I rode into Te Anua and decided I could still get to Milford Sound before dark so set off immediately.
I was keen to get to Milford tonight to be able to reach Invercargill, at the bottom of the South Island, tomorrow night. Winter was fast approaching and it was getting noticeably colder all the time.
New Zealand roads were built for bikers. A wonderful surface with superb sweeping corners through stunning scenery.
It was a gloriously bright and breezy afternoon. There were only a few clouds about as I wound my way towards the hills.
Through the valleys I noticed that the clouds ahead seemed to be a rather low. This was not a good sign. In my extensive planning I knew the road climbed a lot before entering a tunnel cut through the head of the valley.
It started in the usual way.
A slight mist.
Tiny specks of water settling on my visor.
Enough water to wipe away with a finger.
Then I started wiping more frequently. It started raining. The rain got heavier. Squalls.
Just before the final climb to the tunnel the road reduces to a single track as it traverses a sheer rock face.
It then veers into a valley that is clearly a dead end. The walls of rock rise vertically on both sides and get closer and closer together. Water is cascading down the sides in hundreds of separate waterfalls. I start to feel slightly hemmed in and look forward to a hot shower in Milford.
When I finally reached the tunnel I was annoyed to find traffic lights. Red traffic lights.
I edged forward into the start of the tunnel to get out of the rain.
There is water everywhere.
The valley is subject to frequent avalanches when the snow melts. If there is a high risk the road is closed. A few years ago an avalanche closed the road for six days. The tourists stranded in The Sound drank it dry after two and were airlifted out on the third day.
The tunnel is only wide enough for single file traffic and slopes down at quite and angle. There are no lights so it is pitch black and water pours down from the roof.
Coming out of the tunnel was bizarre.
It emerges at the base of a sheer wall of granite. It was raining like mad and there were also twenty or thirty waterfalls pouring over the edge of the cliffs. It was like being at the bottom of a giant plughole as the water flew all around me.
It was totally unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.
I rode down to The Sound only to find it is a tiny place.
The only accommodation was reserved for hikers or package tours.
It was at this moment I realised should have read my guidebook before I got here.
Cold, wet and wiser, I filled up with the most expensive petrol in the country and returned to Te Anau in the dark.
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