Ok, so a dramatic title. But seriously, down this end of New Zealand’s South Island you really do feel like a velociraptor is about to jump out at you from behind the nearest moss covered tree, or a pterodactyl is about to swoop down from the snow-capped mountain you’re gawping at and carry off a small child.
I know our New Zealand posts have just been full of “omg this place is amazing” and similar, but really… this place is amazing.
We got the bus in to Milford Sound, a long 5 hour journey from Invercargill starting at 6am. Getting up at the crack of dawn wasn’t fun, but the nearer we got to Fiordland, the wider awake we became. No sleepy heads nodding off on this journey – everyone on the bus was gawping out the window as we drove down Highway 94, one of New Zealand’s most beautiful roads.
We stopped for the iconic ‘jumping in the air’ photo in Eglinton Valley, and watched everyone else jumping up and down trying to get a decent picture. As you can see from the pic above, we didn’t join the masses, but spent time enjoying the view instead. Blakey hates taking the same photo as everyone else just because you feel you have to. I thought it looked quite fun…
Next stop was the Homer Tunnel, a 1.2km single lane tunnel carved out right through a mountain. The tunnel took 20 YEARS to build. People died. The postman had to scale the mountain on one side and absail down the other to deliver the mail to the blokes toiling away to dig it out.
Once the traffic light turned to green (this can take up to 20 minutes, there’s a big timer counting you down) we trundled on through the tunnel and watched the little patch of light at the end widen into the most awe-inspiring view into the Cleddau Valley, where the Milford Road continued it’s winding descent. Our Kiwi Experience driver for the day, Cowboy, timed it just right… as we left the tunnel he blasted out the theme of Jurassic Park over the speakers. Pictures can’t do it justice, but I tried!
As Milford Sound itself finally came into view, Cowboy told us that if anyone didn’t fancy the long bus journey back to Queenstown, there was the option to fly back for $390. Blakey and I looked at each other and grinned. Maybe that’s one of the advantages of being a 30(ish) backpacker… yeah we’re on a budget, but if an opportunity like that comes up, we have the option to say ‘fuck it, let’s do it!’. It seems like a lot of money to blow in 30 minutes of flying time, but think about the 10 seconds of bungy jumping, or couple of minutes skydiving… there’s a thousand ways in New Zealand to spend your money fast. This was just the latest.
Anyway, back to Milford Sound. We got our tickets from Cowboy (no idea what they cost, they were included with the Kiwi Bus) and hopped on the Jucy Cruise boat. The Milford cruise was an hour and a half round trip, taking us out slowly through the fiord to meet the Tasman Sea, before turning back and taking us in by Stirling Falls and back to dry land. The driver gave some commentary about the sights along the way, and took us in close to some seals chilling out on the rocks. We all got a good dunking at the falls as the boats all go right under so everyone can experience getting drenched by glacier melt water that has never touched another human. We wisely ducked back inside after the initial spray as we didn’t fancy sitting in wet clothes for the rest of the day!
I’m finding it really difficult to properly describe Milford… it’s known as the 8th natural wonder of the world, which gives you some idea of how amazing it is. You slowly make your way through the fiord, huge tree-covered mountains looming on either side, hundreds of waterfalls cascading down the sides. All you can hear is the wind and the water. It looks ancient, it looks mysterious, it looks untouched. You just need to go there.
That was the first two ways to see Fiordland… road and boat. The final part was the flight back to Queenstown. Our pilot came to meet us and we were whisked away to the little airfield, where we found our tiny propeller plane waiting for us. It was the most relaxed boarding procedure ever… no security, no passport, no baggage check. We just dumped our bags on one of the 6 seats in the tiny aircraft and then hopped in. The pilot told us we’d be the only two flying, so Blakey got to be co-pilot and sit in the front. You should have seen the grin on his face.
Fiordland from the air is something else. You obviously get to see Milford from a different perspective, but then there are the Southern Alps, the glaciers and the bright blue lakes, the hidden valleys you can only see from the air… and the Misty Mountains themselves. Another LOTR site ticked off the list. The descent into Queenstown over the lake was just as good, and getting back 4 and a half hours before everyone else was an added bonus. Another afternoon in Queenstown, yay!