We were in two minds whether to do this or not. Milford and Doubtful Sounds are advertised across the South Island, but Milford Sound is the most accessible in Fiordland National Park. Rudyard Kipling was said that it was the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. It was enthralling. (The picture at the top of the blog is of Mitre Peak (1692m)
The usual trips are taken from Queenstown to Milford Sound in a day, but for a 2 hour cruise and with up to spending 8 plus hours on a bus, no matter how beautiful the scenery, that was just a trip too far.
We therefore, had arranged a 2 night stay in Te Anau YHA. The YHA had a different feel from the rest of the YHAs. This was definitely a base for the outdoorsy types. Those who were trekking during the day, There were signs around to make sure that any walks were lodged with reception, so that if anything untoward happened, walkers could be identified/pin pointed.
When we arrived in Te Anau, we understood that there was a lake. Not just any lake, the largest in the South Island, and the second largest at 344km². But with the view below, we had to take the Lonely Planet’s word for it. We were worried that the “lack of a view” would also be replicated at Milford Sound the next day.
But what a difference a day makes.
On the Monday we departed Te Anau on the coach at 9.45am, the coach was slightly delayed leaving, because once you let a coach full of people go to a souvenir shop, coffee shop and toilet stop having been on a coach since 6.30am, it is a recipe for lateness. We were the only three to take advantage of the Te Anau stop. Everyone else was doing it in a day from Queenstown (11 hours!), but that meant that we had to take whatever seats were available. Our bus driver, was really informative, but she was also a coach driver who had to get us to Milford Sound in time for the boats. The bus was full of people, but only 13 of us were going on the Mitre Peak Cruise, which leaves earlier than the other companies. The others were going on the Go Orange boat, which we understood was to leave later, and was a bit busier and you got your lunch included. We had to pay extra and order in advance for our lunch, but we had brought our own, not least because it was cheaper and for those of us who might be fussy, it was safer. The boat however offered free unlimited tea and coffee (and hot chocolate).
The bus driver was also extremely mindful of the icy conditions. You could feel the bus move on the ice, and we passed one accident. While we didn’t stop at all the scenic view points she got us there safely and on time. Martin and I felt that we found out a lot about indigenous plants, the directional flow of the rivers and a lot more besides.
The cruise, the company we used and the bus had all been recommended by a friend. Martin was driving pretty much every day during this holiday, and it was suggested that he might want to take the views in and not drive it. We also had a boat to catch, if we stopped and I took too many photos I might be blamed for missing the boat! This was the right choice. It was a beautiful drive, stunning scenery (of course) and you got someone telling you all the places you should be looking out for.
The boat was the smallest of all the operators at Milford Sound. This had the advantage of not losing Eleanor, and being able to get up closer to the waterfalls and wildlife. It is also the only operator to take you down all 16kms of the fiord and out a little bit into the Tasman Sea. We were extremely lucky to view a pod of dolphins. Spotted in the distance by the captain, the dolphins soon came over and swam alongside, and under the boat. To get the photos and videos, most of us were hanging over the boat, and those of us with children were trying to get footage and hold onto the kids who were also hanging over. The boat slowed down, and we spent quite a long time with the dolphins. We then moved on though and saw rainbows from a few of the waterfalls. The captain and the bus driver said that the best weather to see Milford is when it has been raining as then you see the waterfalls in full flow. On the way back from the Sea, the captain got particularly close to a waterfall, and everyone on the bow deck got absolutely drenched! I was inside with a cup of tea. We also saw a group of New Zealand fur seals sunning themselves on stones. Milford Sound was beautiful. Would I have done the trip from Queenstown with an 8 year old? NO.
The next day, we went (in the rain) to Te Anau Bird Sanctuary. We walked along the lake (about 15 mins from the visitor’s centre) until we saw the sanctuary. Every day at 10.30 in the winter, (and earlier in the summer) you can go with the ranger to feed the birds. There is no entry fee, but you can leave a donation.We arrived just in time to go inside the Takahē’s enclosure. A big, blue, critically endangered bird, of which there are 4 at the sanctuary. We also saw the Kākā, a vibrant green native parrot with the scarlet and orange feathers on the underside of their wings. The other notorious native bird we saw was the kea. The kea is the only native alpine parrot and is known for its intelligence. We only spotted this bird out of the bus window on the way to Milford. (I was on the back row of the bus in the middle seat of five. I was impressed I got this picture!) We hadn’t seen a kiwi. We would have to wait to the North Island for that one. The other “attraction” at Te Anau is the Glowworms, but we also waited to the North Island to see them too. From Te Anau, we left to go back to Queenstown for one night. We had a quick reunion with our new friends from Franz Josef who had made it down from Auckland having witnessed the draw that ended the British and Irish Lions tour of NZ. A draw that some people were disappointed by – but the All Blacks are the best team in the world, and in many ways it was the best result.
The South Island was our preferred island, scenery wise. How would the North Island compare…