The ups and downs of the Milford Road

So, I’m off on a trip to Milford Sound. I saw an incredibly cheap ticket online and just pressed book, not thinking about the logistics of course. It wasn’t until later that I found out that the road to Milford Sound isn’t always sound. At this time of year, it is often required to carry and fit chains in snowy weather. Some websites said it was even required by law. Right…

Waiting in line at the Homer tunnel, especially after the tunnel, chains could be required

Waiting in line at the Homer tunnel, especially after the tunnel, chains could be required

Besides that I tried to book accommodation in a dorm room in Milford Sound. My cruise was booked for the 3rd of June, but a phone call to the Milford Lodge taught me that they closed their backpacker accommodation for winter. My options were: getting a room for over a hundred dollars, or paying to sleep in my van. Neither seemed right.

So there I was, making myself crazy about all the things that would ruin my trip to Milford Sound. Where would I get chains? How much would that costs? Was I going to freeze to death in my car? What if I had to actually fit the chains? How many blankets should I bring? Why did I book a cruise in the morning? What if the roads are icy? Should I even go at this time?

Some fog to make the trip more dramatic

Some fog to make the trip more adventurous

I still hadn’t made proper decisions when I set off for Te Anau, the closest big town to the sounds. The weather forecast was good; sunny days coming. I asked three different knowledgable people about the road, and all said chains were probably not needed. All the horror stories I read online about people from the national park asking every driver if they had chains, and asking if you could please show them how to fit them, vanished just a little bit. Apparently it wasn’t winter enough.

At least the Kea is having a good time in the parking lot

At least the Kea is having a good time in the parking lot

At the hostel in Te Anau I made a planning for the trip. You see, Milford Sound isn’t just Milford Sound. I had a whole itinerary along the Milford Road to plan. I planned walks, photo stops, short walks and my overnight camp. I was going to stay in the middle of the national park, on a DOC (department of conservation) campsite called Lake Gunn.

Lake Gunn, not a bad spot to camp!

Lake Gunn, not a bad spot to camp!

My mind wasn’t eased though. Would there be anyone else in the park? What if I wouldn’t make it to Milford Sound in time the next day? What if there would be a massive dump of snow overnight? What if I would be freezing in my car? What if my car wouldn’t start in the morning? Should I really go?

I went, and was only happy to stop often!

I went, and was only happy to stop often!

I feel like a whimp lately. Everything seems to worry me. But despite of that I set off to Milford Sound. I did my things and managed to have plenty of time left and reach camp in daylight. There were already people there, and my heart rate settled a bit. As it got darker and darker, more people came. Who knew that this spot would even be popular in winter? Suddenly I realised I wasn’t the only crazy person trying to save money.

Mirror Lakes, a scenic stop along the Milford Road

Mirror Lakes, a scenic stop along the Milford Road

My car turned out to be very comfortable and toasty. I had brought all the blankets I could find, but didn’t even need them. I cracked the window a bit for fresh air and still found I had enough with a fleece blanket and one or two other blankets. I watched a film on my computer and missed the ending because of a dead battery. Saving some for later.

Frosty looking landscapes

Frosty looking landscapes

The next day was an early one. The road was icy, frost everywhere and what I could have done in half an hour, took an hour in these conditions. After slipping the day before, I was very careful and maxed at 50km/h. After the Homer tunnel the road got even worse, winding up and down through the valleys and forest. Dozens of signs saying ‘black ice’ didn’t make me feel any more comfortable.

Milford Sound in all its glory

Milford Sound in all its glory

Well… I made it. I had a cruise on the sounds and even managed to drive back. It was icy and slighty trickier than in summer, but I had two wonderful, sunny days along the Milford Road. I managed to do everything I’d planned and even avoided slipping too much on the roads. There were no big dumps of snow. I didn’t freeze to death. I didn’t even need chains. Milford Sound in winter is an adventure, but one I would do again.

After all, driving through this landscape isn't that bad!

After all, driving through this landscape isn’t that bad!

 

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One thought on “The ups and downs of the Milford Road

  1. Pingback: Cruising New Zealand’s fiords | Pretty Packed

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