Cruising Milford Sound

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You can read about my experiences in Queenstown here.

Rudyard Kipling once described Milford Sound as the eighth wonder of the world, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that he meant the entire area leading up to the misnamed fjord. Whether it was the soaring mountain tops, the numerous waterfalls along the way, the serene farmland, or the thick forests of birch – the trip to Milford Sound was almost as awe inspiring as the legendary location voted the world’s most popular tourist attraction in 2008.

Mist shrouded mountains on the drive to Milford Sound

Fallon and I left our hostel bleary eyed at 6.30am and were soon snugly ensconced in the bus as it wound its way out toward the Sound. Milford Sound lies just 73km or so from Queenstown as the crow flies, but it’s a near five hour drive to get there by the winding roads that lead through Te Anau where we took in a much needed coffee to perk ourselves up. The trip thus far had taken us through the rolling green hills and alongside Lake Wakatipu – the massive and impossibly deep (400 metres) lake that Queenstown sits on the shores of. Parts of it, where the hills were especially stark and triumphant, put us in mind of the mythic land of Rohan as it is depicted in the Lord of the Rings films. I may or may not have continually hummed various tunes from that movie’s soundtrack while we drove.

Along the way we’d been entertained by the anecdotes and knowledge of our Mitre Peak Tours bus driver, who went on despite it being abundantly clear that 99% of his passengers were fast asleep. But after refueling at Te Anau and pushing on into the Fjordlands National Park – it was hard for any of us to peel our eyes around from the windows, let alone close them long enough to get some shut eye.

I really can’t even begin to describe how visually stunning the entire area is. Overnight rainfall had painted the towering glacier carved cliffs with dozens of waterfalls. Some of them were a mere finger’s breadth wide, whilst others tumbled from dizzying heights only to be caught up by the wind and turned into mist. A few of the most powerful managed to plummet all of the way down to our level – where they fed the numerous rivers and streams that wound their way towards the various fjords that give the area its name.

Just outside of the entrance to Homer's Tunnel, where a huge camp was established for the men and women who hand-cut the tunnel. Snow in summer!

 

As we traveled through this ancient and beautiful area, we learned about the brave souls who hand cut the road through the area. Looking out at the sparsely wooded plains and swamps that rolled by, it was hard to imagine being comfortable with today’s modern technology – let alone in the Great Depression with little more than firelight to live by.

Our first stop along the way was at the aptly named Mirror Lakes, which exist after the river changed its course and left them stranded in the original bed. On a clear day they would reflect the blue of the sky brilliantly, and while we were out on a cloudy one, it was still easy to spot why they are named as such.

The aptly named Mirror Lakes

The next pit stop was at Monkey Creek, where we were invited to dip our water bottles into the icy cold water and taste. I had expected something rich with minerals, but was pleasantly surprised to find instead a deliciously cool swig of water. The land around Monkey Creek, decorated with bl0ssoming flowers and grass heavy with the previous night’s rain, was just stunning.

Soon we were pulling up toward Milford Sound proper – the mountains towering higher than ever before as the waters of the Tasman Sea came into sight. Due to the heavy rainfall the area regularly receives, the water can sometimes have up to seven metres of fresh water atop the salt – and I’d kill to come back sometime and scuba dive and see where the fresh water and salt water meet.

The waters of Milford Sound are a deep green, a far cry from the crystal clear we’d seen in Lake Wakitipu. Dyed by the tannin of the hundreds of thousands of New Zealand Birch in the mountains, the waters are no less pleasing to the eye. We quickly transferred from the bus and onto a boat to take us out into the waters, and embarked on a two hour round trip that took us past waterfalls, soaring cliffs, and napping seals. I could wax lyrical and never really do it justice, and that’s both a humbling realization and a testament to just how amazing the area is. Words just can’t do it justice.

Falon and I posing before the beautiful cliffs and waters of Milford Sound
A cute seal napping on Seal Rock. Those imaginitive Kiwis...
Waterfalls, waterfalls everywhere...

What the region really impressed upon me is just how powerful a force nature really is. Milford Sound is technically a fjord – the point where a glacier’s long and inevitable journey comes to an end as it melts into the warmer waters of the ocean. The fjord shows the awesome power of the glacier like no diagram can – the glacier literally pushed the land aside and forced it up into the towering cliffs that now border the water. There are now gentle slopes or sandy shores on this waterfront – just jagged cliffs that seem to jut out in defiance of all we learned in geography class.

The tenacity with which the native New Zealand flora cling to the solid granite cliffs is another sign of nature’s power. No human could comfortably exist on the bare stone – yet birch and ferns have managed to sprout from every crack on the cliffs and carve out a home for themselves. These are not barren cliffs – but cliffs painted green with life.

I also think I know where I’ll be fleeing if there is ever a zombie apocalypse…

Our trip back to civilization was a sedate one. No longer quite as awed, we alternated between snatching some valuable sleep and watching The World’s Fastest Indian. The trip might have cost each of us $130 for the day (excluding food and drink) but I’d have paid it for the journey out alone. Anyone in New Zealand who doesn’t make an excuse to see Milford Sound is depriving themselves of something utterly beautiful – and something the likes of which you won’t see anywhere else in the world.

All photos in this entry are the work of Fallon Fehringer at Fallon’s Healthy Life.

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6 comments

  1. […] This week’s guest post costs from Victor over at Travelzzle. I spent ten fantastic days in New Zealand myself back in 2010 and fell head over heels in love with the land of the long white cloud. My own adventures included climbing Franz Josef Glacier, blackwater rafting at Waitomo, riding the zorb in Rotorua, and being stunned by the beauty of Milford Sound. […]

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