June 23 - Milford Sound/Te Anau - Gail Forced Winds, Capsized Boats, and Torrential Rain!
Needless to say we barely slept. It took me forever to fall asleep, and even when I did I didn’t stay asleep for very long. The rain was pretty hard, but that was the least of my concern. The wind was terrible all night. It would slightly die down for a few minutes, and then hurricane force winds would blow so hard the tent would fold inward from the top down. It’s normally about 3 ½ feet tall in the middle, but during the strongest winds it was about 2 feet. I kept thinking the tent was going to snap in half.
The tent bending all over the place, the rain smashing against the tent, it was the worst camping night ever. The sound of the wind blowing through the trees sounded like rushing water from a river. I kept thinking that a river of water was going to come down from the mountains around us and wash us away. I was planning my escape route just in case, and was thinking that it would be hard to unzip a tent if we were being covered by water and floating away. It reminded me of people you see trying to drive down a road covered in water and then drowning.
I think I woke up every 20 minutes. At one point there was a loud crash against my side of the tent. I thought I was asleep at the time, but I remember seeing something dark smack against the side. Maybe I could feel it or see it through my closed eyelids. Regardless, I thought that a tree branch had hit the tent or the rain fly had come un-staked. Andy looked out the window and said it was still staked down.
I woke up at 6 AM and it was still very windy. It had been raining from 10 AM the day before straight through until now. I looked at the clock hoping it was later. I told myself I would lay there until 7 AM and then go inside the lounge. I would have made it through the night successfully.
I fell asleep and woke up at 7 AM when the alarm went off. I was able to stay there until 7:30 AM. Longer than I thought possible. We made our escape route. I put in my contacts, rolled up my sleeping mat, packed my sleeping bag, put on my rain jacket and toe shoes, and stuffed my things in my dry bag. We needed to make it about 70 yards or so to the lounge. The first 20 yards was covered by trees, but then it was open with no protection from the wind and rain.
I ran as fast as I could. There were puddles everywhere, but most of them weren’t as big as I was expecting based on the amount of rain that had fallen. Andy was in front of me. He had to unlock the car door so we could throw our things in. He left about 20 seconds before me. I never saw him. I got to his door, opened it, and threw my bag straight across his seat onto the foot part of my seat. I didn’t want my seat getting wet. I shut the door and ran the last portion to safety of the porch.
I got there and stopped. There was still no Andy. I didn’t know where he went. He coming running up a few seconds later. I asked where he went and he said he came to the porch and never saw me so he ran back to the car. He claimed he ran right by me, but I never saw him. He said it was because he was running like a crazy person. I was soaked after just about 10 seconds.
I went inside and stood by the door as I was trying to brush the water off of my jacket, but it wasn’t really helping. I needed a towel. The guy behind the reception counter heard me and through me a towel. I went back on the porch and dried off the front of my jacket and legs. Andy dried the back of my jacket and then dried himself off.
We were somewhat dry. We went to the kitchen and started breakfast. I had cereal and hot tea. It was about 8 AM and nobody else was inside. It was raining really hard, but it was barely hitting the ground because it was so windy. It was basically going sideways. Out the back windows we could see the trees blowing. They were almost bent over horizontally.
After breakfast we went and sat in the lounge. We needed to get our tent and start the drying process in the dry room, which we didn’t know where that was. At this time the sewing lady from the night before came inside to find out about the weather conditions. Her family was wanting to get out of town as fast as possible. I think she said they were planning to leave at 9 AM. She told me that the snow was coming around 4 PM, so if we were gone by 1 PM we would be fine.
We told her we had been sleeping in a tent and she was amazed. She said she could hear the rain all night in her room and thought it was pretty bad outside. We told her it was. They were planning on going to Queenstown and then up the west coast, similar to our route.
It was about 8:45 AM. More people had made it into the lounge. We went back out to the porch to watch the weather. We were hoping the rain would die down, or at least the wind, but that didn’t seem to be happening. I was ready to make a run for it. We planned our route first.
Andy was going to take out the stakes while I grabbed the liner inside. We were going to take off the roof, lay down the poles flat, then fold everything in the tent, including the two outside mats. We thought about carrying the tent together, but worried the wind may catch it and rip it out of our hands.
My boots were wet, Andy’s boots were wet. My toe shoes were wet, and his tennis shoes had gotten wet. We decided we would run barefoot. It didn’t sound that bad at the time. I thought the rain would make the ground soft. There were a few problems with this theory. Number one, the road we had to run down was gravel. Two, the tent site was mostly dirt, but the wind had blown down twigs and branches. Third, my shoes are toe shoes specifically designed for wet conditions. Why in the world didn’t I just wear them? I didn’t even think of it until later when Andy asked why I didn’t. My thinking at the time was that I didn’t want them to get more wet. What an idiot! This was the ideal time to be wearing them. Oh well.
