DAY 7-Milford Sound
17 October 2015
The rain continued all night until Saturday morning. The road to Milford Sound was closed last evening due to a landslide. Before we leave, Nik checked to be sure the road is open. By 8 am we had pulled out of the holiday park. The tour buses will start ascending by 9 am, so we’d better be ahead to avoid congestion. It was still drizzling and I prayed for good weather.
It is about 120 km from Te Anau to Milford Sound and that should take 2 hours of non-stop driving. The ascend started off with gentle slopes through dairy farms and sheep farms. I know there are mountain peaks ahead of us, but we could only see clouds. The river on our left was gushing with a swell. We were on flat land, an area known as Knob’s Flat. Here the road is fairly straight and flat. There are many lakes, creeks and rivers. All along the way up to Milford Sound, the creeks and rivers were roaring and gushing with heavy flows from the yesterday’s rainfall. It was still cloudy, thus getting a good picture at Mirror Lakes was out of the question.
As the climb gets steeper, the road becomes winding. By now the snow capped peaks were visible. Water falling of the steep mountain sides formed many mini waterfalls. The drive should have taken two hours, but it took us nearly three. We made many stops along the way to snap photos of rivers, lakes and waterfalls. When we got off to visit the Chasm Falls, there was a smell of burning rubber. The new tyre was emitting little fumes.
The Kea, an Alpine parrot is a friendly bird often seen greeting visitors in the area. They appear hungry and one bird pecked at my shoe. And if you see a dead bird on the road, it is likely to be a Kea.
The road is now steeper and has sharp bends. Soon after Hollyford River, we came to a Homer Tunnel. The queue took about 8 minutes as the tunnel allows only a single lane of traffic. Leaving the tunnel, it was going down hill with a few hair pin bends. The motor home guy suggested we take the tour to Milford Sound to spare us the challenging drive. But then, driving along a scenic route and challenging road is in itself part of the pleasure and adventure of motor home travel. The view here is nothing less than spectacular. By now the sun was out and I hoped the lovely weather holds.
From the car park at Milford Sound to the visitor’s centre is a good 15 minutes’ walk. We arrived at Jucy’s ticket counter just in time for the 11.15 am boat cruise. In our haste both of us forgot to enquire about the visit to the Underwater Observatory.
It was very windy and cold up on the upper deck of the boat. I had problems keeping my balance when I stand up or walk about. I have never seen so many mountains with steep, rugged and jaggered peaks like they have here in this fiord. The mountains of the Fiordland have many ridges formed from the movement of the massive glaciers. What appeared like snow on the peaks from far is actually ice. My words will not be able to describe the sheer beauty of this awesome place. So enjoy the pictures.
Towards the end of the lake, as we approached the Tasman sea, the boat made a turn for the return journey and almost suddenly the strong wind seemed to cease. The boat went under a waterfall and everyone out in the open deck was drenched and made a rush inside. The enormous volume and power of the cascading water were beyond my imagination.
Fiordland has achieved World Heritage Status for its stunning natural features, exceptional beauty and role in demonstrating the earth’s evolutionary history. And of the fourteen fiords in the Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound is the most famous and accessible.
Nik had booked for two nights at the Milford Sound Lodge, (see http://budgetglobaltraveller.com/milford-sound-lodge/) a small holiday park situated by the Cleddau River. Later in the afternoon we went for a walk by the river. It was a warm and sunny day in a gorgeous landscape of towering mountains, shimmering lakes and fast flowing pristine rivers. It was a perfect day. I could not ask for more.
Sometime during the early night it started to rain. By the time we were getting into bed, the wind was already gusty. Throughout the night the wind blew intermittently, but each time it came pretty strong. It shook and rocked our motor home. The next morning we left for Te Anau even though we had paid for a second night at Milford Sound Lodge. The activities available like kayaking and mountain trekking are something we are not prepared for, nor familiar. Go for the helicopter ride? Oh, yes….we could do that, but that would cost just as much as the air ticket to go home.
Milford Sound is the wettest place on earth as we found out later. Before making a trip to this mountain area, it is advisable to get the latest update on the road closures or openings and if snow chains would be compulsory. Nik took chances when he opted not to rent a snow chain.