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Cruising on Milford Sound

I spent several days in Te Anau, a pleasant resort town surrounded by beautiful mountains, clear lakes, rolling farmland, and captivating fjords.  My food supplies were running low, so I stopped at the grocery store in Te Anau the second day I was there and got restocked -- carefully avoiding the mutton sausages that were my staple during my first week here in New Zealand (for my not-so-flattering description of mutton sausages, see News: January 1, 2002).  That evening, after yet another fish and chips dinner, I strolled around town in my shorts and t-shirt and watched a beautiful sunset by the shores of Lake Manapouri.  Te Anau is kind of a party town in the summer time (i.e., now) and there were lots of teens and twenty-somethings strolling through the streets having a good time.

 

The Doubtful Sound cruise, which I described in my previous update, was quite amazing.  But I'd heard even better things about Milford Sound, so I decided to check it out, too.  Doubtful Sound is pretty hard to get to, as I described, since you have to drive to the boat dock, take a boat across the lake to the bus, take the bus down to the sound, then take another boat through the sound.  Milford Sound is much more accessible:  basically, you just drive 119 kilometers from Te Anau to the sound, where you hop on a boat.

 

The next morning, therefore, I drove down to Milford Sound and took my second boat cruise in two days.  Milford Sound, as I discovered, is quite different from Doubtful Sound.  On the plus side, it's much more precipitous and, I think, more spectacular, but on the down side, its much shorter than Doubtful Sound and is a lot more crowded.  Imagine half-filling Yosemite Valley with seawater and then adding lots of ferns and rain, and you'll get an idea of what Milford Sound is like.  What made it even more fascinating was that it had rained earlier that morning and the waterfalls were plunging straight off the sheer granite cliffs.  Because there's very little soil here, though, the waterfalls are ephemeral and were all dry later that afternoon.

 

The Milford Sound cruises are pretty popular and the staging building reminded me of an airport terminal with all the boats, tour buses, and people coming and going.  But I'd definitely recommend taking one of the cruises.  If you'd like an experience with more solitude, though, check out Doubtful Sound.  Then again, if you're not sure (like me), do both.  You won't regret either one.

 

       

Above left:  Driving to Milford Sound in the morning to catch another cruise.

Above center:  The first stop at Milford Sound is the cruise terminal.  So many cruises, so little time.

Above right:  The wharf at Milford Sound.  Unlike in Doubtful Sound, where there's only one boat, you have your choice here.  Of course, there are also a lot more people in Milford Sound.

 

   

Above left:  Another day, another sound.  This is Milford Sound, one of the most famous places in New Zealand.  Although the sound (and the cruise) was much shorter than Doubtful Sound, it was even more spectacular -- though it's also a lot more crowded.

Above right:  The sheer granite walls in Milford Sound plunge straight down into the water.  This place gets so much rain that, even though this is the ocean, the top few yards are freshwater.  Freshwater or saltwater fishing -- take your pick.

 

       

Above left:  Fortunately it had been raining for the past few hours.  Because of that, the ephemeral waterfalls here were in full glory.

Above center:  I stopped at the floating underwater observatory in Milford Sound where a spiral staircase leads down to the viewing platform.

Above right:  From the underwater observatory you can observe all kinds of interesting wildlife -- and even some that are in the water.

 

       

Above left:  This is back at the cruise terminal.  That's Mitre Peak, located at one end of Milford Sound.

Above center:   I picked up a couple hitchhikers on my way back to Te Anau.  That's Idit from Israel with the red cap and Jan from Holland on the right.  I ran into Idit again a week later at Fox Glacier and she was still wearing her red cap.

Above right:  Climbing out of Milford Sound, heading back to Te Anau.

Queenstown:  For Those Needing A Buzz

 

In tribute to the bungee fans at Kawarau Gorge, here's Van Halen singing Jump.

