Day three of the road trip was by far the most awe inspiring. We rose early and headed onto the Milford Highway, a 120km road between Te Anau and Milford Sound. I now rank this as the most beautiful stretch of road I have every been on. The first stages of the highway wandered through sheep paddocks, with the Walls of Fiordland slowly closing in on the horizon. Soon, it dove into a grandiose valley obscured by haze and broiling rainclouds, snaking along through lush native beech forest, a unique form of temparate rainforest which is particularly lush and green in this part of the country. We then passed by several deep turquoise lakes, while the ramparts of the valley grew narrower and more sheer. Milford is one of those sensory-overloading places which defies one’s sense of perspective. The ancient glaciers have carved out such incredibly deep and steep valleys that from the valley floor, it feels as if the tips of the mountains thousands of metres above are leaning over you.
Our first stop was at Mirror lakes, which unfortunately were a little choppy so not as magically clear as their usual reputation. The next spectacular stopping point was the Divide, with a river thundering through a chasm among granite boulders, followed by homer tunnel. Upon exiting the tunnel,the view became too spectacular to believe. In the grey haze, we could guess gigantic mountains rising among valleys lost in the shadows; We seemed to be trapped in the midst of a petrified army of giants rising up from untold depths, crowned in snow and wrapped in cloaks of fog.
We finally arrived in milford and were immediately greeted by thick swarms of sandflies. As the afternoon progressed, clouds rolled in from the sea, regularly obscuring the fiord. Finally, we caught a glimpse of the ubiquitous Mitre Peak, breaking through into a patch of blue sky above. I understand why this is known as one of the wettest places on earth, with over 7 metres of rain a year. Once we had taken all the short walks along the waterfront and on the smaller hills, we headed back in the car for the return journey.
I will keep this day as one of the greatest journeys in my life. I had always known that beauty like this had been hidden away in the bottom corner of our country, but now I had finally witnessed it in waking world. The following days were to also be filled with the grandiose power of natures and with the surprisingly fast-changing landscape from the southern lakes to the iconic glacier country.