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Queenstown May 31, 1988 - Glacier-carved Milford Sound scenery is breathtaking

By Bob Van Leer

  (QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND, May 31, 1988) - This morning we drove to Milford Sound, a glacier-carved fiord on the west coast of New Zealand. The road to the sound is narrow and landslide prone. Last week it was closed for three days by the first snow of the season.

  The road isn't too bad until you pass through the Homer tunnel and then it is steep switchbacks to the sound. The tunnel is ¾ mile long and drops 423 feet inside the tunnel. From the tunnel to the sound is about 10 kilometers in a straight line measurement, and the drop is 926 meters.

  The sound itself is breathtaking. It's about 20 kilometers long and about 1200 feet deep. Milford Sound is dominated by Mitre Peak, which is 5560 feet high and drops nearly straight down to the salt water. About half of the peak is snow- covered. We boarded a cruise vessel for a tour of the sound. This is the tail end of the season; winter is only about three weeks away. The cruise boat is licensed to carry 450 passengers and there were only about 40 aboard, mostly our party.

  Waterfalls 500 feet high drop into the sound and we passed one vertical cliff; more than vertical, it has an overhang that is 2500 feet high. The skipper was able to maneuver the boat right next to the cliffs as they drop straight down into the water.

  The ship took us just outside the entrance to the sound to the Tasman Sea. The entrance is not easy to see. Our guide told us that Capt. James Cook, England's famous explorer, sailed by this coast twice without finding the entrance. Yet the sound is large enough that the giant passenger ship, Queen Elizabeth II, was able to come into the sound.

  To get to our next stop we had to retrace our route back to Te Anau where we spent last night. There is no road along the west coast of South Island for the southern 300 kilometers and there is only one highway to the coast, the one we traveled on, which is one-way part of the way.

  In early evening we arrived at Queenstown, a tourist town on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, which is about 40 kilometers long. On the way we passed through the hamlet of Garston, which is distinguished by being as far from the ocean as you can get in New Zealand; and this is only 123 kilometers.

  Interest rates, costs and inflation in New Zealand are high, but inflation and interest rates are coming down. Still, a merchant told us that bank rates on loans are 26-27 percent. This is down from 31 percent last year. Home loans have dropped from 23 percent to 17 percent. We were told that inflation is at the rate of 9 percent annually, half the amount of a year ago. Appliance prices are high. Ads featured a 20 inch portable remote control TV set for $629.00 translated to U.S. dollars. An automatic clothes washer was $958.00 U.S.

  Yesterday, for the first time, we passed a decent-sized sawmill. Also we saw logs being loaded onto railroad cars, probably going to Dunedin, according to our guide. Everywhere we have gone so far on South Island we have seen pine plantations. They are in two forms: very wide windbreaks and rectangular blocks, which stand out in the sheep paddocks that look as if they have been mowed.

  Tomorrow we are to spend the day in Queenstown and Betty and I plan to try a local jet boat ride.

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