Friday, 7 April 2017

The Journey To Milford Sound

I missed Milford Sound during my first trip to NZ but this time round I managed to tick it off my Must-See List. The problem with Milford Sound is it rains very often. It is known to be the wettest place in New Zealand and one of the wettest in the world with a 50% chance of rain each day. Fortunately though, time was on our side and we waited for a good weather forecast before making the trip.
The distance to Milford Sound from where we stayed in Queenstown is 290 km and it takes a minumum of 4 hours to get there. We got up very early that morning and hit the road by 6am when everything was still dark.

The Journey To Te Anau (170km)
We were practically driving through darkness the first hour or so. There are no street lights on the roads and highways and we started to get glimpses of the scenery only after the break of dawn. Even though this stretch of drive is not in the 'scenic' list, the scenery that we saw that morning was not less splendid.

Te Anau
All vehicles going to Milford Sound from Queenstown will have to go through Te Anau, a small lakeside town about 170km away.
Drivers are encouraged to fill up their tanks at Te Anau as there are no petrol station the entire 120 km stretch from Te Anau to Milford Sound. Phone coverage is almost non existent too so our pit stop was just to do that.
We wanted to reach Milford Sound as early as possible and didn't loiter around or make other stops along the way. We had in mind to come back and explore Te Anau and the other attractions after cruising Milford Sound. These photos of Te Anau were taken during the return journey.
Te Anau is a small quiet town where you can drive around in just 2 minutes. We stopped here for lunch after visiting Milford Sound.

This is Lake Te Anau which is located at the edge of Te Anau town.

Journey From Te Anau To Milford Sound (120km)
During the journey from Te Anau to Milford Sound, we navigated through beautiful valleys, forests and mountainous terrain. This is reputed to be a spectacular scenic drive in New Zealand where a number of attractions can be seen along the way. Among these attractions are lookouts offering stupendous views of the Fiordland and hiking tracks which we were not interested in. We skipped these during the onward journey but explored them at our own pace during the return journey. Below are some of the highlights.

(i)Te Anau Downs

Te Anau Downs is 27 km from Te Anau on the road to Milford Sound. It is the departure point for the Milford Track and a great spot to view the Murchison Mountains.

(ii) Stretches Of Scenic Drive
Many stretches of the two hour journey are spectacular scenic drives.

(iii) Eglinton Valley
The Eglinton Valley is a long narrow valley with clear natural boundaries. I can imagine this place blooming with wild flowers during spring time. We were there during the beginning of autumn and the valley has turned a golden hue.

(iv) Mirror Lakes
There are small lakes by the roadside that are supposed to reflect like mirrors. It was quite windy during our visit judging from the ripples on the lake and because of that the ability to reflect wasn't felt in most of the lakes except this one. 

(v) Knobs Flat

(vi) Hollyford Valley Lookout
This lookout offers a magnificent panorama of Hollyford Valley and Hollyford River that snakes through it.

(vii) Humboldt Mountains & Mount Christina
View of Humboldt Mountains
The peak of Mount Christina

(viii) Monkey Creek Mountain Lookout
This particular lookout is where you can stand in awe to marvel at the majesty of God's creations.

(ix) Homer Tunnel
Homer Tunnel is a real wonder. It is a 1.2 km long tunnel dug across the base of the mountains. Traffic is only one way and vehicles normally have to wait for the tunnel to be cleared before being allowed in.

(x) The Chasm
At The Chasm, you can see waterfalls formed by the rushing waters of the Cheddau River. This place is a 10-minutes walk from the main road into the jungles.

(xi) Alpine Scenery & Mount Tutoko
Charming Alpine scenery and the highest mountain, Mount Tutoko can be seen nearing the end of the drive to Milford Sound.

(xii) Milford Sound At Last
We reached Milford Sound after more than 4½ hours. What surprised us was we didn't see many vehicles during our journey but the parking lots were jammed packed with them. We couldn't find any parking and were told to park at an alternative site more than one km from the harbour so what choice did we have when Milford Sound is that popular? To make this journey from Queenstown it is safer to allocate 5 hours instead of 4 hours as we had initially thought.

The Boat Harbour
There are a number of companies that sell cruises from the harbour. It is cheaper to book online but we didn't want that option as our plan was pending the weather forecast and arrival time at the cruise terminal which was all uncertain. The fare varies from NZ$45 to NZ$200 depending on the time of cruise and whether meals on board are included. The early cruises which depart at 8am are the cheapest but for that we'll have to drive out from Queenstown as early as 3am. Sleep is still more important than the bucks saved so that option was not attractive to us.  We took the 11.45am cruise from Jucy which costs NZ$75/pax because that was the cruise we just needed to hop on as soon as we arrived at the terminal. By the way most cruises ply the same route.

Cruising On Jucy

Our boat is a three decker. There is a Pita Pit kiosk at the lowest deck where you can purchase a variety of pitas and beverages.
There are dining tables and chairs on the middle deck and hot tea is complimentary during the journey. There is a small snack, beverage and souvenir kiosk on the middle deck as well.
The middle deck is also where the helmsman steers the boat.
The upper deck is open air and the best place to view the scenery. That is the reason why the weather has to be fine for an optimum cruise experience.

About Milford Sound
Milford Sound is a fiord carved by glaciers during the ice ages. Its location on the remote west coast of New Zealand's South Island is not a deterrent to tourists who thronged here by the millions each year to view the natural wonders of New Zealand's Fiordland. It is New Zealand's most iconic and popular tourist destination and one where Joseph Rudyard Kipling, an English journalist termed the 8th Wonder Of The World. I opine this is a little exaggerated but it still feels nice to tick this off my Must-See List.
Vertical Cliffs rising from the fiord and waterfalls cascading down the high mountains is an awesome spectacle to behold.
There are two major waterfalls at Milford Sound: Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls but after a heavy downpour, hundreds other temporary falls will appear apparently.
Stirling Falls  is the second largest permanent waterfalls in the fiord and is fed by glaciers situated in the mountains behind. Our boat cruised very close to it for the passengers to get a feel of the splash and to listen to that amazing 'sound'.
It was sunny but the wind was icy.

We also cruised past  Mitre Peak, the highest mountain on Milford Sound.

We caught glimpses of some wildlife in the fiord.
A colony of seals was seen lazing on the mountain rocks.

Towards the end of the fiord is Tasman Sea. Our boat made a U-turn just before reaching Tasman Sea and cruised back to the harbour along the other side of the fiord.
The total duration of the cruise was 1 hour 45 minutes.

Last Glimpses Of Milford Sound
Back at the harbour we had our last glimpses of the beautiful Milford Sound and took more pictures to remember the place. 

The Journey back to Queenstown
As mentioned earlier, we actually stopped at all the places posted above during our return journey. 
Way past Te Anau we took a breather at this meadow.
It was a very long day. All in our journey took 12 hours.

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