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On Walkabout On: Highway 94 to Milford Sound, New Zealand

The next day after finishing our tour around Lake Te Anau, my wife and I woke up early, loaded up our campervan, and headed up to the legendary Milford Sound.  The sound is located 121 kilometers North of Te Anau:

This Google Earth image gives a pretty good indication of how steep and rugged the terrain between Te Anau and Milford Sound is that New Zealand State Highway 94 has to pass through:

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If traveling from Queenstown, it is a long 279 kilometer drive, but that still doesn’t stop most of the tourists visiting the sound from doing so from Queenstown.  In fact 80% of the tourists visiting the sound are day trippers from Queenstown.

Some of the people we talked to at our caravan park told us to leave first thing in the morning to go to Milford Sound because if we arrived in the afternoon the odds are that the sound will be obscured with clouds.  They told us the morning is the best time to go to get unobstructed views of Milford Sound.  They told us however to never drive the road to Milford Sound in the darkness because it is an extremely dangerous road.  Who are we to argue with the locals?

Thus my wife and I took off from Te Anau in the early morning twilight and made sure to make a stop to watch the sun rise over Lake Te Anau before entering into the mountainous pass to Milford Sound:

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As we drove up Highway 94 to Milford Sound from Lake Te Anau the road entered a long and wide valley:

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Here is how this valley looks on Google Earth:

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The early morning fog made some spectacular photographs on the valley’s floor:

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It was easy to picture in my mind the large glacier that must have flown down from these rocky slopes to have carved this wide flat valley, similar to Franz Josef and Fox Glacier valleys my wife and I had seen before:

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As we continued down Highway 94 the road eventually passed one the lakes left by the melting waters of the glacier that once passed through here, Lake Gunn:

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Here is a Google Earth image of the highway as it passes along the side of Lake Gunn:

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Just North of Lake Gunn Highway 94 makes a sharp turn to the West as seen in this Google Earth image:

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A short ways down the highway the road passes through what is known as the Homer Tunnel:

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The road through the tunnel was primitive and mostly dirt, not very wide, and extremely dark.  In fact traffic through the tunnel is one way only and cars have to wait on each side for the light to turn green before proceeding.  The tunnel is named after William H. Homer who discovered this route to Milford Sound with another gentleman by the name of George Barber in 1889, one year after Quintin MacKinnon forged the Milford Track in 1888.

Construction of the tunnel began in 1935 and wasn’t completed until nearly 20 years later in 1954.  The tunnel is 1270 meters long and actually runs at a slope of 1:10 gradient through the mountain.  This was easily the scariest tunnel my wife and I have ever driven through.  Here are some Google Earth images of where Highway 94 enters into the mountain where Homer Tunnel is located:

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Once we passed through the tunnel we entered a world of steep cliffs, heavy fog, and rain:

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Even though we couldn’t see it, this is how the terrain looks from above once outside the Homer Tunnel:

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We actually could not see a thing until we pulled into Milford Sound.  At Milford Sound most of the mountains had a cloak of clouds hiding them:

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If you are wondering, yes that is our campervan pictured above. Anyway since there wasn’t much to see my wife and I went and checked out the visitor center and got ourselves a cup coffee at the cafe there:

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The village of Milford Sound is very small and consists of little more then a hotel, visitor center, a small petrol station with extremely expensive petrol, and the port.  After seeing the sky high petrol prices there, we were glad we filled up the campervan prior to leaving Te Anau:

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After we came back out of the cafe it was about 8:00 AM and the skies began to clear up a bit exposing the tops of some of the peaks:

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We walked down to the water’s edge and were in awe and the landscape before us:

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Rudyard Kipling when he visited Milford Sound called it the Eighth Wonder of the World because he was so impressed by its beauty. For comparisons sake, here is a picture of what the sound looks like on a clear winter’s day:

I don’t know if it is the Eighth Wonder of the World or not, but it sure was impressive and worthy of getting a picture in front of:

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Here is something I was quite surprised about and something most people will not read about in a New Zealand travel brochure.  Milford Sound is infested with sand flies.  It was hard to stand still for this picture because of the sand flies that were swarming around me.  Definitely bring some bug repellant to combat these things with because it was something we did not bring and could have really used.  We would later find out during our boat tour that the reason the Maori did not permanently inhabit Milford Sound was because of these sand flies.  So that gives you an indication of how bad they are.

Anyway from the visitor center area of Milford Sound we walked over to the port to book a boat tour that morning.  The port is a short walk from the actual village of Milford Sound and from the port we able to get a good view of how small the village actually is:

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What you see in the above picture is all there is to the Milford Sound village.  We then entered the port facility which looked really new and we booked a boat tour for that morning.  Fortunately we had beat the day tripping tour bus crowd to the sound thus leaving the port virtually deserted except for a few people. There is actually a variety of tours to sign up for from small boats to extremely huge boats that are all docked at the pier:

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We decided to take one of the smaller boats and even on the smaller boat it was no where near capacity and only had about 20 people max on it. It was quite cold out on the water but my wife and I sat outside right on the very front of the boat because the Milford Sound experience was one that we have saved for last on our New Zealand itinerary and we just want to just suck in the experience of traveling through this beautiful natural wonder.

Next Posting: Milford Sound – Part 1

Prior PostingAround Lake Te Anau

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