Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Road to Milford Sound

Eglinton Valley, New Zealand (Jun 3, 2008)

We woke up in the coldest morning since our arrival in New Zealand. As we moved South, and more into the winter, the temperature had been falling, but this was the first time we found the car completely covered by a thick layer of frost. We set up to leave as early as possible because the destination of the day was Milford Sound. Piopiotahi in Maori (after the now extinct piopio bird), it is probably the most famous touristic destination of New Zealand. So famous that, during Summer, its single access road is completely congested with the traffic of 500,000 tourists each year.

Along the Road to Milford Sound
Being Winter, it wasn’t that bad, and in fact we were often the only car on the road. Route 94, the “Te Anau - Milford Highway”, is actually a nice single lane road, that covers the 121 km between Te Anau and the Sound along the Eglinton and Hollyford Rivers to the East and the Cleddau to the West. The road was opened only in 1953, when the 1270 m long Homer Tunnel was completed. The tunnel crosses the highest point in the route, at almost 1000 m of elevation. Not too much in absolute terms, but the mountains on the side of the road are still quite impressive (see photo below). In winter the road is often closed due to avalanches. Before Route 94 was completed, Milford Sound was only accessible from the sea, or by a 4 day hike along the Milford Track. The track has been defined as “The Finest Walk in the World” by New Zealand poet Blanche Baughan, and the name stuck. Due to our lack of training and time, we could not walk along the track, which must be quite a spectacular experience.

Even the road, however, was spectacular, and more so in this cold winter morning, with few cars and a crystal clear sky. The large photo above, one of my favorite of the entire trip, shows the Eglinton Valley: fiery mountains covered with snow, mist slowly dissipating with the first rays of the sun, and the glossy frost covering the dry grass and the naked bushes.

View near the entrance to Homer Tunnel, New Zealand (Jun 3, 2008)

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