Tag Archives: weather


So, we were enjoying our merry holiday around the South Island of New Zealand.  Our last major stop was to be an overnight visit to Milford Sound.   When we left Queenstown, the weather was pretty good – or, as they say in New Zealand, “fine.”  The closer that got to Te Anau, the poorer the weather looked.


After a Friday night stay in Te Anau we continued to Milford.  Along the way, we thought that it would be a good idea to enjoy some short hikes, even though the rain was picking up.  At one stop, for a twenty-minute hike to Marian Falls, we came back to the car and were drenched.  After that, the thought of hiking anymore was replaced by sanity.  And, we also had planned on stopping along the way for a picnic lunch, but that gave way to the rain, too.


The high point of the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound is the Homer Tunnel.  It’s a tight, narrow, dark tunnel that’s at a pretty significant grade, and a little hairy when the windows on your car are fogging over a bit.  After the Homer Tunnel, which separates the “ocean” side of the mountains at Milford Sound from the “inland” side, the rain became heavier.  In fact, the rain even changed over to snow.  At that point, the windows were totally fogged over and we had to stop for several minutes for the windows to clear.  The road on down to Milford Sound is marked with several avalanche zones and you’re not permitted to stop during that length.  We finally made it to the village of Milford Sound after about a four-hour drive from Te Anau, and stopped at the Blue Duck Café for lunch.


The most remarkable thing about the drive were all of the waterfalls that we saw after we crossed the divide toward the ocean-side of the mountains!  The quantity of waterfalls was like nothing that we had ever seen before – small ribbons and massive gushers.  It was one of the most beautiful water displays that we’ve ever seen.  Every time that we turned a corner, our jaws were dropping!  Unfortunately, we couldn’t really stop because of the avalanche zones.


Water cascading down the mountainside along Highway 94, Friday, Oct 12th, 2012.



In Milford Sound, we stayed at the Milford Sound Lodge in one of their riverside chalets.  Again, outside our windows, the views of the waterfalls all around was stunning.  Our chalet sat on the banks of the Cleddau River.  I do have to insert here that the environmental scientist in me was a bit worried as the river raged by, and I could tell that it was slowly rising – we would have to evacuate during the night???   It was just needless worrying on my part since the Lodge sits well above the river.  It ended up raining about 4″ overnight, which is alot for most anywhere.


Milford Sound Video by Asta – click here!



The rain let up during the night (but didn’t fully stop – this is New Zealand, right?) and the river dropped considerably.  After breakfast, we wandered over to the reception area of the Lodge and discovered that all of the rain had loosened a rockslide across the road (Highway 94) during the night.  No problems, we thought; we’ll go on our rainy Milford Sound cruise in the morning and then enjoy a beautiful day in Milford, and then drive out after the road is opened that day.


Well, on Sunday, we awoke to absolutely beautiful weather – clear and gorgeous.  There also was a sign in the Lodge reception area that said that the road was still closed – bummer.  The Lodge staff had spent a great deal of time on Saturday helping various guests fly out of Milford Sound, and Asta decided that it was her turn to do the same on Sunday.  After she left us, we wandered around a bit, took care of ourselves as we moved from the luxurious digs of a chalet to a backpacker dorm room outfitted with two bunk beds – Aras & Julija were both very happy to be able to sleep on the top of a bunk!


In the afternoon, since the weather was so nice and beautiful, we decided to take another Milford Sound cruise, again with Southern Discoveries – kids ride free!  The second cruise wasn’t  as exciting as the first cruise, but it was still wonderful.  The waterfalls were a bit reduced, but the skies were blue.


By this time, we were hearing and reading more on-line that the rockslide might be worse than we had hoped.  It turns out that there was a humungous boulder that had fallen on the road (~200 tons they said) and that it was going be very difficult to move.  And, later on we heard that there hadn’t been a single rockslide, but at least five rockslides along with a snow avalanche.   No worries, mate!  We’ll just leave on Monday!




On Monday morning, we slept in.  When we went to the reception area, we found that the road was still closed.  Bummer again.  Monday turned out to be a nice day to just chill out and relax.  Aras’ chickenpox (I didn’t mention that part earlier, did I?) seem to have peaked on Monday, and it was good for him to have a slow, restful day.


Tuesday morning, slept in.  We went to the reception area with low expectations and we were not disappointed!  The road was still closed.  The road crews had been making good progress.   They were building a detour around the largest of the rockslides, so that traffic might get in and out.  But, it was still slow going, and now the weather is expected to get worse, which will slow their work because of safety considerations – fear of more rockslides and avalanches.  When will we get out of here, get the kids back to school, and allow Dad to regain his solitude and sanity???


