Tag Archives: Milford Sound

Nelson, Havelock and back to the ferry

It was rather strange packing up all by ourselves after so long in the company of Starcharger and ZigZag. Our time left in NZ had ticked down to a few weeks and with a need to spend a bit of time back Auckland selling the car, we decided we needed to start heading back towards the ferry.

We stopped in Nelson almost by chance. This is next town W of Blenheim. We were very glad we did stop as we arrived to find the town absolutely buzzing. There was a street performers festival on and performers from Europe and the US had made the journey to show and the town centre was full of street market stands as well. The girls were captivated by some brilliant acts and the street market provided both lunch and one of the most extraordinary blue slushies, by the look of the debris, definitely enjoyed by Hannah!

We hadn’t booked a camping ground for that night and directed by a sign we saw at the side of the road, ended up staying in one above a river that rented out gold panning equipment. The last big dig at it had been about 10 years previous and there were lots of photos of the gold nuggets extracted from the river, sadly for the owners not in commercially viable quantities. We tried our hand and Eleanor found one tiny flake but I am afraid the excitement was overshadowed by being eaten alive by the worst concentration of sand flies we had encountered anywhere in NZ. There were some other kids there from a Jehovah Witness group up for a weekend from Christchurch and the girls had a happy time playing in the river with them. They were also impressed by the passion singing of Christian battle songs – definitely militant Christians!

Nelson, Havelock and back to the ferryNelson, Havelock and back to the ferryNelson, Havelock and back to the ferryNelson, Havelock and back to the ferry

We had tried to keep an eye out for Hobbit and LOTR filming sites and we came across one, used for the barrel running scene as the dwarves escaped from the Forest Elves dungeon. We had a great time jumping from the rocks into the deep pools, the girls shaming some teenagers into following them off the high ledges they used. 

 Nelson, Havelock and back to the ferryNelson, Havelock and back to the ferryNelson, Havelock and back to the ferry

We kept moving, stopping briefly in Havelock, proclaiming itself “The Mussel Capital of NZ”.  We found an excellent little chandlery where I finally found the wire mesh I needed to fix my water-maker. It is a good little store with helpful staff and a big section of the place put aside for second hand stuff which is well worth a rummage. To our surprise, on the other side of the road was a proper, traditional UK pub, the first we had seen. The place was newly re-opened and was very smartly done up. Owned by an ex sailor, the old photos and ships reliefs detailing his time at sea on blue water trawlers was fascinating. The beer was pretty good too.

Nelson, Havelock and back to the ferry

We stopped at our last campsite on S island, just an hour away from the ferry. Smith’s Farm is a neat, well run and sheltered campsite, now the main endeavour of a farming family that just couldn’t make end’s meet with the moderately sized dairy herd they had. They sublet most of their land out but have held on to a few acres for the campsite. They still keep a few sheep, cattle, goats and rabbits but it is as an campsite attraction only. On your arrival you get a bag of pellet food and a muffin each. The muffins go down well and the petting animals are nearly round, so successful is the campsite! Its other attraction is a waterfall about a 30min walk into the hills where you can see glow worms once the sun has set. It is a easy walk up and back but remember to take a torch each as the ground in the forest is rough and it is pitch black under the canopy. We surprised a couple of possum on the way back down. I hadn’t realised how dumb these beasties are and was surprised at how close they allowed us to get to them, presumably dazzled by our lights. The farm has made a real effort to kill them off as they devastate local bird numbers but they aren’t been helped by the next farm down refusing to do likewise. Classed as vermin, it is stated NZ government aspiration to clear NZ of possum by 2040.

Nelson, Havelock and back to the ferryNelson, Havelock and back to the ferryNelson, Havelock and back to the ferry

We met a Belgium family at the camp site with three kids are travelling the world by plane for a year. We helped them move their camping equipment in our car for the ferry crossing. They had been stuck with the need to change cars (bizarrely rentals needed to stay on the island they originated on – none too helpful when you are loaded down with camping equipment) and our poor beast was down on its axles as I drove on to the boat. The family had to walk aboard as there was no room for anyone but me! The crossing was benign and we parted ways with the promise of meeting up at the Wellington Museum the next day.

