BootsnAll Travel Network

Sounds like…fiord?

If I had to guess, I would say that Milford Sound is probably one of the top three most visited destinations in New Zealand.  When it was first discovered by James Cook, he called it a Sound because the word fiord didn’t exist in the English language, it is a Scandinavian word. But Milford Sound is technically a fiord, which means it is formed by a glacier, whereas a sound is formed by a river. The minute I arrived in Queenstown, there were ads and fliers and tons of information on all the various tours and trips you could do out to the Sound. There are options of flying into and out of Milford, taking the bus, cruise, overnight cruise etc. You also have the option of staying in Te Anau, a small town which is much closer to Milford than Queenstown. There is also another option of going to Doubtful Sound, which is a little bit further away and less popular, but apparently no less spectacular. I think the main reason that Milford is so popular though is because of the drive out there.

I really wanted to fly out of the Sound, but the flying option would have cost me double, so I opted for the bus in/ overnight cruise/ bus out option. I chose the overnight cruise mainly because the Sound is supposed to be a lot different in the morning without all the day cruises. Plus, it was a 5 hour drive from Queenstown, and I didn’t feel like doing that return trip all in one day. I called pretty late to get a booking, and was happily informed that not only did I get the last spot for the overnight trip on Thursday, but I also got the boat I wanted, The Friendship. There is only one company that does overnight trips and they have three boats. The two others sleep 60 people and are varying degrees of luxury. My boat slept only 12 people, and I thought that would be a much more interesting experience. It’s always sort of a crapshoot with tours like that. I could have ended up with 11 other people who were all on a tour together or something, but luckily, the group I had was a nice mixture of couples and other single folks and we were all pretty relaxed.

My bus picked me up at 8:15am and after checking in and picking up some more people, we were on the road about 9am. Since our overnight cruise didn’t start until 4:30, we sort of took our time getting out to Milford, and we had to stop in a few places to pick up other passengers. Now, everyone kept telling me that the drive to Milford Sound was so spectacular, but frankly, I thought it looked like the rest of the country, really nice but nothing special now. After making our last stop in Te Anau, we started our drive to Milford. There was a point where I noticed the scenery changing slightly. The mountains were getting a little bigger, less farmland, etc. But nothing that really stood out. We stopped quickly at a place called the Chasm Gorge, where a river/waterfall had made these really beautiful and perfectly smooth and round holes in the granite. It was a really cool sight but really hard to take pictures of, since you are looking down at it from a bridge, it is hard to make out the depth of the different holes and rushing water. After the Chasm Gorge, we got to a place called The Divide. We passed through a tunnel which was carved out in a huge granite hill, basically by hand by the settlers.  After the tunnel, that is where the scenery made a stark turn.

The road began to wind quickly and tightly next to a rocky mountainside. I was lucky to have chosen to sit on the right hand side of the bus, because on my side, the view was breathtaking. The mountains and valleys rose and fell continuously for 40 kilometers, around the curves of the road, huge waterfalls and sheets of ice and snow could be seen coming off the mountaintops. We were able to make a few quick photo stops, but we were running a little late as there was construction on the road and we had to make our cruise. I managed to take a few pictures out of the bus as well, but it was really enough to just sit there and look. Our bus driver Ben was awesome, he grew up in the area and was so knowledgeable about not only the Sound but also the road and history and plants, animals etc. The fact that he was alarmingly nice goes without saying.

We arrived at the docks with about one minute to spare, and I quickly boarded The Friendship. It was a tiny boat but had all we needed. Two toilets, a shower, two six-bed bunks (wee little rooms), a bar, etc. The boat started cruising, and we were blessed with really nice weather. Milford Sound is supposed to be breathtaking in really rainy weather, with water pouring down over the sides of the cliffs and filling out the waterfalls, but I was happy with it sunny as well. Since we had such a tiny boat, we were able to get so close to the rocky walls that we were almost touching them. We actually got underneath a waterfall and were soaked, much to our driver Keiran’s glee. The cruise to the end of the sound actually didn’t take as long as I thought, and we turned around and went back through, stopping at a seal colony along the way. Since we had such a small boat, we moored inside the Sound, unlike the bigger boats that stopped on the outside of it by the sea.  We moored where are our kayaks were parked, and the crew, a woman named Carolyn, was busy grilling a big BBQ for us, and we sat down to a big dinner. After dinner, Keiran took us on a little bushwalk to the end of the Milford Track, a 4 day walked which was named by National Geographic as the best walk in the world. After that, the walk became so popoular that they now limit the amount of people who can go every day. Jan, Feb and March fill up in one day, somewhat like trying to get Cubs-White Sox tickets. After the walk, I played a little Trivial Pursuit with two Canadians on the boat, Mark and Aniko. We quickly realized that they make various versions of the game, as about 80% of the questions were about New Zealand. After we tired of that, we went outside and looked at the stars, and listened to the absolute stillness of the Sound. It got pretty dark out there, and the generator went off at 11pm. We all took that as our cue to retire to bed, which we were all glad to do. Considering how absolutely tiny the bunks and room were, I slept soundly. (pun intended)

