Milford Sound New Zealand

Around the World 1998, South Island New Zealand

Note; this post is recreated from the original wired2theworld website post with the dates below. The old posts were reformatted in 2018 for the 20th anniversary of wired2theworld. As much as possible, the content is unchanged and unedited from the original, only some formatting, spelling, and link errors have been corrected.

NEW ZEALAND, South Island: In The Campervan…
Kristina’s Journal: 
September 24, 1998,  Road Kill…..

There seems to be an inordinate amount of road kill here in New Zealand. So much, that we think tomorrow we will count. We estimate we see about 30-50 per day, more here on the South Island. Seems to be mostly the rabbit/rodent variety. Nothing big, but a fair about of feathered friends as well. In fact, we, unfortunately, contributed to this problem last week. We were just driving along, minding our own business when smack! a little black and yellow bird flew right into our windshield. If this wasn’t traumatic enough (especially for the bird), it was held by wind pressure against the windshield, right by the wiper blades. I was thinking, “let’s pull over and see if it’s ok”, (yeah, right, at 80 KPH into glass) and Dave was so horrified that he turned on the wipers because he couldn’t bear to look at it any longer. Flick!  Dave was actually close to tears. Then, both of us burst into hysterical laughter. Inappropriate, yes, but also totally uncontrollable. In all fairness, there was nothing that could be done. 
    Yesterday we came over on the Interislander Ferry that runs between Wellington and Picton. We drove the campervan right on into the hold and then went upstairs to sit in one of the lounges. It was pretty nice. We sat right in the front of the boat behind big glass windows and had a wonderful view. The seas were a bit rough that day, and since we were up front, we were going up and down, up and down, thank goodness I took seasick medicine. I noticed a lot of people leaving the front of the boat and going to a calmer area.

One of the "gourmet" meals in our campervan.
One of the “gourmet” meals in our campervan.

We got into Picton, walked around a bit, and quickly became overwhelmed by all the choice of things to do in the area. This is the Marlborough Sound area, which is well known for its vineyards, and lots of water activities. I really wanted to go on a dolphin watch boat, but we discovered that it’s really an all-day activity and pretty expensive. We had missed it for that day and would have had to spend all of the following day there in order to do it. 
    We had lunch at a cute little cafe called, strangely enough, Le Cafe (33 High Street). We had kumara and orange soup with a nice dark homemade bread. Kumara is a locally grown sweet potato that is used a lot in Maori culture. 
    We went back to the campervan to sit for a moment and decide what to do. Big mistake. Dave sat down on one of the benches around the table and crash! It just completely gave way from underneath. Not fixable by us at all. This meant we had to call the van company, which we did, and they thankfully found us a local place that could fix it that day in Blenheim, one town away. Well, it just so happens that there are some good wineries near there and we stopped at one, Hunter’s. We bought another excellent merlot/cabernet blend and it was so good we thought about sending a case home. Way too expensive and way too much hassle. 
    We got the RV fixed at a “joinery” shop (cabinetry) and we were on our way. Then we went looking for a holiday park that doesn’t exist. Drove around in circles for an hour before deciding that there just wasn’t a campground on that grassy patch of land where there was “supposed to be one, it said so in the book!!” So we wound up at one in Blenheim that has a sweet little Burmese cat named Lace and a great view of a field of sheep. 
    This morning we were up and out and on our way to the West Coast. The South Island is much more rugged and mountainous than the North Island’s rolling hills. When we finally emerged through the forest on the coast, we both remarked that it looks very much like the northernmost part of the California coast. We stopped at a lookout point and checked out the view.

New Zealand Coastline View

When we were walking back, another camper had pulled in behind us. We said hello to the couple in passing and I thought they looked really familiar. It took about a minute, but then I realized where we had met them. At the Honolulu Airport Hotel from Hell. They were on our shuttle bus both to and from the hotel! So we spoke to them again for a few minutes, just to say “small world” and all that, and we were off again. 

We also stopped at a very cool, steel cable suspension bridge. It crosses high above a shallow river. We each took turns walking out about halfway across (private property on the other side, no trespassing). It was a little scary looking straight down to the river below.

