Saturday, June 23, 2012

June 20 - Milford Sound

June 20 - Milford Sound

I got up this morning just before 7 AM. I only know the time because the alarm went off at 7 AM and I had woken up a few minutes before. It was very dark outside still, but it wasn‘t very cold. It was probably in the mid-40s all night. At least that‘s how I felt. There was a sign that said the low would be around 2 Celsius, which is 35 degrees, but I felt much warmer than that. It was probably the best night of sleep I have had in the tent all trip.

I wanted to get up early though so we could start the drive to Milford Sound and have time to do all the things we wanted. Based on our new itinerary we figured we needed to be to Milford Sound by 5 PM in order to register for the Milford Sound hike and get a boat transport to the beginning in the morning.

We had a lot to do before we went started our drive so we needed an early start. In my mind I wanted to be on the road by 8:30 AM. It was kind of cloudy, but we were hoping for nice weather. I had taken a shower and charged my batteries the night before, so I would have less things to do. We took down the tent really fast and went to have breakfast. There was a toaster in the kitchen so we wanted to have peanut butter and jelly toast sandwiches. We also had hot chocolate.

After breakfast we headed to the grocery store to reload on food. There are no grocery stores in Milford Sound so Te Anau is the place travelers stock up. We went to a Fresh Choice because there was no New World. It was slightly more expensive for some things we had purchased before, but other things were cheaper as long as we chose the store brand. As a whole the groceries cost about the same as usual.

We spent about 20 minutes at the grocery store and then went down the road a block to a gas station. There is no gas station in Milford Sound either so you need a full tank of gas to get there and back. It is 120 kilometers one way, not counting any extra driving you may do. We are staying for 4 days so we will need to be careful on how much driving we do so we don’t get stuck getting back. We have a few day hikes we plan to do in addition to the two days on the Milford Track as well as a day doing a kayak trip.

While we were filling up gas the lady working there was talking to Andy about what we planned to do. She offered to give us a map. When I was paying she gave us a map identical to the one Andy had drawn the day before on the side of the road. It didn’t have all the lookouts, but it at least mentioned the hikes and a brief description of each. We had our map, our groceries, and our gas. We were ready to go. It was 8:40 AM, so we were just behind schedule.

It was still a little cloudy as we left the gas station, but the lady working there said it was going to clear up and be a nice day. We could see it did look clearer in the distance, so hopefully she was right. We had already seen a few places the day before, so our first stop was about 25 minutes down the road. Andy wanted to stop where the sheep were again.

We saw the first herd of sheep huddled up near the fence by the road. We stopped right next to the gate where there was a small pull off. As we got out the sheep started running. Andy tried to film them, but I think they were too fast. They stopped about 100 yards away and all just stared at us. The clouds behind them looked cool, but they didn’t show up very well in my pictures. Andy put on his telephoto lens so his may have been better.

Back on the road we stopped one more time for a herd of sheep. This herd was the one near the cabbage patch. The night before they were in the field of mud right next to it, but this morning they were in the field eating the vegetables. We stopped and got a couple of pictures and then started to head towards Mirror Lakes, our first official stop.

It was starting to clear up slightly, so it seemed like we might actually get a reflection with mountains in the back. The hike was right on the side of the road and was supposed to take about 10 minutes to walk. When we got there a small mini van bus was parked. It was a group of about 7 people, mostly in their 20s I would guess.

The hike is a boardwalk bridge the entire way. There are a few spots where trees are in the path, with the boardwalk going around it on either side. We immediately set up a few shots, but it was difficult because a lot of people stopped at this trail since it was so short. Most people just do the roadside hikes, and ignore the longer ones, just like in the U.S.

There are three spots on the trail where there is a deck area with views of the small lake and mountains behind. The first two spots it was cloudy and you couldn’t see very many clouds, but you could see a reflection. Most of the other people seemed to walk through, take a few pictures, if any, and then get back in their car in 10 minutes. We spent about 45 minutes at this stop. The longer we stayed the clearer it became.

By the time I got up to the third lookout you could see the mountains behind. Andy was taking forever so I was able to do some filming of just me walking, but we did do portions where we were both in the shots. Because of the boardwalk we could do different angles by placing the gopro on the railings. We did some from above, some below, some straight on.

We finally got all the pictures we wanted and were on the road one more time. We drove for about 10 minutes until we got to Knob’s Flat. The mountains were becoming much more clear and the valley looked really neat. We stopped a couple of different times in this area to get pictures.

