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  • Writer's pictureClaire

22/03/23 Omaui to Te Anau via Milford Sound

After a wonderful night spent wallowing in creature comforts in Omaui we didn’t get on the road until after 10. The home stay had given us the opportunity to rearrange the sturdy one whilst we had the space recharged our batteries, and warmed us (me) up

Our first stop was Lake Manapōuri, a beautiful place nestled on the edge of the Fiordland National Park.  Manapōuri Lake is the second deepest in New Zealand at 440m deep, and its  mountain side lake backdrops are  some of the most beautiful. 

The town itself is rich in Māori legend, with the name Manapōuri meaning "lake of the sorrowing heart", it comes from a tale of two sisters whose tears formed the lake, and is one of the filming locations for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The lake is the gateway for visiting the Doubtful sound and the Dusky Sound. The Doubtful sound was on the list of places to go, unfortunately, you can only do it via a coach tour, either from Queenstown or Manapoui. You have to catch a ferry over Manapouri lake, then take a bus journey over New Zealand's most expensive road, before getting to Doubtful and jumping on a boat to cruise around the sound! If all that travel wasn’t  bad enough, the fact that the boat holds 200 people put us right off. Well that and the fact out of a ten hour day you only had 1- 2 hours on the sound.  So that will wait for next time we visit. 

We stopped off at The Church, a 115 year old place of worship that is now a bar and eatery for a mid morning brew, it was really quirky, and I had the urge to whisper as it still felt churchy to me!  We snuggled ourselves into a cosy little snug furnished with two well worn armchairs with Bob and Kev, and enjoyed the brew. As we walked back towards Ismene we saw a vintage car and caravan that had been at a previous campsite we’d been on, I think we’ve picked up a stalker! It was a super cute set up the caravan was named Dora The Explora, and she was painted the same colours as the car towing her, red and white.  The couple driving the car were in their seventies, if not older, clearly living their best lives, and why not??

Bidding farewell to Manapōuri we continued on our journey, passing Lake Te Anau as we drove towards the Milford Sound. The whole road trip was incredible, the car windows wide open, sun shining brightly, highlighting the huge granite mountains that towered above us, lakes and rivers glistened in the sunlight and as we drove through shady forest lined roads the bird chorus was better than an episode of top of the pops (post Jimmy saville era)   The road were good, no reversing required, just foot down and away to go. 

The closer we got to Milford Sound, the road climbed steeper. Mountain tops were dusted with snow and the scenery was so dramatic, harsh, sharp and yet incredibly beautiful. There was so much contrast, the lowlands were green and lush, the high ground, carved, and stark. As you would expect there are look out posts the whole journey, and some of the lakes were just dazzling.  As we sailed around the hairpin bends the view down into the valleys below were incredible, and as we were forced to go slowly we had time to actually drink it all in.  We had about a 10 minute wait at the avalanche tunnel as they are doing repairs on it and it’s currently on a traffic light system. When we were allowed through, the darkness engulfed us until our eyes adjusted to the dimly lit tunnel that was very definitely descending! It was 1200 metres long, but it seemed a lot longer than that, maybe because of the dark? Who knows? Breaking out into daylight yet another mind blowing scene awaited us. More hairpin bends cut out of the granite mountain  took us down to the valley floor.  I suspect I have misnamed the ‘mountains’ and ‘valley floor’ but I hope you get what I’m trying to say!! When we finally reached the bottom, looked back, the drop from the avalanche tunnel is pretty sensational, like everything else we witnessed along this particular road trip. 

Our arrival into Milford Sound Harbour was a little bit of a disappointment after the fabulous scenery we’d seen along the way. Actually no it wasn’t a disappointment, because it was stunning, but I think I had a preconceived idea of what it would be like, I was expecting crystal clear water. What we got was volcanic sand, a low tide (I don’t even know if it has a high tide) and lots of tree debris. I did expect that given how the trees grow straight out of the water, it just looked grubby?  Which wouldn't be helped by the dark hues of the volcanic sand. However, the mountain tops, with the little dabs of fluffy cotton wool here and there were beautiful and we got some great pics.  There was a little cafe, so we sat outside in the sunshine and had a brew and just watched the world go by. Car parking there was easier than I anticipated, but the payment machine was out of order meaning a long walk to the terminal to pay. Clearly I didn’t do that walk!!  I stopped and took photos of a random brown bird scavenging for scraps beneath the picnic benches. 

A cruise ship had sailed into the Bay, not the biggest of ships, but Si is fancying doing a cruise of them next time…. After it had sailed back out the day trip boats were still coming in and out, the one sounded its horn, and the echo around the valley was clear as a bell. We decided against a day cruise for two reasons. The first one is the unpredictable Fiordland weather, it can go from sunshine to snow in seconds. The second one is the boats sail close to waterfalls and pretty much everyone gets soaked. It can also get very very cold on the water, We had no rain wear, no warm clothing  our limited supply of clothing didn’t afford us the luxury off layers and dry stuff. There was a third reason, it’s too peoply!! 

Once we’d taken in the scenery, and just sat for a while we commenced our return journey. I always used to hate going anywhere and having to return the same way, it always felt like a waste of time. I’ve changed my mind on that.  Going back, the sun was behind us mostly, and I saw things I missed on the way through. There were a lot of look out points along the way, and whilst they were really good view points, they were small and very crowded as you would expect.  When we passed lake Fergus we actually stopped, the sunshine was reflecting the trees on the still water so clearly, it was difficult to determine where the water ended and the trees began, there was a guy there taking photos, who told us he thought there was another spot a bit further on that was better to take photos from. Turns out he wasn’t wrong, a few yards down the road there was a wide lay-by, and a big tree stump half in and half out of the lake. The scene that revealed itself to us was just superb, the bright blue sky, fluffy white clouds, the trees either side of the lake were all there in glorious technicolour, perfectly mirrored and just magical. The lakes were all crystal clear, and had similar watersides,  but Fergus was a bit special. 

There are lots of stops along the way for waterfalls, but the fact they weren’t on the side of the road made them inaccessible to us unfortunately. So on we drove. There’s Google images isn’t there if we want to see them that badly! 

Our final destination today was Te Anau, and our site for the night was right opposite the lake. The Fiordlands on the west side cast imposing shadows over the water, and were quite beautiful in the late afternoon sunshine. Lake Te Anau is the second largest lake in New Zealand spanning  344 square kilometres. It’s 38km long and has depths of up to 417 metres. There are underwater caves to explore and in them is a unique black coral. The caves are for experienced divers only, not for Nemo’s like me with dicky fins! Te Anau is also classified as a dark skies reserve, another reason for me to love it!  

After showering and having some supper, we covered up, because the bloody sand flies were starting to bite, and went over to the lake to watch the sunset. The colour palette that stretched across the sky was breathtakingly beautiful, and was mirrored in the darkening lake below. As soon as the sun dropped behind the Fiords, the temperature dropped as well. And although we were covered up, our layers weren’t that thick. Blue thermal socks with white linen trousers tucked in to them to stop the sandflies having a chomp, and a shabby pink hoody was nowhere near the level of warm I personally like to be! That being the case we went back to the camp kitchen for a brew and warm up before bed. 

The day had shown us some of the most spectacular scenery, crazy mad roads, and will remain embedded in our minds forever.  Utterly magical.  

Much love 



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