Wednesday, January 21, 2009


JANUARY 18, 2009 - (10/122) - MILFORD SOUND

Milford Sound is a World Heritage site in southwestern New Zealand in the Fjordlands National Park. It is a 598km (371 miles) round trip from Queenstown. We have been told to allow twelve hours and it takes exactly that amount of time.

We are up by 6:00, daylight comes early this far south, and on the road by 7:00. It is Sunday and there is no traffic on the road. We follow Collins Bay for about 30km out of Queenstown.
It is a cold morning and the sun is very pretty as it came up over the mountains to our east. The landscape is very much like New Mexico and portions of Colorado. Bare, high hills with cultivated valley bottoms and some irrigation. The clouds are below some of the mountain tops and, in one place, on the road as fog. In the first 180km we only saw 35 cars and trucks going with us and heading toward us. Where are all the people?
We arrive in Te Anau around 9:00 and start the 120km drive to the head of Milford Sound. The road is well maintained and two lanes with some passing lanes. Lake Te Anau, which we follow out of town, is huge and the same beautiful blue we have seen all along our trip. The land also begins to change too, from the Colorado look to the Jurassic Park look we mentioned a few days ago. Huge ferns line the road and the trees are moss covered. As we begin the climb up through the mountain valleys following a rushing stream, the land changes again to lush, high meadows full of alpine flowers and lots of camping spots, no services provided!About 20km from the head of the sound, we have to wait for the signal at the one-lane tunnel on the road. It is on a 15 minute signal cycle; cars or no cars! The tunnel is very rough and steeply sloped downhill for its 1.2km length. At the exit, you come out onto a steep downhill, switchback road that is slow going but not all that bad. At 10:45 we pull into the Milford Sound parking area.We purchase tickets for the 11:45 "Red Boat". The famous Mitre Peak is visible as we are boarding, but disappears into the clouds by the time we get out into the sound. Our ticket includes lunch, the three hour tour, "Threee Hour Tour", that will take us to the Tasman Sea plus a visit to the submerged research station, the Underwater Observatory. On the tour, it is explained that Milford is really a fjord not a sound. The early sailors made a mistake in calling Milford a sound. We see Southern fur seals, a nest of baby Black Back gulls with a very upset mother and two groups of playful dophins. The research station is interesting. Basically it is a tube 30 meters down into the water with a circular room at the bottom of 60 stairs. There are windows all the way around that look out onto the underwater life of the sound. We saw six armed star fish, black coral, anemones and various fish.
Now, don’t get us wrong, Milford Sound is very pretty and impressive and worth seeing. But, if you have been to Alaska or Norway, it simply is not worth the effort and time to get to this Fjord. We have seen much more impressive roads and fjords in Alaska and Norway. If you have not been to those places, then, by all means, go to Milford Sound. If you have been or plan to go, do something else with your time and money. The Queentown area is loaded with other great things to do and see!

We were back at the dock at 2:45 after a pleasant outing and on the road by 3:00. The four hour drive back was something of a beating and we were very glad to back in Queenstown at 7:00.


Rick said...

I finally caught up on all the reading after a week of caring for my invalid. It sounds like you are having a wonderful trip. Celia is doing great and should be back to work on Monday (1/26). Teddy finally got to spend a week at the spa...err, farm. We have been deprogramming him in earnest for several days now. Take care and continue to drive safely.

Linda said...

Again, it looks like you had another beautiful day of adventure. Your pictures are great. I have always heard that New Zealand was a great vacation spot. Be safe.