The thing about vacations is that there is rarely any good reason to get up early. Why I end up awake and staring at the bug-squished ceiling of my tent at 7AM is beyond me. My guess is that my deflated pad probably helps.
While eating a leisurely breakfast, I meet up with another American bicyclist. He and his partner, Jenn, also just made it into Te Anau. Unfortunately, he has a knee injury and doesn't think he can make it any further, though they would like to. The spidey senses tingling, I ask him a little more about it. It has been quite a while since I was able to diagnose and treat anything.
As it turns out, it looks like a small cellulitis on his left knee right where he would kneel down on something - it's a bit low for a bursitis. I just happen to have a six-day course of Keflex. This saves him having to go to the clinic, and hopefully will allow him to bike. I give the important warnings about MRSA and he is going to mark it to watch for worsening.
Jenn and Dan. They wanted the picture next to the coffee gestapo sign. We didn't actually witness this, but my guess based on the feeling of that sign is that the last person that "borrowed" a coffee cup disappeared and is still building roads in Siberia with a pickaxe.
Anyway, I spend much of the morning talking with them. They are a very cool couple - check out their pictures at www.flickr.com/smithandschmidt.
Anyway, as mentioned yesterday, today is the day for Milford Sound. The general rule is that 95% of the time, it rains during at least part of the trip. Today is looking like it is going to buck the trend, though.
We hop in Zod and speed (well, chug maybe) along toward Milford. This part of the trip really starts to feel like Alaska again.
In my excitement at getting an "artsy" picture, I may have made it a little hydrophilic. (You're welcome, science majors. I haven't used that word in years, and it took some work to figure out how to fit it in a travel blog.)
Wait - I though 'Merica had a monopoly on amber waves of grain. Looking toward the pass to Milford Sound.
We stop by Mirror Lake, which is kind of a bust unless they're going for the blown glass look.
Erik and Kris in a sickeningly-sweet silhouette in front of Mirror Lake. I am kind of ashamed that I directed this. And yes, they are both standing on the same floor.
This must be what Superman felt like as a teenager.
It does not take long for the road to start going up a lot more than down. The terrain closes in, but rewards the claustrophobia with some seriously gorgeous waterfalls and glacial streams.
I just wanted to dive straight in from the bridge. Thanks to years of TV ads, I expected a group of suave, rugged actors to meet a group of bikinied models and pull a few cold Old Milwaukees from the pool. It just doesn't get any better than this.
Not far from the waterfall. This was really screaming for a "silky waters" picture, but, sadly, Justin Cox was not present. (For those of you not in the know, "silky water" pictures are long exposures of moving water resulting in a cool effect. Cox tends to get these at any opportunity. He would do silky water pictures of a flushing toilet if allowed.)
We cross over the highest spot in the road, and start down through a long tunnel. It's a 10% grade here, and that only gets more steep as we start navigating the sharp switchbacks once we are past the tunnel. It doesn't seem like the smartest place to do a brake test on a very-used vehicle, but it passes.
The clear skies hold as we board the large vessel and start heading out into Milford Sound. At this point, all of us are shooting pictures at a rate that would bankrupt most people in the days of film developing. I will try to keep it to a few of the best.
Just getting out into the sound. The fresh air blows away all of the bugs, and it is just warm enough to be comfortable in the wind.
The size of that waterfall doesn't register until you realize that the little blip just to the left of it is a really big cruise boat.
Very commanding from this angle. Between hanging out with 6'10" Erik and cruising at the base of these mountains, I feel much smaller than usual.
This picture just HAD to be done. How often can nature make it look like I am snorting a snot rocket on to an unsuspecting man's head?
More areas looking like part of a panning shot from the Lord of the Rings.
Shortly into the cruise, we run into the first pod of dolphins. They are a lot larger than the ones I have seen in Alaska, and play around the bow of the ship. Needless to say, the steady ticking of camera lenses from the assembled crowd gets a lot faster.
There were hundreds of dolphins overall, I think. Every time I would get ready for a shot, they would be gone. Fast little suckers!
More dolphins. They look like a species that would get invited to parties a lot.
The sea lions, on the other hand, look like they just got out of a particularly wild party and are sleeping it off.
Heading back in to Milford Sound from the Tasman Sea. I pause for a bit to let the camera cool down.
Myself, Kris, and Erik, looking disheveled from the wind. For all of the haters who told us we'd be getting rain in Milford Sound, this picture is for you.
The Milford Track (a hiking trail running through this area) is rated as one of the best hikes in the world. Though not able to do it on this trip, I think I will have to return and make that happen when I have 4 or 5 days and a real pack.
We all agree that it was worth the money for that trip, touristy though it may be. We head back to the car, hop in, and I turn the key. Zod gives a little pathetic "whump" just once. Needless to say, the van would not start. I learned another of Zod's many undocumented features - there is no warning tone when you have your headlights on and the door open. I had left the lights on.
Luckily, for ten bucks a guy in the close-by bar brings a special battery jump starter out, and soon enough we are on the road again, Zod gasping like a fat kid at boot camp. We make it up, though, and without the engine exploding. Once again, this is probably not the best place for a torture test as we are about as far away from a tow as one can be in New Zealand.
Back at the top of the pass. Feels very Alaska-y.
It takes over an hour of driving before we reach the DOT campsite that is 50km outside of Te Anau. This is the spot where we had lunch today, and looks right up into the pass.
Welcome to my bedroom.
We put camp together, and Kris and Erik perform more vegetarian magic on some Thai or Indian food. Very filling and spicy, to boot. We are, at long last, tired of the majesty of the surrounding mountains, and so we all collect in their tent to watch a movie - neither of them have seen "Spies Like Us". After this little culture lesson, we all head to bed. It is much chillier this evening than last.
Tomorrow, we head for Invercargill and hopefully bike to Bluff and back from there. I fall asleep to the sounds of aimlessly babbling water from the neighboring creek.