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Wednesday, 12 October 2005
Today promised to be a busy day. Back in Auckland I booked a Coach-Cruise-Coach trip to Milford Sound. Instead of us having to make the long drive there and back, the coach driver took care of that and we got to make a few stops at cool sites on the way. I don't know if we'd have found some of them on our own.
We started early and met the tour bus at our pickup point. Since Jen and I were the first ones there, we chatted with the driver for a bit while waiting for the others to arrive. Our first stop was Te Anau, where we stopped for morning tea (and to pick up some more Te Anau
people). The weather was breezy, but nice, so we walked around and did some souvenir shopping.
Our next stop was Knob's Flat, about halfway between Milford and Te Anau. They had a display area showing the effect of avalanches on the Milford road and gave some information on the wildlife of the Eglinton valley.

I think this is where Jen first saw a picture of New Zealand's possum. She thinks their cute and the locals use their fur for a lot of things. The fur is actually pretty soft, but I didn't think they were that cute. What do you think? The funny thing is that possums are somewhat of a pest down there, so some claim that possum fur products are the only environmentally friendly fur products.

Knob's Flat
Pictures from our Knob's Flat stop. That's Jen amidst the Red Tussock (see right).
To get your own Red Tussock, click here.

Monkey Creek
Our next stop was Monkey creek in the Upper Hollyford Valley, where I found the cool looking plant to the right. Then of course Jen and I had to check the water. Don't bother coming in, the water's cold.
We were now much closer to Milford Sound and we started to see what the weather would be like when we got
there. Supposedly the sound is actually better when it's raining because the waterfalls are more spectacular.

After Monkey Creek we had one more stop before Milford Sound. The Chasm is where we got our first peek at an interesting little creature, the Kea. There's a reason they don't want you to feed them. They have VERY sharp beaks and will do a lot of damage to your car if they get the chance. Apparently they have a thing for the rubber
used on cars and will shred whatever parts they can get their beaks on. Imagine what they'd do to your fingers!

The Chasm
The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and
water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time. --David Henry Thoreau
Those words were there to greet us as we entered The Chasm. The Chasm was formed by the Cleddau River. As the river passes from hard to soft rock it cuts through the softer bedrock faster and forms the spectacular waterfalls. The force of rocks and water swirling and grinding in the currents over the thousands of years is what created the rock formations you see above.

After our eventful morning of touring we finally made it to the port for the Milford Sound Red Boat Cruise. By this time we were both starving and very glad we'd booked the cruise with the hot meal. After a short wait in the lobby, we boarded our boat and found a good place to see the sights. It was misty, drizzling and pretty chilly out, so as soon as it was out we got
our fill of the nice hot food.

Milford Sound

Several of the pictures look like double exposures, but that's what it actually looked like out there. The mist and light rain made the place look pretty mysterious. The photo on the left shows Dale Point, the farthest point out on the cruise at 12km from the Visitor Center. There's an automated lighthouse at this point (on the left side of the picture).
This seems as good a time as any to tell you a little about the Sound. Technically, Milford is a Fjord not a sound since it was carved by glaciers then flooded by the sea. The sound was named by a whaler in the 1820s because of its resemblance to Milford Haven in Wales, then surveyed by Captain John Lort Stokes of the Royal Navy in 1851.
The deepest part of the Fiord, near Stirling Falls is 400 metres (~1300 ft) below sea level. The Falls are 146 meters (~480 ft) tall. We made a close approach to the falls as you can see from the first picture to the right (one of the other cruise boats). They're even more amazing in person. The pictures don't really do the falls justice. You're going to have to go for yourself if you don't believe me. Stirling Falls
Harrison Cove Harrison Cove is the only natural anchorage in the fjord and it was used during the early 1800s by whalers and sealers. It's also where the new Milford Sound Underwater Observatory was built, but we didn't have time to see it. The cove was used by early explorers as a sheltered area to make repairs and explore the area.
There were a lot of waterfalls at Milford. I mentioned earlier that it was a windy day, didn't I? A lot of the water was being blown away before it could get to the bottom of its fall. Waterfalls
Another of the amazing things at Milford Sound was the water. When the clouds cleared out for a bit the color was even more intense. I don't really know what makes it so unique, but it was certainly amazing.
Milford Sound

After the cruise, we boarded the coach for the return trip to Queenstown. The trip back was shorter than the way out because we only stopped at Te Anau long enough to drop people off and stretch our legs. It gave me a chance to place with my camera's closeup mode, though.
On our return to Queenstown we found something to eat for dinner, then went to a wine shop we had found the night
before. At this wine shop you get a smart card and put some money on it, kind of like a debit card. Then you can go around and try any of the 100 or so wines they've got simply by inserting your card into the readers. The wine bottles were in glass cases connected to dispensers that served an exact amount on demand. We tried a good sample of wines and left much happier than when we entered.
All in all a pretty good day. We didn't do too much else that night. Just some rest for the drive to the west coast and Fox Glacier. Our plan was to make it a nice leisurely drive.

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