Invercargill to Milford Sound

The guide book describes Invercargill as ‘flat and featureless’. It is flat and only has a few 19th century buildings but is a good stopping off point on the Southern Scenic Route as it has all the services for re-supplying if you are heading to more rural parts. It was raining as we left and I wondered if there would any views on the road at all and whether it would be raining at Milford Sound. It has the reputation for getting more rain per annum than the Amazon rainforest on more than 200 days every year. We did get a brief lull in the downpour on the windy Gemstone Beach near Orepuki.

Further on after the road had headed inland, we had a coffee in Tuatapere. It has a population of 555 just a few more than Smallwood and is mainly a logging and farming town. There was a sign by the road announcing that it was the sausage capital of New Zealand. The waitress in the café enlightened us and said that a local butcher had won a national award. At Clifden is New Zealand’s longest wooden suspension bridge over the Waiau River built in 1899. It is still used by pedestrians but the road uses a modern concrete bridge.

Near Blackmount, the Takitimu Mountains appeared on our right-hand side. Just outside Manapouri is the world’s first hydroelectric power station on the Waiau River. It was built to power and aluminium smelter in Invercargill.

The rain had now disappeared and in Manapouri we had a short walk on Fraser Beach.

At Te Anua we had our lunch by the harbour. Mount Titiroa (1710m) is just visible from the shore and looks as if it has snow on but it is granite shining in the sun. There were trees including South Island Kowhai by the waterside. It was then time to take Highway 94 to Milford Sound. We first passed Walker Creek and then the road follows the Eglinton River and Valley which is obviously glacial.

At Mirror Lakes, you can see the reflections of the Earl Mountains in the still water.

Just after the Lakes was a notice announcing we had crossed 45 degrees latitude. There are also signs saying that ‘New Zealand roads are different’ but to our mind they are very like roads in rural Scotland. Near the Divide was evidence of the wet climate as all the trees were draped with lichens.

Before descending into Milford Sound the road passes through the Homer Tunnel. It is three quarters of a mile long and was opened in 1953. For most of the year there is a traffic light system to control access but this is suspended in winter as they do not want vehicles standing in a queue outside the tunnel in a high avalanche risk area. We got through eventually and found our way to our accommodation in Milford Sound. In busy seasons you are advised to leave Te Anau at around 8am to drive to Milford Sound or you risk being stuck behind lots of coaches as it is New Zealand’s most popular tourist attraction. As we approached in the afternoon, most of the coaches were returning to Te Anau.