   

After spending a few days in Te Anau, I headed north on a drippy morning and drove to Queenstown (pop. 7,500).  In case you've never heard of Queenstown, it's the self-proclaimed "Adventure Capital of the World."  I don't know about the "world" part, but there are definitely more adventure activities in Queenstown than anywhere else in New Zealand -- and that's saying a lot.  There's plenty of hustle here for the tourist dollar and if you've got the money, you can go jet-boating, bungee jumping, paragliding, skiing, river surfing, aerial sightseeing, ballooning, and just about any combination you can imagine.  That includes bungee jumping from a balloon, heli-skiing, para-jet-bungy-surfing, and just about anything else.  The possibilities are endless, as the entrepreneurs here are determined to prove.  Even Bill Clinton loves it here.  After he visited Queenstown a while back, he gushed, "I wish I had weeks to spend here."

 

I was planning to spend a couple of days in Queenstown based on Bill's hearty recommendation, but I found it noisy and pretty congested, thanks partly to road construction that was going on all over town.  Even without the road construction, though, the activity level here is definitely on overload, so I left after only a half-hour.  On my way out of town, I stopped at Kawarau Gorge, the world's birthplace of bungee jumping, and for the next 45 minutes I watched a dozen adrenalin-seeking junkies take the plunge.  It's not for me, though, because I'm a wimp.  But at least I'm a living wimp.

 

Above:  After leaving noisy and crowded Queenstown, I stopped at Kawarau Gorge where bungee jumping was invented back in the 1980s.  Note the raft in the river that retrieves the jumpers (or perhaps their bodies).  

The rain started pouring down on the poor bungee jumpers, so I made a dash for the parking lot and headed on to the small town of Cromwell.  Cromwell isn't nearly as exciting as Queenstown, I'm afraid.  Instead, it's like a smaller version of Invercargill.  Despite it's adrenalin-challenged personality, Cromwell felt like an old friend because the area, with its rolling grasslands and countless highway fruit stands, reminded me a lot of eastern Oregon and Washington, so I decided to spend the night there.  If it weren't for the Kiwi accent here and the cars driving on the left side of the road, I would've sworn this town was somewhere out near Spokane. 

 

My goal the next day was to get to Mt. Cook National Park, which was a few hours drive north of Cromwell.  But as I approached the turnoff for the park the next morning, it started to rain once again, so I just kept driving north, not wanting to waste a visit at the apparently-spectacular Mt. Cook on something I couldn't even see.  I wasn't sure exactly where I was going to stay that evening, but I just kept driving north and, after a few more hours on the rain-soaked highway, I pulled into the pleasant-sounding town of Geraldine.  I discovered the charming Geraldine Motel there, with help from my AA lodging book, and figured this would be a good place to hunker down for a day or two until the skies cleared and I could go back to Mt. Cook.

 

As luck would have it, the New Zealand cricket team was playing an important match on TV that afternoon.  Even better, the town had a great fish and chips place, so I was quite content.  After playing for eight hours, New Zealand won with a wild, come-from-behind finish over Australia sometime past midnight.  Ah, life is good.

 

       

Above left:  Another victim, another $40.  Just kidding.  Actually it's very safe.

Above center:  A few hours from the extremely wet West Coast, you're in Otago, an area similar to eastern Washington.  This is Lake Dunstan near Cromwell.

Above right:  Genetically-engineered fruit in Cromwell.

 

       

Above left:  Non-genetically engineered flowers along the highway.

Above center:  The rain returned on Saturday morning after I left Cromwell, so I just kept driving north until it stopped.

Above right:  Which it did a few hours later here in Geraldine. 

 

       

Above left:  According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Geraldine is the home of the world's largest sweater.  The owners told me they knitted it several years ago from wool and, understandably, have never washed it, fearing it might shrink.

Above center:  This is the Geraldine Motel, one of the nicest motels I've stayed at so far and only US$25 a night.  Best of all, a New Zealand cricket match was on TV that afternoon -- which I watched until past midnight.

Above right:  My favorite Kiwi cuisine:  a fish and chips dinner -- and all for only US$2.  Malt vinegar (left) is essential as is "tomato sauce" (a.k.a., ketchup).

 


 

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