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.

New Zealand: the scenic route from Dunedin to Invercargill

As we were having breakfast in a cafe near our motel this morning, an elderly gentleman walked by all wrapped up against the cold (it was frosty) eating a very large ice-cream. The thermometer certainly has not got up to ice-cream eating temperatures for me. Shortly afterwards, an elderly lady walked past holding a small branch with a few leaves on, in front of her. I have no idea what that was for.

Dunedin to Invercargill on the highway only takes about two hours to drive but there is a slower, scenic option which follows the coast and then through the Catlins where remnants of the original forest remain and have not been cleared for farming. For the first few miles the road runs alongside the ocean and this morning, Brighton Beach was empty.

At Taieri Mouth the road turns inland for a while and into the mist which was lying. Milton is a small town built on wood and wool and further on is Balclutha, the largest town on the road. The Clutha River is the largest in New Zealand by volume of water. We had a coffee here before continuing on our journey. While many of Dunedin’s central streets have the names of streets in Edinburgh’s New Town and some of those in the suburbs have Edinburgh suburb names, we assume that Balclutha was settled by Glaswegians as we had only just entered the town and seen streets named Glasgow, Clyde and Renfrew.

There are numerous diversions along the road. Walking trails start at various points, there are a few waterfalls, caves, horse riding and many others. One we did take was the road down to Nugget Point. There is a short walking trail to the lighthouse.
There are lookouts and short trails to hides as it is possible to see penguins, seals, sea lions and birds. We saw one seal at a distance today. There was a large party of several families with five rented camper vans at the lighthouse. We decided to make a quick get away in order to avoid being stuck behind all five on the narrow road on the point. Back on the scenic route we approached the Catlins and passed Catlins Lake which is in fact, a sea loch.
At Florence Hill Lookout you get a good view of Tautuku Bay and Peninsula with some of the old growth forest.
The information board said that the area was first inhabited by Maori arrived from AD 900-1700. It was sighted by Captain Cook and whalers and sealers arrived in the early 19th century followed by settlers from 1850 who started clearing the forest for timber and then farmland. Apparently, the road was not sealed until 2005. Grasses and flax border many of the roads and on Florence Hill one guy was spending ages photographing the grass seedheads. As the road approaches Invercargill it turns inland through farmland and bordering wetlands where there are a number of nature reserves and bird-watching centres. Having left Dunedin which lays claim to the steepest street in the world and have now arrived in Invercargill which is very flat. So not much energy will be expended looking for our evening meal.