive to Queenstown afterwards.
I head to the kitchen and lounge and prepare my dinner.
I am actually lucky to get into this campsite, Rainforest Campervan Park, since it is the only one near Milford Sound and limited in space. It isn’t cheap though. There are posh cabins that can be reserved as well. They have a spectacular view.
I’m jealous of the great views of the cabins. At least I don’t have a long drive in the morning to make my Milford Sound cruise.
Today is my second day in Moeraki. On the agenda today is to go see the famous boulders on the beach then head back to Katiki Point to try to catch a sight of penguins again.
I enjoy the cooler weather with a yogurt, granola and banana with a coffee looking at the water below.
I watch the boats heading out for a day’s fishing.
The best time to see the boulders is a low tide. Today that is scheduled at 11:30 am.
I walk along the road a little bit until I reach a now partially closed path. I take the Millennium track toward the beach. It seems like the track was longer in the past (closer to my holiday park) but erosion has made part of the trail unsafe. The brush is slightly overgrown. I am wishing I would have worn long pants today.
I finally make it to the beach where it is nice and calm. There are very few people on the beach but I do notice a dead seal. It is really sad to see. Luckily it has been removed before my walk back.
I make it down to Moeraki Boulders Beach to look at the unique boulders. The boulders were formed around 60 million years ago during the early Paleocene. They are now being uncovered due to coastal erosion.
I head up to the nearby café to order some fish chowder.
After lunch I walk back to the holiday park back along the beach.
I hop carefully from rock to rock to a secluded area. I savor the sounds of the ocean and birds. It is very calm here. I notice tide starting to rise. Not wanting to get “trapped” I head back the way I came. I think this probably used to be part of that now defunct track.
I notice different types of flowering plants on my walk back.
I relax for a little while before heading back to the Katiki Point to try to get some more penguin viewing. Today I end up seeing only one penguin.
He goes away from view for a while so I end up looking at some more seals.
The penguin moves uphill where I snap a couple more pictures.
I drive back to the campsite but first stop by the village to walk around. There isn’t much to the village but a pier and a nice restaurants. I have food to eat back at the campsite so I forgo the restaurant.
Back at my campervan I set up a semi-healthy dinner. I make a large salad but can’t resist butter bread with this spectacular butter (I feel like an influencer now, they should be paying me).
I love my stop in Moeraki. If I had more time I would have checked out the nearby towns of Dunedin and Oamaru. Oamaru in particular has the Steampunk HQ: a funky museum of all things steampunk (a missed opportunity on the drive into Moeraki). I just kept missing the window of opening hours so I regret not stopping on the way. I think it would have been fun to visit.
Tomorrow I head further south to Te Anau to get closer to Milford Sound. Loving my visit to New Zealand so far.
I have picked up my campervan and I am on the road south to Moeraki New Zealand. My first drive should take about a 4 hours. I make a couple stops along the way: one to a farmers market and another to a grocery store to stock up on some goods I need for the next couple weeks. The plan is to self-cater many of my meals so I need to stock up on the basics as well as things such as detergent, and all purpose cleaner. The van I have rented does not have a refrigerator but has a chill box. I later find this to be very inconvenient as it is only really for keeping cold things cold, and only while the van is running. A few days later I regret not paying more to rent a van that is solar powered when I have to throw out spoiled food after a outing or two. For the first few days though everything works out well. I am able to store perishables in the kitchen of the holiday park and the heat isn’t too bad so things left out don’t spoil as quickly.
The GPS helps get me to my first holiday park (holiday parks are essentially camp grounds in Australia and New Zealand). To get to my destination, Moeraki Village Holiday Park, I have to drive down narrow rocky roads and essentially driving through dirt in some areas. The car handles the bumpy roads fine but awkwardly until I get right to the entrance to the holiday park. Somehow I take a curve into the park too quickly and at the same time hit a bump which causes the van to lift off the ground. Things that aren’t secured go flying all over the back. One of the provided porcelain bowls has cracked in half. I have my first casualty and I haven’t even had the van for a full day yet. It seems kind of stupid that the plates and bowls are not better secured on the shelf; better yet plastic plates should have been provided instead. I learn a lesson that day to keep my things better secured.
I check into the holiday park I get my assigned spot for the next two nights. My spot is powered but my van is not set up to take advantage of it. Also regret not paying more for a powered van. It would come in handy when I want to charge things.
At the park office I note the viewing times for both the famous boulders and viewing of rare yellow-eyed penguins.
The goal today is to view Yellow-Eyed Penguins, the rarest penguins in the world. I am heading to Katiki Point Lighthouse this afternoon to try to get a glimpse of them. There are about 30 of them nesting here.
I secure my van and drive to the lighthouse. GPS is not giving me the best directions so I am having a hard time finding the lighthouse. I end up backtracking and and takes me much longer than I expect to get there. I fear I have missed the march of the penguins. Good thing I’ll have another chance tomorrow.
I find the lighthouse and park. The wind is strong, I have hard time opening and closing the doors of my van. I grab my camera and follow the path to the observation area.
I start to look down at the shore and I see Fur Seals.
I walk further out on to the ledge and pass some fur seals resting in the sun. I try to keep my distance.
I walk around the peninsula glimpsing down trying to find penguins but I am unsuccessful.
I am not paying close attention to my surroundings. I hear a grunt. I turn to find a fur seal is dangerously close. It grunts more at me then comes charging; it hops up and down quickly and has a snide yet determined look on its face. I am shocked and scared. I start shouting and running off. Luckily the animal gives up. It is a stupid thing on my part, I should have been more careful. Fortunately no one else is close enough to see my embarrassment.
The cheeky seals are laughing at me. (I am using my telephoto lens now!)
I head to another, safer, area where I get a good view of nesting birds.
I head to another area and notice a some families watching below, some with tripods. This must be the spot. I spot one isolated penguin in the distance. For the protection of the animals we are unable to get very close. Luckily I traveled many months with my heavy telephoto lens just for this moment.
Finally a couple of his friends show up.
We watch them waddle away to their nests further away from our view. I am confused that I only see three; maybe I missed more of them earlier? I decide to come back tomorrow to try again.
I head back to the campsite to settle in for the night. This is my first night van camping. I couldn’t have picked a more beautiful evening.
I make my bed and use the facilities at the campsite to clean up for the evening. Note: I do have running water and a camper toilet in my van. I don’t really plan on using either one because I don’t want to have to deal with the clean up that is needed if I use those things. I really don’t plan on freedom camping this trip so I shouldn’t need water and toilet.
It is a nice night and the bugs are not bad so I’ll able to leave the windows open until I close up for the night.