Nelson, Havelock and back to the ferry

 Nelson, Havelock and back to the ferry

Milford Sound and Surrounds

Milford Sound is, according to the Lonely Planet, one of the top 100 places to visit in the world. Fjordland, the National Park in which it sits, is ranked second only after Yellowstone. With that in mind, we were pretty excited to be headed towards the area. Our only reservation was it is also one of the wettest places on Earth with more than 6m of rain falling annually – six times the national average of NZ – and summer was already a month late. And it was cold. And raining……

Milford Sound is very definitely at the end of the road. The nearest town, with the last access to food and fuel is Te Anua which is about 100km S of Milford. It also has an excellent pie shop called Miles Better Pies. The Venison and the Chicken and Cranberry ones are strongly recommended – yum.  The whole area is protected and only officially approved sites have been developed, most of them to a basic standard. Few businesses are allowed to operate within the park and are tightly controlled. The number of campsites is small and each is allowed few campers. For self contained vans, it is a little easier with several dedicated sites that they can park up on. Conservation is the name of the game.

We chose to stay at the wonderfully named Knob’s Flat, about 50km short of Milford Sound and the last campsite that had space for tents. Note for others – you MUST book ahead if you wish to stay in the Milford Sound. If you don’t you are most likely going to find yourself all the way back at Te Anua. We arrived in the rain and set up on a damp spot, surrounded by bog. The whole area had had heavy rain for several weeks, summer just not arriving as it was supposed to and everything was waterlogged. Sadly that also meant low cloud and fleeting views of the hilltops around us.

Milford Sound and Surrounds

The campsite had an excellent little kitchen which, due to the small number of campers allowed, never felt too busy and was a friendly chatty place.  We met some exchange students from Edinburgh Uni doing some exploring and a UK mum, Alice and Rose, her very small daughter, travelling in a beat up caravan, wondering if she really wanted to go back to Europe.

Although advertised as such, it didn’t really have “the best showers in the world”. Saying that, we saw a few walkers coming out of them with big grins on their faces, having warmed up for the first time in days. It is all relative.

I dare say the drive up to Milford would have been amazing if we had been able to see anything. As it was, there were an awful lot of waterfalls, lots of steep green slopes disappearing into the cloud and a boring amount of rain. The highlight was the 1.5km long tunnel, burrowed through a mountain to reach the valley that led to the Sound.

Even though we could only see to about 1100m, Milford Sound was still pretty special. The waterfall by the ferry port was thundering away and throwing our huge amounts of water and spray. We walked around the Sound on one of the trails, dodging the rain and seeing some bedraggled wildlife, mainly consisting of Chinese tourists, of which there were many……

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surrounds

On the way out from Milford Sound, on the recommendation of our camp manager, we stopped at The Chasm. Well named, millennia of water has torn through the earth, leaving interesting shapes ground out of the rock, a very, very deep gully and lots of roaring noise.

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surrounds

In the car park, we met NZ’s parrot, the Kea, of which there are thought to be about 5000 left. One took a shine to Eleanor’s boots. They are not tame as such, just so used to being watched they feel totally unthreatened. There are notices up everywhere asking tourists not to feed them at all.  Their colouring allows them to blend in to the green canopy. Once they flex their wings, you get a glorious blast of colour as the hidden orange and red plumes suddenly become visible. Their habitat was hard hit during the logging eras of the past century but their numbers are now on the increase.

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surroundings

Our last stop in the Sound was at Lake Marion. There were a couple of walks we could have done including a few hours hack up to the lake itself but with more rain forecast and not being well equipped if bad weather had come in,  we opted for the shorter walk, following the trial up the hill for a couple of miles, crossing a rather wobbly swing bridge (largely due to Hannah and Eleanor’s antics on it)  to see the rumbling waterfalls.

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surrounds

The whole drive back to Te Anua was in drizzling rain and again we got to see only the bottom of the valley. I suppose we were just unlucky with the weather but it was a shame that one of the most glorious areas of NZ had chosen to hide itself from us. We left Knobs Flat and Milford a little disappointed and headed  towards Cromwell and Queenstown. Queenstown is a winter skiing destination, described as very touristy in the summer season but a favourite of Lorna of Quatsino and Cromwell, just up the road , a recommendation of Paul Sell, an area he loves for its walks. We stopped just once more at the pie shop and headed N following the inland road to our destination.

Milford Sound and Surrounds

Milford Sound and Surrounds