Hot and cold. Up and down. Fantastic views and senseless camping in Milford Sound


New Zealand is one of the most beautiful locations in the World. It takes more than thirty hours to get there from Europe. I enjoyed this country very much. But as a team of travelers, we f….d it up. The post is on goods and bads of a New Zealand trip. A subjective one. But if you travel there, do not repeat the mistakes we made.   


NEW ZEALAND DIARIES. PART FIVE

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WRITTEN IN A TE-ANAU COFFEE SHOP

(5 February 2018, Tuesday) Feeling sick. In the meantime, I could write an entry on how to go to the end of the world, to one of the most exceptional locations on a global scale with very comfortable traveling conditions and to fuck up it all. My fellows try to survive by laughing and joking. But it is too loud. Too loud and too obvious. After my last year of extended classes in psychology, I caught myself in observing people’s defense mechanisms. Negation, rationalization, withdrawal, and falsification. I have it all around me. I am trying to reason with them. But it seems impossible. At least today, there was no senseless sunrise hunting. We stayed the night in Te-Anau, on the Southern Island, in a comfortable motel close to a deep-blue lake. In the early morning still with my head on a pillow, for a long moment, I observed a white boat slowly drifting alongside the coastline. White sails and deep-blue waters. A view that always works soothingly.

My mochaccino is delicious by the way. I think it is some kind of mixture of coffee and cocoa. Definitely my favorite type of coffee in New Zealand.

In several hours we will enter a reservation with no Internet access. The Milford Sound area – one of the most beautiful spots on Earth. We know already that temperatures in the night will be slightly above zero. The place is known for frequent precipitations. It is raining there for at least three hundred days a year. With five of us seven travelers sick for a couple of days now, this will be a challenge. In particular that the plan is to spend the night in tents on a camping site somewhere in a forest. My only remedy to cope with the situation will be observing our traveling group. But mentally, I am already out since Saturday afternoon. A trip, which is a dream for many, turned out to be an annoying experience for me. I feel I would like to go back home, and in some time start from scratch. 


FROM TE-ANAU TO MILFORD SOUND

Te_Anau_to_Milford_SoundOur planning for the day was to sight-see and take photos of scenic views alongside the road we traveled. But, in most cases of our New Zealand trip, the beautiful views were repeatable and quite rarely genuinely photogenic. Would this be like that at this place, too? Unlike in the last couple of days when for most of the day we did not do anything exciting, our plan for today afternoon includes a boat ride alongside Milford Sound fjords. Two hours there and back to the Tasman Sea. Even if the views on the approach are repeatable, the boat trip should compensate it all. Let us hope the weather conditions are good ones all the time.

Indeed, the late morning and afternoon were about the absolute highlights that I can recommend to everybody who visits New Zealand. During our ride deeper into Milford Sound, as usually we made some stops to take photos. The light conditions were of advantage to us. Some of the pictures got really fine. Still, the scenic-view points we stopped at till we reached the Mirror Lakes were loss of time. It was more about stretching the legs and take a breath of fresh air than enjoying magnificent views. In the aftermath, the stops in the morning deprived us of additional time to stop closer to Milford Sound, where the views were truly outstanding.

The Mirror Lakes are relatively small. You can look at them from a catwalk made for visitors that is densely surrounded by bushes. Making ‘clean’ photos is not possible. But still, the lakes are an eye-catcher. A place worth to stop; with a short approach time of several minutes from the roadside car park. We were there twice, once on approach to the Milford Sound, the other time as we were leaving the area the next day in the early morning.


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Mirror Lakes in the early afternoon, photographed on our approach to the Milford Sound.

