We headed across to the western side of the island to Te Anau after our visit to Cathedral Caverns. The ride across is about 250kms and is easy riding with beautiful views of pastureland and golden fields with views of the mountains and glaciers of Fiordland National Park in the distance. Arriving to town on Lake Te Anau we search for a campsite with views of the deep blue Fiord-like lake that is 2-3kms wide by about 60kms long. The Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels fits the bill with campsite with good views and a shared kitchen and common area.
While we are cooking dinner, we see some kids cooking homemade bread, not a common site. We start talking with them to discover they are friends with the son of a friend of ours in Heidelberg, Germany, where we store a motorcycle. The previous summer we were in Germany during a birthday party for the son and these friends were at the birthday party. Small world.
After a great night sleep, we rode out the end of the road at on Milford Sound. Milford Sound is part of Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site, a top tourist destination and described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth Wonder of the World. With a mean annual rainfall of 6,412 mm (252 in) each year, a high level even for the West Coast, Milford Sound is known as the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand and one of the wettest in the world.
The stunningly scenic drive to Milford Sound itself passes through unspoiled mountain landscapes before entering the 1.2 km Homer Tunnel which emerges into rain-forest-carpeted canyons that descend to the sound. The Kea New Zealand Parrot, the world’s only alpine parrot, is native to this area and this curious birds notoriety stems from its appetite for the rubber around the windows of vehicles. Mitre Peak is located on the shore of Milford Sound and is one of the most photographed peaks in the country. The mountain rises near vertically to 5,560 feet (1,690 m), i.e. just over a mile, from the water of the sound. A light rain accompanied us with creating a mystical, magical feel to the views across the sound.
By the time returned to Te Anau the skies had cleared a bit, so we took a boat ride across the lake to take a tour of the Glow Worm caves in the area. The 12,000-year-old subterranean caves are a twisting network of limestone passages filled with sculpted rock, whirlpools and a roaring underground waterfall. You are taken by boat deep inside the caves to a hidden grotto inhabited by thousands of glowworms that produce an extraordinary glittering display. Photos weren’t allowed but try and picture thousands of tiny stars within touching distance in total darkness.
The next day the skies were a perfect blue for our ride to Queenstown along the shores of Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy for lunch at the Glenorchy Café with outdoor seating with the sun warming our bones. After lunch, we rode back down along the lake shore catching views of the TSS Earnslaw, a 104-year-old steamship taking tourists on cruises of the lake. Leaving Queenstown, we saw a sign pointing to a bridge and took a quick detour to a cool suspension bridge, the Southern Discoveries Bridge.
Out of Arrowtown we rode the Crown Range Road a few kilometers down the road and stopped at the Cardrona Hotel for a look and a drink. The Cardrona Hotel was built in 1863, during the gold rush, and is one of New Zealand’s oldest and most iconic hotels and is said to be the most photographed pub in New Zealand. Inside the brass adorned historic pub they served homemade Sangria which you could sip in the flowered courtyard next to a fire in the old stone fireplace. Unfortunately, we had to keep moving so couldn’t enjoy more than one drink. We found a great secluded camping spot for the night up above and overlooking Lake Wanaka, very breezy but great spot.
Waking early and headed to the coast down a twisting empty road with wonderful tarmac over Haast Pass. About midway down the mountain we came across the Blue Pools. The walk down a gravel path winds through a native silver beech forest and leads to a swing bridge strung high above the Makarora River. The glacier-fed water in these deep pools is the color of deep azure blue, and so clear that you can see right to the bottom.
We turned south from the Blue Pools to Jackson Bay, the end of the road heading south. The scenery was bland and it was fairly windy, so around we turned north and followed the coastline looking forward to getting to our next stop in Franz Josef Glacier, the YHA Franz Josef Glacier Backpackers hostel. This was a gem of a place with relaxed rainforest lodging, a hot tub, a bar and an outdoor communal eating area with picnic tables seating about 80 people. It was pizza night so everyone joined around the tables and shared whatever pizza was placed on your table, as many as you could eat. Our table was represented by 5 different nations and conversation was lively and interesting for the couple hours we sat there. An enormous fireplace was behind us providing the outdoor covered area a great ambiance.
The views were incredible with glimpses of the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Fox and Franz Josef Glacier to the east. The Fox Glacier is about 13kms long, falling 2600 meters and is one of the only glaciers in the world to end among lush rainforest only 300 meters above sea level. The advancement of the Fox Glacier stopped in 2006 and it has significantly retreated since that time.