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Sunday, 24 February 2019

New Zealand 2019 Travel Diary // The Catlins, Te Anau, Milford Sound & Doubtful Sound

Lake Marian 
Happy Sunday everyone! I hope you're having a great weekend and that the weather is picking up a bit back in Blighty.

Well, it's been nearly a month and what a jam-packed one it's been for me. We've hit around thirteen stops on the South Island of New Zealand and have had a really great time. If I hadn't already, the last few weeks have made me fall truly head over heels for this country so I'm going to share the best bits here, split into a few posts though because thirteen places in one post might be a little too much ground to cover.

THE CATLINS :: Our first stop after housesitting in Dunedin was in the Catlins, for one night only. The Catlins is known mostly for its beautiful beaches but sadly during our very short time there the weather was pretty rubbish and we didn't much fancy spending the day on the beach in the cold, grey, and later, pouring rain. So we definitely didn't get a proper feel for or explore of the Catlins but we stopped in a seaside town and later drove to Nugget Point and did the Nugget Point Lighthouse Walk which is super easy and really beautiful.

TE ANAU :: Our next stop was Te Anau. Te Anau is a little town in the south-west of the South Island which is mostly stopped in because it's the gateway to Milford Sound, one of the the biggest tourist attractions of New Zealand. It's a lovely little town in its own right though, with a beautiful lake and some nice cafes and restaurants. I had a really good pulled pork burger at The Ranch so can definitely recommend that if you're in the area and looking for a good meal. Other than that, there's not much I have to suggest for Te Anau except for to use their information centre to ask for some advice before heading to Milford Sound.

MILFORD SOUND :: As I wrote on my Instagram, Milford Sound is the place that was top of my list when I came to New Zealand and the place I was probably most excited to see of all. (Side note: if you want to keep up to date in more real time with what I'm up to - which I assume you *obviously* do, my Instagram is definitely the place to do that!) And it was stunning. But our few days there weren't without drama to say the least. If you have the time, I would recommend spending at least a couple of nights in the area. It takes some planning (hence why I advised stopping in at the Te Anau info centre before heading there) because there's nowhere to get car fuel, food or anything in the area and it's two hours outside of Te Anau so you really need to be prepared for that. Oh and also there's no phone reception anywhere either. Once you've organised yourself though there's a lot more to do than just see the sound itself. There are so many beautiful walks and places to stop. On the way there we stopped at Eglinton Valley and the Mirror Lakes, which were both beautiful. And that afternoon we did the Gertrude Saddle hike which is where the drama began. The thing about Milford Sound and the Fiordland National Park in general is that it's one of the wettest places in the world, getting a ridiculous amount of rainfall, and the weather is really unpredictable. Also, with no signal, it's not easy to get updates on the weather. So this hike is supposed to be six hours return and let me tell you, it's not easy. Now I'm speaking as a completely unexperienced hiker who generally barely moves so that might not be an accurate assessment if you're a keen hiker but I found it really difficult. Anyway, we climbed up in blistering heat and when we finally got to the top (which really was beautiful), we got to enjoy the view for all of about a minute before clouds came over, completely ruined our vision and the heavens opened. The heavens didn't stop either, entirely against the weather forecast, so we had to climb down hardly able to see in front of us. Anyway, for me it was pretty much hell and to top things off, when we were finally near the end I managed to get lost in the pouring rain, with no signal, on an abandoned track where I was sure no one would come back until morning. Definitely not fun. Liam came back and managed to find me so all was ok in the end though. For that minute at the top it truly was stunning so while I definitely would not attempt it again, it could be an amazing hike if the weather stays ok and that's your kind of thing. Day two was much more successful however (thank god). We did two really beautiful and much more enjoyable walks - Lake Marion and Key Summit. Both tracks were a lot easier, and they were shorter walks in general, especially the Key Summit one. I actually really enjoyed them and would definitely do them again so if you're not so sure about hiking I would probably stick to those two. They're still each three hour walks with great views. Finally on our last day we saw Milford Sound and did a cruise on it. It really was beautiful to the point where it felt a little unreal. So worth seeing and cruising on if you can and there isn't as much opportunity for drama like the Gertrude Saddle hike!

DOUBTFUL SOUND :: As I said before, it feels like everyone and their dog knows about Milford Sound, and that shows when you're there. It's amazing but it's full of people and boats on the sound itself. Doubtful Sound, however, is bigger, far more remote and (in my opinion) just as, if not more, stunning. We only ended up going there by chance really. My half-sister's half-brother (hope that makes sense haha, my sister and I have the same dad and her brother and her have the same mum) has lived in Te Anau for years and works as a skipper for Doubtful Sound Kayak. He recommended that we go for their day trip to Doubtful, and kayaking on the sound. It's very expensive but he managed to get us a great discount and I'd heard such good things from two of my sisters that have done it that we decided to go for it. And I'm so glad we did because it was such an amazing day. The great thing about the kayaking is that it doesn't really matter what the weather's like at Doubtful, it's still an incredible experience. We were treated to rain, a rainbow, sunshine and it was all just beautiful. I'd never kayaked before either and while Liam definitely did most of the work (so thrilled it was a two person to one kayak situation), I really enjoyed what I did do. To be honest, Doubtful Sound tipped it for me and I think I'd say I actually preferred it to Milford. It's just so peaceful and less crowded than Milford and you really feel like it's just yours to see. I'm not usually someone to care about a place being touristy since I think that usually it's touristy for good reason i.e. it's worth seeing. But in this case, I was really able to notice the difference that it makes so I would highly recommend visiting Doubtful Sound if you're in the area - don't get lost in Milford on its own.

Now that is the height of the drama we had over the last month all out in one hike! But there's so much more to come and some of my favourite spots so far that I'll be back to share with you over the next few days. We're now at another housesitting job in Nelson and I'm really looking forward to having time to write about everything. Have a wonderful day whatever you're up to!

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