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Aussie's in New Zealand: Fiordland National Park

Aussie's in New Zealand: Fiordland National Park

October 2019 · 4 min read

Today we headed out of Queenstown towards the south and the lake-side town of Te Anau - Gateway to the Fiordland National Park. We'll be heading north from here to Milford for a cruise on Milford Sound tomorrow, but more on that later.

Lake, mountains, sky...I took this on the pebble beach of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown.

It was a scenic drive however it rained most of the way so unfortunately I don't have a lot of photos. Heading south from Queenstown means leaving Lake Wakatipu [pictured above] and the highlands behind. There's still plenty of very high snow-covered peaks of course however the land opens up into rich grazing land which you can see below.

I did this pano with my phone but for some reason there's a "crease" just off centre to the right of the image for some reason. It was about 5 degrees out there, and raining, so maybe I zigged when I should have zagged during the pano. Anyway, you get the idea.

We're here to take a day-cruise on Milford Sound and in my dreams my photos will look as good as the ones in that link - But alas, they will not I think.

Milford Sound is about 120km from Te Anau and one must drive high up into the highlands of Fiordland to get there. The highest point we will reach is 945m above sea level when we enter and pass through the Homer Tunnel. It heads directly through the rock for 1.2km and was opened in 1954 after almost 20 years of construction.

The road is unpredictable at this time of year with avalanche-threats, loads of rain and snowfall. We will need to carry snow chains in our vehicle. We are expecting snow down to 800m tomorrow, in the morning, so I will carry snow-chains as a precaution and hope they don't need to be used. The 120km journey is likely to take 3 to 3.5 hours tomorrow, although it could be as quick as 2.5 hours - One never knows apparently. I'm certainly not a nervous driver however have never driven in snow, or with chains on, so it could make for interesting times.

There's many places to stop and hike along the way however we will only stop at a few being:

  • Mirror lakes - Small mountain lakes called tarns along the roadside giving reflective views of the Earl Mountains.
  • Cascade creek - A loop walk that introduces one to tall red beech forests and the birdlife of Eglinton Valley
  • Lake Marian - There's a ten minute walk to a series of waterfalls then a one hour ascent to the alpine lake itself.
  • The Chasm - More dramatic views of some very powerful waterfalls being the reward for the short 20 minute walk.

Mirror lakes 56km north of Te Anau src

I could only dream of getting a photo as good as that above, especially considering the weather here currently, however I'll try.

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Fiordland is centred on latitude 45° South and is subject to predominantly westerly airtreams known as the roaring 40's. The weather patterns are dominated by eastward-moving anticyclones and low-pressure troughs.

When moisture-laden westerly airstreams reach Fiordland the mountains force it upwards. As it rises it also cools which forms clouds. Very heavy rain is deposited at low levels in the west and as the clouds gain altitude the temperature drops significantly and snow falls on the upper slopes. East of the mountains sees much less rainfall. Lets hope it doesn't rain or snow too much tomorrow huh?

Average rainfall west to east looks a bit like this - The m stands for metres of rainfall:

  • Milford Sound 6.5m
  • Deep Cove 7m
  • Dumpling Cove 9.4m
  • Wilmot Pass 7.5m
  • West Arm 4m
  • Te Anau 1.5m

This image snapped at the Fiordlands National Parks office.

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We are looking forward to the day tomorrow and hope the weather comes to the party although as you can probably tell from above, it's a bit of a lottery. Many people leave disappointed as the road was closed or even because their cruise liners entering the Sound from the Tasman Sea were unable to enter Milford Sound due to poor weather.

Tomorrow should be an interesting day which will start early and end late due to the length of travel up to and back from Milford Sound. We will be disappointed if we don't get to take our cruise however it's all part of the unknown element of the weather. If you never hear from me again it's because an avalanche killed me. Just saying.

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