June 19 - Te Anau
Last night was another relatively warm night. I didn’t wake up that often. We wanted to get up early and do some hiking around Queenstown, but it was pretty cloudy when we woke up around 7:30. We laid in bed until about 8:15 and then decided the clouds didn’t look like they were going to clear up anytime soon. Rather than waste to much time waiting to see if the weather would improve we decided to go to our next destination a day early and come back to Queenstown in a week when we passed through on our way north to Wanaka and the west coast.
I didn’t really care to do the hikes we were planning on doing in Queenstown anyway because we had already seen the mountains and views from that part of the lake anyway for the past two days. We took down the tent pretty fast, and I ate a quick breakfast that consisted of yogart and the last of my limbus bread, I also had a fiber one bar. I only have a few left, so I had been conserving them. We also finished off the last of our milk.
We had a two hour drive to Te Anau hoping that the weather was better there. The drive to Te Anau was pretty quick because we didn’t stop at all. I did a lot of gopro shots out the window. We passed the Mavora Lakes which we read was the place where the Dead Marshes was supposed to be in the Lord of the Rings movies. We plan to stop there on the way back north. We have to backtrack because there is no road north from Milford Sound and Te Anau to Wanaka and the west coast.
The weather started off being cloudy, but the further west we went the more clear it became. It was pretty foggy for large portions of the drive. We arrived in Te Anau around 1 PM. We stopped on the side of the road because we saw a big board that had visitor information. There was a map of the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound that showed all the pull-offs and hikes, plus a short description of each.
We were hoping we would get a brochure with the same information, but just in case I thought about taking a picture of the map. Instead Andy just drew the map in his notebook and wrote down each pull-off and how long the hike was supposed to take.
There was also information about the area on the board, including a map of the town of Te Anau. We figured we would stay for the night because the road to Milford Sound would take a minimum of two hours, and we intended to stop a lot. We couldn’t do that being so late in the day already. It was also cloudy and we didn’t think we would have good views.
We went into town looking for a campground we had seen in our guidebook. Based on the description we decided on a Top 10 Holiday Park, which is basically a KOA campground in the U.S. As we drove down the road the campground was on we saw a visitor center. We decided to stop and see if we could get a map of the hikes in the area and on the road to Milford Sound.
We looked around for a few minutes and then asked the lady at the desk about camping in town and Milford Sound. Andy purchased a brochure for $2 NZD that had the maps and information we had been wanting. We also found out about campgrounds in town. There were four Holiday Parks and one free campground. I had read about the free one, but it only consisted of a pit toilet. After sleeping in a place like that the past few nights and needing to do laundry and get a shower we decided to pay for a nicer place.
We stuck with our original selection of the Top 10 Holiday Park. It was only about a mile or two down the road. When we got to the park we went inside to talk to the lady at the reception desk. We told her we were tent camping and wanted to know if there was space available. Of course there was. Nobody else seems to be camping in a tent at this time of year. She said it was $22 NZD a person, a lot more than I was expecting to pay.
She explained the facilities they had so we thought it would be fine to pay a little more. They had a kitchen, a laundry room, nice showers with heated floors, and a T.V. lounge with internet. The internet cost money though so I didn‘t intend on using it. . It had just what we were wanting.
She asked if we would be too cold, I told her we had been sleeping in a tent the past few days and the weather had been cold, but we would be fine. She also wanted to know if we had a discount card, but we don’t. I had read about them, but they cost money to get 10% off of things. It didn’t seem worth it to pay money to save money. She was nice and gave us a $4 NZD discount though anyway.
She put us in a campsite right across from the bathroom and kitchen area. It had obviously been raining in town because the ground was wet. The site was grassy, which was different from the rocky areas we had been sleeping on in most places. This campground wasn’t very big and it seemed empty. There were a few dorm rooms that could be rented as well. They were basically a row of rooms with glass sliding doors that opened up to a small bedroom about 10 feet by 10 feet and consisted of a bed and a bunk bed. They looked like nice places to sleep, but nothing else.
We got the tent set up and then decided we would try to do the first three stops along the round to Milford Sound. The weather wasn’t very good, but it was better than nothing. The stops included a few lookouts and a hike to a lake. We figured all of them were very short and wouldn’t take too long to complete.
It was very over cast at this point and we couldn’t see very many mountains in the area, although we knew they were there because we could see the very tip of a tall mountain in the distance as we came into town. Lake Te Anau is the largest lake in the southern hemisphere and is surrounded by mountains. All we could see driving along the lake was the very bottom of them.
As we left the campsite and went into the town center we passed a street named “Wong Way.“ We thought it was kind of funny and planned to get a picture of it eventually. We drove for about 20 minutes down the road, but never saw the turn off for the first lookout and there wasn’t much to see anyway. We drove for another 15 minutes and came to Mistletoe Lake, our first stop. The hike was supposed to take 30 minutes round trip. We figured it would take us about an hour because most of the hikes have been taking twice as long as indicated because of all the stopping we do.
