New Zealand | Te Anau: May 13-14, 2013

May 16, 2013 writing about May 13, 2013

Driving to Te Anau

After checking out of our hotel here, we got picked up by our car rental company and got a (thankfully) newer car than the one we got in the North Island. We went into Queenstown, especially to pick up the kiwi we had missed out on in the wildlife park gift shop, and then to a supermarket for some groceries. Wherever we can, we have tried to minimize on eating out although this has meant cooking duty for Penny! But our stomachs thank her efforts and I suppose so do our wallets!

We then had some time to kill before the relatively short drive to Te Anau, so we decided to drive up to Coronet Peak, a ski area near Queenstown with some great views of lake area and mountains around. It was a really winding drive up, but with every hairpin turn, the views of the valley just became more and more wow!

At the top of the peak, it was quite windy and Kaelen started running around with Penny having to mind him and his safety, while Karthik busied himself setting up the tripod and shot of the valley so we could capture ourselves in it. Needless to say, it wasn't a great experience as none of us really just stood to take in the view, with Karthik accepting the blame for being a bit OCD about taking pictures and setting up shots! He now endeavours to be a bit more chill and less Japanese about it all, soaking in the moment vs. going trigger-happy (you can tell whose writing this, can't you?) 

We then began our proper drive to Te Anau, leaving Queenstown and coasting along a road that followed the lakeshore all the way to its end, all the while ringed around by massive mountains. Again, pictures and words don't do it justice. It's just simply marvelous and makes us appreciate this South Island all the more with each passing day and mile.

The mountains and lake gave way to more rolling countryside and smaller hills with its own distinct New Zealand charm. We then spotted something in the distance as Kaelen had fallen asleep in he back. Windmills! On the top of a set of hills in the distance. We decided to take a detour towards them, waking Kaelen up to see them. He woke up and the first word he uttered was, "Windmills." He had a big smile on his face and was thrilled. As we admired them, a friendly farmer rode up to us on his ATV and told us of this better lookout point where we could see all of them in a row. We took his advice and gave Kaelen that better view!

Satiated by moving blades, we left and went back on the road to Te Anau, making it there a bit before sundown. Another pretty little lakeside town, although our digs in this place were a little less Hilton-ensue and a bit more motel-esque. Ah well! We just cooked, ate, and crashed as we had an early start to make it for our cruise around Milford Sound the next day.

May 14, 2013

Milford Sound

Woke up bright and early to make it to Milford Sound for our 11 AM cruise as it was a good 2.5 hr drive and a really scenic one at that. The sun was just coming up as we were leaving Te Anau and we could glimpse the mountains in the distance we were driving towards. Drove through the rolling hills, glimpsing sheep and cattle having their breakfast on the pastures. The mountains were drawing closer as the road started to get windier and we found ourselves going in and out of tree-ringed glades and forests.

We were soon driving through lush rain-forests, as streams and brooks passed by on the side. Then, looming all around us were these gigantic walls of rock, haloed by clouds and mist. It was a cloudy day and it really made for an impressive, yet mystical feel. We found out that there was a tunnel somewhere up ahead - the Homer tunnel - which is one of Penny's greatest fears. We drew closer and closer to a huge, imposing grey mountain that just looked foreboding and bleak. We figured we would be driving through and under it. And there it was, the tunnel with a red traffic light. It was a one-way tunnel, so we had to wait till the cars going in the other direction were instructed to stop on the other side.

Penny really started to panic and Karthik (and Kaelen) tried to re-assure her that it'd be fine. We even got out to talk to the other cars queued up behind us to get some encouragement from them, with a couple in a campervan (that's what they call a small RV here) offering their larger inside space for Penny if that would help. We were even considering turning back, when Penny summed up strength from somewhere and when the light turned green, we headed on! Penny was sitting in the back with Kaelen, eyes closed and with all of is singing "1-2-buckle my shoe," we made it to the other side. Others had told us it'd be 5 minutes to cross, and that compounded Penny's fears, but it was no more than a couple of minutes inside the tunnel.

Still, it wasn't a pleasant experience, especially knowing that we'd have to go through it again on the way back! Kaelen did so well being strong for Mummy and Karthik was proud of Penny for going through with it. We then did our best to enjoy the scenery (spectacular as it was) on the way to the Sound. We arrived quite earlier than planned, so we just got some coffees and a cup of steamed milk (a Starbucks cup as Kaelen calls it now and has come to like it since we first got it in Queenstown) at the Blue Duck Cafe, the only eatery at the Sound. They've made really awesome efforts to keep this place pristine and not become commercialized.

We got our boarding passes for our boat and it was nice that it wasn't crowded, as the bigger crowds come all the way from Queenstown on tour buses after noon. The Milford Sound is a massive fjord (they say fiord here) that opens up to the Tasman Sea on the west coast of the South Island and is known for its wide and deep inlets that allow large ships to navigate inland. It's surrounded by immensely tall mountains covered in lush vegetation and feels like a dream of a place. Everywhere we saw as the boat navigated the sound towards the Tasman Sea and back, there were these tall cliffs rising into the clouds. The waterfalls that are usually rain fed were less impressive as they hadn't had much rain over the past few days.

It was quite windy on the top deck of the boat and Kaelen still had a good time, especially finding a nice hiding place to escape the cold wind. We alternated being out and going below deck to the indoor cabin. It was a great time and Penny and Karthik remarked how this was one of the few places on Earth, like Machu Picchu or Rio de Janeiro or Ubud or Halong Bay, where pictures just don't do it justice. It's really an awe-inspiring spot!

After what didn't seem like an hour and a half, the boat retuned to dock and we got back in the car and headed back. Again, wicked scenery that somehow seemed different as the clouds had parted a bit. But then, back we were at the mouth of the Homer tunnel again. Penny went back to sit with Kaelen and we sang Do-Re-Mi this time and although nerve-wracking, it wasn't as bad as the first time going in. Still, coming out the other side was such a huge relief as no more tunnels lay ahead on the rest of our travels!

We came out of the mountainous region onto a massive plain that we thought must surely have been used as a locale for the Lord of the Rings movies, as the mountains we had been through were sitting pretty in the far distance behind us. It was a cool place to be, but the bugs were biting away so we hurried out of there back to Te Anau.

We stopped by a cafe for some eats and went back to the apartment, but before bringing Kaelen up (he was sleeping), we thought we'd go to the supermarket to buy some things. We then couldn't find Penny's purse when we got there and we searched everywhere, retracing our memory back to Milford Sound and the Blue Duck Cafe. Penny swore the purse was in the car when we loaded up at Milford Sound! Where could it go (with all our passports)?

We even called the tour operator and the cafe and pressed them to look for it. Then Karthik remembered he opened the purse to get the apartment keys when we returned from Milford Sound and had put it back when we were briefly there, before deciding to head to the supermarket! We just realized that's how tired we were! Not even remembering this much! Crazy! We needed rest!

We then had a low key evening, just cooking and eating and calling it a day. The next day we were heading back towards Queenstown and onward to Wanaka. Karthik was going to try his hand at paragliding as he'd seen so many of them flying about at Queenstown. Wanaka was supposed to be a great place to do it as well. Kaelen was excited about going back to Queenstown as well, as he had been talking about the "helicopter shop" all this time since Queenstown (referring to the Skyline gondola place where Karthik had shown him pictures of helicopters to calm him down before taking the gondola up) and doing Luge again with Dada. We just said we'll try, humouring him for now.

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