Te Anau

There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.

Lord Byron

Friday, SEPTEMBER 4, 2015

Remarkable road

We left early Friday morning for Te Anau. The plans for this day were very loose, with the main goal of getting used to the campervan again and making it to Te Anau.

The road out of Queenstown toward Kingston is along Lake Wakatipu, directly below the Remarkables mountain range. It was a narrow, challenging road, but once again Philip did a good job handling it. William was co-pilot and navigator, while Jessica settled into her spot in the back. The weather had been drizzly and cloudy, but we did see a rainbow at one point.

Kingston, a town at the end of Lake Wakatipu, was our stop, to take a breather after our somewhat terrifying drive hurtling around curves with no guard-rail in a top-heavy vehicle. Snow had fallen on the mountains overnight, so the peaks were freshly frosted in white. It was such a magical sight when we had woken up and saw the mist and snow. The combination of that and the sound of many birds gave it almost an eerie but serene quality.


The road to Te Anau did get a bit easier, but was rarely straight. We passed through several small towns that were situated in beautiful sheep-filled pastures and hills (and these hills even seem like mountains to these Michiganders!). The ground below is green, while the peaks are often white, brown, or even bluish in the haze. The mountains in the distance are unbeatable in beauty. The mountains of Fiordland National Park loom like a brooding beast in the distance.

Our trek made a stop-over in Manapouri. We visited the information center and walked briefly along Lake Manapouri. It was bone-chilling cold down by the water, and the waves were quite active. We wondered at the different variety of trees, plants, and fungi that were growing, even through the winter, New Zealand seemed quite green.

Te Anau Bird Sanctuary

Next we drove up to Te Anau, a good 15-30 minutes drive north of Manapouri. Since we were making good time, we decided to stop in a bird sanctuary we saw on the side of the road. The bird sanctuary was on the shore of Lake Te Anau. We paid the suggested $3 (NZD) donation and walked around the grounds looking at and hearing all kinds of native birds. Most birds in the sanctuary had been injured or were recovering, therefore were in cages, but there were a few wild birds that came to feeders that were fun to watch and hear. We saw kākās, takahēs, pūkekos, and kererūs. One bird in particular made a strange mechanical noise; it was black and had two white tufts under its chin.

We checked into our campground, Te Anau Lakeview Holiday Park. This is when we first heard that the weather might be bad for the Milford Road overnight. Heavy snow was forecasted for down to 200 meters elevation. The road had already closed early that day at 5 PM. We became concerned that this may cancel our Southern Discoveries tour for Milford Sound the next day, so we went to the Fiordland National Park visitor center and the Southern Discoveries offices to find out more information on what we could do if our tour was canceled.

Ladies working the desks at both places told us that the road may be closed, at least from Hollyford on. They explained that there are two main legs of the Milford Road, both take an hour. The winding second part is avalanche-prone and the riskier of the two halves. The distances are deceptive, Marie at Southern Discoveries told us, because of the winding nature of the road through the last stretch of mountains before they lead out into the sea, forming the fiords. Marie felt bad that she could not tell us more, but did tell us that Southern Discoveries would rebook us on a Real Journeys tour of Doubtful Sound from Manapouri, on a first-come first-serve basis, in the event the Milford tour was canceled in the morning.

We had lunch back at our campsite and decided talked about what would be our plan B if indeed Milford was cancelled in the morning. Our first option was to try to get a spot on the Doubtful Sound tour. We’d have to quick check back in with Marie in the morning in order to make that happen, before any remaining spots were filled. Our second option was to see the Te Anau Glow-worm Caves and do a longer walk on the Kepler Track, which we had planned to do a small stretch of after lunch.

Kepler Track

After lunch we headed to the beginning of the Kepler Track and walked for about an hour and a half. The Kepler Track goes much further, over the mountains to the fiords of Doubtful Sound, in fact, but we stuck to the first portion, which was a wonderful fern-filled rainforest. Even in winter, it was so lush and green with giant ferns and lots of moss- and lichen-covered trees and rocks. We got our fill of plant and macro photos for the day, and a near-360-degree panorama of the mountains around Te Anau. Signs indicated this was a kiwi habitat, but, alas, we did not see or hear one (that we know of)—but they are nocturnal creature anyway.

We wanted to get back in town before it got too dark, and we needed groceries. We headed to the Fresh Choice and picked up our dinner and food for the next few days.

We baked a ready-made lasagna in the campground common room kitchen, where we struck up some conversations with some Canadians who were also hoping to go to Milford Sound tomorrow, while we waited for our food to cook. We tried a drink called L&P—lemon and paeroa—described as “good lemonish stuff” on the bottle. We bought a 1.5 liter bottle, thinking it would be useful to drink it and fill the empty bottle with extra water for our upcoming Wanaka hike. The L&P was tasty! Bubbly and lemony. We couldn’t do much else that night but journal, wait, and pray that whatever the outcome of the weather tomorrow, we’d have a good day.

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