Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound

The day started early–almost too early for a vacation–this morning. We watched ribbons of pink slowly give way to a brightening horizon at 7 a.m. as we waited for the tour bus to pick us up for a long day’s journey to Milford Sound. The roundtrip journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound and back is eight hours as the tour bus drives–had we driven ourselves I’m sure it would have been far longer with all the stops for moments of awe we would have taken. So Tim got the day off from driving, and we enjoyed the view from inside the Real Journeys coach, complete with glass roof to ensure us as unobstructed views of the mountains as possible.

We stopped in the little town of Te Anau for a morning tea break. This sleepy little place sits nestled along the lake of the same name, and it seemed like most of the action came from tour buses stopping on their way to and from the national park and the Sound. Te Anau is almost exactly halfway, thus a perfect location for bathroom breaks and snack consumption. There were, however, many no vacancy signs outside motels and other lodging there, so folks are coming to stay there for more than just bathrooms and baked goods.

Back on the road, it wasn’t long before we entered Fiordland National Park, the largest park in New Zealand. We had a few photo op stops along the way, but there were even more places that could have provided amazing photos.

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My favorite stop was at Mirror Lakes, which are exactly as they are named. We had such a clear and perfect day that they really lived up to their name.

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The other stop I really liked was at a footbridge with a great view of Mount Tutoko complete with glacier top.

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The Fiordland park has so many walking trails and so much to see that a person could reasonably spend a week here without getting bored. The terrain was alpine, but the closer we got to the Sound, the more rainforest we saw. This is one of the only places in the world where these two ecosystems live together to such an eye-catching effect. This region gets more rain than any other, which made our nearly cloudless day a true anomaly.

The bright sky and clear view continued as we turned into the dock at Milford Sound. The guide told us that we came on one of the best days she’s seen in a while. The sound is considered to be in something of a drought right now because they haven’t had rain in a week, and in a rainforest environment, a week can be like an eternity. Despite the lack of rain, the area still looked lush and green to us, especially after all the dry grasses we’ve seen.

We can see why some have labeled Milford Sound as an unofficial “Eighth Wonder of the World.” It was beautiful! Tim says it’s definitely in the top five natural wonders he’s seen, and I have to agree. Plunging waterfalls, one of which is higher than Niagra Falls, sheer rock facings that show fault lines, and temperate rainforest stands make every view something new. We spotted dolphins swimming and fur seals sunning themselves. The boat edged out into the Tasman Sea, and our return into the sound was spectacular. Tim kept saying he was trying to take it all in and commit it all to memory. Our boat tour lasted two hours, but we could have been out there longer and still not been satisfied we’d seen enough.

It was very windy, the only downside to a clear day according to our guide. Tim was smart and wore his hair short for just such an occasion. The girls had the privilege of a new look thanks to the Milford Sound winds. šŸ™‚

After the cruise, it was back to the bus for the long ride back to Queenstown. Real Journeys uses this opportunity and offers small plane or helicopter journeys back to town with stunning aerial views of the land we’d just crossed by bus and a return that is three hours faster. It was very tempting until we heard the cost: almost $400 per person for the plane and almost $800 per person for the helicopter ride. Yikes! Maybe if that had been part of our original budget we might have done it, but even then I’m not sure we could have justified committing that much of our travel dollars for 45 minutes of terrific views. Maybe if we’d gone, I’d have a different opinion. šŸ˜‰

13 hours after leaving Queenstown, we were back and on the hunt for a very late dinner. The line at Fergburger was still long, so we walked over to 1876 for dinner. This bar is in the original courthouse building, and there are 150-year-old sequoias out front. Pretty cool little spot, but the food was not our favorite.

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Tomorrow is a free day in Queenstown area with nothing planned as of yet. We’ll see where the day takes us!

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