Well, we didn’t go kayaking.
At least not on the first morning in Milford Sound. It had rained hard all night and was still raining at 5:30am when we woke up. We drove one street down from our lodge to Rosco’s Kayaks, where we thought we would be doing the Morning Glory session at 6:30am. Even though we were pretty sure we had come to the right place (Milford Sound is a pretty small place), no one was around and the gravel lot was abandoned except for a big pile of kayaks and a sign that read “Rosco’s Kayaks.” We sat in the warm car for awhile, waiting for signs of life outside in the rain. Visibility was extremely low as the car’s windows fogged over. Eventually, some other cars pulled in and we found a guy from Rosco’s in a big tent that looked like it was made of PVC pipe, waterproof tarp, and rope. The Rosco’s dude told us the bad news, that the wind was too high to kayak so all morning sessions with Rosco’s would be canceled. The good news was that we were in Milford Sound for another night, so we could still kayak the Morning Glory the next morning!
We went back to the lodge, which was a nice, warm, dry respite from the cold and wet outdoors. Hayden and I read and blogged and relaxed in the lounge until the cafe opened for breakfast. More good news was that we got to have yummy french toast. The rain let up around 9:30am, but the wind and rain were heavy until then, so it was good that we weren’t kayaking. We rescheduled our kayaking session for the next day — luckily, there were exactly two spots left open, just for us!
Since we had woken up so early, there was a lot of time in the day. I spent six hours catching up on blog posts, had a chocolate chip muffin for lunch, and finally Hayden got bored of sitting around and dragged us out to get the tourist shot of Milford Sound. We arrived at the parking lot where you could take a 20 minute nature walk, take a picture of you standing with outspread arms in front of the sound, and then check off ‘see Milford Sound’ and hurriedly head to the next vista.
Milford Sound as viewed from land is rather underwhelming. Hayden and I have had this ongoing joke that, whenever we see a really beautiful place, we say “what a dump.” Hayden’s comment on the parking lot view of Milford Sound: “It actually is a dump.” The entire shore was covered in mud and swampy mush. I have another joke, that I call any beach that isn’t in Southern California, Miami, etc. a swamp. The shores at Milford Sound are actually swamp. Hayden and I wandered around the swamp and I accidentally soaked my shoes in swamp mush but, on the bright side, we did see a very cute duck family with fat little ducklings. After the ducklings and the swamp mush, we did the nature walk and Hayden spent 10 minutes taking pictures of a fern. The fern was sort of half-dead-looking and I told Hayden it was going to be an ugly photo, but he told me that he had to learn that on his own.
Thanks to planning ahead before the Routeburn Track, Hayden and I had brought a variety of nonperishable grocery items to cook a rice dish for one of our nights at Milford. That night was upon us! Rice, salami, onion, bell pepper, chicken broth, and garlic had all been waiting for us in the Barina while we had been walking the Routeburn, and on this evening those ingredients became a yummy rice dish. We followed a recipe that called for fast-cooking rice, which we didn’t have, and this almost ruined the entire meal. Luckily, we saved it in the middle of cooking (this part was more stressful than I care to describe) and the food was great. The leftovers went in a Ziploc bag that made the food look rather unappetizing.
We spent some more time lounging about and even more time packing our things, and went to bed after a cake dessert. Tomorrow we would kayak (hopefully)!
And we did!
We checked out of the lodge at o’dark-thirty and arrived to the good news that kayaking was happening. It was still drizzling, but the weather was not nearly as bad as it had been the day before. Hayden and I shared a double kayak with me in the front, which meant that Hayden would be rowing and steering the kayak and I would be a Helper. My arms are comically weak, and the Morning Glory is rated as Tough, so I knew this was going to be a rough one for my upper body.
Our group was only 8 people including our guide. This was a great size and didn’t feel like the hardcore tourism of the lumbering cruise ships that passed through the fiord. Also, as we learned on our kayak trip, Milford Sound is not a sound, but a fiord. Something about glaciers.
Anyway, we kayaked through the whole fiord to the Tasman Sea, which was special about this particular kayaking session and the reason Hayden chose it. There were a TON of waterfalls (ugh) as we passed through the fiord. There are only two permanent waterfalls at Milford Sound but, because of the rain, there were a seemingly infinite number coming down the rock walls today. More interesting than waterfalls, we saw New Zealand seals hanging out on some rocks. They were so cute, rolling around in the water and nodding their heads at us. They reminded me of my dog, Joey, when he rolls around on the ground and gets all happy. I wish I were a seal.
