We woke to clouds and rain the next day and they stayed with us throughout the trip to TeAnau. Gemstone beach was on my “must see” list and it’s not too far outside Invercargill. As we pulled into the carpark, only a slight drizzle was falling. We all grabbed our raincoats and made our way down to the gray beach with the gray sea sending waves crashing to shore under the gray sky. This was certainly not what I’d hoped for at a place named Gemstone beach.
Though from what I’d read about the place, there was no promise of finding a gemstone. Like any beach, it is ever changing in tune with nature’s rhythms. The day we visited just happened to be one of the “gray” days. The further from the car we wandered the heavier the drizzle became. Paul was the first to turn back, followed by Rick and Ruthie and finally me. By the time I arrived at the car, the sky let loose with full on rain. I stood in it a minute, trying to decipher how best to get into my seat without bringing too much rain inside with me. Well, the seat didn’t end up completely soaked but was definitely wet. I performed a quick change into dry pants to keep the seat from absorbing more water from my saturated pair. Clouds remained, rain started and stopped and started again. During a pause in the rain we ducked into a little café in Tuatapere, the Yesteryears café. Inside a vinyl record moved under the needle on a player, spinning scratchy melodies into the air, a treadle sewing machine sat in the corner and old fashioned kitchen utensils lined the walls surrounding the central antique stove. The place definitely had character. We found the counter at the back of the store, ordered some home baked goods then found a table in the adjoining room. The rain came again, then harder and harder, then subsided, then began again while we ate. We scurried to the car and resumed the drive. I tried to imagine what was behind the clouds, this stretch of road was new to all of us. The low clouds only revealed the base of the hills. A drizzle followed us all the way to Blue Thistle Cottages. We did manage to get the car unloaded without getting ourselves or the stuff too wet. We’d arrived at the gateway to Milford Sound, a corner of the country our friends have wanted to see for years. They’d been to New Zealand twice before and until now never made it to Fiordland National Park. We were all brimming with excitement for what the next few days held. Throughout all this traveling around, Paul was still getting up and working in the early morning hours, then driving us to see the sights. We’d booked two different tours for our stay in TeAnau, one was a fishing trip on the Waiau river and the other was an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound. When we made those plans the intent was to take a day to drive up and visit Milford Sound. As it turned out, as we were visiting with our kiwi friends over coffee when we arrived, we inquired about the Milford tours and being the busy season, they were offering more time slots. Next thing we knew we were booked on a coach ride the next morning up to Milford for an afternoon cruise. That way, Paul could enjoy the sights as much as the rest of us without having to concentrate on driving. Off we went the next morning. I was feeling very overwhelmed and extremely grateful that Paul and I were getting to see this place again. What makes it even more remarkable is that each time we’ve visited Milford, the experience has been completely different. The clouds, the sky, the weather, the time of year, everything is so constantly and rapidly changing that it’s like a new destination each time. On this particular morning, blue sky and sunshine ushered us on to the bus. Though, looking into the valley, the direction we were heading, those conditions looked to be temporary. Soon, rain droplets were running down the windows and we were staring into trees and rock walls under a ceiling of clouds. We stopped at a couple of the familiar places along the Milford road, Mirror lakes, the bathrooms halfway to the sounds and the Eglington valley.
Our driver offered umbrellas to anyone who wanted one. Even with the rain, stepping off of the bus offers a fuller experience because even if you can’t see the peaks, the surroundings have more to offer than just a view. Only by standing outside can the sounds, smells and swirling mist brushing against your skin enhance the sense of grandeur. When we arrived at the back of the queue at Homer tunnel we had a few minutes to hop off the bus and absorb the sound of the hundreds of temporary waterfalls cascading from the mountain high overhead fed by the recent rain. The experience was magical. After passing through the tunnel our driver informed us we’d be stopping at the Chasm. This is one of the stops Paul and I have only done once before, on our very first visit. The prospect of seeing the rushing river swollen from the rain barreling through the unique rock formations promised to be a spectacular sight. We grabbed one of the red umbrellas and side by side took off around the short walking track to see nature’s show. WOW! The rushing water would have easily drown out our voices if we weren’t speechless.
