Road trip in the South Island

By: Lynda Kanji

Loaded up with camera equipment, warm clothing and good walking shoes, my family and I, (still half asleep at 7:30am) piled into our 4-wheel drive hire car and set off for a full day road-trip.

The Queenstown to Milford Sound road is adventurous and well-trodden, which, boasts 750,000 visitors per year from all over the world.

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Our early start along mountain hugging roads allowed us to enjoy the sunrise over distracting views of low cloud wrapping snow-capped mountains reflecting across Lake Wakatipu. Our car alerted us to the -2 degree temperature outside warning of possible ice on the roads, but the roads are sealed and well maintained which made for a gratifying drive.

With multiple activities and sights, you could drive this stretch and enjoy a different experience every time. For the low-key adventurer there are leisurely walks to lookouts revealing breath-taking views, sheltered fishing spots, serene boat cruises, short strolls to waterfalls that cascade down rocky mountains and river beds.

For those seeking adrenaline with their adventure, there are overnight treks, tramping, sea kayaking, and caving. Whatever your choice, remember your camera – this is as much a scenic drive as an adventurous one.

As we left the twists and turns of the road at the most southern point of the lake, we entered what felt like endless farmlands dusted in frost with shadows of mountains as backdrops. The contrast between the green fields, the snow-covered mountains and the clear blue sky was mesmerising.

Arriving at the gateway to Fiordland – Te Anau, we refuelled food, water and petrol. There are no petrol stations or mobile signal between Te Anau and Milford Sound, so if you don’t want to get stranded, fill up here!

The ever-changing scenery morphed into forestry with evergreen trees lining the sides of the road, meeting overhead creating a canopy, speckles of sunlight escaped through the trees and danced on our faces.

Reaching the entrance of the Homer Tunnel we slowed to the 30km road limit before stopping as we joined the queue. Kea on the roadside eyed us as we waited.

It was amazing to think the creation of this 1270 meter long tunnel was completed in 1953 with hand driven picks and shovels. We emerged from the tunnel and were greeted by grand rocky formations making us feel insignificant in their presence, the “no stopping – avalanche area” signs highly featured along this part of the drive were a good reminder of the possible danger we were in.

At the end of our adventurous drive, we were rewarded with a mystical view of Milford Sound, where we could catch a ferry, plane or enjoy a leisurely stroll around the basin.

On our 10 hour round trip, we only scratched the surface. We made plans to return and further explore the route during a different season, which opens up even more of the route to explore.

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