invercargill to dunedin

day 10 and we’re in invercargill before hitting the road to dunedin.

we’ve been very lucky with the weather, but today is a bit cold and dreary.

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on the way to dunedin we took the southern-most route along the coast. our first stop was at curio bay

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next stop was tautuku. the bark on this tree reminded me of a topographical map.

the tree on the right is a lancewood – stick like as a juvenile (10 to 15 years) with pointy teeth on its long skinny leaves, it then morphs into a traditional broadleaf. one of the theories is that the tree developed it’s defenses to protect it from the now extinct moa.

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how many places on the planet can you stand alone on a beach like this?

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milford sound to invercargill

day 9 and i went for a milford sound cruise before i meet the jboss and her brother as they come off the milford track.

only two places to stay in milford sound – a small motel and a backpacker. I opted for the backpacker with a spacious double twin private room. and that completely describes what was in the room – 2 small twin beds. shared kitchen and large dorm style bathroom where in the common building. the fire safety card advised me my primary and alternative exits were the door and the window – not very comforting with them less than 1/2 meter (1.5 feet) apart…

nice view out of my room window.

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this is view from the pier before getting on the boat for my cruise in the sound. the sound is actually a fiord (u shaped with steep walls formed by a glacier), but the first explorers incorrectly labeled it a sound (v shaped formed by a river) and the name stuck

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since the walls both above and below the water line are so steep the boat can cruise right up to the water’s edge. the captain was able to brush the vegetation with the bow of the boat.

check out the lens on that guy’s camera. overcompensating perhaps?
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did they all really have to go – or where they just so used to following the tour that they dutifully stepped up when they saw the queue?

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here come jackie and john back from their tramp.

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we’ve got a long drive to invercargill and soon hit the roard. the grassy plains of the eglington valley is my favourite stop on the milford track road.


te anau to milford sound

day 8 and i had all day to enjoy the drive from te anau to milford sound. last we time we made this trip we were in a bus so i was looking forward to being to take my time and stop when and where i want.

these docks are departure point for the water shuttle to the start of the milford track. the eglington valley is one of the first stops on the milford track road.

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mirror lake

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homer tunnel

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3 kea’s hanging out at milford sound
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milford sound

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most visitors to milford sound are just there for a day cruise in the sound and are shuttled by bus from te anau. the facilities at milford are quite basic: a backpacker, a small motel, and a cafe/bar (cafe only open during the day, bar only at night). after the cruises are over for the day and the busses have left the sound population drops from 100’s to 10’s. the travelers staying at the backpacker are most on a tight budget so they cook their own meals. i haven’t planned very well so i head off to the bar and hope they have something to eat.

the blue duck was somewhere in between the brick (the bar/restaurant in the 90’s tv show “northern exposure”) and a grapes-of-wrath company store. looking around i see very few tourists – mostly boat maintenance workers in oil stained coveralls. lots of beer drinking all paid for with company credit. it seemed most called it a night when their credit was exhausted. the food was very good. i’m guessing the workers were not the cook-a-nice-dinner-back-in-my-room types and ate all their dinners at the bar – and to keep them happy in such an isolated place good food was important.

doubtful sound and te anau glow worm cave

day 7 (day 2 of abandonment) and i had a busy day with a doubtful sound cruise and then a trip to the te anau glow worm caves.


sights from my early morning drive to catch the boat in manapouri.
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the trip begins with a nice cruise across lake manapouri.

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our first cruise ends at “west arm”, where we board the bus for the tour of the manapouri power station. the power station was purpose built in 1972 to serve a single customer – the tawai aluminium smelter on the south coast near bluff. the power station is built deep in the mountain and uses water from lake manapouri to generate power. the original proposal was for a larger power station that would have required raising the level of the lake by 30 meters, with massive environmental costs. this sparked a nation wide protest and is credited with the birth of the environmental movement in new zealand. during the protests the labour party ran on the platform that if elected they would kill the proposal to raise the lake level. they won and the proposal was quashed.

the power plant is impressive in that is is buries deep in the mountain and is only accessible by a skinny 2k long tunnel that was dug into the hard rock by blasting. the rock is so hard that there is no supporting structure for the tunnel. the tunnel is so skinny that during construction trucks had to back down with their loads. problem was that the road is so steep that there was no ability to correct if the truck started veering towards the wall – so the drivers were guided down by walkers with signal lights. fastest time for the trip – 7 hours.

the power plant is now fully remote controlled and only has a safety officer on hand. you can see the raw rock face along the walls of the turbine room.

bus driver trivia – soon after the station opened queen elizabeth was scheduled to pay a visit. since the facilities were quite basic it was decided a bathroom suitable for royalty was required and built at considerable expense. it was never used.

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after visiting the power station we headed over wilmont pass on our way to deep cover to begin our cruise in doubtful sound. the dirt road over the pass was constructed to bring in the equipment and machinery required for the power station, and is now used almost exclusively by the tour company (the only one with a permit for tours in doubtful sound). the road was the most expensive in nz history at NZ$2 a centimeter (about $5 an inch).

looking down from wilmont pass to doubtful sound


once over the pass we arrived at deep cove to board the boat for our cruise of doubtful sound. we went all the way out of the sound into the tasman sea before turning around to repeat the entire journey in reverse.