Every time a cruise ship passed us, huge waves from the ship’s wake would rock the kayaks around a bit. Ah, the natural oceanic patterns of the tourist trade. The water became rougher and rougher as we got closer to the Tasman Sea. Over particularly big swells, the kayaks would rise up and then slap down hard as they came down. That was an adventure. We didn’t actually go into the Tasman Sea because the swells were too high for our little kayaks, but we did get right up to the border between the end of the fiord and the sea. We had made it! Our guide told us that our group was super fast and we had made it in record time. I would say that this is because Hayden and I are fast, but my weakling arms hardly contributed to the speed of our kayak. I can say that I tried my hardest!
After reaching the end of the fiord, we turned around and kayaked back to calmer waters, where the water taxi (a small motor boat) would pick us up for an easy ride back to the docks. Once on the water taxi, we zoomed at high speed through the fiord and could see how far we had kayaked. We’d gone through the whole fiord!
Milford Sound was a much better experience from the kayaks than it had been from the parking lot. Not /quite/ a dump, I should say. I was really glad we had kayaked, and of course Hayden loved it. The boat ride back was a plus. On the way back, we saw a huge pod of bottlenose dolphins happily swimming around the cruise ships and even around our boat! Apparently, they like to play in the boat wakes, and it can even be more efficient for them to swim there. We didn’t get any great pictures (our nice cameras stayed dry in the car), but we saw so many dolphins up close! That was a great end to our kayaking adventure.
Our next stop was Te Anau, which was about two hours away from Milford. Since there wouldn’t be any good stopping points on the way to Te Anau, we ate leftover rice at the lodge (even better the second time around!) and wound down after a long time out in the cold and rain. The lodge was actually a really nice place to stay, even if it was the only place to stay.
Fast forward two hours in Te Anau, we stopped at the Department of Conservation to donate to our Lake Mackenzie Hut ranger friend and the birds and the death of stoats. “The only good stoat is a dead stoat,” a sign read at the DOC. I guess you have to be a truly horrible species for an entire country to actively wish for your extinction.
Our room at the Te Anau Kiwi Holiday Apartments had a full kitchen, so we made a wonderful pasta dinner for the low price of $5 per person. I love noodles.
Next up was the Te Anau Glow Worm Cave Tour, the reason we had come to Te Anau in the first place. Neither of us can remember why we initially decided we needed to see glow worms, but the tour was booked and we were on our way. The glow worm tour was a monstrous tourist trap. The Real Journeys website said that groups would be split into 14 people maximum, but we found ourselves boarding a boat with 74 people on it. LIARS. Real Journeys would be splitting the group up for the actual cave tour. Hmph.
The boat ride over was actually pretty nice. No one wanted to go to the top deck because it was a little windy and mildly chilly, so Hayden and I hung up there on our own, taking cool pictures of the scenery. When we reached the glow worm caves, our first stop was the Glow Worm Visitor Center, where we were lucky to hear the Pre-Glow Worm Tour Presentation and have a variety of snacks for purchase at the Glow Worm Cafe.
Despite the whole tourist trap thing, the actual glow worm cave was really cool and worth a visit. We first clambered under a big rock to get into the cave, where there was a lot of fast rushing water beneath the metal grate walkways. It really looked like we were in the line leading up to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Disneyland should take some styling tips from the glow worm caves. That rushing water was a real ambiance boost! We walked about 250 meters to the beginning of the ride and, as we got closer, we started to see tiny glow worm dots scattered about. They kind of look like tiny green LEDs.
We got on a Pirates of the Caribbean-style boat that took us into complete darkness except for the green LED light of hundreds of little glow worms on the cave walls. It was mesmerizing and very relaxing. That was the part I had been waiting for. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in the caves, so we don’t have any pictures of the glow worms, but you can just imagine sitting on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in the dark with a bunch of LEDs overhead, and that was pretty much it.
The big boat picked us up and took us back to our starting point in Te Anau. Hayden and I were wiped from kayaking, along with the comparatively less exhilarating glow worm tour. The next day, we would be going to Oamaru, where we had a Little Blue Penguin Evening Viewing booked. Penguins!