Okay–so this is turning into a Part II of III.  Just too much to write about on the S. Island!

Milford Sound:   Fun fact. The “sound” is actually a fjord, which means it was created by glacial activity. It was mistakenly named by the early explorers and in the intervening centuries, nobody has seen fit to rectify the misnomer, although the greater region has been aptly named “Fjordland”.

After wrapping up our fantastic Key Summit Track hike, we optimistically headed through the Homer Tunnel around 6pm our first evening in the Sound in the hopes that the single campsite would have availability as freedom camping is strictly verbotten in the Sound.  Unfortunately, this was the first time we found no vacancies so we had to hurry back through the Homer Tunnel, which closes at 7pm, to avoid being forced to freedom camp and risk fines.

The 1.2 km tunnel’s history is fascinating. Work began on it in 1935 with a barebone crew of five men armed only with picks and wheelbarrows, which just blows my mind. It was the midst of the Depression so the relief workers likely were happy to even have the job, but the conditions must have been horrendous, with the incessant sandflies, little sunlight, constant rain,  regular avalanches and frustratingly slow daily progress.   Despite these challenges, they were able to bore through the other side within 5 years, but the actual tunnel didn’t open to the public until 1954 due to the war and another destructive avalanche.

We made it back through before the tunnel closed and ended up staying at the basic campsite at Lake Gunn, which was packed (due to shortage of other options) and a sandfly haven.  The lake view was lovely although I had to cover every inch of exposed skin to enjoy it and after 20 minutes ended up calling it an early night in the van.

The next morning we headed back through the Homer Tunnel (3rd time lucky) and drove straight to the carpark at the road’s end.  Upon exiting the van, SWARMS of sandflies assaulted us within seconds and put paid to any notions of an enjoyable hike. On the positive side, the weather was gorgeous–clear blue skies in all directions.  We ended up taking a Milford Sound nature cruise, which exceeded our expectations with its up close views of kaleidoscope-creating waterfalls,  dolphins leaping beside our boat and towering cliffs.  And with the added bonus of sandflies being too slow to keep up with us!   The nature cruise included a stop at the Milford Sound Discovery Centre, which has an underwater observatory that was cool to check out.

Dunedin:  A charming university town (home to the Univ. of Otago) of approx. 100K that we almost bypassed (but am glad we did not).  It lays claim to the world’s steepest street (although as a SF resident, I think SF has a couple of very close competitors) and more importantly for the chocoholics in my family, a Cadbury factory!  We got to live out our Willy Wonka fantasies for an hour (including the excitement of a chocolate fountain), were gifted a treat bag of chocolates and got to see Jonathan don the required beard cap, which was worth the price of admission alone!

Caving!

Caving!

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Mt Cook on a perfect day

Mt Cook on a perfect day

Swimming in Lake Pukaki

Swimming in Lake Pukaki

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

Gourmet dinner of pot noodles

Gourmet dinner of pot noodles

Mt Cook

Mt Cook

McKenzie Country

McKenzie Country

Kea eating Taranga

Kea eating Taranga

Clay cliffs

Clay cliffs

Curio Bay

Curio Bay

Fjordland

Fjordland

Dolphins in Milford Sound

Dolphins in Milford Sound

Towards Milford Sound

Towards Milford Sound

Curio Bay: We camped at this gorgeous spot on the southern tip of the island, where we spotted dolphins surfing the waves only 20 feet from shore while we ate ice-creams from the campsite shop and later visited the world’s rarest penguin, the yellow-eyed hoiho.  Unfortunately, as dusk settled in, the sandflies descended.

Clifden Caves:  The first of two aborted caving experiences.  We traveled about 25 feet inside the cave, but turned back as we felt a bit uncomfortable taking Z any further given that we only had 2 headlamps.  Would definitely check the caves out on a return visit though.

Nugget Point Lighthouse:  A vertigo-inducing stroll to the lighthouse, but well worth it for the dramatic views.

Moeraki Boulders:  We wandered on the beach for about an hour as Z & Jonathan climbed these unusually large, spherical boulders that dotted the beach.

Clay Cliffs: Located  west of Omarama down a 10km gravel road (always fun in our rickety Taranga), we had a great time scrambling up the scree paths surrounded by these dramatic pinnacles formed of clay.  The place was blissfully free of other tourists until another car arrived as we were leaving.  Again, I’m struck by just how few people populate the S. Island, even with all of the camper van tourism.

Lake Pukaki: Primo freedom camping location although we were at first reluctant to stay given the gale-strenth winds.  Fortunately, they abated and it turned into a gorgeous evening, warm enough to tempt Jonathan with a swim in the glacial lake.

Fountain of chocolate. Check out Jonathan's beard cap!

Fountain of chocolate. Check out Jonathan’s beard cap!

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