So I think it’s been established that Claire and I like our sleep, we’re not the best morning people and we’re not the fastest packers. So our “early” start, with obligatory stops at cafes and shops along the way, meant we didn’t get to Te Anau until gone midday. Then if you factor in us needing to check in at Lakefront Backpackers, head to the supermarket to buy lunch, go back to the hostel to make and eat said lunch and ask a thousand questions (of course) about the walk, we weren’t actually ready to head off for our walk until after 2. By which point the rain had well and truly arrived. We therefore ditched the idea of walking 45 minutes along the lake to the starting point of the walk and instead drove to the car park like most people.
I should probably reference the walk I am going on about. The Kepler track – located in Fiordland National Park – is a total of 60km and it takes roughly 3 days to complete the whole thing, sleeping in huts along the way and carrying enough food, water, clothing and supplies with you for the duration. Not only are we short on time but the huts are booked out so far in advance that there was no available accommodation anyway, so we decided to complete part of the walk over the course of one day. As also seems to be the common occurrence with Claire and I, we initially say we will do a 6-8 hour hike but by the time we get round to commencing it we only have enough time for about 4 hours (clever, right?!)
Anyway, we drove to the car park and decided to head towards Brod Bay, which was listed as taking 1.5 hours to complete. We set off, the sun poking out between the clouds with our jumpers/jackets/hats suddenly being completely redundant, and very quickly entered bush, weaving our way along a track surrounded by trees and fawn with the sunlight piercing through the leaves above us. It was a very peaceful and flat trek, quite pleasant really, but it would be for us with only our light day bags; we were a little bit shown up by the number of people we passed whom were trundling along with their 3-day sized bags on their backs, but we got to skip right past them so who were the real winners?! No, seriously, kudos to them.
We made it to Brod Bay after about an hour so we decided to continue in the direction of the next designated stop – Luxmore Hut – where most people sleep the first night. This leg was supposed to take 3.5 hours and by this point it was already 4pm; we would have to take the same route back so we knew we wouldn’t make it all the way, but it was really enjoyable and rewarding to spend an hour on the uphill ascent through the bush towards Luxmore, which offered beautiful views across Te Anau and the lake below. I honestly take my hat off to those who do this climb with their massive backpacks.
At just after 5pm we reached a lookout point and decided this was our time to turn around and head back. I do joke about it only being 4 hours in comparison to those who do 3-4 days (which is something I would absolutely love to do) however I am not an avid walker and my feet and legs aren’t used to such a long duration of physical activity, so it did feel like we had pushed ourselves. So naturally we rewarded ourselves with shed loads of Whittakers chocolate and a bottle of Speights cider. I mean, what’s the point of doing exercise if you don’t counteract all the hard work with sugar and fat??
We had a Milford Sound cruise booked for 9am the following day – a 2 hour boat tour along New Zealand’s most famous fiord. We booked with Go Orange as their 9am tour, including a bacon roll and orange juice, cost $45 NZD, which was a lot cheaper than other companies. You have to pay quite a lot extra for coach transport from/to Te Anau (it would have been around an extra $70 NZD each) so if you do not have a car it may be worth doing the day trip from Queenstown as you can get this for the same price. However we drove ourselves the 1.5 hour journey (2 if you make stops along the way, or if you get stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle) along the very winding, misty roads through Fiordland National park.
Anyway, we had been advised that the car park at Milford Sound gets full at around 7:30am so even though we didn’t have to check in until 8:45 we set our alarms for 5:45am and headed off just after 6, arriving at an almost empty car park at 7:30am. Turns out we didn’t need to get up so early after all, but I probably shouldn’t complain as I spent the majority of the car journey napping (don’t worry, Claire was driving). The next hour was taken up by numerous toilet breaks and a distinctly disappointing extra hot chai latte that was neither extra hot nor particularly strong in chai taste. Win, win.
After the 10 minute walk to the Milford sound building we checked in at the Go Orange desk and boarded the boat at 8:45, making our way to the top deck for views out across the water and the surrounding mountains. We set off at 9am and made our way across the dark waters towards the cliffs, waterfalls and peaks, the most famous being Mitre Peak, so named due to it resembling a Pope’s hat.
Despite being a grey and drizzly day it still felt spectacular, with the mist bouncing off the forest-like cliffs and the water literally falling off the edge and turning into mist as it had insufficient earth to cling to on its cascade.
On our way out, and again on our way back, we caught sight of fur seals lounging on the rocks and splashing about in the water below – ridiculously cute and natural posers for the cameras, Claire and I were won over by them and took it upon ourselves to perfect the best seal impression. Probably delirious from the lack of sleep by this point, but I feel we did a pretty good job.
It was then, of course, that we were almost blown off the boat and/or completely drenched by the enormous, gushing waterfall that we practically sailed right under. The seals would call that karma.
At exactly 11am we made it back to the marina, walked the 10 minutes back to the car, had an obligatory toilet stop and drove (me this time) the 1.5 hour journey back to Te Anau, being delayed by the Kea bird prancing about between all the cars queuing for the tunnel out of Milford that goes through the mountains. It was cute, until it made for Claire’s chocolate bar inside the car. We all have our line; that’s ours.
We arrived back in Te Anau around 1pm, had some lunch at our hostel and picked up our bags before setting off on our drive back up North to Wanaka!