By January 31, 2012 Read More →

NZ Driving – Milford Road and Crown Range

Te Anau to Milford

Our waiting on the weather seems to have paid off.  We’ve enjoyed two glorious days on the road viewing the fiords.  The road trips have been outstanding with some stunning views, challenging roads, a scary tunnel and a bit of strange wildlife.

We needed to catch a day up, lost due to our weather waiting, so ten minutes after the Doubtful Sound moored at Manapouri we fired up Bertha and set off on the two hour drive up the Milford Road.

We had been warned that there was no fuel station between Te Anau and Milford so we had readied the camper with a full tank that morning in preparation.  This journey had been one of the things I had gotten most excited about when looking at New Zealand.  With a full tank of petrol and some pleasant weather we set out to see if it was going to live up to its billing.

From Te Anau the journey begins by following the side of a winding lake before you reach Te Anau downs overlooking the lake.  From here you turn further inland and make your way through beautiful tree lined roads as the path cuts through woodland.  The next scenic stop is at Mirror Lakes and on a calm day there are marshland pools which reflect the Earl mountains peering down upon them.  Sadly it was a bit windy so that’s one photo we will have to do without.

You emerge from the woodland towards Eglington which is a glacier flattened stretch of land which affords beautiful views of the Earl mountains over some yellowed grass fields.  The journey continues winding your way higher past Lake Gunn before ambling westwards towards the sound.

We were planning to camp at the DOC site at Lake Gunn, which is the last of these sites before you reach Milford (there are eight sites dotted up the Milford Road).  Sadly, it would appear, that a lot of other people had the same idea and the camp was full by the time we arrived.   We rocked up at about 6pm, so I’d suggest getting there early doors. We decided to head on and take our chances at the Milford Lodge camp site.

The Homer Tunnel

The road along this stretch from Lake Gunn becomes very narrow and very windy as you climb higher towards the Homer Tunnel flanked on either side by Mounts Christina and Charlton.     During the day the tunnel is set to one way traffic but as it was now approaching 7pm the tunnel was two way.

The tunnel pass had been blasted through the rock, rather roughly as it look dot us,  and it was a little bit unnerving as it is a steep downhill run for about a kilometre.  We emerged safely having met only one car coming the other way and were presented with a fantastic hairpin descent down to the base of Mount Talbot.  In this early evening the mountains had clouds hanging off their tops and rolling down their side as the fading sun lit up the sides.  A fantastic view to seal off the day.

From there it is about another 30km to Milford and our camp site fornight.  There is a car park right by the Milford ferry terminal which you can park on for a $20 nightly fee but we needed a camera battery charge so opted for the Milford Lodge  

car park for an extra $16 – no freedom camping in these parts, well there is – but just not anywhere near Milford if you want to make an early start.   It was worth it for the shower and the birdlife located there, Kaka (an alpine parrot that are an inquisitive little beast) and Kiwi like, but not Kiwi, birds who I cant find out the real name.

We set off next morning and did the whole journey again in reverse after our Milford Sound Fiord cruise.  With a clear blue sky and the sun on the opposite side of us from the previous evening’s trip we got to see the views in a whole new light, quite literally.

I would say that doing the trip at these times has quite a few advantages, we were against all the busy traffic.  We also had the views and the lookout points virtually to ourselves for the whole trip and you get to catch the early Milford Cruises which are about $10 – $15 per person cheaper and less crowded, before the coaches and buses arrive from Queenstown et al.  We counted 40 coaches heading for Milford as we made the journey back to Te Anau and can only imagine how busy it gets in the day.

Onwards to Wanaka

At Te Anau it was back on Highway 94 towards Mossburn admiring the views that we had missed when we arrived three days earlier ( in the pissing rain.  They were spectacular and about as windy as the previous journey, but thankfully clear skies.

You are travelling through the plains sandwiched in between the mountains making for a very efficient wind tunnel.  At one point after a large gust Bertha was swept into the other side of the road.

From here all the way to Wanaka you will find not only sheep and cows in the fields, but herds of deer (as this is venison country) as they are also farmed commercially.  They were a New Zealand pest in the early 20th century before European taste for venison was discovered and they rounded them up and started farming the cute little Bambis.  These aren’t the timid deer you might spot in the wild.  As I crept up to try and take a photo they all turned and stared at me, perhaps they are just vain wanting me to get their best side.

It was then down Five Rivers Road where the scenery changed from mountains to rolling hills more reminiscent of the Pennines in the UK, although a lot less green.  The village of Garston on the route lays claim to being New Zealand’s most inland town.  A short while later you approach the southern tip of lake Wakatipu which has a stunning road that clutches tightly around its easterly bank towards Queenstown.

We decided to take a swerve there and miss a visit to the ‘Adventure capital of New Zealand’.  The  only thing that interested us was the views from the gondola station in the mountains and we banked on getting views on our drive over the Crown Range Road instead.  The advice to do this route was given to us by a friendly petrol station man in Te Anau when we told him we were headed to Wanaka.  We had also been told by countless Kiwis to avoid Queenstown.  His advice for the Crown Range road was bang on.

Crowning the Journey

Only about two kilometres up another hairpin and hair-raising climb you reach the lookout point back towards Queenstown and Frankton.  Our trusty New Zealand  map also informed us that this was the filming location for Dimrill Dale,  our third Lord of the Rings location ticked off the list.

You then enter New Zealand skiing country which at this time of the year consists of brown bush and grasses, but they make a beautiful landscape.

Not Skiing

Most of the resorts are all closed during the summer with a few exceptions in  Cardona.  You emerge from the pass directly into Wanaka and its fantastic lakeside and mountain views.   We asked at the i-site about campsites and the one overlooking Lake Clutha Outlet (which flows into the Lake) was recommended.  I-site lady was right, we got a great spot overlooking the mountains. We popped open a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and admired the views while watching the sun go down.   We wondered after making the Lake Tekapo /Mount Cook Drive  whether we had yet seen the best.   The last two days have certainly given that trip a run for its money.

The main purpose of this trip was to see Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, but what was equally as impressive was the road journey, so that’s why I’ve devoted a separate entry about our travel around these parts by road.  John is going to post the next blog entry specifically on the waterfalls and scenery that we’re captured by boat, and no doubt add a lot more….

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1 Comment on "NZ Driving – Milford Road and Crown Range"

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  1. Terry says:

    Looking relaxed there, glad you’re having fun.