The next morning, Carolyn woke us all up with the smell of bacon frying and we quickly got dressed and went out on the deck. The early morning on the Sound is what you are paying for on the overnight cruise basically. Since it is still dark out, the nocturnal birds were all still singing, which was strange since the moon was still out. But the sun quickly showed its face, and the top of Mitre Peak began to grow an orange face. Keiran quickly made an announcement during breakfast. Since we were moored in close to the dock, we were supposed to go kayaking for about 45 minutes before we got off the boat at 9am. However, another boat had called him and told him they had spotted dolphins further out. Since we had such a little boat, we didn’t have time for both kayaking and trying to go find the dolphins, so we had to vote. The dolphins won out, and while we didn’t actually find them, it was still nice to cruise along the Sound in the morning. The water is really calm, and there is no breeze whatsoever, so it was really different than the night before. I was a little disappointed to not get to kayak, but it was also pretty cold and I didn’t fancy getting into a bathing suit right then anyway. After what seemed like no time at all, we were back on our bu with Ben, who had overnighted on the Wanderer, the middle-range boat, and we all exchanged our stories of the evening. Apparently, there was an American folk band touring the country who happened to be on that boat, and they brought out all their instruments and everyone was dancing. A little different from my experience to be sure.

When I finally arrived back in Queenstown around 4pm, I got my backpack out of storage at my hostel and took a little nap. I then went into town to check email and grab some dinner, and was surprised to get an email from Birgit, the woman I did the Tongaririo Crossing with. She was arriving in Queenstown that night, so we managed to meet up at a small Irish pub. We made some plans to go for a big hike the next day, as I was feeling sloth-like from all the bus sitting that was going on.  However, when we met in town, there was a big market going on, which rapidly turned dangerous for me. I almost didn’t buy anything, but then a photography booth caught my eye. On our way back from Milford, we stopped for a tea break at a little shop called 5 Rivers. There were these photos superimposed on these blocks, and the pictures were just stunning. Since I can’t make decisions that quickly, I opted to not buy any, but I got the email of the artist, and was kicking myself the whole way home on the bus. Much to my delight, this was the same artist and he had almost all the same blocks with him. I was so happy, since the woman at the cafe told me that they were the only people that stocked his stuff. I talked to him for a while, and since they were almost half the price they were at the cafe, I bought 6 instead of 3, instead of using that savings for what it will probably cost to ship these things home. But I was so thrilled, as I haven’t bought much for myself in the way of souvenirs or rememberances. Birgit and I began our walk around the lake after that,  and had a picnic lunch. After getting back to town, we didn’t do a whole lot the rest of the evening, just strolled the streets and did some window shopping and ate some dinner. I left this morning for Dunedin, a college town on the East Coast. Birgit will join me tomorrow and we are booked on a famous wildlife tour here to see some animals. Sadly, it will be my last big activity that I do before I leave on Friday for Oz.

While I thought that Milford Sound was really pretty, I think the drive out there was even better, and I have to say I was slightly disappointed by the Sound. Once people hype something up to be so great, your expectations can get the better of you, and I was expecting to be just blown away. It was stunning, but it didn’t knock my socks off.  I don’t know if that means that I’m crazy, or that Milford Sound is overrated? Maybe it is better when it rains, I’m not sure. Where is the rain when you need it?

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One response to “Sounds like…fiord?”

  1. Uncle Chuck says:

    Kirsten: I am happy to report that I finally spent time in Paradise with someone I Love. That means that I have read all the wonderful reporting of your activities. You do a GREAT job and I really envy you, especially with my adventurous soul. Enjoy yourself and I will travel with you and enjoy it as well. Take care of yourself and I will be waiting for tomorrow or so for the next adventure. Love Uncle Chuck

  2. admin says:

    Thanks Uncle Chuck, for your kind words and for reading along. Say hi to Aunt Mary Lee for me! Hope you are both doing well.

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