Doing a spot of laundry in Te Anau (I have had a haircut since, honest!)
I get asked all the time, what is it LIKE, you know, living on the road? The answer to that is a whole blog in itself but I can certainly tell you the best thing for starters. Travelling to new places every day, having new adventures every day, seeing new breathtaking views and amazing things, cooking on a tiny stove, doing all your laundry by hand, wringing it out and hanging it out on a washing line you strung up between two trees, all these things and many more are what I love - but being able to do all that with my soul mate? That's the very best thing. Standing at the foot of a glacier, dipping your toes in an alpine lake, driving through a pitch black tunnel that runs right through a mountain, marveling at every sunset and never forgetting for a moment how incredibly lucky you are. Creating a million, squillion unforgettable memories. There are many, many beautiful places in New Zealand and all are special in their own way. We've even coined our own term, 'insanery', which refers in particular to South Island scenery as it's so beautiful it's just downright crazy. But as we have discovered this past couple of weeks, there are some places which are just other worldly; which have to be seen to be believed.
Glenorchy - little town, BIG views!
The mighty Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy end
Unsurprisingly we didn't find them in the tourist centres. We found that Wanaka wasn't a patch on Hawea, with its overabundance of people and cafes and we fled screaming from Queenstown. Fortunately a German couple we met upon arrival in the South Island told us about a place called Glenorchy, which was close to Queenstown but much quieter and in their opinion, much nicer. Thank goodness for word of mouth! We duly headed for Glenorchy and for a brief moment I wondered whether the seemingly endless winding road was worth the drive. That was until we found ourselves staring in awe at the snow covered mountains which lay ahead. By the time we reached the quaint little town I was already in love with the place and after spending the afternoon there I would have been quite happy to just stay there forever. The scenery, the peace, the people (what few there were) - everything! Unfortunately for us there were no dog friendly campgrounds at Glenorchy so we had no choice but to turn around and come back the way we came. This time I had no complaints about doing the journey a second time; it was just as beautiful driving in the other direction!
The sun goes down over Lake Wakatipu
We didn't really know where we were going but we did know we definitely didn't want to stay in Queenstown so kept on driving until we reached a little place called Kingston, which was even smaller than Glenorchy. There wasn't much there - but there was the most beautiful free campsite just on the outskirts of town, right on the edge of Lake Wakatipu. The South Island has what feels like a million beautiful lakes, but Wakatipu is definitely one of my favourites. We parked Ken in a quiet spot amongst the trees and as I stood that night at the water's edge, watching the sun go down, I truly felt like one of the luckiest people in the world. As you can imagine, we have stayed at a LOT of different campsites all over the country by now! But my favourite ones, the really special ones, have all been free.
Lake Te Anau - seriously, how many beautiful lakes can one island have?!
I could have happily stayed there for days too, but with so much still to see we needed to keep moving so headed for Te Anau, gateway to Fiordland and the Milford Sound. There was so much to do here that we ended up staying for five days at the NZMCA campground. Our experience of that place is a whole blog in itself! But will save that for another day. Te Anau is a busy but friendly town. It's touristy but not overwhelmingly so unlike Queenstown and Wanaka and the longer we stayed there, the more we grew to like the place. Lake Te Anau is gorgeous and we had some lovely walks around there, from the edge of town right to the start of the Kepler Track. At 60km long however we didn't walk that one! There is also a free bird sanctuary run by the Department of Conservation which was really enjoyable to stroll around and all the birds there were rescued. We got to see rare and endangered birds such as the takahe (of which there are only 200 left in the world), the morepork, and the kaka and kakariki. More stunning even than Lake Te Anau (at least in my humble opinion) is Lake Manapouri, which is just around the corner. It's more peaceful than Te Anau and I got to have my first paddle in Fiordland waters at Fraser Beach.