Suspension Bridge
Suspension Bridge
Suspension Bridge
Suspension Bridge

    We drove as far as the Franz Joseph Glacier tonight and pulled in late and in the rain into a muddy little campground at the base of the glacier. Supposedly, just 4 km away is a giant field of ice just waiting for us. We shall see it tomorrow, hopefully, if the rain lets up. 

September 24, 1998

Franz Joseph Glacier
Franz Joseph Glacier

We did go to the glacier and it was amazing! It was a cold and overcast day, but still worth the trek out to it. We drove about 4 km up a road from the coastline. We were told it would take about 40 minutes to walk to the base of the glacier. So we started down a small path through the very dense rainforest.

On the walk out to Franz Joseph Glacier
On the walk out to Franz Joseph Glacier

We walked for about 10 minutes, rounded a corner on the path and BAM! walked right out into a giant valley and there it was. If you can see the people in the photo, they are still about a 1/2 hour walk from the base. It was awe-inspiring. The rock walls along the valley show signs of where they had been carved thousands of years before by the glacier.

Franz Joseph Glacier
Franz Joseph Glacier-See the people walking along the top?
Franz Joseph Glacier
Franz Joseph Glacier

David’s Diary: 
September 26, 1998  Waka Waka Wanaka…

This morning we realized that the South island is much larger than either Kristina or I had imagined. We began our day with our first official ROAD KILL COUNT.  On the road to Wanaka,  we counted 23 dead animals- mostly opossum, but there were some rabbits, the occasional foul fowl,  and possibly a wombat or two.  Overall, it was a much lower number than we had estimated, based on our earlier experiences. 
    We covered some 350 kilometers today,  however, which brings us closer to our ultimate southern destination: Fiordland. Wanaka, although beautiful in its own right, is really nothing more than a small pit stop on the way to bigger and better things.  The town of Wanaka sits on the southern shores of Lake Wanaka, one of many enormous, long, and very deep lakes carved into the southern portion of the South Island by the advancing and receding glaciers of the last five ice ages.  These lakes are most impressive, not only for their size and depth, but also for their clarity and tranquility.  The water is so clear and calm that it acts a mirror, in which all of the surrounding scenery is repeated- double your pleasure!  Actually, both Kristina and I are beginning to experience clinical ‘scenic view overload’,  and are longing for some graffiti painted overpasses and rush hour traffic. 
    As I think we mentioned earlier,  three million of New Zealand’s four million inhabitants live north of Lake Taupo on the North Island,  leaving the South Island quite sparsely inhabited.  Conversely, a full two thirds or more of the sixty million sheep live down here, thus occupying the vast majority of the flat pasture lands.  All of this results in what I can only describe as ‘the anti-traffic’.  I find myself wishing that there were just a few more cars on the road- I mean, what if we break down or hit a sheep? Will they have to special order an ambulance from Australia? It is not so bad, I confess, after five years of commuting to work through downtown Los Angeles, to drive slowly (100 kilometers an hour) down a beautifully deserted highway, simply because we are in no special hurry.  Also,  the little 4 cylinder diesel engine in the campervan does little more than that with the pedal to the metal, in fifth gear!  We both agree that this de facto restriction of my velocity is for the best, especially given that our campervan is not the most aerodynamic of vehicles that Isuzu has ever made.

Kristina’s Journal: 

Here’s a note about driving on the West Coast of the South Island. Watch out for the bridges that merge with a train track. No crossing lights, no warning bells, nothing. Just a one-lane bridge that cars and trains take turn using. Possibly one of the funniest things about this is the sign posted before the bridge warning bicyclists to be careful. There is no way to tell that a train is coming; just give a good look and pray.    

