Andy: One of the very few things I knew about New Zealand before we came here was the beauty of Milford Sound. I’d heard it was pretty breathtaking and very much a must see on any traveller’s agenda.
So, imagine our disappointment when we heard there’d been a flood due to a huge downpour washing part of the road away, closing the road as a result. You see, the problem with Milford Sound is that there is only one road in and out of the area. We thought we may not be able to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site and leave NZ with a huge missing piece in our trip which may never be filled.
As we started our journey around NZ’s North Island we kept an eye on updates about the road in and out of Milford Sound hoping for some good news. Thankfully that came on Feb 21st when the road opened again, but under heavy restrictions. Those being that you could not self drive into Milford Sound, but only go in and out on booked tours which travel in convoy through the damaged area.
As we arrived on the South Island and neared Queenstown and Te Anau we really started to look into the various tours that were available to us, now knowing we couldn’t just turn up and self drive. To our surprise, they weren’t as expensive as we thought they would be. The price included the coach journey in and out of Milford Sound, the boat tour up and down the Fjord and a little snack onboard.
Seda: Our driver was a fun guy. He had loads of local information to share with us and it really made our journey enjoyable. Another great part of the deal was the glass-roofed bus that we travelled in. I think that was the only way to really appreciate the entire landscape. What an a absolute joy!
Andy: We learnt from our very knowledgeable and chatty driver Brendan that the difference between a fjord and a sound is that a fjord is glacially created, whereas a sound would have been formed by rivers and lakes. Actually Milford should be called a fjord as it was created by glaciers, but all the others around it are sounds, so in the spirit of uniformity, it was called Milford Sound. Every day is a school day as they say!
On the drive into Milford Sound, we stopped at various places just for a few minutes each. Firstly because they are all beautiful views, but secondly we were running early for the convoy start time. No-one minded as all the places we stopped were wonderful. These included the amusingly named Knobs Flat, Mirror lakes, and of course the obligatory “place where a scene from Lord of the Rings was filmed!”
We passed through Fjordland, and over the Southern Alps which were stunning, and you even get to pass through a 1:10 gradient tunnel which is extremely narrow and low. The coaches only seem to fit.
As our coach had a glass roof, it was making the journey though the mountains even more awe inspiring. You really get the sense of the land closing in on you when it’s on both sides of the coach, and visible through the roof too!
We eventually made it into Milford Sound and quickly boarded our boat. It really didn’t hang around and within 5 minutes of the boat arriving, it was off again.
The agenda was a slow cruise up the south side of the fjord all the way to the Tasman Sea, a quick wave to Australia, and then head back along the north side. All in all it took 1 hour 45 minutes on board the boat with everyone on board constantly aghast at the beauty of what surrounded them.
It’s really hard to put into words how breathtaking this part of the world is, and no photographs can really justify it, but we will try…
Apparently they get 250+ days of rain in Milford Sound which creates up to 1000 waterfalls cascading down the steep mountain sides into the fjord. Some are mere trickles, whereas others are more than 150 metres high, and come crashing down with great force. It had rained overnight in the area, and so there was lots of water flowing from all around on the day we went, but thankfully the weather had cleared up beautifully for our actual tour. What a bonus!
Our ship’s captain steered the boat into the biggest waterfall – Stirling Falls – and everyone on the bow got soaked which no-one seemed to mind considering the freezing glacial water! Brrrr.
As we reached the sea and turned around to slowly plod our way back to the ferry terminal the captain spotted some dolphins playing around in the bow waves of the boat. Cue lots of people rushing to the front of the boat to try and catch a glimpse. Thankfully we were already at the front and we did manage to see some dolphins very briefly, but sadly they didn’t stick around too long.
Another great wildlife sighting was at the aptly named Seal Rock. The captain told us that the Fur Seals that we would see are juvenile males all hanging around with one aim in life……to get fat! So, they would head out to sea and fill up on fish, and I guess we caught them during their after dinner snooze!
Seda: Amongst all this excitement, my Englishman never neglected to have a cup of tea on the go!