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Sunday 4th July - Arrowtown to Milford Sound
By Claire
Sunday, 11th July 2004 07:33

Milford Sound is only about thirty miles from Queenstown if you can go over the moutain in between, but you can't, so you have to go south and then north again, which is about two hundred and fifty miles. The hostel lady said that it's compulsory to carry snow chains in Milford Sound, otherwise there's a $700 fine (and I've had enough of New Zealand fines), so we'd have to find somewhere to hire them. We phoned the hostel we wanted to stay in and made a reservation, and they told us to make sure we had a full tank of petrol before we came up the road.

It was more gorgeous sunshine and views. The south island is supposed to be wet. They get more rain than anywhere else, and the west coast even more so - the mountains hold in all the clouds. We haven't had a single day of rain down here yet. On the way down the road was a place called Deer Park Heights, a sort of nature reserve that was Rohan for a few months a few years ago, so we drove up to feed some animals.

As has become customary, I was attacked by a viscious sheep that kept running into the back of my knees and trying to head butt my stomach. The other sheep were much better behaved, but still slobbered all over my hands as I fed them dry food from a bucket. Mikey kept his distance.

Our car battery has been threatening not to work for us since we got it, and today it actually gave up. So, on a hill surrounded by psychopathic sheep, we were stranded. It was an automatic so we couldn't bump start it, and we had no jump leads. The farmer came along, feeding sheep, and he didn't have any leads either, so we sat in the sun for a while hoping that the battery would warm up. It didn't. Finally the farmer returned and offered us a lift to use the phone, and I got to sit in the back of his truck. It was full of dried blood and little chunks of animal, which was nice. We picked up jump leads, went back and started the car, and then carried on round the park without switching off the engine.

There were all sorts of animals around, some very regal-looking stags, lots of highland cattle and goats and donkeys, and my favourite, some huge bison. There was a lot of animal dribble going on by the time I got back in the car, much to Mikey's distress. There were about six Lord of the Rings locations up here, all around Rohan, and even without the film references they'd be worth seeing. Lots of little moutain lakes and dry grassland, and the bit that Aragorn fell over (they superimposed the river at the bottom afterwards). We did a lot of walking and scrambling along the icy paths and it was very cold, but nice to keep the car running and the heater on for when we got back. There were some nice views from the top of the hill and a rather incongruous Korean Prison too (another film set from the '80s). They were supposed to have thar, a type of mountain goat thing, but they all had to be killed for some reason so I didn't get to see any.

I did a final bison-feeding (they are sooo cool, and really, really huge) and we found a picnic spot along the road to Te Anau. More mountains, lakes, sunshine and scenery. At Te Anau, about two hours along the road, we filled up with petrol as directed and headed up the Milford Sound road. The map indicated that there were lots of little towns along the way, so we'd stop there for some snow chains if we needed any. There were view points and views every now and then, and we took photos of snowy mountains and lakes. A sign said the road was open, the chance of an avalanche low. At Knobs Flat, which I thought would be a town but was, in fact, just a phone box, there was a sign that said chains were essential. Mikey phoned the hostel who said, oh yes, of course you need to carry snow chains with you - go back to Te Anau to get some. So we did. Forty miles back. Then the lady at the petrol station said the road was probably closed so she made a few calls and said that so far it wasn't, but it was incredibly icy, so be careful.

So we retraced our route, and took about forty minutes to get back to where we were, and by then it was getting dark. The road was icy, but not horrendously so, but it was full of rokfalls and roadworks. There are no turnings off this 80-mile road, and no towns at all along the way. We went though tunnels and over bridges and past avalanche zones (no stopping for the next 30km) and a lot of possums. One of them was sitting in the road watching us, so we went past it carefully and it ran off. Then, at the last second it changed its mind and threw itself under the car. There was a horrible thump and bump, but although it was sad, we knew that 95% of baby kiwi are killed by this imported pest, so in a way it was an act of conservation. Honest.

I was a bit annoyed with the hostel for not mentioning that we'd have to have snow chains, it wouldn't have taken them any longer than it took them to tell us to fill up with petrol, so I wasn't ready to be impressed by the place. It was freezing cold outside, and they told us there would be no electricity after 11pm. I don't need electricity after 11pm, but knowing I can't have it annoyed me. And the bathrooms were outside. This was tantamount to camping, and this place was more expensive than any other hostel we'd stayed in. I was not impressed. Unfortunately, the room was icy cold too. We turned the radiator on, but the sign said that it, too, would be switched off at night. And I'd left my hot water bottle, the one that had kept me cosy since Santiago, in Arrowtown. I was a bit grumpy.

We had supper and I did a bit of internetting. Because this is a place where the healthy outdoor types like to stay, they obviously wouldn't approve of television, and there wasn't any. There were also only three books in the book exchange, most of them foreign. We booked a cruise through Milford Sound in the morning, I put on about five layers of clothing and my stolen Northwestern Airlines blanket, and got into bed.

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