The Milford Road, Milford Sound, and the Glowworm Caves

This weekend I headed to Te Anau, which is often referred to as the gateway to Milford Sound.

After landing in Invercargill, I had some time to spare, so I spent my afternoon at the Southland Museum – which was also conveniently the bus stop I would depart from on my journey to Te Anau. I didn’t take many pictures – they actually were not allowed in many places – but I loved the natural history section and the large collection of New Zealand species they had on display.

New Zealand has had quite the cold snap – so my scenery on the bus ride was quite the wintry wonderland. I arrived at the hostel around 5:30 – and was so thankful the bus driver dropped me off at my lodging location instead of the bus stop, because it was dark and cold.

I checked in, started laundry (I didn’t want to do it on Stewart Island if I could help it, since they pay 4x more for electricity down there than here on the “mainland”), and went to grab a quick dinner and some groceries.

As I was settling in at my room I saw an alert on Facebook that the Aurora was spiking – so I thought I would go at give it a look – being a little further north, with some cloud cover, I wasn’t sure I would see much, but I did spot the glow in the south.

It wasn’t much, but it was cool to see.

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Sunday morning I was up early to catch my tour to Milford Sound. I was picked up by our driver Simon at the hostel, and immediately knew this was going to be a fun day.

Simon is a live-off-the grid, NZ local who has worked in nature conservation, science and tourism most of his life. He shared amazing stories and his passion for the Fiordlands, and because this was a small tour continually tried to give us extra stops.

Our first stop was the Eglinton Valley Flats in Fiordland National Park. Here we could see the mountains all around.

You could still see (and feel) the frost on the grass!

 

We had perfect weather for our next stop – the wind was still – the sun was shining – which meant that the reflection from the Mirror Lakes was stunning!

We had a few more stops on our way up to Milford, and there were some pretty entertaining Keas and some scenery.

And then we arrived at Milford, with a few minutes to spare, so we got to take in the scenery before heading to the boat terminal.

It really was a perfect day to cruise Milford Sound (which is not a sound, but a Fjord, for what it is worth) even if it was crazy cold. Our cruise took us from the terminal all the way out to the Tasman Sea – which felt like the end of the world. It was an awe-inspiring, breathtaking and unbelievable journey. I know that the pictures cannot possibly do this justice, and the scale is so impossible to get, but I hope you enjoy them. I used my DSLR, so those pictures are in the slideshow, while the pictures from my phone are below in the grid. There are a ton of pictures, because even though it was freezing, I stayed on the top deck the entire journey – I wanted to savor every moment of this likely once in a lifetime experience.

Look closely and you will see seals and dolphins. Like I said, it was a perfect day!

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After the cruise we boarded the mini-bus and started the journey back to Te Anau – but Simon had more stops for us.

Our first stop on the way back was the historic bridge over the Tutoko River.

Our next stop was the Chasm – a nice 20 minute walk where you see some of the coolest structures in rock made by water I have ever seen!

In the parking lot this lady had this cool van that she had converted into a coffee shop, so while we waited on everyone to finish the trail, I got my favorite NZ coffee drink – a flat white – and we enjoyed the mischievous keas in the parking lot – what funny little birds!

When we reached the Homer Tunnel – we had about 5 minutes before the one way tunnel was opened up for us, so we had one last chance to get out and enjoy the scenery on this side of the Milford road.

Driving along the Milford Road is a beautiful experience.

After a few more stops (I felt like . . . but wait, there is more!), Simon dropped me back off at the hostel, where I had a few hours to relax and have dinner before heading to my next adventure, the  Te Anau Glow Worm Caves.

For dinner, Simon recommended a dairy that had fish and chips – since his tour was so wonderful, I thought I would take his recommendation. It was not a mistake. Yummy fish!

Then I walked to the glowworm caves for my underground adventure. Cameras are not allowed in the cave, but I bought the picture package to share the experience with you all.

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What you don’t see is the journey “under the glow” so to speak – guys – it was so cool – it really does look like the videos and pictures online, like this one, which is amazing:

or this one:

(these videos are from different caves, but the same experience applies).

It is DARK – which is what allows you to see the glow worms, and I will admit – getting in the boat when you cannot see anything is a little disconcerting.

WOW – today was certainly one of those epic days, that I am so fortunate to be able to have here on this New Zealand journey.

W.O.W. – A museum with something for all tastes (fashion, art and cars!) – and an exciting journey for me!