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The bushes around the Mirror Lakes. The orange spot is the morning sun hitting the mountain tops reflected in the lake water. The view is outstanding. But the photos do not reflect, what you see with the naked eye. Some weeks after our trip, one or another fellow published the morning photos on Facebook. If you did not know what this was, and you did not see the view with your own eyes, you would not be thrilled by any of those photographs. Maybe the shots would be different if we planned the photo session better, had been well-rested and most of all, took the time. We did not …


DECISIONS, DECISIONS …

Half the way or so from Te-Anau, where we spent the night, was our camping site. On the way to the Milford Sound quay, we stopped there to set up our tents, so we did not have to do that in the evening.

As we looked around, one of my female fellows said to me privately: ‘I do not like it. I do not like it at all’. ‘We should have hired a hotel room in Te-Anau and stopped this.’ I replied. ‘With five of us sick and the forecast temperatures around zero in the night, the night will be a challenge’.

The camping site was not very inviting. Even with no experience of camping, I would call it substandard. It was not about the infrastructure, but more about the location. For the mountainous area, the site was simply too low, with many spots that could turn quickly into running streams under rainy conditions. Ultimately, we started to set up our tents and inflate mattresses. I have never stayed a night in a tent, so I had no idea about how it goes. For the first sight, the tents seemed too small to accommodate two adults. As the night has shown, they had more flaws that only this one. My professional life is often about logistics and decision making. At that very moment, mine would be instead to look for an alternative accommodation back in Te-Anau as soon as we get back access to our phones, while on the road to Milford Sound. As we were leaving the city, I saw hotels and motels that displayed vacancies. This would mean less than two hours ride back after we have finished the boat ride. As we were shopping in the morning, we had enough supplies to make us barbecue time somewhere at the Te-Anau lake. From past days I learned however that none of my fellows would be interested in any cooperation to give ourselves more traveling comfort during the remainder of our trip. If we only had co-operated on that day …


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Te-Anau, a huge waterfall close to Milford Sound just at a long road tunnel entry. What you see on the photo is only a small waterfall fraction.

We hit the road again. It was maybe 1.30 pm. Our boat reservation was around 4 pm. We had two and a half hours to make a road trip that was supposed to last a bit longer than an hour. Not sufficient time to make longer stops at the viewpoints, but too much time to go straight ahead. We stopped for a quick photo session at a huge waterfall but skipped any other viewpoints till we saw waters of the Milford Sound. A mistake in the aftermath.

The viewpoint was full of tourists. We saw the whole waterfall from the roadside. But we did not take time to approach it at the close. This would be maybe a quarter there and back. I realized how huge the waterfall was only back home while processing photos and comparing its size with the size of people standing below. In fact, it was the most interesting waterfall we saw during our whole New Zealand trip, at which we could have stopped for any time long we wanted. If we had enough time, of course. Instead, all of us ran from one roadside to the other and made as many photos of the mountains around us as possible, just to use up the opportunity.


We arrived at the Milford Sound quay too early. We stopped at the parking lot to take a photo through a small opening in the bushes. We still had a lot of time. Ultimately we had to wait in the waiting hall for more than a half-hour. I got out of the building to walk alongside a dam surrounding the boat quay. The views were tremendous. But with the sun high, only a few shots reflect what I really saw. Yet another place you should just stop at and enjoy with a naked eye. I saw helicopters flying in and out. I was envious of people on board.


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At the Milford Sound quay. It is the view you enjoy when you start the fjord trip. The sunlight was strong. Taking cover beyond a boat was the only way to avoid overexposure in the photo. 


A SHOWER INSIDE A RAINBOW

A boat ride alongside the Milford Sound fjords I can clearly recommend to everybody.  For a moment, we were accompanied by a herd of dolphins. It was like in the movies. Five or six of them, maybe more, were jumping over the water alongside our ship accompanying us for a mile or more. Gorgeous they were. But difficult to catch on a photo.

The boat trip was organized to provide visitors with more than only a boat ride experience. Each time something was interesting to see at the coastline, a guide was explaining it using a loudspeaker. You could have heard him even through the loud humming of waters while standing on the stern. The boat driver often approached the coastline and stopped for a moment to allow us to make pictures at the close.