We then drove for another 30 minutes until we got to Pop’s View, an overlook of the valley below with mountains all around. It was really becoming clear now, with even some blue skies. We took pictures for about 15 minutes and even used our telephoto lenses. We each had our picture taken in front of the mountains.

We were planning to go to a few waterfalls and do some short hikes, but decided the weather seemed perfect and we didn’t know when we would have another nice day so we drove back to the Key Summit hike. The other hikes would have to wait. They included the Lake Marian hike to a water fall, the chasm trail, Humboldt falls, and the Homer Tunnel trail. We wanted to do either the Lake Marian hike or Key Summit on the day we left and each took three hours. We figured with all the stopping it would take us about 5 hours. Since the weather was perfect it was a good day to do a hike that involved views of the surrounding mountains.

It was 11 AM when we stared the hike. The hike starts out in a forest of mossy trees. This area is a rainforest, and is very similar to the northwest United States. We took a few pictures along the trail and did a lot of gopro footage.

The first half of the trail is relatively flat with a few steeper sections, but nothing difficult. The further we walked the steeper and rockier the trail became. At one point there were a group of workers cutting a tree that had fallen on the path. In order to make sure they weren’t cutting when we passed through a lady that was chopping rocks with a pick axe radioed the people ahead that two hikers were coming through. She had to walk us about 150 yards to their location.

We passed a bridge with a small waterfall that we wanted to take a picture of on our return. At the section where the tree was we had to climb up a small portion that was muddy. I got a little dirty climbing there. I thought I had turned on my gopro to film this section, but I didn’t push the button hard enough to start the recording.

As we passed the fallen tree section I was starting to get hot. It was actually a warm day, maybe in the upper 40s I thought. I had on a long-sleeve shirt, a fleece, my rain jacket, and my hat and gloves so I was starting to sweat. We passed a couple of people along the way that were coming down, a few of them as we were trying to film a few shots with the gopro in the middle of the trail. They probably thought we were weird.

The trail was starting to leave the shade of the trees and was much more open. We had pretty good views of the mountains as it was becoming much less cloudy. Occasionally clouds would pass by, but they moved on quickly. The trail was also becoming a lot more rocky.

There were a few switchbacks and then a sign that said 1 hour return to the top including the alpine trail, which was a small trail that looped at the top giving higher views of the surrounding mountains. With all of the stopping we made it to the top around 1:30 PM.

There were 360 degree views of the mountains. I had been wanting to do some shots when played quickly would appear as they were moving in circle really fast. I did one that consisted of about 20 pictures in order to make that happen. Andy made his own too. There were a few portions where the settings on my camera made the sky washed out or the mountains dark, so I had to try a few different times. Eventually I just settled on pictures that made the sky washed out because I could edit them to look correctly.

At the top there is a small lake with little bushes around it. It made for really good pictures and reminded me of hikes I had done in Washington and Montana. This area is above the tree line. We did a lot of various angles on gopro shots. We also sat up our gopros to do timelapses. Andy did his of one set of mountains and I did mine of a different set. Based on the photos my gopro did for my Mt. Cook time lapse I think these should be good too since there were a lot of clouds passing by. I left my camera for about 35 minutes with a picture every 5 seconds. Andy left his for about 50 minutes at the same time. The mountain he was taking pictures stayed covered more often than mine did.

As we waited we had snacks. I had a granola bar and water. I had an apple with me, but I didn’t eat it. As we were at the top two girls passed by and a guy and a lady. They didn’t stop for very long. We stayed at the top for about an hour then started the short alpine nature trail. It led up to another look out.

Apparently there were maps we could have grabbed because there were markers along the trail with numbers on them. Andy said he saw a post that had them, but didn’t grab one for some reason. It was ok, I didn’t really care what they would mention anyway.

The trail was pretty flat at first, with a few rocky portions. There were a couple of boardwalks to cross with small ponds nearby. As we continued on for a few minutes there was another sign that mentioned a summit that was 5 minutes. The trail looked pretty steep, but not very bad. It started out mostly going straight up and then ended with a couple of short switch backs until the top.

At the top of this part there were more trees. It was basically a hill that gave slightly different views. There was supposed to be a view of Lake Marina below, but I never saw any lake. We took some more photos, and the guy and lady that had past us previously asked me to take a picture of them. I took two, both looked like they turned out ok, but the settings on the camera made the things appear much brighter than reality. They liked the pictures though and said the computer could fix it up.