I know that many of you are eagerly anticipating information about my school visits, however, I am working within the bounds of some ethics and privacy considerations and other logistics – I will share more general reflections soon when I have visited more schools, I promise – but my time in Nelson was fantastic. Gaye Bloomfield (@gayeblooms) Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Coffee lover and teacher extraordinaire (can you see where we would totally get along?) went out of her way to make me feel welcome, and planned a spectacular week for me visiting schools of all levels and with all unique feels. I really feel like I have “experienced” all levels of Kiwi education now, and that sets me up quite nicely for the framework of my project.

I did get a few opportunities to play as well – starting with a lovely dinner and conversation on Monday night with Gaye. We had a delicious meal and talked for hours about all sorts of things – I think given a combination of enough coffee and wine, we could solve some serious world problems!

Check out the awesome dessert we had:

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Tuesday afternoon I had some free time, and explored the National WOW Museum – a unique museum that combines the Gallery of fashion from the World of Wearable Art shows, along with this massive collection of rare and classic cars both from all over the world.

The outfits were amazing works of art, and in each and every case, someone did wear them for the show. Many are thematic, and some were quite, well, off kilter might be one way to describe it, but I was in awe of the precision and the artistry of the pieces. In some cases I have included the description next to the photo, while in others you can just use your imagination. I did have a few favorites.

At the end was a viewing room where you could watch a video of the highlights of the World of Wearable Art Show, a huge international design competition where these amazing pieces are unveiled.

After the fashion art, I wandered to the next gallery – full of classic cars, super fancy cars, engines and other mechanical type stuff. Y’all – I am way out of my wheel house here – mostly I’m like – look a shiny car – but there were some seriously cool vehicles here to see.

Look through the album for yourself – there were cars that make today’s mini cars look gargantuan, cars that were the size of tanks, and my personal favorite item of luxury – the car with recliners in the back seat (If you can afford that car, my guess is you have a chauffeur, and you are enjoying the recliner).

It was also interesting to see the cars that obviously were collected and imported (remember, they drive on the left here).  It was a cool variety – and I know some of you (I’m looking at you Tom Green) will be quite in heaven looking at these cars.

While I was at the Museum I got a rather exciting email response to something I have been working on since before I left the US – because my project is focused on the use of digital technologies in a variety of situations, I have really strived to find schools of all types, all over New Zealand to visit and connect with.  The carrot that was dangling out in front of me was the ability to visit a school with significant geographical isolation (which is hard, because these schools are very small – we are talking 20 or so students from grades 1 – 8 typically, and only one to two teachers, one of whom is a teaching principal). We had communicated a bit before I left the US, but I had been unable to schedule with school just starting here (Feb is their first month of school here), but I got a response, so in May I will be given the great opportunity to visit this school on Stewart Island (and do some programming with those students). Stewart Island, also called Rakiura is the island south of the south Island of New Zealand, an island that is home to less than 400 permanent residents. The only way to travel commercially to Stewart Island is by a small ferry across the  Foveaux Strait, or a fixed wing flight from Invercargill. At 47° South, it is likely the furthest south this girl will ever travel! If I am lucky – I might even get a chance to view the Aurora Australis – talk about a bucket list item! I am going to make an adventure of this trip, knocking out my South Island school visits during the week, and my bucket list items on the weekend. I will start by flying to Dunedin and visiting schools (and MIEE Rachel @ibpossum), then a weekend road trip through the Caitlins to Invercargill to head to Stewart Island, followed by a weekend in Te Anau and Milford Sound, then a trip to Christchurch to see some schools (and stay in a hostel that was once a jail), before checking out the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve and Lake Tekapo and the Mount John Observatory before heading back to Windy Welly. (I have not forgotten about Queenstown, by the way – I am attending a conference there in April). All in all – can you tell I am excited for this? It looks like I am going to be on the road for much of April and May, with trips to schools in Auckland;  a brief vacation during term break to Australia (Sydney and Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef); Energise Conference in Queenstown, then my South Island Adventure.

After exploring the museum, and doing some work in the cafe, I headed back to the hostel, then grabbed dinner at a lovely Mexican restaurant – where I had my first truly authentic Mexican food since I have been in NZ – Fajitas for the win!

Tomorrow I have school visits and a board meeting, which I am quite excited about attending, before I head back to Wellington and the North Island on Thursday. Nelson has been good to me!