Soon we were back on the bus and moving on to Milford Sound. We waited only briefly to board our cruise boat. As we moved through the fiord, the sky remained cloudy but we could make out some of the peaks. The mist and clouds gave them a mysterious feel. Coupled with the abundance of waterfalls, the scene was entrancing. The tour was anything but boring. Our captain moved us so close to the rock wall you could almost reach out and touch it. A bit further along, and with fair warning he put the bow directly under a waterfall. Just before getting showered, I made a mad dash inside to protect my camera. Ruthie, giggling and giddy came away with bruised shoulders from where the water pelted her. Paul and Rick came in, wide-eyed after not getting showered from above but soaked from the water splashing up from the deck.
It was a perfect illustration to truly appreciate how tall the falls are. They don’t look that tall because they along with everything else is dwarfed by the massive mountains rising straight out of the fiord. One of the crew members brought a tray of glasses out on the bow and set them on the rail. The captain proceeded fill the entire tray by gently nudging the boat under the waterfall and then we were all invited to toast and taste some freshly dispensed naturally filtered water.
Most of the time on the boat, I spent with my mouth open in awe, simply feeling the grandeur in all my senses. Paul and I’d never experienced Milford with so many waterfalls. Admittedly persuaded by peer pressure, and because it just looked like fun, I grabbed a heavy duty rain coat from the crew along with Ruthie and stepped out on the bow to meet the next waterfall face first. The sheer force was stunning, we didn’t even get directly under the water, just the spray was enough to take your breath away. After getting doused, Ruthie and I stood there giggling like a couple little girls. That one will definitely get filed in the memorable experience category for many years to come.
The captain took us on out to the open sea. Paul and I had heard stories of how rough the sea gets and how they don’t always get to take the passenger boats out in the Tasman. Well, on this particular day, the sea was the most turbulent we’d seen and our captain kept going. The four of us were standing right out front on the bow watching the swells rise then disappear briefly before tossing the boat up and down like a giant rocking chair. Up, up, up and then smashing down into the water sending splashes over the bow into our faces. We were clinging to the rail riding the waves like it was an amusement park ride. After a few of the big swells rolled under the boat, my delight inexplicably shifted to fear and all I wanted was to be in the calm waters again. For me it sure gave a peek into what it must take to make a life at sea, an environment that still seems foreign to me. I spent the next several minutes watching Paul perform some techie resuscitation on my phone, as it took a direct hit from one of the big splashes. I was relieved that its operations were restored.
Our cruise included a stop at the underwater observatory, a floating structure attached to the shore with a large submerged shaft. Essentially it is a reverse aquarium. Inside a spiral staircase took us down under the water and opened to a round area lined with windows that have window boxes covered with coral. It’s like scuba diving without getting wet. From there it was back to the terminal and on the bus to TeAnau.
The next day we enjoyed a leisurely morning and some souvenir shopping in town. The guide was coming at 2pm to pick us up for our fishing trip. That gave us plenty of time for lunch and bit of down time. Ken, arrived promptly and soon we were off to the river. Rick had inspired us to try the fishing trip. It certainly made sense to try it as many places in New Zealand are well known for outstanding fishing. People travel here from all over the world to participate. Ruthie chose not to fish, she came along for the ride. Paul just hadn’t done it in a long time. Rick was well versed in fishing methods. I was the newbie and eager to try. We went up river a ways and drifted down, casting over and over, admiring the serenity of the place. On downstream we went, when finally Rick got a bite. He pulled in a beautiful rainbow trout. All of us were excited that he was the first to catch one. The moment was well documented with photos. A unique feature to many of the tours we’ve done in New Zealand involve a pause for “tea.” This tour was no exception. Ken found a quiet spot along the river where he could push the boat on shore for us to enjoy afternoon tea surrounded by nature. The best part was the homemade Lolli cake and chocolate chip cookies he brought to share. After a nice relaxing break, we got back to fishing. It wasn’t long before Rick pulled in his second fish.
This time a brown trout was at the end of his line. Paul quickly followed suit and reeled in another rainbow trout. Then it wasn’t long after that, I caught a bumblebee stinger in my neck. Better than catching my own hook in my neck I suppose. I felt bad for beautiful fuzzy creature, despite the lingering sting in my flesh.
