We arrived Friday afternoon in Te Anau, and Penelope immediately set off for the holiday park playground. We are staying in holiday parks on this first leg of my sabbatical for just this reason—it’s still summer school holidays here in NZ, and there are lots of kids around for Penelope to play with at each of our stops. She spent the next few hours running around with a small pack of Kiwi and French kids, while we settled in to our new cabin.
I’m in charge of all of the packing and unpacking, which means I have transformed into the family Google. Everyone asks me when they need to find something. But I actually don’t mind, because it satisfies my type-A personality to know where everything is. 🙂 Jeremy is in charge of the cooking and washing up, and last night’s dinner was another delicious dish: meatballs in Bolognese sauce. I could get used to this division of labor!
Saturday morning we slept late, read for a bit, then headed into Te Anau to see the Department of Conservation center and its displays about Fiordland and walk through the tiny downtown of Te Anau. Today was an “administrative day,” a term my folks coined for a day off from sightseeing to relax, catch up on tasks, and plan for the week ahead. They’ve been traveling the world since they retired ten and a half years ago, so they know a thing or two about maintaining sanity on long trips. We’ve built in at least one off-day a week during our time in New Zealand, and I’m so glad.
After lunch at home, we had an eagerly-anticipated treat: the great New Zealand candy sampler buffet!
As we traveled over the past week, we’ve picked up various unusual candies: Whittaker Nelson Pear & Manuka Honey chocolate, the mysteriously-named Pink Smokers, and lots more. We set them aside until today, when we laid all of them out and had a taste of each in turn. Many were enjoyable, but our favorites were the dime-store candies: Beacon Strawberry Fizzers, a kind of taffy, and the Swizzers Doubles Lolly, which I actually remember first having sampled in England when I was a teenager.
After emerging from our sugar coma, we each indulged in some favorite pastimes: Jeremy spent some time coding, Penelope found new friends at the holiday park playground, and I read the New Zealand poets issue of Poetry magazine, as recommended to me by Castilleja’s fabulous librarian.
We rounded out the day by heading to the small but gorgeously appointed Te Anau cinema to see a short documentary movie about Fiordland National Park. A lovely way to anticipate some of Sunday’s adventures.
Oh! And I also have a new vocabulary acquisition: TRUNDLER. Pronounced “trundlah” here in NZ. A useful sort of word.
Sunday we woke early and hit the road right away—we had a 10:30am cruise to catch, and the road there was said to take at least two hours without stops. The principle reason to stay in Te Anau for most folks is its relative proximity to Milford Sound, one of the beautiful fiords of Fiordland National Park. You can travel there by helicopter, by foot on the Milford Track, or by the Milford Road, finished in 1954. We elected to take the last option and thoroughly enjoyed the drive. The land around the road goes through quite remarkable changes—from pastureland near Te Anau to forest and then to rainforest, all within and around the mountains of the Southern Alps.
Our plan was to drive straight to the Sound, take our mid-morning cruise, and then make our way leisurely back along the same road, stopping in the afternoon at the various short hikes and sights. We saw very little traffic on the way to the Sound, which was lovely, and the vistas were spectacular. We arrived with plenty of time to spare and in short order boarded the Milford Mariner, operated by Real Journeys. After considering all of the options, we chose the Nature Cruise, aboard which our commentary would be provided by a naturalist.
Milford Sound was stunning. We were so lucky with the weather—it’d been raining all night the night before, so dozens and dozens of waterfalls were running, but as you can see from the photos, we had sunny blue skies dotted with clouds.
We saw two pods of bottlenose dolphins swim by, three different groups of New Zealand fur seals basking on rocks, and countless birds wheeling in the sky. But Penelope’s favorite part was probably when the skipper steered us directly under one of the larger waterfalls. I have to agree… that part was pretty awesome. 🙂
It didn’t start raining again until mid-way through our drive back to Te Anau—and even then we had only intermittent showers. We were able to make stops and short hikes at the bridge over the Tutoko River, the Chasm, and Mirror Lakes—all landmarks along the Milford Road.
When we arrived back at the holiday park, we had a few hours of relaxing before our dinner reservation at the Fat Duck in town (where Jeremy was to devour his first bowl of New Zealand green-lipped mussels).
Penelope was delighted to discover that the little boy she’d seen on our boat that morning was also staying at our holiday park, and they spent the rest of the early evening running around, coloring, and enacting “mysterious ninja battles”—even resuming for an extra hour after our dinner in town. It’s light so late into the evening that we have adopted a somewhat laxer approach to bedtime, and Penelope is often up until 9:30pm. Fortunately, our mornings are typically less harried than the usual school day at home, and she can sleep in a bit.
Monday morning we packed up and Penelope bid a somewhat teary farewell to her new friend Francesco, whose family is from Milan (though they now live in Hong Kong). She is gathering quite a range of global friends along the trip!