Te Anau and Milford Sound (Jan. 6 - Jan. 9)
The two hour drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is almost entirely through a national park. No pastures. No sheep. No houses. No one. Just mountains and natural forest. Once in Milford Sound, the fiord is nothing short of spectacular.
The day I arrived in Te Anau, I met Sandra. Sandra is from Scotland and was travelling some of the South Island before heading north to Auckland for a friend's wedding. We were roommates in our hostel. The first night she shared her beer with me, and we discussed the many differences between the US and the UK on healthcare, public education, and employment. The next morning Sandra was driving down to Milford and invited me along. Of course I jumped at the chance. Sandra was awesome and the main reason I came to Te Anau was to see the fiords.
The day was not ideal. From the moment we got in the car until the moment we got out 2 hours later, it rained. We wanted to take a cruise through the fiord and out to the Tasman Sea. But the point of cruising through the fiord was to be able to see it. In the heavy fog and torrential rains, we couldn't see anything. Not even mountains a few hundred meters in front of us. We decided to wait out the weather and got lunch at the only cafe.
After an hour of waiting, the clouds seemed to be lifting and the rain lessening. We hoped for the best and bought tickets for a 2-hour boat ride. The boat was relatively empty. Maybe about 20 people total. 20 people on a boat that easily could hold at least 100. Not long after the boat left the dock, the rain stopped, the clouds slowly crept up the steep slopes of the mountains, and the waterfalls gushed. The landscape was spectacular. Fur seal colonies decorated outcrops of rocks, bottlenose dolphins swam at the bow of the boat, and the fiord was ceaselessly stunning.
Beyond the scenery, our boat companions were friendly and almost just as interesting. Sandflies are nasty. They are tiny tiny flies and you don't notice them until they're munching away on you legs, arms, back, shoulders....anywhere flesh is exposed. One man, from Alice Springs, hunted those sandflies mercilessly. It didn't matter where one landed. On the side of the boat - he'd scurry over and kill it. On his own body, the flies had no chance. Refuge couldn't even be found on other passengers' legs or backs - he'd smack a stranger if it resulted in a sandfly death. He was quite animated in this sandfly chase, and Sandra and I intently watched he and his victims (both sandflies and other passengers).