Beware the dreaded sandfly - these guys are pretty small but inflict serious damage on unsuspecting skin!
On leaving Queenstown, we headed around to Te Anau - about a 2 hour drive and not a lot to see on the way apart from lots more mountains! We passed a cycle race going around the lake near Queenstown, don't know how these people can pedal up and down these mountains, but they must enjoy it! Also passed "Stu's World Famous Fly Fishing Tackle Shop" (note for Melissa's Dad!). Our holiday park in Te Anau was right opposite the town centre, so a great location to just wander around for a while. This town is the base point for Milford and Doubtful Sound trips so has quite a few nice restaurants and cafes as many coach tours come through.
We can recommend "Indian Summer" Indian restaurant next to the cinema, in particular the take-away - we spent $33 and got enough food for dinner, lunch the next day and then dinner again - can't complain about that!! It was also very good quality.
The next morning we left early for our trip to Milford Sound. You can do coach trips from Queenstown and Te Anau, but because we have the car we drove there ourselves. It's about a 2 hour drive to the boat terminal and plenty to see on the way. We didn't stop on the way there, because weren't sure how long it would take. One of the highlights is the 1.2km long Homer Tunnel - It took 20 years to build and is quite steep with a rough road.
Waterfall at Milford Sound.
It's quite scary to drive through because you go into the pitch black from daylight and it takes a while for your eyes to adjust, even with the car headlights on you feel like you can't see anything. We recommend you go between 9am and 6pm if you're of a less adventurous spirit, because that's when the traffic lights operate for the tunnel, so less likely to come upon anything coming the other way. On arrival at the boat terminal we slathered on the insect repellant - the sand flies were really bad,even the visitor centre was full of them. Knowing that they're a fact of life on the west coast means we've been pretty vigilant about the Aerogard and we don't seem to have been bitten since Melissa's attack at Franz Josef
The Mirror Lakes on the way back to Te Anau from Milford Sound.
We took a 10.30am Nature Cruise with Real Journeys and it was great. The boat was smaller than the main scenic cruise boats (takes about 80 people) and even though it was fully booked, you had plenty of room to wander around and not be shoulder to shoulder with people. The scenery on the Sound is quite spectacular, surrounded by enormous mountains and glacial valleys. Milford and Doubtful Sounds are not actually sounds, but fiords as they were carved by glaciers rather than rivers. But for some reason they were called sounds and that has stuck. The trip goes up one side of the Sound out into the Tasman Sea and then back down the other. You see lots of waterfalls and inlets, and even some fur seals. By the time we arrived back at 1pm the coach crowds were arriving so it was very busy at the terminal - it is recommended that you go for a morning or late afternoon trip to avoid the tourist buses, if possible.
Lake Manapouri, on the way across to Doubtful Sound.
The other disadvantage of Milford Sound is that is the more popular one and is consequently buzzing with small planes and helicopters all the time, plus many more boats. The "serenity" is somewhat spoiled, but still very interesting. On the way back to TeAnau we stopped at Murray Gunn's Museum and Cabins at Hollyford Camp. This area was opened up by his father, Davie, who drowned in the 1950's whilst crossing a river on his horse. Murray took over and the museum is very interesting, lots of artefacts from old homes and camps in the area and some hilarious signs (not sure that they're supposed to be funny, but they are!) - a bargain for $1 each entry. Also stopped at the Mirror Lakes and the Cascades. The Mirror Lakes had a slight ripple on the waters because of breeze, but we could still see ourselves (vaguely).
Next day was a trip to Doubtful Sound, only a 15 minute drive to Manapouri where you get onto the ferry. Lo and behold, our bicycle man was there too, the chap we've been passing since Buller Gorge. He's doing really well, because we're driving, he's on a bike and yet he's keeping our pace - quite impressive. The ferry left a bit late, but the trip across Lake Manapouri to West Arm was beautiful. The clouds were sitting about halfway up the mountains and the lake was still, so quite peaceful. The girl at the desk asked if we were any relation to the Hutchings family that started the company - we said no, but later though we should have said yes because might have got silver service! Mind you, we were really impressed with the trip, the boat was brand new and the staff all very friendly and informative.
An arm of Doubtful Sound.
When you arrive at West Arm, you hop on a bus to drive over Wilmot Pass, the road from the start of the Sound to the Manapouri Power Station. The road was built in 2 years in very difficult conditions to provide access for the power station construction. We stopped at a couple of places for lovely views and once arrived at the boat headed straight out into the Sound. This time we saw some dolphins as well as fur seals, so quite lucky. The trip took about 3 hours and once again went out to the Tasman Sea. The scenery does probably not have as great a "wow" factor as Milford Sound, but we actually preferred it. It is much quieter (hardly any boats and no planes) yet still has lovely waterfalls and scenic inlets. At once point, we went up one of the arms and the captain turned the whole boat off - you just sat in the quiet listening to the birds and the waterfalls, really lovely.
Dusky dolphins at Doubtful Sound.
At the end of the trip, we drove back over Wilmot Pass and (after a slight 30 minute delay because the bus broke down!) went down into the Manapouri Power Station. You drive down a 2km tunnel, spiralling underground, to view the machine hall and its turbines. The power all goes to the Comalco Aluminium Smelter at Bluff, 171km away. The bus driver was very good and specifically asked if anyone was uncomfortable with going underground, giving you the opportunity to stay above if you wished. The trip back across the lake was fabulous, the light was starting to change (being around 5.30pm), the cloud had all cleared and the views were an incredible end to a lovely day. We had dinner that night with our new friends Davide, Roberta and Kate, who we met on the trip - most enjoyable!