So, you’ve been reading about the less than appealing aspects of this moment in our lives.  But, there are a LOT of great moments in this difficult time.   The most notable is the quality and warmth of the staff at the Milford Sound Lodge.  They are just awesome and I can’t say enough about them and their efforts to keep us comfortable.  They recognize that they can’t do anything about the road, and we recognize it, too.  But, they have been bending over backwards to help guests fly out of Milford Sound – booking flights, arranging buses at the other destinations and so on.


On Monday evening, we walked into the Blue Duck Café & Bar to find that they bartender, Paul, was wearing a cheesehead!  He’s originally from Richmond, VA, and a Green Bay Packer’s fan!  He was celebrating the Packers victory over the Houston Texans.


One of my favorite stories is how the staff, especially Emma and Japke (along with Lorena, Parker, Jorunn, Nicolas and others),  helped guests with alternate arrangements.   When we arrived, there were several different guests here in their rented cars and camper vans.  A couple from England needed to fly out of Milford Sound and back to “civilization” so that they could make their connections home.  Well, their rental car company wanted to charge them rental fees for the car that they would be leaving in Milford Sound as well as the new rental car that they would pick up in Queenstown.  Well, the Lodge staff weren’t too keen on this potential arrangement.  They helped the car rental company to understand that this disaster was receiving a fair amount of media attention and to consider how might it look if the glowing feelings of kiwi hospitality might be tarnished by reports of specific and NAMED rental car companies appeared in the newspapers?  The rental car company quickly changed their tune.  J  Similar situations appeared for the folks with camper vans who needed to move on; the camper van companies easily found alternate vans for these guests, at no additional cost.


The number of guests at the Milford Sound Lodge is now down to about ten very patient lodgers.  A couple of families are here in camper vans, and the rest of us are in the lodge.  Aras & Julija have been borrowing movie after movie to entertain themselves.   They’ve also been crawling around beneath the slatted decks around the lodge (they’re badgers, right?).  They found about ten room keys that have been lost over who knows how long of a period of time, as well as about twenty five dollars in coins!  (They’ve made more money today than me!)


On Tuesday, the staff arranged with Rosco’s Milford Kayaks to take a gratis two-hour kayak trip in the backwaters of the Sound, near the wharves here.  Again, the hospitality of Hory and Blake at Rosco’s was amazing.  Yes, they’re a bit bored, too, since they don’t have any clients, but they didn’t have to take us out.  What’s in it for them?  I guess a few beers at the Blue Duck Bar and Café!


Here it is Wednesday, and it appears that the road will be opened to “essential traffic” on Thursday.  The official word to the general public is that the road will be closed for many more days, but we’re hearing that we’ll be able to get out on Thursday.  And, today, the staff is arranging a movie presentation in the Lodge’s lounge – the New Zealand classic “Whale Rider.”  They’re so nice and thoughtful!!


Thursday morning arrives with good news!  The “official” word is that Highway 94 should open at 1:00 pm.  We take our time, pack and enjoy our declining food supply (no, we didn’t starve – not even close).   About 12:30, we bid adieu to all of the wonderful folks at Milford Sound Lodge and drive up to the gate across the road.  Annoyingly, it appears that “essential traffic” means allowing hordes of tourists (buses, cars and campers) access to Milford Sound and its cruises before allowing those of us of who have been holed up at Milford Sound to leave.  Oh well…



An excavator works on clearing the rockslide debris on Highway 94, the highway to Milford Sound.



Finally, on our way out on the road, we slow down at the major landslide and it is pretty impressive and massive.  The highlight, though, is that after our wave of vehicles passes by the landslide, a TV cameraman for TV3 stops us for a chat with the camera in our faces.  Once he started to interview Julija, I knew that she’d be on the news.  Who can resist a cute, little girl?




So, our saga ends.  What was supposed to a eleven-day trip ends up being about a sixteen-day trip.  And, my feeling is that of all of our adventures on this trip, Aras & Julija will most remember the coins and room keys that they found beneath the decks at the Milford Sound Lodge…  Me, I’ve got a lot more and different memories.


46 S EnZed signing off…


P.S. – I’m going back to Milford Sound on the weekend of October 27th, but I’ll be approaching it from the south – on the Milford Track!!  woo hoo!

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Catlins I

Finally, and with much anticipation from my wife, I’m very pleased to post the first photographs of our travels here in New Zealand!



We had been in Invercargill all of 36 hours and Asta had us on the road and exploring.  Since we’re in winter weather here, the mountains can be a little iffy, so we’ve spent most of our traveling time on the southeast coast of the South Island of New Zealand.



To the east of Invercargill is an area called “The Catlins.”   This region reminds me some of the Baraboo Hills, as well as the Appalachian Mountains – hilly, rugged, green, pleasant.  The area is covered with either sheep farms or impenetrable temperate rainforest rather than farms and mixed hardwood forests we’d see in the States.   The roads are narrower and slower driving than similar roads in the States, particularly if you’re jet-lagged.   And, another major difference is that to the south there’s the Pacific Ocean.



