Tuesday 3rd March – Milford Sound
Milford Sound is the highlight of the South Island of New Zealand for many people. For me (Rich) I couldn’t say it was just the sound that was spectacular. The combination of Queenstown, the scenic drive down to Te Anau and then along the Milford Highway before completing your journey at the Milford Sound really do make this one of the most spectacular trips you could take.
Based on recommendations from a number of people we opted for an overnight cruise on Milford Sound. This meant a bus ride down one day, overnight cruise then a return bus ride the next. For those that like to see the disasters strike our otherwise perfect (ha!) trips our bus broke down before we even made it to the Milford highway. This was quite a setback as we had been travelling in a fine scenic bus with seats pointing outwards and viewing windows in the roof. Sadly the replacement minibus wasn’t quite the same standard and did mean we couldn’t quite appreciate the drive in the same way. Real Journeys, our tour operator did make good in the end though by refunding the cost of the bus. Having enjoyed our TSS Earshaw dinner cruise and the Milford Sound overnight, even with set backs of rattily old buses we find it hard to fault them.
Despite our less than salubrious transport down to Milford Sound, the scenery is just outstanding – towering cliffs, fabulous valleys and atmospheric clouds combine to make a scene that is distinctly other-worldly. Due to our unscheduled bus related stop, we did have to speed through some of the stopping points, but we did get a chance to do a couple of short walks to check out the scenery up close.
(Vicki has taken over writing…)
Once at Milford, we hopped aboard our home for the night – the Milford Wanderer. This was a 36-person boat, and provided us with a very cosy cabin that would have been all to easy to get settled in. However, there were activities on offer and Rich was (surprise surprise) keen to get involved. He had already become acquainted with the sound when he stepped out to take a photo shortly after leaving the harbour and got drenched head to foot by spray.
Carrying on the watery theme we opted for Kayaks in order to get a closer view of the cliffs, and spent a very enjoyable hour of so paddling about. Richard was then keen to see exactly how cold swimming in the fjord was, and so we both went in for a very quick swim. Refreshing would be one word for it. After a surprisingly good dinner and lots more photo taking we retired to our cabin, surprised at how tiring it was sitting on a bus for most of the day.
Wednesday 4th March – Back again
After an early breakfast, our boat went on a scenic drive out to the Tasman sea, and then back along the sound, which gave more opportunities to admire the stunning scenery, and even the opportunity to see fur seals basking on rocks along the coast line. It was a shame to get off the boat when we got back to Milford, especially given that our bus had not been repaired and we had to take the dodgy little mini bus all the way back to Queenstown. On the way back we did have time for a few walking stops, which broke up the 6 hours or so journey. However, I think we were all glad to be able to finally unfold ourselves from the minibus back in Queenstown.
The rest of the afternoon involved a walk up the hill in Queenstown. Now, most people would just get the gondola up to the top to admire the view, but not us, we decided it would be fun to walk it. About 10 minutes in, whilst almost on hands and knees scaling a particularly tough bit, we (well, me at least) were ruing our decision to walk. However, the views at the top were worth it, and as the mountain/hill is shared with Mountain Bikers (on separate paths) we got to see some hair raising bike rides whilst climbing.
At the top of the hill is also a ‘luge’ run where you get to race mini karts around a track whilst looking at the view. There are 2 tracks and we decided to have a go at each – kamikaze Rich won both, although in my defence I would like to add that I at least kept all of the wheels of my kart on the ground during the run.
(Back to Rich…)
One thing that we missed so far on our trip were Kea. These are a parrot that are meant to be incredibly mischievous. We had heard stories of them stealing food and pulling the rubber seals from cars. They are also the only alpine parrot for those more interested in the ornithological perspective, and look like a cross between a parrot and a bird of prey. In any case we did not see any. To make up for this I was drinking a fine IPA called Mischievous Kea this evening. It went down very well. That combined with the sunset over the lake and a delicious rump steak in the Atlas Beer Cafe made a memorable evening in Queenstown (even if we did have to alternate dashing away to complete various stages of laundry). We have enjoyed our time here and can see why the town appeals to many tourists. There really is something for everyone here. Tomorrow we pick up our hire car to move on and are looking forwards to more adventures.