Tuesday 29 December 2009
Milford Sound! Part of the Fjordland National Park in the southwest of the South Island, Milford Sound promises great scenery and a fantastic journey on a cruise through misty waters and mountains. It is part of a the Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage Site which covers about 26,000 km² including Mt. Cook, Fjordland, Mt. Aspiring and Westland. World Heritage Sites (Grand Canyon and Great Barrier Reef are World Heritage Sites too) are recognized by the UN as very important sites because of their cultural or natural importance. And Milford Sound really didn’t disappoint!
We left early in the morning to be picked up by Kiwi Discovery, a coach that was going to take us to the cruise in Milford. Our driver B, or Brucey as he referred to himself, was very entertaining, thankfully for a 4 hour coach ride, one way, to Milford. Here are some of the highlights I saw on the journey to Milford:
– Lake Wakatipu and the glorious blue, green water sparkling in the morning sun. Side note, it was also were Lothlórien was filmed in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
– Kawarau River where Lake Wakatipu drains and where AJ Hackett’s first bungee business is located
– we passed mountains where 2 high country sheep stations are located (both of which Shania Twain owns, apparently she purchased them for a whooping 22 million and has a huge house sitting up on the mountain)
– The Remarkables, a mountain range south of Queenstown which looks breathtaking at all times. During sunset, it looks like it’s glittering. During the day it stands majestically with a bit of snow on the top (only because it was summer). Story goes, the Remarkables got its name because it’s one of only TWO mountain ranges in the world that run North to South. I heard that if you ski from the top, you can see all the way to the ocean. Now that is incredible.
– Lake Te Anau: This lake is the second largest in NZ, extending out three legs to the West.
– We stopped by a lake called Mirror Lake, named so because the water is so clean that you can see your reflection when you look into the water. The weather wasn’t quite right while I was there, a bit cloudy and not enough sun. But I could see the stillness and a blurry reflection which was still impressive.
– We saw a number of interesting plants. There were tons of manuka trees (manuka is the Maori word for tea tree) that bees visit every year and make Manuka honey from (love that thick stuff!). There were beech trees probably over 400 years old. Many pines, which take 30 years to mature compared to 80-100 years of the same type in Europe. Plenty of lupines, broome and gorse, all 3 have no real use. The English and Scottish farmers introduced them when they settled for farm hedges! Broome looks like disgusting yellow weeds (reminded me a bit of the grass in Los Angeles actually) and gorse…don’t even go there. I hate the stuff since it ripped my shins and hands to shreds and left over 20 prickles in my hands the last time I fell into some in the bush.
– Made a toilet stop at Knob’s Flat. Hilarious name. It’s called that because there are huge mountains on either side of the valley and a river running on the left. The land is so flat that it was perfect for the road to be built down it.
– We also passed the Hollyford River. The water collects mountain water that’s 99.8% pure. So good I just had to scoop some in my bottle and try it. Even better than mountain spring water in a bottle! And just as Brucey said, it was the temperature of BC…for the scientists out there, you know what that stands for. Bloody cold.
– The last major sights were the remains of avalanches that had melted tons of ice close to the road and desecrated trees that had stood in the way. The real damage the avalanches cause is not from the snow falling but the rush of wind which can reach speeds of 200 km/h.
Finally about 1.45, I hopped onto the Milford Monarch, our cruise ship that took us into Milford Sound. (On a side note, bit of geography, Milford, also called Milford Sound, is actually a fjord (or fiord), not a sound. Both are bodies of water, inlets, that have two large landmasses on either side. The difference is that the fjords are created by glaciers.)
Riding into Milford Sound felt like I was on the canoe as the Fellowship paddled its way down the river at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. There were mountains surrounding me and a foggy mist that sitting on the horizon that surrounded the ship and made it heard to see far into the distance. The mountains had jagged rocks and different shrubbery growing. There were waterfalls intermittently and nooks and crannies that looked like they would make fantastic secret caves. I saw Mitre Peak through the fog, one of the most beautiful and most photographed mountain peaks in NZ. It sits on the still water peacefully and extends above the clouds. I feel zen even just looking at it.
One thing was missing however. Rain. It’s supposed to rain in Milford. Pour with rain because heavy winds from Antarctica blow up southerly winds which gives Milford its turbulent weather. Sadly, the rain took a day off while I was there. Not to worry. It made dolphin spotting much more pleasant. Yup that’s right. I was in for a treat. A school of dolphin swam past and decided the boat was their newest toy. They swam around the bow several times and chased each other around in circles. Very cute. Later we saw a bunch of lazy seals lounging on a rock absorbing warm sun before the clouds carried it away.
Those things looked like huge slugs lying on a rock. Kind of gross, in a cute way. On the way back we past Stirling Falls.
Maori legend has it that women who touch the water of the waterfall will look 10 times young. The falls were beautiful. And strong. The water thrashed down on the rocks and sprayed us all relentlessness. Price to pay for youth I suppose. Anyway, that was the end and we headed back. But the whole journey seemed so mystical and surreal. Part of it was probably the fact that I kept recalling scenes from Lord of the Rings in my head and imagined myself as an elf looking into the distance. Ruined the experience a bit to be honest. Nevertheless, it was breathtaking and quite a sight to see.
Highly recommend Milford Sound. Try to go when it’s raining one day though. I think it will give it an even more magical touch.