The only other thing I caught was some great photos. That was good enough for me for my first fishing outing. Once we reached Lake Manapouri we floated for a bit before getting a fast, fun trip in the jet boat back to the trailer. We did not get back to the cottage until after seven. The trip was much longer than any of us anticipated and a fabulous treat. This marked our last night in TeAnau. We spent most of the evening packing and preparing for our overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound.
When I opened my eyes the next morning brilliant pink and orange shone in our bedroom window. It was a gorgeous sunrise that was quickly erased by cloudy skies.
Rain began falling as Paul was carefully stowing stuff in Zed to make everything fit. It let up before we checked out and the sun reappeared and illuminated a gorgeous rainbow arching across the sky.
Check in time for the cruise wasn’t until after noon which left us a couple of hours for exploring around TeAnau. We took Rick and Ruthie to the Bird Sanctuary. The sky leaked drizzle off and on as we wandered through the sanctuary paths. As we completed the circuit of trails and walked out into the grassy opening, there, illuminated over Lake TeAnau was the most striking brilliant rainbow. Oh, it was stunning, it stopped us all in our tracks. We gazed quietly into the colors until they faded.
Then it was time to go to Manapouri and check in for the much anticipated night on Doubtful Sound. We had a bit of a wait at the dock while the previous passengers disembarked and the crew prepared the boat for our group. Almost seventy of us crowded onto the boat for the ride across Lake Manapouri and most stayed inside because the wind on top made it difficult to walk and stand. Due to efforts to streamline the scheduling between tours, the dispatchers asked the captain to delay our arrival for the bus ride to Deep Cove for about ten minutes. This allowed enough time for him to take us a little ways into a different arm of the lake to show us some fascinating rock formations.
We appreciated him taking the detour instead of simply waiting until he was given the all clear. Next step in the journey was to get off the crowded boat and onto a bus that took us over Wilmot pass to Deep Cove where we boarded the Navigator, our overnight vessel.
This boat was much bigger than the last and did have adequate space for us to relax and move about. Our sleeping quarters weren’t particularly luxurious, but it was what was available when we booked. Quad share is what they called it, two bunk beds set about three feet apart with a shared ladder at the back of the room with a tiny window that looked out right at the surface of the water. The bathrooms were down the hall shared with the whole section. This arrangement may have been an issue if any of us wanted to spend time in the room other than for sleeping, but that was not the case. With the stunning surroundings the only place anyone really wanted to be was upstairs gazing out the window or out on the deck. As the vessel moved and after the safety briefing and introductions were completed by the crew they announced the options for some activities for the afternoon. We had the choice of kayaking or taking a ride out on a tender boat. Paul and I intended to try kayaking but changed our mind when we realized they did not have double kayaks. Plus, we’d been warned that the water temperature, though usually relatively warm this time of year had dropped significantly in recent days because of the rain. All four of us got in line for the tender.
As enormous as the mountains seemed from the larger vessel they were even more massive viewed from a smaller craft. The little motor hummed as Stephan maneuvered the small boat away from the ship. Then he turned off even the small motor and we sat floating there, heads thrown back gazing up. This perspective made me think how easily we could be absorbed into the universe. Us in our little boat, feeling so insignificant yet sensing a relevance in our existence as an essential piece to the whole. It was a moment to realize me in my meager human skin does not have the capacity to comprehend or even imagine the wholeness of life. Time seemed to vanish into the mist over the water. Sometime later we were going back toward the ship. Apparently our guide had gotten word one of the kayakers needed a ride. We went and retrieved her and her kayak. With mostly body language and a little broken English she quickly summed up the story that “he” (her partner) thought it would be fun to go kayaking. Feelings that she obviously did not share. A gentle rain started again. We were soon aboard the Navigator again waiting for the soaked kayakers to return. The offer was then presented to anyone who wanted to go for a swim. The implication in the voice announcing the offer carried a strong sense of “you’re out of your mind if you actually want to get in that frigid water.” Regardless, there were still five passengers who jumped in. The event didn’t last long. If any of them had actually stayed in the water for very long they certainly would have been hypothermic. Rick and Ruthie met a couple from the UK on the boat ride across the lake and they joined our table on the Navigator as the ship sailed further through the fiord toward the open sea. We were sharing stories and sipping wine when Ruthie pointed at the window saying “There’s a rainbow.” I turned to glance and sort of disregarded it thinking it was just a reflection in the glass, it didn’t look real. We all kept looking. It kept getting more and more vibrant. The colors were utterly brilliant and before long the captain announced it over the speakers bringing everyone’s attention to nature’s display, even exclaiming himself how beautiful it was indicating this was not something they as the crew saw regularly. Those colors hung in the mist for so long, we kept cruising and staring. The arc seemed to move right alongside the ship with the mountains passing by behind it. At one point the vibrant hues framed a waterfall perfectly. Experiencing the rainbow was remarkably powerful for the four of us. This, now the third in one day preceded by two rainbow trout and a visit to rainbow reach the previous day. The repetition somehow seemed significant. The clouds and mist moved so fast it provided a rapidly variable scene. Much of the cruise, blue skies predominated yet we saw a glimpse of how quickly conditions fluctuate. One of the guides described this as the “moods of the Sounds.