David’s Diary:
September 27, 1998    …Sounds like…..Fiord

Milford Sound
Milford Sound

Ahhh, how I love to say ‘fjord’, or ‘fiord’, or however it is spelled.  We have come as far as we will in the campervan, on our way to Milford Sound, the hallmark of fiordland. We have made camp-i.e. plugged in at a holiday park- in the small lakeside town of Te Anau, some 120 kilometers south of Milford Sound,  Milford is actually a fjord, not a sound at all, but that is an error that can be added to the long list of mistakes made by Captain James Cook (that’s Cook, not Kirk) during his marvelous adventures around these parts several centuries ago.  His mission was to seek out new lands, chart them, name them, and boldly go where no white man had gone before.  Without the aid of a highly skilled science officer, like Spock, he did not know that a fjord is created by glacial movements, during ice ages mostly, and a sound is carved out by erosion and moving water, like that of a big river.  I confess that I did not know this either until our bus driver enlightened me to this fact during his very informative narrative on the way to Milford this morning. 
    Milford Sound (fjord) is an awesome place to behold.  The approach alone is stunning, to say nothing of the magic of the sound itself.  We drove along more beautiful lakes, in the comfort of a modern Volvo tour bus, only to find ourselves, most abruptly, at the heels of an alpine range rivaling some parts of Switzerland, though not quite as tall.  We climbed quickly and steadily to the foot of one of these great peaks, still surrounded by lush, cool rainforest, and made a final stop before entering an 18 k. stretch of road where avalanche danger prohibits the stoppage of any vehicle.

The Kea bird

We encountered, at the ‘scenic view point’ a local alpine parrot known as a Kea.  We had heard of these bold and mischievous creatures, but as of yet had only seen them on New Zealand television commercials.  They are, in fact, quite bold and unafraid of the hoards of humans with cameras, only feet from its beak.  This bird, a rather large specimen (about 16 inches tall), looked as if it could do some serious damage with its beak and talons, and therefore had nothing to fear from some ignorant tourists such as ourselves.  It was most content to pose for two busloads of curious amateur photographers, all of whom were right up in its face.  Amazing.  Kristina and I,  having no shame whatsoever, joined right in and she took this photo.   Apparently, these birds will wreak havoc and destruction on the rubber portions of your car, ripping off the window molding, tearing out the window wipers, etc. and steal anything small and flashy you might leave unattended.  A demon in disguise, really. 
    So, we mount back up, all satisfied with our kea pictures, and continue towards Milford, which is, after all, what we paid to see. The final 18k of the drive is one of sheer majesty, and usually, of tension and terror, but not today. Majestic, yes, as the tiny road winds up a hallway of giants, and the bus is a mere speck by comparison. Terrifying, no, for the giants appear to have left their clubs in Hawaii, or some other tropical paradise.   They have had almost no snow this year in New Zealand, and for the first time in recorded history, the road to Milford was green in September. Lucky for us, because we did not have to cross this tall, thin valley worrying of avalanches. 
    Normally,  the risk is so great that stopping on this road is prohibited by law at all times, summer or winter.  The mountains on either side of us bound up over a vertical mile and the start zones for avalanches are not visible from the road. Here is where the real danger lies.  You would not know if there was an avalanche above you until it came flying over the vertical wall of a 1000-2000 foot cliff, then fell straight down onto the valley floor beside, or on top of you.  Even if the snowdrop were to miss the bus by a quarter mile, the shock wave- an air blast measured at over 400 klm. per hour- would toss the bus like an empty cigarette carton.  Scary, eh?  In order to prevent this, the New Zealand mountaineer corps closes the road, flies in with helicopters to bomb the start zones and set off the avalanches in a controlled manner, then cleans up the mess below-  allowing the road to open again. This is the job I want when I retire from traveling: avalanche bombardier. 
    At the end of avalanche alley, there is a dark hole in the mountain.  This 1800 meter tunnel leads to the other side (…where you might find a chicken…), and another world.  Milford  Sound is like a magical wonderland, land of the lost, valley of the kings, and something Walt Disney might have dreamed up for a theme park, all rolled into one.  Majestic peaks tower above on all sides, resplendent with waterfalls cascading down from unimaginable heights, directly from their frozen sources: glacial snow and ice, like frosting, spread smoothly across the tops of all the mountains surrounding this place. 