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Milford Sound seals resting on a warm rock.


During the trip, we saw numerous waterfalls. You could have seen with your naked eye rainbows that formed around the falling waters. The boat driver approached them with the stern and let those willing to do so shower under a rainbow. One kind of experience, indeed. The fun was outstanding. 


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A shower under a rainbow in waterfall waters. 


I made numerous photos. But only a few of them got right. Milford Sound is beautiful, but like many other beautiful spots in New Zealand, it is not photogenic at all, unless you are lucky to get the right sunlight conditions. I needed much enhancing to make them look as they look like. Still, the result is absolutely not reflecting the experience of being inside a fjord with some mountain walls almost one kilometer high.


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Cook, the sailors who cartographed precisely New Zealand coastline, missed it several times. You can see one mountain formation beyond another. The photo even got two-dimensional. In fact, between the first mountain and the second one, there is one of the Milford Sound narrow straits. The sailors of the Cook expedition missed it several times as they were looking for an easy entry 15 km deep into the Southern Island approaching New Zealand from the West.

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The approach to Milford Sound from the Tasman Sea.


HOW NOT TO SPEND A NIGHT

As we came back from the Milford Sound boat trip to our camping site, it was already shadows. We were in the mountains. The Sun got down earlier than in the open land. The camping site was not inviting at all. But it got busier as when we left it several hours ago. Two of my female fellows (both sick) approached me: ‘Let us go to take a hot shower. It is cold, and it will be even colder at night. A hot shower will do us good. The camping site is crowding. Later, there will be a long queue for the shower cabins.’ I quickly opened my luggage, looking for all the thermic clothing I had with me. Thinking at home of our glacier walk (which we made several days earlier), I packed in some of the stuff I had with me in Northern Norway this winter. After the shower, I put them on. I did not need them on the glacier, but here as it turned out later, they proved really useful.

As I came back to our tents, our fellows already set up the barbecue. Willingly or not, I ate the big beefsteak that was left for me, sipping a bit of red wine for better digestion. It was already ten pm. Too late for a sumptuous supper. But I had no choice. My fellows planned an early morning walk to see a sunrise from atop of a mountain, and there was no chance for breakfast, even no chance for a morning coffee. I tried to reason with them so that they abandon the idea of the morning hike, but I was told that I panicked. No, the night and the early morning events had shown, I did not. The conversation at the table was about ‘The Revenant’, a film with Leonardo di Caprio. Di Caprio plays there a frontiersman on a fur trading expedition, who fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. ‘Should I cite Freud?’ I thought. I did not. Somebody said it out loud.

We looked up. With only a few artificial lights around us, the sky above offered a great view. It was the Southern hemisphere. The sky was nothing like we can enjoy at home. Just in the middle of the stars, you could have seen a shining belt of the Milky Way (I think it was the Milky Way). The sky view remained me of the days I spent in Northern Africa in my childhood. That time we were living somewhere near the desert, with not many villages around us. At the nights it was so dark that you could have seen the stars very clearly.


The night was a freaky one. Unlike my company, at least stating verbally that they do not care, I hated it. Imagine five out of seven people plagued with a virus, coughing endlessly, with some on fever and shivering spending a night on a camper site in a deep mountain valley in around 1 degree Celsius in too small tents, without any protection against the wet that was all around. The tent was so small that I was not able to stretch my legs. After two hours (I think) I lacked oxygen. Got out of the tent. Almost fainted. I needed some long minutes to take one deep breath after another to stand up. I felt alone and on my own. All around me, there was silence. There were no lights at the camping place. All power aggregates were switched off for the night. But it was not too dark. The Moon was shining over the horizon. I decided to go to the restrooms. It was maybe seventy, maybe eighty meters distance only. With no lights, I was not able to move around inside the cabins. I had to come back for a flashlight.