On our first trip outside of Invercargill, we drove east and visited three main areas.  The first place that we stopped was Waipapa Point, which is the location of a nice lighthouse and maybe some seals/sea lions, if it’s the right time of year (which it wasn’t).  Yes, leaving the heat of Madison and a few days later being in the windy bluster off the sea at Waipapa Point was a bit of change of scenery.  I think that the wind quickly blew off our summer tans.





A few kilometers east of Waipapa Point we stopped at Curio Bay.  Rather than use my words, I’ll rely on someone else’s words via Wikipedia:


Curio Bay features the petrified remains of a forest 160 million years old. This represents a remnant of the subtropical woodland that once covered the region, only to become submerged by the sea. The fossilised remnants of trees closely related to modern kauri and Norfolk pine can be seen here.”


Fortunately, we were at Curio Bay at low tide and were able to see the fossilized trees.  Around the corner from the fossilized trees, we found a narrow, tantalizing cove where the waves would rush in and spread over the rocks.  I enjoyed that more, just watching the waves wash over everything.



Finally, as our jet-lagged bodies were screaming to stop driving and go back to bed in the middle of the afternoon, we made our longest hike, all of 20 minutes, to McLean Falls.   The hike was pleasant and easy, if a bit damp and wet in the misty rain.  And, it was our first foray into the rainforest!  It was such a contrast from being in a typical North American forest – ferns are growing everywhere, everything is damp and green, thick, lush – and, I really didn’t have the desire to try to walk off the “track” (trail) since it looked like it would involve too much work bushwhacking.   We first spotted a waterfall and thought that it was nice.  We then found that the trail continued, so we followed it upward and found the very impressive McLean Falls!



And, just to whet your Kiwi weather appetite, we’re now into spring weather.  This seems to mean that you have one day of nice weather, intermingled with a couple three days of cool, rainy weather.  The rainy days are very different from a Midwestern rainy day.   The weather can literally change almost 180 degrees within an hour.  There have been many times the past week when the wind will be howling like a banshee, the skies dark and grey, and then the clouds break and the sun comes out.  I’ve never been in such fierce winds as here for such an extended period of time.  We’re also having several minutes of blustery rain, sleet and pebble hail, followed by a period of broken clouds and sun.


You have to be prepared for most any type of weather or, as we see many folks here do, just say “what weather?”   I’m amazed at how people here dress.  Yes, you’ll see quite a few people in their warmest winter coats, hats, gloves and scarves.  And, right behind them, you’ll see someone in shorts, a warm shirt and hat.  It seems to me that these southern Kiwis are much tougher than me when it comes to the weather – but I’m adjusting.


We hope that you’re enjoying these tidbits as much as we’re enjoying sharing them with you.  And, we certainly appreciate having the opportunities that we have to explore New Zealand!


46 S EnZed signing off…

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The Weather…

It seems that one of the most common ways to start a letter to a loved one is to tell them about the weather.  Heaven forbid that we might discuss something meaningful…



Anyway, the weather here is meaningful.  Actually, it’s quite pleasant, compared with the heat wave that we experienced in Madison and are not now missing.  When we performed our research on Invercargill, we knew that we’d be arriving in winter, and that the weather here is generally cooler and wetter than our Midwestern weather.  However, I have been very pleasantly surprised with the weather!



If we were in winter in Wisconsin, then “now” would be about mid-February weather – cold, likely a foot or so of snow on the ground, ice all over and about three grey, gloomy days for every sunny day (or, am I being generous?).  The temp would likely be below freezing most, if not all, of the time.  The trees would be bare and brownish-grey.  The Wisconsin winter world is generally a mixture of white & grayish-brown.  Oh, and there’s “snirt” everywhere – you know, that dirty snow mixture.



In our week in Invercargill, the weather has been very pleasant!  Everything is relative of course – the Invercargillians/Invercargillites/locals may not agree.  The grass and bushes are generally green.  Spring flowers are coming up!  I’ve seen daffodils!  Trees are starting to bud.  We’ve had a couple of rainy, sorta gloomy days, but we’ve also had at least three mostly sunny days.  When it is cloudy, it seems that there are patches of thick, grey clouds interspersed with blue sky – not the sullen, grey blanket that covers Wisconsin so much of winter.  The temps are in the 40F-55F (3C-11C) range, and the humidity is high.  We’ve only had frost a couple of times and it’s “soft.”



And, people here dress “appropriately” for the weather, if you will.  You can see people all bundled up in their woolies and down, while someone else walking down the street might be in shorts, flip-flops and even barefoot!  Personally, we tend to be a bit over-prepared for the weather, wearing several layers and adding/subtracting as needed.



OK, this is the first installment of 46 S EnZed.  If you have questions about our experiences here, please feel free to write and ask – I’m always thinking about the next topic…

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