Kristina’s Notes: Milford Sound    
Note about tours and trips to Milford Sound: There are many. They all offer the same thing for the same price. You will be besieged by them whether you go from Queenstown or Te Anau. You can take a bus/boat trip or drive there yourself. I would recommend the bus trip, much more relaxing, especially if you have been driving as much as we had, interesting commentary, and photo stops. Also safer, given the narrow road and avalanche considerations. There is nowhere to stay in Milford Sound, only one hostel/hotel that is reserved primarily for “trampers” returning from the 4 day long Milford Track walk. The next closest town is Te Anau, and consequently, tours from here are cheaper, and less time in the bus, than from Queenstown. The tour operators do not offer YHA discounts, but ours, Fiordland Travel, gave a 10% AAA discount. Pays to ask. If you do the day trip like we did, don’t bother with the additional meal offered on the boat; it wasn’t very good. But do pack a lunch and eat on board (many other people do) otherwise it’s a long day with nowhere to buy lunch.
Seals at Milford Sound
Seals at Milford Sound

September 28, 1998

    Today we drove from Te Anau to Dunedin, the South Island’s second largest city (pop. 110,000). This is a university town, complete with lots of coffee houses, pubs, run down “student rentals”, and a commons with students taking in the rare bit of sunshine today. Still, its a lovely town with Victorian architecture and a nice buzz about it. What I like is that it’s not too touristy, i.e.: it doesn’t exist solely for the tourists as some of the other places we’ve been to have. 
    So, we didn’t do anything touristy when we got here either. We just took a walk around, David stopping for a quick haircut at the barber (and to buy a cigar, his newest vice), and had coffee at a neat cafe called Medusa on the Octagon. The Octagon is the equivalent of the town square, except that it’s octagonal shaped. 
    We contemplated dinner, walked around some more, and wound up at a Thai restaurant called Kar-Tom Thai Cafe at 369 George Street. We chose this place for two reasons. The first being that we had a sudden craving for Thai food after not having any for over 6 weeks. The second was that this seems to be the only busy restaurant in town. Now, granted it was a Monday night, the slowest night for any restaurant, but this place was packed and no other place around had a soul in it. We took this as a good sign. Plus the prices looked reasonable. The food was good, though different slightly than Thai food we are used to in Los Angeles. And different I’m sure from the food we will soon have in Thailand. I had a green curry with prawns that was so spicy I was sweating. David’s red curry with pork was very spicy too, but different in that the heat did not linger. The chicken satay appetizer was good though a bit sweet for my taste. Everything came with lots of rice. That with two Heinekens set us back NZ$40.50.

September 29, 1998 
    We hung out in Dunedin for the morning since we liked it so much. First we went to the Dunedin Contemporary Art Museum which had some great exhibits. 
    Then we had lunch at the Catering School at the Otago Polytechnic. This is probably one of the best deals for a meal in Dunedin. The Joseph Mellor Restaurant is where the Catering students practice kitchen work and service. Fortunately, they are overseen by good chef-instructors and managers. So, for NZ$7.50 (only US$3.75) per person you get a wonderful 3-course lunch in a fine dining setting overlooking the harbor. You can barely get an order of fish and chips for that! The food was actually very good and the service was a bit uneven. Reservations are necessary, they are only open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and are open for dinner as well.

Note from 20 years in the future, this place is still open! See link above. We would totally go again if in Dunedin! Check the link for current opening times.

The last thing we did in Dunedin was to go to Ovenston House. This is a  huge mansion that was built in 1904 for a family of four. After the parents died in the 1930’s, the daughter who never married, lived in the house until the 1960’s, and kept it virtually unchanged. She donated the house to the city of Dunedin and they now offer tours daily. When we got there, the tour was full, so they called in another docent from her home and we wound up on a private tour all our own. The house is beautiful and fascinating, filled with all the most modern convinces of the day. The family also traveled the world and the house is filled with their purchases from Morocco, Japan, and paintings and sculptures from Europe. Well worth seeing. 

On the way from Dunedin to Christchurch, we stopped to check out the giant boulders on the beach. Maori legend has it that they were the food containers from the original, giant canoes that came ashore in New Zealand, turned to stone.

1. Avoided Queenstown, the adventure sport capital of New Zealand; no bungy jumping, sky diving, or kayaking for us, sorry, we want to live long enough to make it all the way around the world! 
2. Bought paperback books at used bookstores or new on the sale rack (3 for NZ$12!). 
3. Cooked 13 dinners out of 14 in the campervan.