We watched the wind for about 3 minutes from the porch, waiting for a lull. It was probably gusting about 75 mph at least, probably harder. The wind died down to about 20 mph. We made a mad dash. I went first. I unzipped my door and started rolling up the interior mat. Andy pulled out the stakes.
In order to keep the roof from blowing away he kept a few stakes in. We unclipped the sides of the roof, took out the poles completely and folded them up while we stood on the tent to keep it from blowing away. It wasn’t too windy since our tent was surrounded by trees, but the tent is obviously light enough that it would become a kite with no string in the wind.
We quickly pulled out the last two stakes, folded the tent in half and I grabbed it up and folded it against my chest. I started running as fast as I could for the building. Andy had the stakes and poles. As I emerged from the trees the wind hit me with a force like a ton of bricks. I could literally barely move.
The wind had caught part of the tent and was trying to rip it from my grasp. I held on tight and kept trying to move forward. Rather than run to the porch we decided to go to the side of the lounge and to the back down an outdoor walkway where the dry room was located.
At first I turned that direction because I saw grass. My feet were hurting very bad, and I just wanted to get off the rocks and onto soft ground. The building shielded us for a second from the wind and rain while I recovered in the wet grass.
Andy was right behind me so I continued on into the hallway. The hallway was covered on one side, the building on the other, and a roof. The ground in this section was paved, in rocks. It wasn’t as bad as the gravel road, but it was still hurting my already throbbing feet. It felt like someone stabbing my feet with knives.
We made a few turns and found the dry room. It was right next to the laundry room. When we opened the door warm air came out. It felt great, considering I was freezing cold and in pain. Inside there were a few wet suits hanging and other random things. It must have been the dive school people’s things.
I through the tent and all the other bits and pieces on the ground. We brought in a ton of water and dirt so it was pretty messy. In the middle of the room there was two clothes lines. We hung up the tent, the blue mat, and the roof. We put my green mat on the ground along with the outside gray mat.
We went and got our pairs of shoes to put in the room as well. I was thinking I should have done this sooner. My shoes would have had a longer time to dry out, and they would have dried much faster than sitting on the porch all night stuffed with newspaper.
I wanted to dry some of my other things too that I had thrown in the car. My sleeping mat bag had gotten wet in the night, and after I put my pat inside it got wet also. My sleeping bag case was wet too, which made my sleeping bag slightly wet. Of course my jacket was soaked, and the bottom of my pants and hat had been wet from the night before when I had to dry up the spilt water in my sleeping bag.
I hung all of those things up to dry, including my hat and gloves. Andy hung up a lot of things too. We went back to the lounge to wait. We were supposed to go kayaking at 9:45 AM around the Milford Sound. It didn’t seem like that was going to be happening. Around 9:30 AM it seemed like the rain was finally stopping, but it was still very windy.
Around 9:45 the kayak guide, Blake, showed up. He told us that of course the kayaking was canceled. He recommended that we try to do a boat cruise instead. He said that the best time to see the Sound is after a big rain storm. There would literally be thousands of waterfalls coming off the cliffs. We had seen some really big ones just off the mountains in front of and behind the lodge. There were no waterfalls the night before. I don’t know how that water never made it down to our campsite.
Blake went to find out if there were any boat cruises going today and what time. He came back and said the first one would be at 12:20 PM and last about 2 hours. The one he recommended was $80 NZD per person and was the best one to do according to him. We thought about it and decided it sounded like a good idea. We were going to be reimbursed the money we paid for the kayaking, and that could go towards the boat cruise. The kayaking was $130 NZD and was supposed to last until 3 PM, so we were going to finish around the same time and save money. I had pre-booked the trip a few weeks before we left, so I paid with my credit card. That money would be put back in to my account as soon as possible.
Andy ended up paying for the boat cruise. I had originally considered doing a boat cruise in addition to the kayaking, but decided they would probably be pretty similar in terms of the views. Looking back I guess we should have tried to reschedule to the days before because the weather was perfect.
We went to the dry room around 10:30 to check on our things. The blue mat and roof were dry. Our shoes were getting better, and my other things were still pretty wet. We folded up a few things and moved some other things to help them dry faster.
