No New Zealand experience is complete
without a trip to Milford Sound. Iconic images of Mitre
Peak reflected in the fjord's clear waters (on a good day)
are widely used to promote the natural wonders of New Zealand.
There are two ways to get there - take a tourist tour or
hire a car and do it yourself . You'd need to be mad to
go on a bike. Surprisingly, we didn't. Family on a bike
became family in a car, just for the day you understand.
At some point as we made our way
up the coast and towards Fjordland, we crossed an invisible
line beyond which nothing is for free. Before we hit Te
Anau we were touched by the unprompted generosity of all
those we met, who went out of their way to help us because
we are a family. At a dusty roadside camp on the road to
Riverton, Marion and Bill invited us and the children in
to see their menagerie of animals and share a warming cup
of coffee. They returned to see us later at our camp with
hot fresh banana cake for our breakfast. In Orepuki, the
local publican opened his tavern especially early one morning
to serve us drinks and chat to us about sheep shearing.
Before we left he had stuffed two fresh flounder into our
hands for the evening barby. And in Manapouri, Ruth and
Donna at Fiordland Ecology Holidays sold us nothing and
helped us loads, entertaining the kids with a frog that
gave a riveting performance, running us around to get the
kids' injections and providing lots of useful information
and advice about the area.
Cameron making himself at home
at Fiordland Ecology Holidays
But by the time we reached Te Anau,
we were less a family and more a family ticket, a small
group package, a tailored itinerary, a tourist dollar waiting
to be fleeced. In Invercargill, out homestay host virtually
insisted we take his car to go out for the evening. In Te
Anau we wanted to borrow a car seat for for our day trip
to Milford but no-one from the local nursery, child centre,
car hire firm or campsite would lend us one. Rent us one,
yes, lend one, no way. In Te Anau, gateway to Milford Sound,
tourist = dollar. But still they come, and so did we.
With years of experience of promotion,
we suspected Milford might not be what it says on the box,
but somehow the leaflets, hype and guidebooks all got to
us and we felt we just HAD to do it. And the drive in is
truly awesome, even in the torrential rain and snow that
accompanied us. And once you get there, there is everything
you need to blow your mind away; towering peaks, thick native
forest clinging to sheer cliffs, fingers and arms of icy
waters reaching deep inland, thundering waterfalls, endless
wildnerness and natural beauty. Rudyard Kipling thought
it was "an eighth wonder of the world"
and it may well be.
The best view we could get of Milford on a really wet day
in a very brief break in the weather
It's everything the brochures
promise and more; more tourists than you'd ever expect in
the wildnerness; coaches grunting nose to nose in a giant
coach, car and campervan park; a busy ferry terminal filled
with international travellers, a shuttle bus to-ing and
fro-ing between car park and ferry terminal to avoid excess
contact with the natural environment; a tatty pub and lifeless
cafe full of mournful faces; and an information centre offering
lots of information but only about the times and prices
of the next ferry. And everyone we spoke to back at Te Anau
reported much the same experience, that Milford is a victim
of its own hype and marketing success.
The best view we could get of the coach park and ferry terminal
without being run over by buses or tourists
As you can see there
was plenty to make us miserable in Milford. But it still
beat a day in the office.
The best expressions we could
muster to describe our day