Milford Sounds, Fiordland National Park – Best of New Zealand in the worst of weather!
We are nearly at the end of our one year in New Zealand! We have travelled far and wide across both North Island and South Island, swam and kayaked at several pristine beaches and crystal clear lakes, went skiing for the first time, experienced the wonders of bursting geysers, hotsprings and volcanoes, hiked in several national parks, forests, mountains and even did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with the kids. And finally at the end of our travels here, I got the opportunity to visit Milford Sounds – 8th wonder of the world – located in Fiordland National Park 🙂
We had friends visiting from New York who had booked 3 days in Queenstown and were taking the scenic flight to Milford Sound. The whole trip is not cheap by any means and certainly nothing all four of us could do at this point in time when all our travel budget had been allocated to our upcoming 2 month road trip in Australia. But it just happened to be my birthday that week and as a birthday present, Ashique and my friends sponsored my solo trip to Queenstown and onwards scenic flight to Milford Sounds 🙂 I am a very lucky girl indeed!
There are several direct flights from Auckland to Queenstown but we were booking at the very last-minute (2 days before going) and found it really hard to get the direct ones – you can fly with Air New Zealand or Jet Star. Both are very good airways, and prices were similar. I ended up taking a 7am flight to Queenstown and a flight back from Dunedin to Auckland. Total came to NZ$300. I also had to take the 4 hour bus from Queenstown to Dunedin, cost $30 and it was a lovely scenic ride passing through gorges and lakes. If you book in advance, you can get cheaper tickets and lot more flexibility in times as there are several flights. From Queenstown Airport, you can take a shuttle, bus or taxi to town. The Bus was the cheapest and dropped me right outside Oaks Shore Hotel where my friends were staying. The hotel overlooked Lake Wakatipu and with the stunning mountain backdrop, it really was picture perfect.
We were supposed to take the scenic flight that afternoon but due to poor weather, the flights weren’t running that day (or the next 4 days after!) The choice was then to either drive that day to Milford Sounds or go elsewhere and hope for better weather the following day. We decided to go to Lake Wanaka instead. My friends went to Puzzle World and I enjoyed the time walking around Lake Wanaka, and running back inside every few hours because of the frequent showers. I finally managed to see the most photographed tree in New Zealand – the lone Wanaka Tree. By the time my friends were done it had started raining quite heavily and we headed back to Queenstown. I had really wanted to explore Queenstown that evening but the weather was just horrendous.
Next day we set out bright and early at 730am for Milford Sounds, located in the Fiordland National Park. The drive took us 4 hours, very scenic and lovely at the beginning with Laka Wakatipu alongside us and going through windy mountain roads. Eventually it started to rain as we got closer to the sounds, but wow! I had never seen anything like this in my life – hundreds of cascading waterfalls all around us, lush forests, granite rock cliffs, we were just awestruck by the stunning scenery. It was just pure unspoiled mountain landscapes and rain-forest valleys – It would have taken us a lot longer to get to Milford Sounds if we could have actually stop at any of the scenic spots or had the opportunity to take pictures. Everytime we even opened the window, we got drenched, it was raining so hard!
We eventually reached the visitor centre where you can buy ticket for different scenic cruises run by several operators. Cruises were running till 4:30pm. We went with a GO Orange nature cruise, as they had smaller boats and have less people on the boat even during the peak season. Costs vary between $45-55 for just the cruise. The cruise lasts 2 hours through fiordland and the advantage of going with the smaller boats is that they took you up close up to the waterfalls and cliff sides where you can spot wildlife. When we got on board, the rain had stopped, so we quickly went upstairs on the deck for the best seats during the cruise. Within 5 minutes of the ride, it started raining again! Thankfully during the next 2 hours, it rained on and off, and to be honest, it was still so stunningly beautiful, you didn’t care that you got wet. The cascading waterfalls, the many sheer cliffs and majestic mountains plunging into the deep waters of Fiordland. We saw seals basking on the rocks, we looked for the rare Fiordland crested penguin, also known as tawaki, but didn’t see them. On a clear day you would also be looking at mirror lakes with the mountains reflected in the water, but this day, there was no scope of seeing that. We got to the Tasman Sea but the water was so rough at this point we had to turn back.
In case someone didn’t know and was curious – “A fiord is a long, narrow inlet of sea, with steep sides gouged out by a glacier.” For more geography on the unique fiords of southwest New Zealand, see here. There are other ways to explore this region as well. On calmer days, you can kayak for half a day or even do the overnight cruise. There were several walks one can do before you even go on a cruise. There is of course the scenic flight itself, and many combinations of all the activities one can do here.
The weather only got worse when we got back to land. The 3.5 hour drive back was quite scary, we went through a hailstorm, saw lightning really close and it was raining cats and dogs. Also there is nowhere to get fuel along the route so make sure to get fueled up at Te Anau as there are no fuel stations until Milford Sound. Even there, the fuel pump is limited to certain credit cards. Having said all that, it was one heck of a scenic drive!
Milford Sounds is a true gem of a place, even in the worst of weathers! It really is a must do when in New Zealand, no matter how hyped up it is, you will never leave the place disappointed. I so look forward to being back here with the family, and staying for a longer period of time. This trip felt like a teaser for now…will entice us to come back to New Zealand after we are done exploring Australia and different countries in Asia 🙂
linked to #weekendtravelinspiration