As much as I would love to hop on a few random flights and travel through Australia, Singapore, Southeast Asia, Russia, and the rest of the world… Milford Sound and Te Anau are the farthest points in my journey this year. In my five months on the South Island last year I didn’t make it to the fiordlands, and this year I was determined to get there.
As we drove through forests and past mountains dappled in fog I realized that we were effectively in a chilly rain forest! Rain and cloud are common in the fiordlands, and allow the waterfalls to run in full force! Snow still falls frequently on the tops of the mountains, as it would in the high elevations in Utah in Spring time. Patches of dirt-covered snow litter the wet granite as we drive through the mountains and underneath the tunnel. This area must have more waterfalls per square mile than anywhere in the world!
There are several suggested stops along the route from Te Anau to Milford Sound, such as Mirror Lakes, Knobs Flat and the Chasm just on the north side of the tunnel. We were also able to explore a scenic lookout point that is inaccessible to buses, another bonus to exploring the fiordlands by car. Although the journey is only 110km, it is recommended to allow at least two hours for the drive, plus time for stops, and even after two and a half hours our cruise time was drawing close. I exchanged our voucher for boarding passes and shortly afterwards we were aboard our craft and underway!
Just before leaving Te Anau we picked up venison pies at the Miles Better Pie shop and to be perfectly honest, it was the best pie I have ever had in my life! The venison was a tender medium rare and the pastry dough was delicious and flakey despite being wrapped in foil and out of the heater for several hours. The unique flavor of the venison wasn’t masked by too much gravy or salt. Perfect pie and incredible view on a spacious cruise ship on Milford Sound – what a day!
We opted for the Real Journeys “Nature cruise” instead of the “Scenic cruise,” the difference being that our time on the water was a full 2 hours and 15 minutes, and the captain gives commentary about the history, scenery and wildlife of the area. We were fortunate to see two separate groups of fur seals, a penguin swimming, and two other penguins having some sort of dispute on the rocks!
Just around the corner from Harrison Cove we were able to see the contrast between the snowy mountain peaks and the cascading waterfalls and greenery of the lower rock formations.
Another exciting feature of the cruises is they bring you as close as safely possible to the huge waterfalls!
The sun did not break through the clouds during our voyage, but the wet ambiance gave the area a certain mystique.
As we made our way back to Te Anau I had to stop and gaze into the sun-lit fields of sheep and newborn lambs.
I highly recommend visiting Milford Sound and the fiordlands. Unless you are really strapped for time I would advise against the popular one day fly/cruise/fly or coach/cruise/coach options. The flights in and out of Milford are amazing, and the coaches are spacious and stop several times along the way, but like most of New Zealand the best way to explore everything is to take your time and drive. The fiords and waterfalls are so amazing it’s a shame to spend only a few hours seeing them. Staying overnight is the best way to explore the glow worm caves, day hikes, kayaking, scenic flights, the road to Milford, and scenic cruises. The weather can be drastically different from day to day and creates a unique feel for the landscape. Photos will never do this area justice – you need to feel the water on your hands and mist in your face (and venison in your mouth) to really understand the true fiordland experience!