DOC Camping Grounds
The DOC (Department of Conservation) always tries to make areas more accessible by providing camping grounds. These camping grounds are not free, however they use a self-registration system. You take a little envelope of a wooden information panel, put it 6 NZD and insert it into a little wooden box beneath the panel. Before you tear a little receipt of that bag, which you put in your car or on your tent, so that it it visible. Sometimes DOC-officers patrolling the area visit the camping grounds and check on the receipts. But even if not:
- A honesty system is pretty cool, don't abuse it
- the money you pay goes directly to the DOC, so to the guys trying to preserve New Zealand's abundant nature.
So we spent the night at one of these, got up early and followed the rest of the street to:
Milford Sound is a very long sound reaching far inwards Fiordland. Due to the thin opening at the open sea side it initially remained undetected by European explorers. Even famous Captain Cook passed it. Thus for a long time it remained relatively untouched save by local Maori who developed quite an understanding of maritime life by exploring the area. Later in 1812 a sealer by the name of Captain John Grono discovered it and named it after his home haven in Wales: Milford Haven, which was later renamed to Milford Sound.
It is said to be of exceptional beauty and keeps attracting more and more visitors each year. Here are some remarks about it from Wikipedia:
It has been judged the world's top travel destination in an international survey (the 2008 Travelers' Choice Destinations Awards by TripAdvisor) --- Wikipedia
Rudyard Kipling had previously called it the eighth Wonder of the World --- Wikipedia
Milford Track Great Walk
So you can guess our expectations were high. Originally we wanted to do the Milford Track Great Walk. A much closer to nature experience of the wonders the area has to offer. However due to restrictions on numbers (40 people per day; the DOC wants to keep human impact at a minimum) the track is booked out months in advance, especially in summer. In our case the next free spot would have been in March.
The track encompasses 54 km walked on 4 days (and 3 nights). Since you have to book the huts according to a schedule and to assure the 40 people per day policy, you have to keep this schedule. There is no walking slower or faster.
The track can only be accessed by boat, so you need to arrange boat transport from Te Anau. The track will roughly lead you all the way from Te Anau to Milford Sound. There are three huts for every night, where you can spend the night. Camping is not allowed, so you don't have to bring a tent.
Fiordland is also the state with the biggest amount of rainfall each year, so prepare for rain.
Milford Sound Cruise
Like I explained, as much as we wanted to do the track, we couldn't. So we went for the more touristy alternative and booked a cruise boat to take us around Milford Sound. That's the choice of most people so the Milford Sound boat terminal is actually quite crowded and looks somewhat like a little airport terminal. You can already view some of the sound's beauty from here, but it's getting even better once you board the boat and start cruising the sound.
On the cruise you will pass astounding waterfalls pouring from tall mountains directly into the sea, so that you can actually feel the water splashing when the boat gets close enough.
One area in particular reminded us a second time of primeval earth. Look at the picture. Alas it can't fully show what we experienced when looking there. We were sure of ancient animals lurking in the dense forests. You could feel it.
|a primeval valley behind the mountain|
Later you will pass two colonies of sea lions playful and curious. They even climb smaller vessels to see what's going on inside.
It's a really spectacular journey and we were not disappointed. However next time we come to New Zealand, we are sure to book the Milford Track in advance!
And here a little bonus. A video we made where you can see two sea lions having an argument.