Te Anau, Mirror Lakes, Earl Mountains, Eglington Valley, Milford Sound, Mitre Peak, Fiordland Crested Penguin, Invercargill Cafe!
After breakfast next to the lake we began the drive to Milford Sound. We made an early start as we weren't sure how busy the road was going to be, and wanted to factor in stopping off at places of interest along the way. Our first stop was the Mirror Lakes- we followed the short walk to the lakes, and as the weather was so clear and calm (bar the odd duck that seemed intent on making ripples in the water) and saw the almost perfect reflection of the Earl Mountains in the the water
Then we stopped at the Eglington Valley and took some pics of the mountain range- it was all very surreal to be honest, as they look so close! The rest of the sceneray was fantastic, and we took pictures when we could but towards the end of the drive we couldn't stop Boba due to the avalanche risk. After driving through the Homer tunnel (yep, a tunnel through a mountain) we arrived at the town of Milford and parked up by the ferry terminal. I had been to Milford Sound before, but last time the weather had been miserable- cloudy and rainy. However, the weather was beautiful and clear and sunny with the odd cloud, perfect. We had made really good time, so we ran to the (with ginger biscuits in the bag of course) and asked if we could be transferred to the first sailing. The ferry company agreed, so we boarded the mostly empty ferry and found a seat. The cruise got going and we went out to the deck and took as many pictures as possible- the views were spectacular and Mitre peak did not disappoint.
After sailing through Milford sound (although it is technically a Fjiord), checking out the Tasman sea and spotting a couple of Fjiordland Crested Penguins- they were too far away to take decent pictures unfortunately, but they were having a wash in a waterfall and looked very cute! We were really lucky to see them as they are the 2nd rarest species of penguin in the world.(This viewing has marked the start of my recent obsession with penguins- there will be plenty more about penguins in my posts, including penguin sightings as the NZ section of the blog continues). We got back to the ferry terminal and saw hordes of people ready to board the next cruise- plus it was suddenly starting to get cloudy so we again lucked out with the timing of our cruise. After taking a few more pictures and some lunch, we decided to take the scenic route to Invercargill, the southernmost city on the South Island. On arrival we found our holiday park on the outskirts of the centre- there seemed to be quite a few permanents (people who live at holiday parks) and had a bit of a random vibe.....the kitchen reminded me of a roadside cafe crossed with a bus station- the seats were screwed down......interesting introduction to Invercargill.
The morning air was sharp and fresh as we had breakfast near tranquil lake Te Anau. We drove from our DOC camping site around the lake to the township of Te Anau and then straight onto Milford Sound. The latter part of this journey was jam packed full of some wonderful scenery. One of sights that we saw was Mirror Lakes - a couple of pools situated in an area of beech forest and wetlands that reflect the Earl Mountains opposite.
We also saw a winding river valley called Eglinton Valley and some fantastic snowcapped mountain scenery. At one point we went through a kilometre-long tunnel through a huge mountain.
We arrived at Milford Sound early so cheekily asked our ferry company if we could jump on an earlier cruise rather than wait a couple of hours for our booked cruise (when hordes of other tourists were likely to be on board too). Luckily for us they agreed we could do this and so we boarded the first ferry cruise of the day that was due to depart shortly.
Forming part of the rugged and remote Fiordland National Park at the bottom end of the South Island, Milford Sound is an area of jagged forested peaks and cliffs soaring vertically upwards from still, deep waters. A ferry cruise through the sound is one of the best and easiest ways to see and appreciate the spectacular natural beauty of this area.
The weather was perfect as our ferry left the dock - mostly blue skies and the odd misty white cloud to add a bit of mystique to the dramatic peaks of Milford. With a free cup of tea and a packet of Arnott's ginger biscuits in hand, we sat back and relaxed as we sailed through the 14km stretch of the Milford fiordland - past the majestic Mitre peak and all the way through to the Tasman Sea.
We saw a faultline in one of the mountains and also a Fiordland Crested Penguin - the second rarest penguin in the world! Up on deck it was cold but we weren't complaining, the surrounding terrain was absolutely spectacular. I'll just let the pictures do the talking.
By the time we got back to the dock, the sky had started to cloud up and we realised how fortunate we were to have switched onto the earlier cruise. There were a lot more people here now too and I doubt that the lunchtime cruise would have been anywhere near as peaceful and quiet as the one we enjoyed in the morning. After a few more pictures of Mitre Peak from the coastline near the dock, we lunched and then took the scenic route to Invercargill in Central Southland. That evening we stopped at a holiday park which could quite easily have doubled as a British roadside cafe.