In Search of Families In Search of Adventure
A Family on a Bike Tour: New Zealand, Samoa, USA and Canada 2004/2005

Miserable at Milford

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From:       Kirstie, Stuart, Matthew and Cameron
Subject:   Miserable at Milford
  Date:         1st December 2004
     Milford Sound, Fjordland, New Zealand


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



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