Lake Manapouri, Fiordland National Park
A special Mummy & Minnie moment at Lake Manapouri
Those two places alone were worth the visit, but I don't think anything we have seen these past four months can compare to Milford Sound. It is just out of this world, the scenery takes your breath away. What I loved most about it is that your whole journey there from Te Anau is the destination! In fact we enjoyed the journey there more than even Milford Sound itself! 120 kilometres of incredible. Because dogs are not permitted anywhere in Milford Sound (and indeed in pretty much all of Fiordland National Park) we put Minnie in a boarding kennel for the night. We struggled a bit with the expense, it seemed rather extravagant just to enable us to go and check out a place but the kennel was very reasonable at just $17 a night and it was probably the best $17 we have ever spent. You simply can't put a price on a place like this, we're so glad that we took the opportunity when we had it. With so many interesting things to stop and see along the way, it also made it much easier not having our wee girl with us.
Rather large mountains on the road to Milford Sound
Watch out, it's Kea country!
We saw mountains - HUGE mountains. I mean this is the South Island, you see mountains all the time but these are next level mountains, you would not believe how enormous they are! We drove alongside the massive Eglinton River, saw wild Kea's at the side of the road who were extremely sociable and keen to introduce themselves but I was staying well away with Ken! For those who don't know, a Kea is a large, wild and very cheeky parrot. They love to do things like jump on your car and rip off the windscreen wipers and such! We even drove through an entire mountain, through a long, pitch black tunnel, carved out of the rock. That was a bit freaky! The highlight however, and I think I can speak for us both, was the unexpected stop at Lake Gunn.
Middle Earth? Quite possibly!
What's Lake Gunn? We had no idea either, but revelling in our dog-less freedom we pulled in at the sign by the side of the road and hopped out. Apparently there was a 45 minute walk through a forest to get to the lake and we umm-ed and ahh-ed. Keen to just get to Milford Sound itself we wondered, should we bother delaying our journey? We decided to bite the bullet and go and check it out, which turned out to be the best decision of the day. Not surprisingly, a lot of the scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed in this area, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if this forest had been one of them. It was the most magical, otherworldly place we have ever set foot in. Everywhere was covered in lush, soft moss, the trees dripped with pale, green tendrils, and trees even grew on other trees. It reminded me of the wood that my friends and I used to play in when we were little, which we called 'Hobbitland', with all its nooks and crannies and I giggled as I asked Gareth to take a photo of me crouched inside one of the many hidey holes.
'You've got a bird above your head', he pointed out as he took the photo. I did? He was right, a little grey and rather rotund wee bird had hopped on the 'roof' above me. I later discovered it was a South Island robin but had never seen one before. I stayed quiet and watched him happily and felt very honoured that he chose to spend a moment so close to me - but that was just the beginning. I was amazed when he hopped down onto the ground and began making his way towards me! He showed no fear and I was a little taken aback. Was he friendly? What did he want? Was he after my keys? How sharp was that beak? Having once been bitten by a Kea I was in no desire to find out! It soon became cleared what he wanted. By walking through the forest and climbing into the hidey hole, Gareth and I were causing tiny insects to fly around. Our little feathered friend was busy catching his dinner!
Our little feathered friend, the South Island robin
Lake Gunn <3
Mitre Peak, Milford Sound. Didn't see James Franco or any aliens here!
Mountain waterfall, Milford Sound
I don't need to say any more what a truly special day it was, I think you get the idea! But it was made all the better by being able to do it under our own steam. As we made our way along that 120km stretch of road, we saw many bus loads of people being herded on and off from one stop to the next, with no more than a few minutes to take everything in, along with the obligatory selfies. They didn't even go to Lake Gunn, only the stops at the side of the road to take a few snapshots. Doing the journey our way meant that we could see whatever we liked for as long as we liked, for no more cost than around half a tank of gas. We could have even stayed overnight if we had wanted!
We continued to stay in Te Anau for a couple more days (for just $3 a night at the NZMCA ground we couldn't complain!) and then made our way to Mossburn. That was a bit spontaneous and we ended up there for another four days as we both fell ill - I think we had become a little too complacent about double checking the quality of our drinking water! As I write today from Gore, we have already reached the bottom of the South Island. But I think I've bored you enough for one day!