After the excitement of the thrills and spills in Queensland, we continued heading south into New Zealand’s Fiordland to see the famous Milford Sound.
We’d heard that the Sound itself was beautiful and we had every intention of taking a boat trip to see the main sights, but it was a fellow traveller who insisted that we should also shell out for a round-trip coach ride from Te Anau too. “You’ll see”, they’d told us knowingly. “It’s completely worth it.”
So, after stopping overnight near Te Anau, we were picked up early in the morning for a 120km coach ride to our cruise on the Sound.
Almost immediately I was pleased with the decision to forgo driving and go by coach – not only was I able to sit back and enjoy the scenery whizz by without having to concentrate on the road, but our jolly driver was able to tell us all sorts of interesting things about the surroundings as we passed.
He also knew the best spots to stop for pictures of the beautiful surroundings – something I wouldn’t have bothered with if I’d been in the driving seat.
One of the things he showed us was the Chasm, a place where pebbles and stones in the Cleddau River are picked up by the currents and swirled around, creating fantastical formations in the bedrock.
We also had our first encounter with Keas here. These alpine parrots are a little naughty and especially like to strip rubber from cars!
Eventually the road led us through the Homer Tunnel – a particularly long and dark hole in a huge granite wall that’s the only way to pass through the mountains to Milford Sound. When we emerged, it was like we’d been driven into another world. My jaw may have even dropped open in surprise as my eyes adjusted to the light and I was confronted with this:
On all sides, rugged mountains rose up into the sky and green forested valleys stretched away into the distance as far as the eye could see. Apart from the road we were on, everything around us looked isolated and untouched – as if we were the first ones to have discovered this place.
When we finally reached Milford Sound township we were once again struck by the feeling of isolation. The town was small – just over 100 people live there – and the vast majority of visitors are tourists coming for boat tours the sound, which accounts for the seemingly disproportionate size of the port!
On boarding our vessel the sun was peeking from behind the clouds and we had heard someone claiming loudly that it had rained every time she’d been to the Sound. Not surprising, considering Milford comes second in the world for recording the highest amount of rainfall. So we felt pretty lucky that the grey clouds had cleared for our boat ride – only it wasn’t to last. Once we were safely on our vessel, we set sail for the Sound and the weather closed in.
The captain didn’t seem too bothered by the ominous clouds above. In fact he seemed delighted by them. “If it rains, you’ll see the sound come to life with torrents of waterfalls”, he said. Unfortunately, it didn’t rain and the sun didn’t reappear either, but the Sound still looked spectacular.
Now every boat tour that takes you around the Sound will take you for a close-up view of Stirling Falls – one of two permanent waterfalls in the Sound. If it’s recently rained, the falls will be dramatic and the boats get so close they go right underneath the flow of water. Because it hadn’t rained for a few days, the stream of water was relatively low on our visit, but that didn’t stop scores of people crowding around the edge of the boat to get selfies in the spray.
All in all, Milford Sound – and the road to it – was spectacular. This part of the world really does have some of the most impressive and awe-inspiring scenery. We were glad we’d taken the advice we’d heard to get a coach trip because it was the perfect way to get the most out of the journey to and from Te Anau with our short time frame. If we’d had more time and money, it would have been great to take the road to the Sound a little slower and maybe do an air-tour of the Sound in a helicopter or plane, but perhaps that’ll be something for another visit…