Thu 20 Nov: We headed down to the lakefront to the bar / cafe at the station to see if they did breakfast and got a bit of a surprise. Having seen the steam engines for the Kingston Flyer in the yard the previous night, we suddenly found ourselves facing an entire train. It turns out that it runs 14km up the track to Fairlie every morning at 10am, and by chance we happened to get there 5 minutes before it left. It was even more impressive in action than it had been in the yard, particularly as it was a beautiful morning with a clear, blue sky.
After a good breakfast we headed south, but after quarter of an hour we saw smoke in the distance. Sure enough we were passing Fairlie, and the Flyer had turned round and was on its way back to Kingston. So from not even knowing it existed, we were fortunate enough to see it setting off on both legs of its journey. Rita even managed to get some video of it.
We had a lot of driving pencilled in for today so we pressed on towards Te Anau, which is the gateway to Fiordland. From there we were planning to head towards Milford Sound which is around 120km away. We got to Te Anau around lunchtime, and stocked up on food, wine and beer from the supermarket. Petrol prices were a little more than I’d been expecting and we’d been warned not to try filling up in Milford Sound, but I thought we had enough left to get there and back. I did find myself driving very conservatively to make sure we didn’t run out, which had the added bonus of giving us more chance to admire the scenery.
First stop along the road to Milford Sound was Mistletoe Lake, where we had a circular nice walk down to the lakeshore. We stopped at a number of other places along the way including Mirror Lake, which are best seen in the evening or early morning when the wind has dropped. Then you can see why it got its name. Even in early afternoon the water was very clear and you could see trout swimming lazily along below the surface. We also stopped for a walk at Lake Gunn, through a lovely beech forest. We crossed the divide then took a right turn towards Humboldt Falls, which are apparently the tallest falls that are near a road, a bit of a contrived claim to fame, but they were impressive despite that.
Along the road to Humboldt falls is the Hollyford camp. This was set up by a guy called Murray Gunn, the son of Davy Gunn, a legend in those parts. He was one of the early farmers, but he also mapped the area and was a pioneer in establishing a tourism industry. He was most famous for a 20 hour journey he made in 1936 to raise the alarm about a plane crash, which led to the four survivors being rescued. Given how rugged the country is, completing his trek in 20 hours was a remarkable achievement. He was killed fording a river on Christmas Day in 1955. The Hollyford camp has a small museum with details of his life and times, as well as a lot of artefacts and newspaper clippings relating to the region and the pioneers who lived there.
We pitched out tents and cooked dinner surrounded by clouds of sand flies, which are a type of black fly and they have a nasty bite. They are the worst aspect of Fiordland. When it finally went dark, we trekked down the road and found a small glowworm dell. New Zealand has a number of areas where you find glowworms. They lower silken threads, like fishing rods, and through a chemical reaction they are able to generate a light from their backsides (so the light really does shine out of their arses). This attracts insects which they catch on the silken threads, providing their food.