It was a cloudy, but still warm day on Monday…
Rob and I saved the biggest must-see sight on the south island of New Zealand for the last few days of trip. Milford Sound is world famous for its fjords, mountains and hikes (aka “tramps”). Most visitors opt for a tour bus to drive 4 hours each way from Queenstown, but that’s exhausting and doesn’t give you much time for exploring the area. Rob and I booked two nights at the well-located, not-so-glamorous Fjordland National Park Lodge.
We shared our backpacker’s kitchen with a gorgeous view of the lake with the construction crew working nights on the tunnel to Milford Sound.
The next morning, we we’re up and on the road by 7:00 am. The light and mist is dramatic coming over the rocky peaks.
We stopped to make friends with a couple horses. They have the BEST carrots in New Zealand and we carried a bagful in our car for snacking on the road the whole time.
We stopped briefly to catch the rising sun reflected in Mirror Lake. Getting going this early puts you about 20 minutes ahead of the earliest tour buses.
Love this photo of us!
One more stop on our way to the water, a quick hike to The Chasm – a dramatic rushing river cutting through rock as if it were ice..that is impossible to capture in photos accurately.
We arrived at Milford Sound harbor well before our cruise time of 11:00 am. Plenty of time for a coffee and chocolate croissant in the cafe and nice leisurely hikes along the coast to get the lay of the land.
The sun coming over the fjords and waterfalls is plenty impressing from land, but everyone is here to get on boats!
We booked one of the most affordable options, a 90 minute cruise for about $30 US with Jucy. Just perfect for us and quite empty! A pod of dolphins raced us around the fjord at various intervals.
They were pretty easy to spot in the clear water of the fjord.
The glacier-cut walls of the fjord are so dramatically steep. There was a lot of rain the day before we arrived so even the most rare waterfalls were flowing.
Those steep glacier cuts also make it really deep for boats all the way up to the fjord walls. Every cruise in Milford Sound takes a quick dip under one of the tallest waterfalls.
This ship is one of the few overnight cruise options in the fjords.
Rob and I had a picnic lunch on deck before docking again and heading to explore more of the fjordlands on foot.
There’s a daunting, one way tunnel through the rocks that connects Milford Sound with the rest of the island. It is dark, drippy and looks like it was just finished being carved out with a pick about an hour before. Spooky!
Rob and I decided to spend the rest of our day hiking the Key Summit Track on a whim. This three hour hike is a part of the famous multi-day Routeburn Track. There’s lots of ferns and small waterfalls on the way up – basically straight up, Rob had to help tow me at 4 months pregnant. The reward at the top is a gorgeous Lord of the Rings view of the mountains and tiny glacial ponds.
New Zealand has the most immaculate hiking trails. Only the kiwis would think to put a groomed and marked botanical walk at the very top of a 3 hour mountain hike. Informative signs about the unique plants that grow up here, including mini carnivorous varieties. Felt pretty great about making it all the way up here with this bump in tow!
The hike back down is much quicker and the drive back to Te Anau seems to go fast. Rob and I went for a nice dinner to celebrate our last day in New Zealand. The Redcliff Cafe is a cozy favorite for local venison, rabbit, lamb and fish. We slept in Milford Sound one more night and then flew out of Queenstown back to rainy California the next day.
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