4 February: The night before, we drove about 2.5 hours from Mount Cook to camp in Wanaka, the gateway city to Mount Aspiring National Park (also a lovely and slightly touristy city in and of itself, situated on the beautiful Lake Wanaka). Unfortunately, we woke up to a bit of rain. We thought it would clear quickly (according to my quite unreliable weather app), so we tore down camp and headed to the visitor center to get some more details about the hikes we had planned for the day – where we were met with the news that a huge storm front was coming through almost the entire southern half of the island, and wasn’t likely to let up for several days. We were all about braving the weather, but were told that the visibility was too poor to even get a decent view at the summit. Some of the access roads had even been changed from “all vehicles” to “4WD and high base vehicles only.” I thought I was going to have to restrain my friend when the ranger suggested the “nice movie theater” in town…
Knowing there were no worthwhile hikes to do in the rain and that the weather was not likely to improve within a day or two, we decided to go ahead and drive down towards Fiordland National Park and the Milford Sound. We were now several days ahead of schedule, but could find no good reason to stay put. Despite the “terrible storm all over,” we kept getting glimmers of sun and amazing views as we drove. Even though the morning was rotten, it turned out to be an amazing day on the road. A 5 hour scenic drive (much more with all the stops) with a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies and road trip playlists (looking at you John, James, and Phil) with a best friend is one of life’s simple pleasures.
The extreme diversity in such a small area is absolutely phenomenal. There are mountains and lakes and beaches everywhere, but shut your eye for one second and you might think you were transported from the Smoky Mountains to the Swiss Alps. Above was the Queenstown area, and below is the magical drive into Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound.
Yep, there was even snow. Quite terrifying on the steep mountain slopes and switchbacks approaching and exiting the Homer Tunnel (below).
We stayed at the Milford Sound Backpacker’s lodge (the best of the three we stayed at, as we mostly camped), which had a homey common room, nice kitchen, and cool restaurant.
5 February: This was one of the mostly rainy/snowy days I think (they’re all kind of starting to run together in my memory). We mostly stayed in the lodge reading and goofing around. We met 2 German girls pretty close to our age, and really hit it off. We spent several hours just chatting, and planning a couple walks we’d try together in the morning. We did get out to see The Chasm –
Pictures can’t really do it justice, but basically thousands of years of powerfully surging water have carved out the rocks in fascinating ways.
We also tried the Gertrude Saddle Route, but it was so cold and flooded we had to turn around after only about 15 minutes. In the evening, we wandered down to Sandfly Point. It was quite hazy but still magnificent.
6 February: The weather cleared up, so we decided to check out Sandfly Point one more time before heading away from the area for good.
(note: this photo is not mine. please do not share or use in any way.)
We were originally going to do a kayak trip, but decided that we would much rather catch up on the hikes we hadn’t gotten to do yet.
The Lake Marian route was about three hours of forest obstacles (one of my favorite types of hikes!) with an amazing view of Lake Marian at the end:
And next we did the Key Summit, a side track from the Routeburn (and where the featured image on this post is from):
A different view of Lake Marian from the summit:
We were sad to say goodbye to our new friends who were heading on to Queenstown, but excited to head to our campsite and prepare to take on the Routeburn in the morning!