We started heading back down the hill and onto the alpine trail on the other end of the loop. This part went across a boardwalk surrounded by some weird colored and shaped trees. Just past this part was the connection to the main Key Summit Trail. It was about 3 PM by now. A lot of the people that rushed through the hike missed all the great views of the mountains. When they were leaving they were still covered. Our slow moving paid off.

My goal was to be down by 4 PM so we could have lunch and drive to the Milford Sound Visitor Center. The map made it look like it would take about an hour to get there. We ran about half way down the trail. It was rocky and we had to be careful, but with all the experience we have hiking it was ok. It made the trail go by really fast. We had done a lot of filming on the way up, so we only had a few spots where we wanted to get shots on the way down.

One of them was the bridge with the waterfall. We stopped there and a few more times. We made it down just before 4 PM. We decided we didn’t have much time to be stopping to take pictures so we had to drive without stopping unless we saw something really neat.

We drove for about 30 minutes and then stopped at an overlook. There were other spots that were neat, but there was either no turn off or we felt that we didn’t have time. The spot we stopped was just passed the Homer Tunnel, a large tunnel that had been dug out during the great depression to create a road to Milford Sound. The tunnel is probably a mile long and goes down hill on one side and uphill coming back.

Where we pulled off we were surrounded by sheer cliff walls on 3 sides. If someone were hiking in this area before the road it would be pretty disheartening to see because there is no way to pass unless you want to climb straight up for hundreds of meters. It was still really clear so it was cool to see.

We stopped one more time at the Chasm trail parking lot because we could see the mountains really well. There was a Kea bird in the parking lot that was obviously wanting food from us. Signs and brochures said to not feed them. They look like parrots kind of. We took a picture of the mountains and the bird and then continued down the road.

We got back in the car and continued on, wondering where we were going to stay for the night and if we could book the Milford Track in time. We got to the end of the road to Mitre Peak, which is the opening to Milford Sound. We took a few quick pictures around 5 PM as the sun was beginning to set. It was neat, but the tide had gone out so a lot of the reflection you would ordinarily see was just sandbars and exposed rocks or tree limbs. It still looked cool though.

We didn’t know exactly where the visitor center was, but we noticed the road continued on for another half mile around the corner. We followed it to a huge building that was the boat dock for the cruises that go through the Sound and beyond. It was also the visitor center. It didn’t look like it was open. They had the floor waxing machines out on the ground.

We drove back to the peak look out and then decided that the big building must be what we were looking for. We drove by one more time and I got out to see the times it was open. It closed at 5 PM, it was 5:10 PM, we had just missed it. It seemed like going on the hike was becoming less of a possibility.

Our next mission was to find a place to sleep. There was a sign in the parking lot that showed a picture of a campervan that said $20 underneath it. I assumed that meant there was camping nearby for that price. Andy thought it meant it was how much it cost to park in the parking lot.

On our way in we had passed a campground about 45 minutes back, which we didn’t want to drive to. There was also a Milford Lodge. I looked in a brochure we had which said there was camping available there. It was only about 5 minutes down the road so we thought we would check it out. Lodge makes it sound expensive though, so hopefully it fits in our budget.

We got to the Lodge and then went inside to find out about camping. The lady thought we were crazy to sleep in a tent in this weather. It was only $18 per person for the night. Cheaper than Te Anau. It wasn’t as nice, but it wasn’t bad at all.

My main thing was if they had a kitchen and showers. If it had those I would be happy. I asked and the lady said that they had a kitchen that never closes, a lounge that closes at 11 PM, and showers and laundry. We didn’t need the laundry though. Showers were included, so it was already a better deal than some places we had been.

The kitchen and lounge area is one big building, which is nice too. I thought in a lodge they wouldn’t offer a full service kitchen with all the pots and stoves, but this one did. I was thinking it would be more of a hotel, but it seems to cater to campers just as much. It was good to have a nice kitchen, but ever since we bought our pots and pans from Katmandu we have only had to use them once. Either there was no kitchen at all, or the kitchens had everything we need.

We asked the lady at the counter about booking the Milford Sound Trail and she tried to call a few people about transport. She was able to find out that we could take a boat across at 8 AM, and come back the next day at 2 PM. She didn’t know about booking the trail though. She thought that needed to be done in Te Anau at the DOC office.