1. Bus trip/cruise on Milford sound. 
2. Paperback books, gotta read! 
3. Thai food in Dunedin, got tired of cooking! 

NEW ZEALAND, Christchurch

Kristina’s Journal: 
October 2, 1998

Christchurch is very much an English inspired city, complete with Gothic cathedral and lots of old stone buildings. Unlike Auckland and much of the North Island, there seems to be very little Maori influence. We did nothing “touristy” while here, we didn’t even walk into the cathedral. We spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how we were going to get from Sydney to Cairns with enough time to go diving all in 13 days. What we came up with was that the bus would just be a horror and the train would take too long and cost about the same as flying. So, it looks like we’re going to have to fly which will severely eat into our budget. I guess that’s the price we pay for poor planning.

Since October 1 was a big milestone day for me (my 30th birthday) we decided to stay in a nice bed and breakfast here. This was much appreciated by both of us after spending 14 days in the cramped motorhome. We stayed at Fendalton House where we had a great big sunny room with our own bathroom, TV, phone etc. It’s owned by a lovely woman named Pam Rattray who cooks wonderful big breakfasts and takes her guests down to the little river that runs behind the house to feed the ducks in the morning.

In honor of my birthday, we also had an amazing meal at a restaurant called Thornley’s. I’m going to give you all the menu details now, so if you’re not interested just skip down. This is the type of place where one needs a culinary degree to read the menu. Very pretentious, even I had a hard time deciphering it. Thank God, the chef, Peter Thornley,  lived up to his reputation (and the attitude of his menu). 
We started with a wonderful wine they had just received that day; a Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Syrah 1997 from Trinity Hill in Hawkes Bay. Before we even had our first course, we were presented with an amuse bouche (“to please the palate”, in French), usually just one little bite. This was one single Tortellini of Akaroa Salmon with Chive Buerre Blanc and Red Wine Reduction. 
Then we began with our appetizers; I had Sesame Seared Golden Bay Crab Tian, Crab Claws in Citrus Jus, a Crisp Nem, Curry and Crab Oil.  No, no typos there, even I didn’t know what a Nem was (it was, in this case, a little crab filled fried Vietnamese spring roll). David had Akaroa Salmon, Whiskey Cured, Smoked Over American Oak, Steamed Mandarin Crepes, Cucumber, Rock Sugar, Black Bean Relish. 
Next course for me was my main; Cherry Farm Duck Rubbed with Pepper, Pumpkin, Water Chestnut, and Ginger, Crisp Pear Lamels, Duck Reduction and Vanilla Oil.  I can’t even begin to explain how wonderful this was, the duck went so well with the pumpkin, ginger and vanilla. David had Roast Saddle of Lamb, Grilled Polenta Tian, Aubergine Roast Garlic Confit Wrap, Tarragon Oil, Red Wine Reduction. The grilled polenta tian was very thin layers of firm polenta stacked with sundried tomatoes and the aubergine was thinly sliced eggplant wrapped around roasted garlic and stacked atop the polenta. Both my duck and David’s lamb were perfectly cooked. 
Dessert was preceded by two dessert amuse bouche; Strawberry and Pear William Sorbet with Rhubarb Compote and Lemon/Ginger “Tea”;  next a small chocolate and cherry soufflé. For my dessert I chose the Assortment of Chocolate; Bitter Chocolate Tart, White Chocolate Sorbet, Raspberry Muscovite Chocolate Wrapped, Cinnamon Preserved Cherry, Milk Chocolate Pave. This was presented on a large white plate, single bite portions of each. David had the Bella Rosa Apricot Tart, Baked Almond Creme Coconut Glace, Roast Butter Apricot Juice.

Note from 20 years in the future; after learning what a “nem” was at this meal, we ended up naming one of our sweet rescued cats “Nem”.

We really didn’t do much else while in Christchurch. I think we had sightseeing sensory overload by the time we got there. We did, however, find a cafe in the Art Center that makes wonderful coffee. And, as an added bonus, they give you 15 free minutes on the internet on one of their terminals upstairs. We took advantage of this to do a little research on dive boats in Cairns. 
We go to Sydney tomorrow with nowhere to stay and no idea how we are to get to Cairns with enough time to dive. Called the YHA which has 500 beds and they’re full!! This doesn’t look good.
Some lasting impressions of New Zealand: 
1. The way everyone here says “Yeah, yeah, right.” 
2. Waterfall overload 
3. Sheep, sheep, and more sheep. 
4. Keep to the left and stay calm! 
5. One way bridges shared with trains 

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