To heaven and back…twice – Milford Sound

Apologies for not posting in over a month, I’ve been pretty busy with school and traveling around and what not. Be prepared for some of the best pictures yet. I’m just gonna get right into it.

We had heard that Fjordland, home of the Milford Sound, was a one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand so we had to check it out. We were worried about the weather forecast, but everyone was free that weekend, so we rented two cars for the eight of us going and left on a Friday morning for the 5ish hour drive. Once you get to Te Anau, a city about 1.5 hours from the sound itself, there’s only 1 road all the way to the sound with hikes (anywhere from 20 minutes to 5 days) and viewpoints all along the way. It was such an amazing drive – the mountains are so vertical it’s almost unreal. There are small waterfalls everywhere you look and we saw multiple small avalanches. After wisely getting gas in Te Anau (funny story about this later), we made our first stop at the Key Summit hike – a “3 hour round trip” hike (we could usually do the hikes in 3/4 of the estimated times). Once we got up the mountain a little bit it was snowing and really cloudy, which was neat but we couldn’t see anything from the viewpoints along the trail.

Map showing Te Anau to Milford Sound

First Kea bird we saw. World’s only alpine parrot is weirdly obsessed with eating rubber

Water trickling onto trail

“Field” that I stepped in to get snow to eat…it was a swamp and my shoe got stuck

Robyn is a warm blooded freak

Mmmmm

The crew

Bror on his perch

The “viewpoint”…not much to see hah

Next, after we got through the Homer Tunnel to the other side of the mountains, we stopped at The Chasm, a short 15 minute trail. It ended at a waterfall that had slowly eroded holes and weird designs in the rock. Really crazy stuff, amazing how powerful water can be.

Our car minus Neil

It was about to start getting dark so we decided to get to the lodge with the campsite we were planning on staying at. Once we got there we figured out it was $18/person to camp  and $30/person to stay in the heated 8 person dorm rooms (so we could have a room to ourselves). The campsites weren’t anything spectacular, so we decided to change plans and stay in the dorm rooms. It ended up being a really good choice in the end. They had a lounge with a fireplace, piano, guitars (David is really good and played some for us), board games, as well as a nice kitchen. We got settled in our room then decided to go check out Milford Sound at the end of the road about 10 minutes walking away. Unreal place, it’s like being in a dream/movie. It reminded me of Lord of the Rings, Avatar, and Jurassic Park all in one. Once it got dark, we went back to our room and called it an early night. We had a cruise on the sound in the morning.

On the way

First view of the sound…after this it got too dark for my phone so no good pics

Jess argued with me that this wasn’t a peace sign for 10 minutes…

Group pic

Hangin out in the room after (snakes and ladders baby)

We had to get up pretty early in the morning to catch the cruise. It was $78 but oh so worth it. It was like an hour and a half of waterfalls, seals, rainbows, free coffee, and…yep we saw some dolphins. Lots of them.

View outside of the cabin

The sound

We were on that little boat on the right

So classy

Enjoying the rainbow

Double bow

End of the sound

Neil had to have his meat

Bunch of seals

Loving the seals

The mountains are ridiculously steep

Gettin wet

The troopers

Check out that avalanche

There they are

The crew on the way out

Sadly, we had to leave the sound after some lunch at the only cafe and our next stop was at the Gertrude Saddle hike. Robyn had done it a couple months before and said it was a must-do. The hike basically translated to cautiously taking steps in a field of snow hoping your foot wouldn’t sink 2 feet down. It was surreal though, we were in a valley between two white mountains that kept having loud, but tiny avalanches (don’t worry there wasn’t enough snow on the mountains to do any harm) and amazing scenery in the background. Of course, we had a snowball fight, the girls made a snowman, and we tried to see who could roll up the biggest ball of snow – we’re kids still, right? We stopped probably 1/2 of the way through the track because you literally couldn’t tell where you were going anymore with all the snow…and we found a nice spot to hang out for an hour or so.

On the way out

Another avalanche

Gearing up

First sink

Dave cooling off

Snowball fight

They got surprisingly heavy

Me and David got stuck

Next up on the agenda was the Lake Marion hike, recommended to us by Sarah, my french neighbor that had to leave a week or so ago…sad stuff, the first of many goodbyes. She said we couldn’t pass it up. It was a pretty tough hike (mostly uphill), but the view at the end was well worth it. Big lake between mountain peaks. We checked it out for a little bit but were worried about it getting dark so we booked it back to the car and tried to find a camping spot for the next night.