I had read we could book it online, but being 5:30 PM the day before we planned to go it seemed like things may be rushed and not work out. Also the boat transport was $80 NZD, which was much more than we wanted to pay for such a short trip that probably takes 10 minutes. I could just swim that or walk along the lake shore it seemed like.

We went outside and set up our tent just across the street from the main building. There was no real parking inside the tent camping sections. It was basically 12 tent sites with little green pads marking each one in a space that was about 40 yards by 40 yards. We initially parked in a camper van site hidden in the trees thinking that was the area tent campers parked.

We were put in site 1, but the lady said we could choose which site we wanted. We chose site 11 because it was a little more covered by the trees and seemed flatter. As we were finishing setting up the tent a camper van pulled up looking for site 16, which was where we were parked. We moved the car and just parked on a pull off near the trees. The lady at reception said it would be fine, but there was a parking lot about 100 yards away for people staying in the lodge and for tents. We didn’t move over there.

We wanted to eat a warm meal for the night. We settled on spaghetti with salad and steamed broccoli. We found another worm on the broccoli, but it was dead. That’s why we steamed it instead of adding it to our salad. We finished off the cucumber and ranch dressing. Andy had to open the new bottle we bought. It is a different brand, so hopefully it is just as good. I didn’t taste it yet. The previous kind is Paul Newman’s brand, this one is Eta. It was cheaper, but the same amount although the bottle looks smaller.

We also ate two cookies of our gross peanut butter ones. We bought a new bag of chocolate chip cookies so hopefully as we finish the gross ones off we can eat some good ones. Andy bought a king sized Cadbury chocolate bar and ate some of that. I didn’t eat my serving for the night though.

There was a Chinese family staying in the lodge and they were cooking as well. They had huge plates of something when we got there. One of the older ones, the dad I figured, was cooking some sort of steak on the stove in a pan. It looked really good and smelled good too. Chinese eat on vacation better than I eat at home. This is the second group of Chinese I have seen eat like this.

There were four guys cooking food too. One of them was making four pieces of toast, but another group was cooking shrimp or lobster with noodles. It also looked and smelled really good. Our meal was fine, but theirs seemed better. I wanted to eat what they had.

As we were eating we decided we weren’t going to be able to do the hike and would just spend the next two days seeing the Milford Sound area in more depth. We would be able to do all the hikes we couldn’t finish today, plus the Lake Marina hike. Before we thought we had to choose between Lake Marina and Key Summit. We also have a free day for our way back to Queenstown from Te Anau. We will probably spend that going to Mavora Lake or spending an extra day in Wanaka.

It wasn’t very cold out at night, but we stayed in the lounge until 10:50 PM catching up on our journals, charging batteries, and transferring pictures. Sadly there is no T.V. in the room, but there are a lot of uncomfortable couches. A lot of people were in there. About 5 guys were watching a DVD on their computer, and a few little kids were sitting around playing chess.

There were three Chinese boys and two girls in the lounge as well. The two girls were playing battleship at a table next to the couch we were sitting on. They were playing the game in English, but talking in Chinese. It made no sense.

The Chinese kids all left for awhile, Andy thought he heard them ask about a glow worm cave nearby, but I don’t know. They disappeared for about an hour and then came back. One of the boys asked if he could play the piano in the room. Nobody objected. I figured he was just going to play around on it, but he was actually really good.

One of the girls was recording him on her phone. He played some Mozart, Elton John’s “Can you feel the love tonight” from the Lion King, and a few other songs I didn’t know. He serenaded us for about an hour. When he stopped I was going to tell him to keep playing.

About 5 minutes later two other Chinese boys came into the room. One of them started playing as well. He was just as good, if not better. His friend was recording him a little too. All Chinese seem to be good at playing instruments, usually it’s the cello or something though. Their parents must force them to learn an instrument at a young age.

I remember in Hong Kong we were high on a hill overlooking the city and they had free binoculars to look through. I remember I could see into the high rise apartment buildings because none of them had shades it seemed. Anyway, when I was spying on these people there were a couple of little kids, probably between the ages of 9 to 12 years old playing an instrument in their room. Listening to these kids play the piano reminded me of that. It also made me think that I like the sound of the piano, it’s peaceful.

We left the lounge just before it closed. We went to the car and got our water bottles and filled them up. I was ready for a good night of sleeping. It was a long day and we were going to bed just after 11 PM. Tomorrow we plan to do the things along the road we missed today, which include the Chasm trail, Humboldt Falls, Milford Sound Harbor in the morning when the sun comes up, and a few viewpoints.

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