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the tour company (real journeys) was very good and i would highly recommend them. they boats & busses were in great condition and their guides gave just the right amount of information, trivia and humor.

one of my favourite bits was “queue the dolphins”

captain to first mate (pretending microphone is accidentally on): “how’s the wife?”
first mate: “great. and your kids?”
captain: “good. busy every day with sports. what time did you book the dolphins?”
first mate: “they’re scheduled for 1:45. they should be here in less than a minute”
captain: “good on ya.”
first mate: “and thats 5..4..3..2..1 queue the dolphins”
captain: (now officially on the microphone to the passengers). “ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll look over the starboard side i believe you’ll see we have some visitors…”  

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next time i would like to go out on a kayak like these folks below

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our cruise ended back at manapouri at about 4, giving me just enough time to make it back to te anau and grab a snack before heading out on the te anau glow worm caves trip at 7.

first part of the trip was a nice sunset cruise across lake te anau (# 4 for the day) to the glow worm caves.


after arriving at a small ranger’s station you are split into small groups of 10 with a tour guide who reminds us several times that we must remain silent or the glow worms will turn off their lights. did i mention there is a very chatty 4 year old in our group? the description of the trip did mention that you would need to bend over a one point – but that was a bit generous. skrunched down into the smallest ball you can make whilst still on your feet and then slowly shuffling forward would have been a closer to the truth for me. claustrophobics needs not apply.

after you are in the cave there is a 15 walk down a catwalk through the cave, with water rushing through. quite spectacular. at the near the end of the catwalk the light is fading to black guilde is now using a flashlight to usher us along. we then carefully pile into a small “boat” – more a metal bathtub and then the guide turns of the flashlight and leaving us in *total* darkness. the guide then pulls us along in the water using (invisible to us) a system of overhead cables and into the glow worm grotto. after a couple of moments the glow worms start to appear as thousands of tiny points of light. the chatty 4 year old was perfectly silent the entire time.

the story of the glow worm is a bit depressing. the young larvae live on the ceiling using their lights to attract prey into their sticky “fishing lines”. when they eaten enough to build up their energy reserves they emerge briefly to mate and die. without a mouth or digestive track they can only live on the energy they build up during the larvae stage.


this photo shows the boat that is used – although the ride is in total darkness and not as shown. (hard to have a photo of a boat in total darkness…). you can get a sense of the light from the glow worms on the ceiling and walls.

the sunsets views from outside the cave, before a final cruise back to te anau and the end of a busy day.

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te anau

day 5 started with a great breakfast in town and some time exploring queenstown before heading off on our short drive to te anau. the place we are staying is a large campgroundy place with something for everyone. there are camp sites for tents or campers, several hostel buildings with shared and private rooms, a common kitchen, dining area, lounge & internet and more traditional motel efficiencies. we’re staying a simple unit that has a separate bedroom and then a small kitchen & lounge with a pull-out bed.

one of the more notable guests is das rollende hotel run by a german tour company.  this is large trailer/motel on wheels that provides accommodation for 34 as they travel around new zealand. travel during the day is done in the traditional bus. when they arrive at their destination the rollende hotel is parked, the awnings are pulled out, the kitchen is opened and a small dining area is setup. breakfast and dinner are provided by the tour cook. seemed like a great way to travel cheaply and not have to keep packing/unpacking every day.

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day 6 (aka day 1 of abandonment) was a early start to drop off jackie and john at the department of conservation centre to catch their shuttle to the milford track boat dock.

quinton mckinnon (on the right) probably wasn’t able to catch a shuttle to the trail head when he was exploring the region and finding the first predicable overland route to milford sound.

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with john and the jboss on their trek i shifted to a different hotel that was frozen in the 50’s. what makes the small hotels especially enjoyable is they all have on-site owner operators. they really do make you feel like you’re staying at their place. when i was checking in the owner of this hotel asked about my plans and travels and each time i saw him after that it was something like “morning antony. you’re off to doubtful sound today right? do you need anything for your trip that i can help with? i’m heading to the grocery store later today so if you need anything just put in on the list in the office and we can settle up when you get back. the weather looks great today – you should have a great trip” i don’t think i’ll get that experience at the red roof.

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haast to queenstown

day 4 and we’re off early from hasst and on our way to queenstown through the heart of the southern alps.

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lake hawea was one of the larger alpine lakes that we passed alongside.


staged photo to show that tragically bad art work is available the world over. behind john is the cat orchestra and next to the jboss sir hillary wrapped in an nz flag. hard to choose so we got them both. you’ll have to wait until christmas to see who the lucky recipients of these will be… (i think the artist on the bench saw right through our ruse and wasn’t amused)

the photo on the right was a classic kiwi moment. we’re in queenstown – the adventure capital of nz with jet boats, bungee jumping, paragliding, canyoneering, yada yada, and these kids are having a great time on a tire swing.

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