New Zealand: Milford Sound


Since we'd booked the tour from Wanaka the bus was going to collect us at seven am outside the campsite. We were dragged out of dreamland by the alarm clock at six. The short trip to the showers convinced us that we'd need warm clothes - at least until the sun came up.

We were outside the campsite with ten minutes to spare and stood shivering for what seemend like forever before a bus turned up. Unfortunatly it turned out to be from a different tour company so we were banished back to the cold.

Our bus arrived a few minutes later and we climbed gratefully on board. We drove around Queenstown picking up people at different hotels and campsites for a while and it was soon clear that we'd be in a convoy all the way to Milford Sound.

Once we left town the heating of the coach took effect and the three of us were soon fast asleep.

Te Anau

Lake Te Anau

We stopped here for coffee and breakfast and decided to walk down to see the lake. The town itself was deserted except for other tourists who seemed to be doing the same thing as us. Having seen the glories of Te Anau we headed back to the coach. We were the last ones back even though we got back at exactly 09:50 or "tin to tin" as the Kiwis say.

Te Anau to Homer Tunnel

As we left Te Anau our driver put on a video about Fjordland. Although it was clearly designed to market the helicopter tours the ariel shots are fantastic. After the DVD finished our driver Lester started his commentry with an introduction to the different type of land usage. He was clearly in favor of deer rather than sheep or dairy farming ("You can watch a deer gambol all day - sheep and cows aren't quite so interesting") and he also went into great detail to the conservation efforts within the National Park.

Knobs Flat

Joel and Cris at Knobs Flat

Our first proper stop of the tour was Knobs Flat; which Lester helpfully introduced as the last toilet break until Milford Sound. Once away from the queues for the toliet however we had an impressive amount of space to ourselves.

Mirror Lakes

View over Mirror Lakes Mirror Lakes sign

Our second stop was the Mirror Lakes, however there was stiff breeze so they didn't quite live up to their name. There was also two other coach loads of tourists with us - again quite a change from the solitude that we'd become used to over the previous two weeks.

Kea Creek

Mountain creek

Our final stop before the tunnel was beside a small creek, our driver explained that he always brings a few empty bottles for himself and some friends on all his trips in other to fill them at this point. In the event Joel was the only member of our group to try the ice cold water. The others having been captivated by a narcissistic Kea.

Stop for the Kea Kea showing his best side 1 Kea showing his best side 2

The Kea are the world's only alpine parrot and have quite a ferocious beak. Our driver explained that their normal diet is worms and they are quite famous for stripping the rubber off car windscreen wipers. The particular specimen that we saw seemed more interested in eating up the attention than anything else. It displayed no distress whatsoever after it was surrounded by jabbering tourists and was quite happy to pose for the cameras.

Homer Tunnel to Milford Sound

Homer Tunnel

The Homer Tunnel permits access by road to the beauties of Milford Sound itself. The tunnel is about 1.2 km long and there is a steep gradient as the western end is about a 100m lower than the eastern.

It seemed to be just big enough to fit the coach although there wasn't enough light to make out the tunnel walls as we descended into the darkness following the lights of the coach in front.

View from Homer Tunnel

The view once we left the tunnel was fantastic and the coach driver was happy enough to stop (once we'd gotten away from the threatening mountain side) so we could take photos.

The Chasm

Ferns at the Chasm forest track

When we told that our next stop would be "The Chasm" we weren't really sure what to expect. Our trusty guide book had let us down and we hadn't read anything about this. We were no wiser once we got off the coach and started to follow the crowd along a beautiful forest track.

The Chasm viewing platform

The name turned out to be fairly accurate, at the end of the forest track there is a viewing platform that allows you to look down into the gorge carved out by the river. For some reason instead of the more typical jagged edges the water has eroded the rocks into the strangest curves.

Milford Sound

Mitre Peak from the carpark Mitre Peak from the Ferry terminal

As we'd arrived with some time to spare we were brought to a carpark near the ferry terminal which had a view out over the water to distinctive Mitre Peak. Some photos later and we went down to the terminal and shortly boarded our tour boat.

All of the boat tours follow more or less the same route, heading out the south side of the fjord almost to the sea and then returning along the northern side.

Cris and David in Milford Sound David contemplates the Tasman Sea Heading back up Milford Sound

Although both sides of the fjord are impressive the north side may be slightly more - since it boasts both Seal rock and Stirling Falls.

Cris and Joel in Milford Sound Seal Rock Stirling Falls Stirling Falls

The size of the sheer walls of the bay are hard to grasp, but the last two photos above (of Stirling Falls) give some perspective!

Once the tour finished we got back on the coach and promptly fell asleep, only waking long enough to buy an ice cream each in Te Anau and then going back to sleep until we arrived back to Queenstown.

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