Swang bridge

Decaying tree

Lake Marion peeking through

Ahh

You tha man

Braved the ice cold water

Of course

We found a nice camping spot near a stream and a big field, with snowy mountains in the backdrop. We settled down, made a fire, cooked some delicious food, and had the typical campfire hangout. Good night. After a little football in the morning, we were off to Dunedin again.

Going to town on some cheese for dinner

Nothing like tossing the football in the morning

Somehow we missed Mirror Lakes on the way into Milford, so we stopped on the way out. A “5 minute” walk to the lakes essentially meant stepping out of your car and taking 20 steps. I got some pretty cool pics of the reflection.

They’ve got jokes

On the way out we stopped in Te Anau again for lunch and hanging out. We went to this “famous” meat pies place that turned out to be fairly bad. I ordered a milkshake that tasted like medicine with the consistency of yogurt…not the best combo haha. On top of that, when I opened the cup to take a better look, Robyn dropped the bomb that there was a big black hair in my shake. Traaash.


I love road trips in New Zealand, green rolling hills, sheep (I have a baby sheep obsession), lakes, and mountains. This was one of the top trips of my life, shout out to our Castle St. crew + Neil and David.

Another week of school goes by…and the next blog-worthy event is that me, Jess, David, and Jeff got tickets to the England vs. Romania rugby would cup game in Dunedin’s new Forsyth Barr stadium. All the cheap tickets were sold out on the official site so I got some from this guy in Auckland on eBay on Thursday…the game was Saturday so we were gonna be cutting it close with shipping. He ended up overnighting them, but the plane they were on had an engine problem or something and they never got here. The guy was really helpful though. He got them reissued in my name and sent me copies of his ID, ticket receipt, and credit card so I could pick new ones up at the ticket office. Luckily it all worked out. We went to the dollar store for some red/white face paint and firefighters hats (?) to cheer on the motherland. We ended up having great seats. The game wasn’t great, England blew them out 67-3 but it was really fun to be at. The next morning we went to KFC for the first time in New Zealand and guess who was there…the whole Romania rugby team. I guess that’s their formula for losing? I was trying to take a picture but I didn’t want to be that guy.

Traitor

Havin fun

Streaker

Sore loser tackled us

The next weekend we took it easy in Dunedin –  went to a “Feed Me” concert in town, Moana Pools (the water park place I talked about in the last post), and then Sarah’s going away party. There were a bunch of flat initiations on our street where the people that currently live there make the next semester’s residents do stupid stuff…usually involving streaking. It was pretty entertaining sitting on our porch and just watching everything happen, there were probably 100+ people watching each one.

Some streakers outside my window

Feed Me concert

After spending two weekends in Dunedin I was itching to take another road trip. I decided doing the Milford Track would be the best use of time. The track is in low season right now, so it’s a lot cheaper and nobody is on it…but half of it was closed due to icy conditions/avalanche warnings. So we had to do the last half of the track, starting form the end. High season starts on Oct. 25 and it’s a very formal process – you have to book huts, boats, buses far in advance – which I wasn’t really excited about. After Nov. 7th it’s all booked until February…this track was supposed to be one of the nicest in the world so this was my chance. This was the only weekend I had free before then, so I decided to just go for it. I couldn’t turn down going back to Milford. Initially it was going to be four of us, but two had to drop out for school/life stuff so it ended up being me and my neighbor Tim who hadn’t been to Milford yet.

We rented a car and left on Friday afternoon (probably a little too late looking back now, as you will soon see hah). After finding out the Fjordland Parks Office was closed as we were trying to go pay $15 for the huts on the trail, we stopped in Te Anau again and tried to do a quick grocery store run. We randomly saw some buddies in the parking lot (including a fellow longhorn – Nathan) and talked to them for a couple minutes. After talking to them they told us to hurry inside before it closed…so we walked over to the entrance and made it literally as the sliding doors were closing. The employee gave us the Dikembe Mutombo finger wave and told us they were closed. Bummer. Not phased by her we went to the gas station to get some food. For some unknown reason, we decided that we could make it to the sound and back no problem on half a tank of gas and this time decided not to fill up before we left. About 30 minutes into the drive to Milford Sound I started to get pretty skeptical – the gauge was at a little over 1/4 by this point and I knew there wasn’t a gas station at the sound.

By the time we got to the same lodge we stayed at a couple weekends earlier we were almost on empty and kind of knew we wouldn’t be able to make it back. We decided to ask the lodge staff what we should do. Continuing our great streak of luck, the reception was already closed and no staff was in sight. At this point we started to worry. We started cooking dinner in the kitchen and luckily someone from the staff came in, got us a room, and told us to my surprise that there actually was a gas station by the cafe 5 minutes away. She fixed all our problems. So we went to bed (all the other people in the room were already asleep) and had to get up early (before the other people were up, they didn’t know what hit em) to catch the ferry to the start of the trail.

