Before we even start to rave about the beauty of Milford Sound, let’s talk about the journey in.
About a month ago a major ‘rain event’ occurred which washed out numerous points along the (only) road into Milford. Such was the damage that tourists had to be helicoptered out!
After a few days the road was opened to busses only and then only in 3 convoys per day. No doubt the tourist industry was on to this very early: Milford only exists because of tourism and if you cannot get tourists in, then there is no activity; no bus or boat trips and no income for the many people involved. Still no private vehicles. Our accommodation hired a bus and offered guests a trip in from Te Anau, one and a half hours from Milford, at 11:45am. As we were driving from Dunedin, four hours away, this was going to be a very early start!
Then about a week ago we received the message that guests with booked accommodation could now drive their private vehicles in on one of the three convoys per day. We needed to book in advance and, as we arrived at the convoy meeting point, we were checked off by the NZ Transport Agency controlling the access.
We were allocated to the 2:45 convoy with the caution, ‘don’t be late as we don’t wait’.
Now this raised the interesting question of ‘what time should we leave’ Dunedin, some 300 kms away? Having driven for a few weeks in NZ we realise that what the GPS suggests as timing is not always possible. And then there was the issue of determining exactly where the convoy started – how far along the 120 km road into Milford Sound was the convoy check point?
So, working backwards from the GPS estimate and adding coffee and petrol stop time and also a fudge factor, it became an early start – getting up before sunrise, something we have not had to do for a long time on our trips.
A beautiful run across the south of the South Island, the GPS estimate was pretty good, the coffee at the coffee stop acceptable and the supply stop achieved, we then had over two hours to drive the 80 kms to the convoy check point.
This was fortunate, as along State Highway 94 to Milford there were numerous sight seeing points: Lake Mistletoe with views across the water, Mirror Lakes where the water is a mirror (!), Cascade Creek, the actual crossing of the divide and then the last stop before the check point, Key Summit. Despite doodling along and stopping everywhere we still arrived at the check point 45 minutes early, but that was ok, as we back tracked to Key Summit and enjoyed a picnic lunch with a great view.
We returned to checkin (pronounced chicken in Kiwi language) in time to join the queue.
Now we do need to remember that our car has stuff all over it: a map of the Bangkok to London trip plus the list of countries, a list of all the trips we have made on the front guard, the AUS decal and finally the stickers on the bonnet from various trips. It does stand out and hence we do attract crowds wherever we stop. Especially waiting at the check in on the way in and on the way out! Ros, when we stopped, stayed in the car but then jumped out and commented that, ‘I feel like a goldfish in a bowl’. Interestingly, quite often only a few people actually come up and talk to us, many just stand and gap. Many more just take a photograph. So we took photos of the photographers taking a photos!
On the way in……….and on the way out!
Trip in was slow as, in places, the road was down to one very narrow lane or partly washed away.
By the way we are now at 45o South, well below the bottom on Tassie (South East Cape 43.3o), so we can expect the weather to be a little chilly.
So much for the travel to Milford, now to Milford Sound.
We stayed in the Milford Sound Lodge, but unfortunately no views from the 2 bedroom suite we had booked. Only the single/double rooms had views and these were over the river. Just a thought if you ever go there! A reasonable dinner (choice: venison, salmon or vegan!) at the Lodge that night after a little explore of the area around the lodge and a short walk along the river.
The next morning it was off to the wharf to board the boat for the cruise up Milford Sound, which is of course actually a fjord as it was carved out of the rocks by a glacier. Milford Sound is actually one of the wettest places on earth, with an average 182 rainy days a year and an average 10+ metres of rain. As the guide said, ‘we don’t bother with millimetres or centimetres over here’! We scored an overcast but not rainy day for our cruise on the fjord.
Setting out we were confronted by the iconic view of Mitre Peak, at a height of 1,692 metres this is one of the highest mountains in the world to rise directly from the ocean floor. It gets its name because it resembles the shape of Bishop’s mitre or headdress.
There are two permanent waterfalls in Milford Sound, Stirling and Bowen falls, but also a number of ones which only run during rain. As it had been raining overnight we did see some of the non-permanent falls. The leisurely cruise up the fjord was spectacular for the scenery which simply unfolds in front of you, in particular the sheer cliffs that drop 100s of feet vertically into the fiord.
At the head of the sound is Seal Rock, one of the few areas in the fjord where the Southern fur seal is able to climb out of the water and onto the rocks. These seals inhabit the fiord all year round. We were luck enough, as we sat watching the seals, to see an albatross cresting the air waves around the boat.
On the way back to the jetty the captain nosed the boat right up under the Bowen Falls. We were given ample warning that we might get wet, we were encouraged to don wet weather gear, which we did. What we were not expecting, thought the crew obviously were, was that the falls often give a great spurt and drench the prow of the ship and all who are standing there taking photographs!
The crew must get a laugh out of this every trip, as just about everyone on board is out on the prow! Top half of body protected by wet weather gear, legs and shoes drenched!
It was then back to the lodge for lunch before driving to Manapouri, again joining a convoy, this time of 7 cars and over 20 busses, it being the last convoy out and hence all the day trippers need to leave.
We noted that one effect of the partial road closure was that private vehicles cannot enter for the day. Hence in Milford the numerous car parks were empty, the camp grounds abandoned and it felt like a ghost town for most of the time we were there. Very much like a ski resort out of season, yet this is the high season.