I needed to decide what to do next. Luckily I was not shivering. The thermic clothing was true of use. I knew for sure, I would not come back to the tent. I did not want to risk fainting once again. As my family owns a cottage in a forest, I am not afraid of a night among trees. New Zealand is a country where there are no dangerous animals. Staying somewhere outside was not a problem. But I had nothing I could sleep on, and the grass was already very wet.

The fellow I was supposed to spend the night with inside the tent was much shorter than me, so she was comfortable inside. After I left, she had the whole interior and all the air inside for herself. I think she slept relatively well.

Finally, I found myself in my sleeping bag lying on a wooden bench in the camping site kitchen, which till I got there was fully open (means cold). I checked with my flashlight whether there is no possum in the kitchen and closed the door. I think I slept for one hour or two. I lost the perception of time. When it was still dark, I heard voices and people coughing. Two of my sick fellows came to the restrooms. Later, I heard: ‘Let us go to the kitchen, maybe we can warm up at the gas herd’. They opened the door. ‘Somebody is sleeping here’. ‘It is me,’ I answered. My fellows were shivering. They made some hot tea and decided as well not to come back to the tents. The rest of our company woke up at five.

Ultimately, we decided to leave the camp and the Milford Sound area. We left there most of our camping stuff, that was bought only for this one night… Loss of resources, and what for? For only one night in a place that because of the weather and water conditions even in the high Summer barely offers an ambiance to spend a pleasurable camping night. The locations deeper in the North would serve better this purpose. The substandard camping site with its poor location at the roadside on the lower ground does not give you any glimpse of beautiful nature at all. Shutting down the power aggregates till seven-thirty am does not make things easier, neither. Only those who come in on camper vans or stay the night in the camping’s own shelters may have the necessary comfort to spend the night in the Milford Sound to really enjoy it.

Coming back from Milford Sound to Te-Anau, we stopped twice to make some other photos. One was to photograph the morning fog. It was all around us. We even had to slow down while driving to be able to see what was ahead of us. We saw people camping freely around. You could have seen they were freezing and they were drenched.


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The morning fog at Milford Sound at high Summer and good weather conditions. Staying in a tent recommendable only for those who really enjoy this kind of leisure.


Back home, I did some digging on the internet. It turns out that there are some trekking paths in the Milford Sound mountains that you can take for three or five days. It is not allowed to camp freely there. All tourists staying the night are obliged to use official shelters. The number of beds is limited. You must make reservations ahead to be allowed to enter. The living conditions are quite spartan ones, but in return, you get the authentic nature experience. Trekking in the mountains is possible only in the Summer season. In Wintertime, some of the facilities, including bridge passages, are dissembled.


WRITTEN IN A TE-ANAU COFFEE SHOP. POST SCRIPTUM

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Te-Anau, close to Milford Sound

(6 February 2018, Wednesday). It is not comfort. It is not leisure. It is the freaking fun that counts. Seemingly. Yesterday it was all about wrong planning yet again. Stupidity, as well. And all of these in Milford Sound, a place considered one of the most beautiful locations in the world. The positive experiences at tremendous sightseeing sites were one of a kind. The night was even worse than expected.

Hot and cold. Up and down. In the aftermath, a kind of experience that you would remember…

Another delicious mochaccino for breakfast. Good food. But do not ask me what this is I ordered. I do not know. I need to eat to regain strength. I am exhausted and still sick coughing endlessly. I slept maybe two, maybe three hours in the night on a narrow bench in the camping site kitchen. Most of my fellows are sick as well. Three of them seem to be even worse than me. Only one fellow behaves like it is the best trip of her life. It is 10 am. The only thing I can think of is to sleep and rest. But I have no idea when this will be. I am not interested in what the plan for today is. After Milford Sound, I doubt there will be something that excites me enough. I want that this day to end, I want this trip to end… But it is still two full days ahead of us.


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