We went back to the lounge and sat around writing in our journals until about 11:20. We got up and went to the dry room to check on our things again. Most everything was dry, or very close to being dry. We folded up the tent and gathered the rest of our things. We wanted to leave for the boat dock around 11:50. It was only about 5 minutes away, but we wanted to be a little early to see the waterfalls by the water. Blake had said there were some big ones down there.
We left right on time. We had to park about 500 yards from the boat dock building, which was the visitor center we had gone to a few days earlier. That was the closing parking for private cars. The few parking spots up close were only for buses.
The hike over was the Lakeshore Trail which Andy wanted to do anyway. It took about 10 minutes. There were a few signs with information to read along the way, but we passed them up. Andy said he would check them out after the cruise.
We got to the dock around 12:10 and checked in. We were the first people there. I was hoping we would be the only ones on the boat. We were doing the Mitre Peak Cruise. There were about five other companies in the building offering cruises, each selling candy. One I saw had two snickers bars for $3 NZD. They looked big and I was tempted to get them. I didn’t though. Too much money.
We were told we should come back in ten minutes and someone from the boat would take us to where we needed to go. We went outside to look at a few waterfalls, we didn’t take pictures but we did do videos with our gopros. We didn’t want to get our cameras went since it was still raining lightly.
We went back inside and waited. As we walked in a bus had pulled up and people were getting off with blue tickets. We had green tickets so I was hoping that they weren’t on our boat. We all sat in the same section to wait though. After a few minutes a guy showed up and said if we had a green or blue ticket to follow him. We had green tickets.
We walked outside where the boats were docked. I didn’t see one that said Mitre Peak Cruises. I thought at first we were going to be using a boat with another company. We walked all the way to the end and the smallest boat out there was ours. We were told that because it is smaller it can go where other boats can’t. We handed our tickets to a girl as we boarded the ship.
There were probably about 40 people total on board. I was surprised that people were willing to come down from Te Anau or Queenstown on a bus for a few hours in this kind of weather. That drive must have been an adventure.
We went to the front of the boat. The downstairs is mostly inside, with a few spots outside on the deck. There was also a staircase to a second floor which was mostly outside with one covered part, but it had no wall to cover the back. It would be a good place to sit in nice weather, but with this weather you were just as likely to get wet as if you were just on the deck.
We saw a few people go outside in the front so we followed. We took a few pictures and decided that the top would be better. We would be able to see both sides, the front only gave you views from the small part we were on since there was no way to walk across the front to the other side.
We stopped to take a few pictures from the back. I talked to the girl that had taken our tickets for a little bit. We she was from Christchurch and had been working for Mitre Peak for five months. She mostly worked in the office, but the past two months she was getting to work on the boat. She had to go do things and then went to the top. The views from above were really good.
The boat was going pretty fast and with the wind it was causing some huge waves. A few times it seemed like the boat was going to flip over. One side of the boat would go up, and the other side would drop down and looked like it would take in water. I don’t know how it never did. I was sure it was going to sink. The guy driving seemed crazy.
From the top it was even crazier. We had to hold on to the rails otherwise we would literally fall down. It was also extremely windy. So if the rocking boat didn’t knock us over the edge, the wind would. It was very insane. The wind in the morning carrying the tent was tough to withstand, but the wind on the boat was too much. It was like a rollercoaster, but I didn’t know if I would survive. I was sure I was, but there was a small amount of doubt.
At the top was me, Andy, two Chinese guys, and a guy in a green jacket that looked German and some other guy. We were all laughing hysterically, holding on for our lives. We did a lot of videos and photos. The best part of the cruise was the waves and wind. It was probably even more of an adventure than just paddling around in a kayak. Who wants to paddle a little boat anyway?
I don’t know how nobody ever got seasick. I never have that problem, but if I did this would definitely be the boat to cause it. It was raining off and on throughout the journey. There were a lot of waterfalls coming down all around us off the cliffs. A few of them we got extremely close and stopped next to them for people to take pictures. One in particular stop it seemed like everyone came on the roof to get pictures.
We went all the way out into the open ocean. It is known as the Tasman Sea. It took a little more than an hour. There were a few bumpy portions, but the further out we went into the sound and closer to the sea the calmer it became. It also became more clear. People came to the top randomly and went back down.
We made it to the farthest point and then turned back. The ride back was much faster, I guess because the current pushes towards the shore. We had gone out on one coastline, and headed back on the opposite. It was a huge circle. We only stopped a few times. We stopped to see seals on the rocks, but we could only see one and it was trying to hide. We also stopped under a waterfall.
By under, I meant the boat seemed to go directly underneath it. Everyone from the top had gone back inside except for me and Andy and one really tall guy. We stood outside the protection of the small covering on the roof. I stayed slightly under it, but my shoes and leg got soaked. Andy was more in the open and got drenched. The tall guy just stayed inside and watched.