Views on the drive down

Lake Te Anau

We had a hard time finding the place, Roscoe’s Kayaks, in the morning so I asked some guy standing outside of a trailer where it was. He paused for a second and then said “oh…you must be matt”. Turned out he was the guy that was gonna take us. Dan the boat driver put the dingy in the water and then we were off. The views from on the water are amazing. It only took us about 5 minutes to get to Sandfly Point. There was a little staff hut at the end of the trail that we checked out and then set out on the hike. It was an unreal hike with nice views of the mountains and plenty of bridges, waterfalls, and streams along the way. Overall, it was a 6 hour hike to the Dumpling Hut, where we stayed the night. There were stops at Lake Ada, Giants Gate Falls, Bell Rock, Mackay Falls, all of which were unbelievable, and then there was an extra 3.5 hour hike after the hut to Sutherland Falls. We got to the 40 person hut around 2pm (the only ones there), made a big lunch, took a solid nap, and then went the extra few hours to Sutherland Falls – the highest waterfall in New Zealand apparently, we didn’t know that before going. I won’t do it justice describing these places so check out the pics. We were exhausted when we got back from the falls so we ate dinner and pretty much passed out.

Back at Milford

These guys had mini boats…might as well get some jet skis

What we thought we were gonna get to ride

After the dropoff…later Dan

Ready to start

Checking out the maintenance hut at Lake Ada

This trail has some character

Thought it was a kiwi…but nah

Giants Gate Falls…wow

One of the few human pictures

Bell Rock got carved out by water and then turned over in a rock fall…about 10-12 feet high in the middle

Mackay Falls…is this for real?

Sweet bridges

Random staff hut on the way

Mmm glacier water

Finally made it to Dumpling Hut

Pretty bare rooms

Sutherland Falls from far away

Thought these looked cool – wind blowing waterfalls away before they hit

See that sign?

Whoa

Intense spray…it was windy and cold

Bird on the plane runway

We got up at around 9 the next morning and started making the hike back. We passed these two guys around Mackay Falls and then two girls about an hour after that. The first people we’d seen other than the one guy doing trail maintenance. We stopped at Giants Gate Falls for lunch before making it back to Sandfly Point around 2. We had two hours to kill before the boat came so we just explored a little more and hung out at the staff hut. The English guys got back at like 2:30 after doing a little bit over half of the trail, so we hung out with them for a while. They were pretty cool kids.

Didn’t like seeing that in the morning

Making progress…

Big dropoff

Sat on a rock in the middle and ate some PB&J’s for lunch.

This bird was pretty curious

Slash hungry

The water was so clean and clear

Whew, made it back to Sandfly Point

Finish line

Dan and the two Englishmen

Mitre Peak

After the ferry across, we got back to our car and went to fill up at the gas station….of course the pump was broken. The lady in the cafe said it had been out of gas for about a week. Once again, we thought we were going to get stranded in Milford. Luckily, she said there was this place at a turn about halfway back to Te Anau that took cash only. So we load up, stop at the Chasm again on the way back, and head to Gunn’s Camp, which supposedly had a gas pump. We get there and it turns out to be the oldest gas pump in New Zealand…worked like a charm, although it was a bit expensive. Funny how everything always seems to work out in the end. After thanking the guy for saving us, we were off to Te Anau again, stopping at Mirror Lakes and then hoping to catch a meal/drink with the English kids that were going to be watching the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to meet up with them so we just got some quick asian food and booked it back to Dunedin. Got home around 11 and passed out instantly.

Chasm again

Kea trying to eat rocks

He was cool

Took these one-handed out  the window while driving…it’s pretty easy to take good pictures in this place

The emergency gas stop at Gunn’s Camp

Oldest pump in New Zealand – a hand cranker

Woo gettin excited

You’re messing up the mirror bro

Duck family with a nice view

Road trips are nice on the eyes

Just had my last day of classes (wow, hard to say that) and tomorrow morning I leave to go on a 5 day west coast road trip for an unknown adventure in Wanaka, explore the Franz Joseph Glacier, and get some rays at the Abel Tasman national park beaches. Should be a blast, we’re making it count by renting a 12 person van.

As for updates for the rest of my trip: looks like I’ll be going to the North Island sometime at the end of October for about a week, then I’m going to Australia for 10 days at the end of November, before hitting Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia for a couple weeks on my way back to Austin. I should be back to Austin around December 17th…sooo excited to see everyone again and eat delicious Austin food (Torchy’s, Chuy’s, Whataburger, Zen, Taco Deli, Amy’s, Pluckers, etc. mmmmm)

Stay tuned.
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