On we cruised out past Secretary Island out into the Tasman Sea around some smaller islands to observe a seal colony. Young pups were frolicking in the pools as the sun moved toward the horizon. An extravagant dinner buffet was the next event of the evening. It wasn’t really possible to sample everything without completely stuffing yourself and as difficult as it was to choose. It is a wonderful positon to be put in the position of choice. One of the crew members, Leon, offered a presentation on some facts and history of New Zealand which we sat in on. It was a very comprehensive presentation, one of the more informative experiences we’ve had. We all seemed to be ready for sleep after the presentation which worked well for the cramped accommodations. I believe we all slept surprisingly well considering the tight and unfamiliar quarters.
The sunrise did not reveal much color, but the mist on the mountains was fascinating.
We were sailing shortly after the alarm at 6:30 and got to see a bit more of Doubtful Sound. The captain took us next to Commander Peak and stopped in Hall arm. He then turned off the engines for the “sound of silence.” This is an experience they apparently do on every Doubtful Sound cruise. The tranquil moment highlighted the serenity of the place. You could tell that the crew really treasured this part of the cruise. The reason became obvious once we experienced the solitude only made possible by every passenger’s effort to quiet themselves and listen. That brief moment revealed a powerful message, reminding me how much I can really hear if only I will take a moment to be still.
Before long we were back at Deep cove to board the coach back to Lake Manopouri. We climbed quite a steep hill to retrieve Zed and moved on. When we realized how eagerly Rick and Ruthie anticipated seeing this region of the country and how much Paul and I really love the area too we considered changing our plans for the remaining few days of their visit. However, we were unable to find any accommodations available in TeAnau on such short notice so we moved ahead as originally planned. Blue skies and sunshine made for a beautiful drive to Dunedin. Along the way we stopped at a tiny little town with a TipTop dairy where we indulged in an ice cream treat. The we made another stop in Gore for bathrooms and to point out the giant brown trout statue. I’m not kidding. I’ve posted a picture to prove it.
Finally, we rolled into the driveway to our next place. It’s close to Tunnel Beach which is one reason we chose it.
We also got an awesome view of Dunedin and part of the coastline from high on the hill. The first evening we took Rick and Ruthie to St. Clair for a short walk along the shore and dinner. On our last full day with them Tunnel Beach was first on the list as we’d been talking about the grueling incline of this trek since they arrived. We set out on foot from the house where we were staying because it sat only about a mile up the road from the start of the track. We got through the tunnel just after low tide and the water was out further than either of the other times Paul and I were there.
We enjoyed exploring more of the beach this time and found a small cave we hadn’t seen before. It was a brilliant morning, not crowded at all and pleasant to be outside. We lingered for quite some time just watching the waves.
Then we embarked on the steep climb up to the carpark and back to the house. Chocolate sounded good to all of us and we’d told Rick and Ruthie of the Cadbury tour. We didn’t have a booking, but we thought we could just stop in and take the tour if it was available. If not, we’d find something else to fill our time. Unaware of the tour schedule, we walked in to Cadbury 10 minutes before the last one and there were just enough slots left for us. After more than enough chocolate, we walked through downtown to check out some of the unique architecture and shops.
A stone-grill restaurant was the final destination of the evening. We wanted a special place to make our last night more memorable which it was.
All of us wished they could have stayed longer, but we took off early the next day for the airport to see them on their way back to Colorado. Our thanks to you guys Rick and Ruthie for sharing your time and yourselves with us and enhancing our adventure with your presence.