Te Anau is one of those towns that you fall in love with not for any particular reason that you can put your finger on except for that it just feels right. The first time we saw it, we drove through it quickly on the way to Milford Sound. Now, the road to Milford Sound is prone to snow and closures this time of year, so we were lucky when the weather cooperated with us and we were able to drive up over the pass no problem. The tunnel near the sound is pretty wonderful. It’s a one lane road that is 1270 meters long. When you drive in you get the same feeling as you do in the Universal Studios backlot tour where you drive into a tunnel and OH NO! it’s an avalanche and the tunnel which is painted to look as if it is covered in snow starts turning around you making you feel not frightened, but nauseous. Thankfully this tunnel did not start spinning.
We got to Milford Sound and bought tickets for the cruise. There were very few people on the cruise, the largest group being a bunch of young Japanese girls who were all huddled together and giggling in a very stereotypical manner. I can’t adequately describe Milford Sound except I can say that you have no perspective of how tall those peaks and cliffs are. The only chance you get to grab some perspective is when another boat comes close to the sides of the cliffs and you can see how tiny such a large boat can appear. The cruise was definitely worth every penny although most of the Japanese tourists were asleep in the interior of the boat by the time we headed back. I wanted to yell at them, “Wake up! Can’t you see how amazing this is?” but I forgot how to say that in Japanese.
Anyway, after that was our Key Summit walk and then we drove back to Te Anau since that is the only way back to civilization. Take a look at a South island road map. We stayed there for the night and I got the feeling that I could stay there for a long time. It’s not incredibly small, but not by any means large. It is next to a gorgeous lake and their downtown is full of quaint little shops. I’m not saying I want to live there. But it’s one of those places that makes me smile when I think of it.
Snapshot of New Zealand
New Zealand, at least on the South island, is ridiculously picturesque. You cannot turn your head in any direction without feeling an impulse to whip out your camera. Adam suggested that we start making a list of things that are not picturesque to save time. So far we have come up with a pile of tires that we saw on the side of the road. The rest is all gorgeous. In every direction you see towering mountain ranges and shimmering lakes. In fact, it is a little unbelievable. The mountain ranges look at times to be two dimensional as if Bob Ross had painted a happy little mountain scene on a giant backdrop.
New Zealand has a population of just over 4 million people. The south island of New Zealand has a population of just over 1 million compared with the northern city of Auckland which has a larger population than the whole of the south island. Couple that with the fact that New Zealand doesn’t seem to be the most popular wintertime destination, and you have the ideal situation for people who have slightly misanthropic tendencies. Almost every place we go we are completely alone or we meet one or two people along the trail. In most of the Department of Conservation campsites that we have stayed in we have been the only people camping there. New Zealand in the winter gives one a sense of what it might be like to live in a post-apocalyptic world. And you know? It doesn’t seem so bad.