There was nobody on the trail except us. The hike was mostly very flat. It started out being in the woods and then gradually opened up into a field of ferns that lined the sides of the trail. After a few switchbacks we were at the lake. Even with stops it only took about 15 minutes to get there. Leading up to the overview of the small lake is a boardwalk. Andy was getting behind so I just did my own gopro shots of me walking and holding the camera.
The lake looked like the perfect place for moose to live, but New Zealand has no animals bigger than a possum it seems. The only deer we see our fenced in and obviously being raised for the sole purpose of being eaten. I don’t know if there never were large animals here or if they have all just been killed off. It doesn’t seem likely though because the South Island only has a million people, and most live in the northern part in Christchurch. I keep thinking they should introduce deer, elk, moose, bears, and wolves to the region. They would thrive in a place like this and it would be just like Canada.
The lake is surrounded by hills on the far side and ferns along the banks. We hiked off the trail a few yards to get a lower angle for taking pictures. We did a few gopro shots and then went across the boardwalk. After the boardwalk the trail goes left, back the way we came, or to the right. We didn’t know where it lead and for how long, but we chose to go right.
This portion of the trail leads back into the woods. The trees in this area were covered in moss. This region is a rain forest and gets about 7 meters of rain per year. We stopped a lot along this route doing gopro videos and taking pictures. The trail was very scenic and reminded me a lot of Olympic National Park in Washington state.
Near the end of the trail there is a small footbridge where we took pictures. This portion of the trail took about an hour to complete. At the end of the trail you come to the highway. There is a sign that says “Carpark 400 Meters” and points to the left. The last ¼ mile you have to walk along the road. That seemed kind of dumb.
Across the street we could see the lake and the clouds were starting to clear up a little bit. We walked over and took a few pictures and then went up the road. I had left before Andy so I was about 100 yards ahead of him. On the right there is the Fiordland Lodge, which looked like a nice place, but it was probably expensive.
I crossed the road and the car park was just ahead. I waited at the car for a few minutes and then Andy showed up. We got back in the car and continued down the road to our next stop. We were looking for a lookout and considered driving to Mirror Lakes possibly. We drove for about 20 minutes, but the skies stayed mostly cloudy as if it was going to rain.
As we drove we saw a few spots that reminded us of the Shire. We could see a river to the left of us, but there were never any pull offs to take pictures. We eventually saw a part of the road that was slightly wider, but flew past it. I said it looked kind of neat and thought I saw a bench so it could be the look off we were searching for. Andy pulled over and turned around.
The bench was actually a tall wooden plank resting against a guardrail. There were a lot of trees blocking the views of the river and any mountains or hills in the distance were blocked by the clouds. We climbed up on top of the wooden plank to get better views. It was about 4 ½ feet off the ground. If we would have slipped we would have fallen over a little wire fence into the bushes below. It wasn’t a straight drop off cliff so we wouldn’t have fallen too far.
The view was ok, but not great. The river did look cool though so we got a few pictures. A few cars went speeding by and probably wondered what we were doing. I jumped down to the ground and we got back into the car to continue on since we didn’t think that was the real view we were hoping to see.
We drove down the road for another 15 kilometers, about half way to the Mirror Lakes. We decided we would do those the next day when we drove to Milford Sound, but continue driving just to see if we could find anything else worth taking pictures of since we had nothing else to do and it wasn’t dark yet.
We passed a few large herds of sheep that Andy wanted to take pictures of on the way back. The farther we went the less clouds there were. We were actually able to start seeing mountains all around us. This road is supposed to be one of the prettiest drives in the world, and when it’s clear outside it seems like it would be. The mountains were all covered in snow, but it didn’t seem like it was that cold. It was actually very comfortable in Te Anau. I would guess in the mid-40s, which for us was warm after spending time in Queenstown and Mt. Cook.
We stopped a couple of times to take pictures of the fields, creeks, and mountains. There was a strange blue fog underneath the gray fog just above it. It looked really cool, but it was hard to make it look the same in pictures.
Along the way there were a number of primitive campsites that are on the side of the road. They consist of a single picnic table and a parking lot large enough for a few campervans. It didn’t seem like anything was marked for tent sites, but they could possibly be thrown up where ever. Most of the pull offs say no camping, so these are specifically designed for people needing a place to stay for cheap. In the winter they are free, I’m not sure if they cost money at other times of year though. We had planned on staying in one of these originally, but decided it was too far down the road for where we wanted to be.
We turned around and started the 45 minute drive back to Te Anau. We had driven about a third of the way to Milford Sound. We were hoping the weather would be more clear the next day so we could see all the mountains we missed this day.
We stopped to take pictures of a huge herd of sheep that we passed before. They were fenced in and just standing in a huge field of mud. We had to drive down about 70 yards past them where a pull off was. It had a gate to another pasture that was across the street. It seemed like a place where the farmer would pull in to do any kind of work. Next to the sheep was a crop of some sort growing. It looked like cabbage to me, but maybe not.
