We did not truly go all the way south, as we didn't have time to travel to Stuart Island. But we went as far south as you can get on the "Mainland" - which is what South Islanders like to call the South Island when talking to North Islanders - because the South Island is in fact larger than the North Island, despite having the smaller population.
Milford Sound - back on the West Coast although not accessible from the rest of the West Coast - is one of New Zealand's premier tourist destinations. And it is very dramatic and beautiful. But in a location where rainfall is plentiful - 6.8 metres per year on average - we were unlucky because it didn't rain much. It is a place of waterfalls - many, many waterfalls - but these waterfalls have very small catchments and depend on rainfall to function. We arrived in what is locally defined as a drought (two weeks without any rain) and possibly had the worst outcome that could be encountered - low clouds, poor light, threatening rain - but few waterfalls. But still it was beautiful, and we have to return to see it in its true glory.
Keas (native parrots) were very much in evidence on the way there. Attractive, very mischievous, and very destructive - we had to watch the little monsters very carefully. The wild and rugged scenery on the highway to Homer Tunnel - a Depression Era relief project that provides the only road access to Milford Sound - looked very Tolkienesque under the lowering clouds. The boat cruise down the sound to the open sea and back, the underwater observatory they took us to on the way back, and the trip back to our campground made a very full day. Next day we hiked up part of the Routeburn Track, to Key Summit, with our eyes on the looming rainstorms all the way. Ah, exercise at last. Being a tourist is hard work, but it's still hard to get enough exercise. Then on, south to Te Anau, the Rakatu Wetlands, Clifden Bridge (that looks just like an also-abandoned bridge in the Fraser Canyon (in B.C.) - just proving we were all in the same British Empire) and finally, Invercargill.
The true south end of the South Island is not in Invercargill, or Bluff (the nearby seaport for Invercargill) but further east, at Slope Point. We camped near there, in Curio Bay, where penguins come ashore at night, and tourists swim with dolphins by day.
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