The next destination is one that is on all the New Zealand to do lists I have seen so far: Milford Sound. This is where the New Zealand Fiords live. Actually, Milford Sound is a part of the Fiordland National Park that lies on the other side (so the Western side) of the Southern Alps, of which Mount Cook is a part. In fact: we are almost closer to Mount Cook here than we were on the other side when we did the Hooker Valley track!
In the morning we set out to Fiordland national park, which is about a 2-hour drive to the harbour from where our Milfrod Sound cruise departs at 5pm. A lot of tourists are picked up at Queenstown and driven back and to Milford Sound (which is 4 hours one way) so the cruises in the middle of the day are busiest and most expensive. Being fed up with tours and people on tours thinking they have some kind of special right to the sight whenever they arrive, we decided to take a later tour. And since the sun goes down two hours later than in Australia and there are no kangaroos or other mammals to look out for while driving in the dark, there really is no need to be home before sunset anyways.
Like I said: we left early for a 2-hour drive. Technically speaking this meant that we had all the time in the world to do some hiking along the way and still be on time for our cruise’s departure. Spoiler alert: in the end we were practically running to catch our boat…
The strange thing is, is that I do not really understand what happened there. Yes, we did stop at all the sights along the way, but most hiking you can do is either long (several hours) or very short (10-30 minutes). Since we only had one day here, we didn’t do any of the longer hikes, but practically all the short ones. So it may be ‘just’ short hikes up to viewing point, they are definitely worth it and in total still take up a whole day. Here are some of the beautiful things we saw while driving through the national park:
You can find all walks and information online.
We even saw a kea at the end of the day, the real treat because there are only about 5.000 kea left in the wild! When we first crossed paths with this native alpine parrot, he was sitting under a car. So in order to lure him out of his hiding, I started to pile stones. I read that kea are smart and curious birds, so when you start to make a tower out of stones they come over and check it out. Well, not this one! Apparently I have to improve on my masonry skills…
After meeting the kea, we drove through the Homer tunnel. No, not named after Homer Simpson, but after William Henry Homer who discovered this specific piece of nature. In fact, he did it together with George Barber in 1889 while on a surveying expedition, but the tunnel was only named after Homer. Maybe because he was the one who suggested digging a tunnel there? At any rate, the tunnel is old and dark an leaky and opened in 1954 after 19 years of handmade construction! I cannot for the live of it imagine to dug a whole through a mountain, by hand, for 19 years… They began works with only 5 men! Eventually more workers joined them and the tunnel first enabled mass access to Milford Sound (before that you could only hike over the mountain ranges to get there). No wonder that tourism started up soon after and nowadays 100.000’s people a year(they expect 1.000.000 people in 2019) visit what some call the eight world wonder.
Last stop: the cruise. Unfortunately mr. Scientist hadn’t read the ticket right, so at first it looked like we were late because the parking lot wasn’t located right at the harbour, but a 10-15 minute walk further down. So after hurling ourselves to the harbour as fast as possible (I reminded myself that I wanted some experience, so shouldn’t complain), it turned out that our cruise was scheduled to depart 30 minutes later than we ‘remembered’. Oh well! At least we were in time after all.
The cruise itself was pretty amazing. We booked our tour with Go Orange cruises but research showed that all touroperators were doing the same route along Milford Sound, with the same duration, in practically the same boats (unless you explicitly book a tour on a smaller ship). On our way up to the Tasmanian Sea (which is halfway point where the ships turn to go back) it was a bit foggy, which meant that it was a bit cool out on deck, but the Fiords looked pretty awesome:
In order to keep warm, I decided to take over the ship.
Because taking over a ship makes you hungry and since we “had” to run for the boat and left our food in the car, we bought some fish and chips on board. Yum! Especially the fries were very good. On our way back the sun began to shine, which made the fjords look totally different:
I also saw some lazy fur seals enjoying in the sun:
And almost at the complete end of the cruise, we cruised so close to a waterfall, that is was almost like having a shower!
In case you are wondering (like I did) what a sound actually is and what the difference is between a sound, a bay and fiords, here is a good article I found online.