I took a couple of pictures and then ran off just in case Farmer Joe showed up. Andy kept taking forever. He finally got back to the car and we started driving again. As we got back on the road a huge tour bus was following us. The road was very hilly with lots of switch backs, but the bus kept gaining ground. For some reason bus drivers in foreign countries are crazy and drive like maniacs. Eventually the bus caught up and was right on our tail.
We turned off in Te Anau Downs at an over look of the lake. It’s the launching point for people wanting to do the 4-day Milford Track Trail. The first portion you take a boat across Lake Te Anau and then begin hiking, and end at another boat dock that you must cross. Because we are a day ahead we are considering doing the last day of the Milford Track hike and staying in a hut if we can register in time and find the proper boat transport.
We got our pictures and then continued down the road. It was getting dark now and we didn’t stop for the rest of the ride. We got back to the campground just as it was getting dark and decided to have dinner, do laundry, take showers, and then see how we could change the itinerary to fit the Milford Track hike. We had two free days later on that we could rearrange, and a few places we considered not going to after all - Kaikoura and Akaroa, because we had already gone to Akaroa and Kaikoura was all the way on the east coast and it just had penguins, sea lions, and dolphins. We felt wasting an entire day driving across the country may not be worth the trouble.
We decided we wanted to eat a big dinner since we hadn’t had anything for lunch. We had three hotdogs left over and the can of beans we had found at Mt. Cook that somebody had left behind. We had been wanting to eat them so we boiled the hotdogs and cooked the beans. Andy put his half of the extra hotdog in his beans, but I ate mine with just mustard. We also had a salad with lettuce, carrots, cucumber, and broccoli. We ate two cookies for desert. It was a really big meal and tasted really good.
While dinner was cooking Andy put the laundry in to wash. We were able to fit everything in one load. We didn’t have to use soap because it came with it. As we were cleaning up a lady came in to start her dinner. She was cooking lamb chops. Her husband came by a few times as well.
They were from Pittsburgh and had been to New Zealand 10 years ago with their kids. They had been visiting their daughter and her husband for 2 weeks. Their daughter was a doctor in Christchurch. We talked to her for a little bit about what they had done and what we planned to do.
They had done basically an identical trip to what we planned on doing so they knew about all the cool things to see and do. I asked her about Fox Glacier and a few other places of interest and she said we would love it. After dinner it was time to dry our clothes.
Andy went to dry our clothes while I packed up our food and cleaned dishes. I went over to the T.V. room and started charging my camera battery and typing in my journal. The room had two computers, and four love seats a few feet apart all facing forward towards a T.V. It was set up like a media room I guess. There were only five channels though and 3 of them were news.
Andy came and joined and we started trying to rearrange the itinerary. We ended up taking out Kaikoura, and taking a day off of Wanaka. It would allow us to do more at Milford Sound and Manapouri, just south of Te Anau. There was a portion of Lord of the Rings filmed on a hike we wanted to do there.
We also wrote down all the stops and hikes we wanted to do in and around Milford Sound to make sure everything would fit. In order for this to work though we would have to book our place on the track the next day and find out about a boat transport. We figured the DOC office, where we would need to book, would be in Milford Sound and close around 6:30 PM. In other places they stayed open later, but Milford Sound is a tiny town with few overnight tourists at this time of year.
During this time a group of English people were sitting in the back of the room at a table playing some sort of game. I think it was cards. A lot of people kept walking by the window in the front. I thought it was strange because there were only two campervans over there. Where were these people coming from and where were they going?
When the laundry finished drying I picked out some clothes and then went to take a shower. Andy folded his clothes and wrote in his journal. Before I went I plugged in my computer to charge it since the battery was getting low.
The shower felt really good. It was really big and very hot water. There was a big bench to put all of my things and hooks to hang my clothes. This wasn’t a real campsite in my mind, but it was perfect for what we needed. It was a little more expensive, but well worth it.
After my shower I went back to the T.V. room and continued typing in my journal. Andy said I hadn’t fully plugged in my battery when I left and he noticed it and fixed it. So it hadn’t been charging for that long. I moved from where I had been sitting so I could continue charging the computer. There was no outlet where I had been before, in the front row of the couches.
The English people left shortly after I got back, it was about 10:15 PM at this time. Andy went to take his shower around 10:30 and came back just after 11. The T.V. room was supposed to close at 11, but it didn’t seem like anyone was coming to kick us out. I wanted to sleep in there since it was warm and they had couches, but there was a sign saying that sleeping in the lounge wouldn’t be tolerated. I guess others have tried it before.
At about 11:15 PM we went to the tent to get ready for bed. We filled our bottles with hot water and put them at our feet. My water bottle is bigger than Andy’s so I didn’t fill mine all the way. It was almost too hot to carry back to the tent. I had to hold it back the clip at the top. It was a really warm night for sleeping based on what we had experienced. I was thinking it was going to be cold since the lady working at the campground tried to convince us it was going to get cold that night. I was perfectly comfortable and fell asleep after about 10 minutes probably.