It was an early morning rise for me to walk over to the Southern Discoveries center for a 7:00am departure. It was just a short walk from the Nomads hostel on this beautiful fresh morning. The moon was out big and bright just over the mountain peak.
I had booked this tour from the Southern Discoveries site online. The total cost for the day, transportation and all activities was $250 USD. This sounds like a lot but it was good value for the money. We get on board our big red coach bus and head for Milford Sound. It’s a 4 hour drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound but that’s part of the wonder with all the green countryside you see on the way.
Our bus driver regaled us with commentary (he’s a very good narrator) about the area geography, geology, history, legends, and fauna. There’s one Maori legend in particular about the formation of lake Wakatipu with a Maori Princess Manata who fell in love with a young man who was a commoner. Read about it here!
There’s a stop in Te Anau for a rest, coffee, and breakfast break at the Wapiti Cafe and Bakery for about 30min. I get an Americano along with a blueberry apple tart. I have time to walk around a bit and stretch my legs before we hit the road again.
We have a scenic stop for pictures at a place called Mirror Lakes in the Fiordland National Park. We take a short walk to a platform overlooking the lake for a panoramic view. There’s a mama duck and her family wading and nibbling around the water.
We need to pass through this one-way at a time tunnel (Homer) for 1.2 km (0.75 miles) through a mountain. There’s a sign that tells you when you can pass through.
We have a second stop for a small loop hike on an established path into a place called The Chasm. I nicknamed it ‘Ferntopia’ for all the variety of ferns encountered. The ‘chasm’ portion is a crystal clear blue river with waterfalls and sculpted rock formations.
We pass through Aspiring National Park and by one end of the Routeburn Track (I will have a post on this track). As we progress towards Milford Sound the scenery becomes more majestic where rock mountains are dripping with waterfalls. The skylight of the coach allows you to see all it’s splendor.
We arrive at the Milford Sound Cruise port. I can see our ship, the large white and red one that says Southern Discoveries. I get a few passes to hold onto. One around my neck for kayaking, one card for boarding, one for the lunch buffet (included in tour price), one for the underwater observatory.
We can see that we are blessed with perfect weather and clear blue waters today. It was raining only a couple days ago as this area gets a lot of rainfall. We are told even more rainfall than the Amazon rains forest.
The vessel gets underway quickly as we start our lunch buffet. They set it up to eat lunch right away, then you can go above deck (or stay below) and watch the views. You can see other vessels on the water, not crowded at all, just a couple others. We have some narration over the speaker while we are cruising.
The Captain will take the ship very close to the coastline to see some seals resting on a boulder. You can see a hierarchy amongst them with the largest seal at the top of the boulder.
The Captain will even move up within inches of two waterfalls.
We can see another ship going close to the waterfall, then it was our turn. I’m watching from the bridge as I compliment the Captain on his piloting skills right up to the wall without touching the rock.
When we come to the second waterfall, a large one, I head up to the bow to take a video. They warned us we would get wet but I was ready and have a waterproof smartphone. I’m getting misted as we approach and the Captain is still moving ever forward. At one point I scream OMG and have to leave because I’m getting pummeled with water. I descend back to the lower decks dripping wet. But no worries, I’m going kayaking next.
Not everyone on the cruise has the kayaking addition so those of us who do get off at a pier stop to continue our adventure. We are geared up and were provided with a quick briefing on how to paddle etc. by our guide.
We are a group of seven kayakers, plus our guide. You get into your kayak on this conveyor which is then lowered into the water. I’m immediately giddy and in awe of the surroundings as paddle out.
We make our way into a side channel and I spy these two ducks sitting on a boulder, one at the top and one at the bottom left which appears to be the female.
I’m amazed at the clarity of the water. Our guide tells us this is fresh from the glacier and nothing has touched it for years except for us now. I drink in several gulps of the water…hmmm, fresh and cold. Our guide says that will take 10 years off our age, it has miracle properties. I laugh and ask him if he’s 60 years old. He says he’s 5.
These kayaks are a little like canoes, they are not sit on top. As we congregate with our kayaks one guy in our group leans right a little too far and his kayak capsized. The water is brisk but not freezing. He can’t get back into the kayak, too difficult, so a boat is sent to pick him up as we kayak back to the pier. He turned out to be fine. Seems he got a little extra for the trip.
After we gear down we have a short visit to an underwater observatory which is right on the same pier. There’s a spiral staircase running down the center about 10m or 34 feet down. You can see the local fish such as triggers swim buy. We spend maybe 15 min there before an announcement that our ship is here to take us back to the port.
It’s a smaller ship. We get to see more views of the Milford Sound on the way back and then board our coach bus for the trip back. This time a different driver.
I’m very relaxed now and enjoying the views along the roadside more blissfully and not worried about taking more photos. I’m sighing at the success and memories of a perfect day. We make another stop at Te Anau on the way back for a rest before arriving back in Queenstown at just about 9pm.