After that we decided it was time to go back inside. We were freezing cold and wet. All the other people looked nice and comfortable, but most of them missed all the fun. We paid too much to just sit and watch from inside the whole time.
There was free tea and coffee on board, so when we got inside we had some coffee. It wasn’t great, but it’s coffee so it never is. It warmed me up a little though. We stood near the back of the boat for the rest of the ride. At one point Andy went to the front to get some videos and pictures, I tried to go up there too, but couldn’t figure out the door. I think I pulled when I should have pushed. I ended up going out the back door. It was cold so I went back inside.
The boat pulled into the dock and the 2-hour wild ride was over. We walked back to the car and Andy read the signs along the way. We sat in the car in the parking lot and had a quick lunch. We had sandwiches, chips, and a gross cookie.
On the boat the captain and the girl working on board said that the Chasm Trail is best after huge rainstorms. We weren’t in a hurry really so we thought we would stop there and do the hike. Before the trail took about an hour and a half to complete, but since we were cold and it was raining we wanted to finish fast. The trail was about ¾ of a mile in length at most.
We wanted to get it over with as fast as we could, but still see the rushing water. Nobody else was at the hike, but there was a campervan parked in the parking lot. They must have just been sleeping in the car or something.
We put on our gopros on our headstraps. We ran the entire trail to make it seem more interesting. We made it to the end relatively fast, but the way there is mostly a slight uphill. It is boardwalks a lot of the way, but it was still a tough run. My throat was hurting and a few times I wanted to stop and rest.
We didn’t take our cameras at all, just the gopros. We got to the end, filmed a little bit of the chasm and each other, and then started the run back. The way there I led the way, but on the way back Andy led the way. That way we would each be in the shots. The run down was much easier and faster.
We got back to the car in less than 15 minutes from the time we left until the time we got back. We planned to drive straight through to Te Anau and camp in the same Top 10 Holiday Park we had stayed at before. We didn’t stop at all on the way back up the road except for once to take pictures over the lake with the mountains. We had stopped in this spot before, but now the skies were a little clearer.
We made it to Te Anau around 5 PM. We didn’t want to sleep in the rain again and it seemed like it might rain. We asked how much the cabins were to stay in. It was more of a one bedroom with two beds. I said if they were too much we would just camp in the tent. They were $66 NZD. I didn’t want to pay that much.
She asked how much we had paid to camp. We had paid $40 NZD. She said she would spilt the difference. I didn’t know what that meant. She got out a calculator and said it would be $53 NZD for the night. It was only slightly more for a real bed, not having to put up a tent, and we wouldn’t get wet. It sounded good to us.
The room included a small fridge, a toaster, and a hot water boiler. It also had a heater and a queen sized bed and a twin bed. I took the queen sized bed. The floor seemed really wet for some reason and the heater didn’t go above 18 Celsius even though I set it to 25.
We got out all of our things from the car and reorganized the food and our bags. Everything had been scattered randomly for weeks and I kept saying I was going to fix it, but never got around to it. It was either too cold, too dark, we were too busy, or I just didn’t feel like doing it. It took about 15 minutes for me to do everything. Andy took much longer.
Afterwards we went and took hot showers. It felt great. We wanted to have the can of beans and meatballs that we had found at Mt. Cook. We also had a salad, a small piece of bread, and a cookie. I ate some chocolate since I was behind on my servings. The meatballs and beans was kind of good, but too expensive. We’ve seen it at the grocery store and for such a small amount of food it’s a rip off.
After dinner we went to the TV lounge and watched TV. I had bought internet for $5 for 250 MB so I played on the internet for about 4 hours. I was able to check emails, play on face book, and sell some VISA stock in order to keep funding my trip. Andy wrote in his journals, but I never did. I got behind a little more, but I will be able to catch up eventually. I also transferred a few memory cards and charged my computer battery.
There were only a few channels and the only thing worth watching was Wipe Out and Rugby. Wipe Out was a little different than normal and I didn’t feel like watching it. I turned on Rugby instead. New Zealand was playing Ireland and won 63-0. It was a blowout, the worst ever defeat for Ireland against New Zealand. We couldn’t figure out the rules. We weren’t watching it that closely, but it seemed like they just made up the rules as they went along. Afterwards Wales was playing Australia. We didn’t really watch that one too closely either.
We stayed there until 11 PM. I was ready to go to bed, it had been a long and very eventful day. In the room I let Andy play on the internet to do anything he wanted.