We left you last time with the tantalising prospect of our free camp in Lumsden, which centres around a renovated train station in the middle of the small town. The pitches are on either side of the platform and the whole effect is completed by a couple of restored trains and carriages. Unfortunately, at the time, there were no longer any tent sites on the grass due to some intense local politics, which we will come on to, so we pitched the tent on gravel with the use of some rocks instead of pegs and settled down to eat dinner sat on the platform.A set of sinks hidden behind a wooden divider in the middle of the platform and the public toilets in the neighbouring park make up the sum total of the facilities on offer. If you stand on the right spot on one side of the platform you can also pick up the free wifi from the library on the other side of the road and Caro managed a successful skype conversation with her parents from a camp chair in the car park in the early hours.
The site is managed by a local volunteer warden, Wallace, and his trusty side kick Coco, the chocolate lab. To say that Wallace is a touch eccentric would be an understatement, having introduced himself and apologised for our not being able to camp on the grass, he launched in to an extended diatribe on local politics and his efforts to undermine the motel owner, who was his nemesis. He appeared to be waging a sign battle with various factions putting up signs to tell you not to camp and Wallace diligently following behind and taking them down again. He was a bit of a hero. The site was extremely popular; the downside being that people continued to arrive at all hours of the night, the upside being that there was a very festive atmosphere to the place and it was an excellent experience to add to our camping adventure even if it made for a very poor night’s sleep.The google was telling us that the weather was supposed to be pretty good in Milford Sound over the next couple of days and so we headed to Te Anau to investigate a cruise.
A quick note on place names; if we thought Australia was hard it was nothing compared New Zealand, where we don’t seem to be able to pronounce anything correctly. Let’s take Te Anau as an example; we assumed that is was pronounced tay a-now, it is in fact pronounced ti-aa-no. The benefit with places like Te Anau and Lake Taupo (toh-poor) is that people will know what you are talking about regardless of how you pronounce the names. Te Urewera, on the other hand, is very difficult to communicate to people unless you know how to pronounce it properly, which we didn’t when we went and still can’t now.
It was a glorious day when we arrived in Te Anau and we quickly secured ourselves a place on a cruise the next morning before heading a little out of town and settling on a quiet section on the shores of Lake Te Anau for some relaxation and sunbathing.After a very cold swim and some lunch we drove north towards Milford Sound. Whilst Te Anau is the nearest town to Milford, it is still a two hour drive away, which would make for a very early start the following morning. There are plenty of DOC sites on the drive up but we decided to go with a private camp in the end, because it had an indoor living area and the Fiordlands are famous for sandflies. On our way there we passed the mirror lakes and pulled in. On a still day, the mountains opposite are reflected in the beautifully clear water but, unfortunately for us, it was a rather blustery day. On the plus side, we did get to see the tiny diving ducks which inhabit the area. The clarity of the water meant you could watch them dive down, skim along the bottom feeding and then shoot back up to the surface. It made for quite enthralling viewing.After watching the ducks go for one last dive we continued north to Gunn’s Camp, taking in more outstanding scenery of the Fiordland National Park and South West World Heritage Area.Gunn’s camp was originally a Public Works Department camp housing the construction workers working on the Hollyford-Okuru road. This was part of the larger project connecting Milford Sound to the rest of civilisation by way of the extraordinary Homer Tunnel, which cuts through an enormous mountain range to Milford Sound Harbour. The site was taken over my Davey Gunn in the 1950s and turned in to a tourist camp and launching point for tours around the National Park. When his son took over he added the excellent museum dedicated to the life and works of his father and a few other quirky signs and sights which add a touch of whimsy to the place. The camp is now run by a trust who have very much kept the place in the spirit of its previous owners.
We pitched our tent, took a short walk up to nearby Humboldt Falls and then retired to the communal area as the sandflies had descended on the camp. Now, some of you may be thinking that we are prone to exaggeration and that the sandflies were not quite as apocalyptic as we have suggested. This is a picture of the roof of our tent the following morning:Please bear in mind that these are just the ones that have worked their way under the rainsheet and settled in between the two layers of the tent, they are conniving little buggers and they had friends waiting for them outside. Fortunately, we had decided to stay another night and therefore didn’t need to collapse the tent before heading off for our cruise. The drive took us through the Homer Tunnel and, as we waited at the lights, a pair of Kea decided to join us, perching on the roof of the car in front.
The early morning cruises are significantly cheaper than the those later in the day, as the tour buses can’t get the tourists from the outlying towns to the harbour in time. This meant our tour was mainly made up of backpackers on the hunt for a good deal and delighted, as we were, that there was a bacon sandwich included in to the bargain. There were several boats heading out but, due to the size of the Sound, it didn’t feel overcrowded and actually the other boats helped to give an idea of the scale of the mountains in pictures.We can’t really articulate ourselves any better than to say that Milford Sound is absolutely bloody stunning, and the scale is completely incomprehensible until you are stood there yourself. You just don’t really appreciate the size of these mountains until you see one of the enormous boats under a waterfall. Rather than blathering on, we will give you a sample of photos and ask you to take our word for it that they go only a tiny way to showing how beautiful Milford Sound is.Fun fact from our cruise, Milford Sound is not actually a Sound. A Sound is a valley eroded by a river and back filled by the ocean. Milford Sound is in fact a Fiord, which is a valley eroded by a glacier and back filled by the ocean. We learned you something.Post cruise we stopped briefly on the drive back to take a look at the Chasm, which is signposted just off the road and a good place to stretch your legs after a couple of hours on the water.We had intended to do a long walk in the afternoon but Caro was still wiped out after our terrible night’s sleep in Lumsden so we went back to camp and enjoyed the rare Milford Sound sunshine instead. Getting rather too hot, we decided a dip in the river running adjacent to the campsite was a good plan.It turns out that glacier fed rivers are pretty darn chilly; it was so bloody cold that it actually physically hurt to stand in it, but we persevered so far as to get our shoulders under and it certainly was refreshing.
We awoke the next morning to the more commonplace Milford weather of drizzle and intermittent downpour, which slightly scuppered our walking plans for the day and we decided to make our way out of Fiordland.
Milford Sound often tops the “Must Do” lists for New Zealand, and with very good reason, it is simply exquisite.