After Queenstown we headed South and over to Te Anau which sits on the large Lake Te Anau and is the gateway to Milford Sound. The town of Milford Sound itself contains little more than a jetty from which the various boat cruises leave so we booked in for a few nights at a nice campground right in the town centre of Te Anau.
On our first day in Te Anau we took a stroll down the main street and looked in some shops and then had a walk down to the lake-front. In one of the tourist shops Joseph bought himself a little soft-toy egg which
unzips to reveal a baby kiwi. He has named his new kiwi friend Kio. [In order to be strictly consistent with the naming convention for other soft toys on the trip; his toy dog (Dogger) and Luke's toy cat (Cattie) it should really be Kiwio.] In the same shop Luke also bought a kiwi souvenir - a nice warm kiwi hat.
On our second morning we took a day trip to Milford Sound.
We were picked up by the bus at 9.30 in Te Anau. The drive to Milford Sound took about 2.5 hours, including a couple of stops along the way. The bus driver gave a detailed commentary on the way including history, geography and environmental information about the areas along the way and about Milford Sound itself. (Did you know that there are three types of avalanche in the mountains - snow, rocks and trees?) This made the drive rather more interesting than the vast amount of touring we have done in the campervan. The best part of the road to Milford Sound was the Homer tunnel, a 1.2km hole through mountain rock (the tunnel is not lined so you can see the blasted rock right through on the walls and roof). Luke spent the whole drive either eating crisps or asking for more crisps.
After arriving at Milford Sound we boarded our boat for a two hour cruise in the sound itself. The boat was custom built for these cruises and had plenty of viewing windows and lots of space outside on the front, back and top of the boat.
However, the main important feature was the free supplies of tea throughout the tour. The kids enjoyed parts of the cruise (for Peter: seeing seams of copper and gold in the rock, for Joseph: getting up close to the Seals and Dolphins and for Luke: seeing "Niagara Falls" several times and eating crisps). Nicola and I could have enjoyed it a little more if we weren't mainly keeping an eye on the kids and handing out snacks, but we each had a turn of sitting outside with a cup of tea and enjoying the tranquility and beauty of the surroundings.
The bus trip home was a quicker journey with no stops and no commentary and a general feeling of tiredness all round. Nicola, Peter and Luke all had a well earned sleep on the way home. We did, after all, have to stand up to get on and off the boat and also to get another cup of tea). Overall we really enjoyed doing the day trip to Milford Sound and for me it was nice for someone else to do the driving for a change! Milford Sound is certainly beautiful (although, to be honest it looks even better in the tourist postcards than it does when you're there).
We hung around in Te Anau for a couple more nights because
it was a lovely place and the campsite was really nice. We also had a really nice neighbour in a camping bus (actually, the bus was quite smashed up - he told us that he finds reversing it quite tricky because he is blind in one eye) and the boys picked up 12 balloons from other neighbours who had celebrated a birthday the day before.
On the drive back to Cromwell we were lucky to pass the Kingston Flyer waiting to depart for the journey back to Kingston. We had time to get a few photos before the fireman built up steam and we watched the train pulling away. We then spent the next five minutes chasing the train down the road before we eventually caught and overtook it.
Since arriving back at the Lazy Dog we have had good news on the van. We had to go down to Alexandra yesterday to get the van tested for its COF certificate - which was successful. Later that evening the online auction for the campervan ended with a successful sale. The price was slightly disappointing, but the good news is that the sellers live near Christchurch and we have arranged to trade just before we fly out (so we avoid the cost of having to stay in hotels and have a hire car for a couple of weeks) - on balance a good result.
We have only one more new place to visit before we go. Tomorrow we head down to Dunedin for a few days (and, sadly, we have to sell the kids' bikes). By the time we get back we will have only a couple more nights with Dean and Diana before we make our way up to Christchurch to fly out.