On the day we left Queenstown, we made a quick stop at a little town called Glenorchy. The drive is about an hour scenic route along the lake with a view of The Remarkables on the other side. The town is really small, but is situated in the most beautiful spot. We stopped for a coffee in a cafe that was a converted old house and a little store with all sorts of local trinkets. Lastly we walked along the water to take in the view.
It was a nice easy start to our day as we were leaving Queenstown, but the only way to get to Milford Sound, our next stop, was to back through Queenstown. So we drove the beautiful route again and drove back around through Queenstown. We made a grocery shop at the local Countdown and then continued on. We drove on the other side of the lake following the mountain range to Fiordland National Park. It’s the largest national park by a substantial size. It takes up the southwest corner of the island and is filled with fiords and sounds. We were curious by the difference between the two (considering I had no idea what either were before coming here) so I’ll save you the google search.
Fiord – A long narrow inlet with steep cliff sides created by glacier erosion
Sound- A large sea or ocean inlet which is larger than a bay and deeper than a bight.
Funny enough, Milford Sound isn’t a sound at all. It’s a Fiord.
The only town before Milford is called Te Anau, so our first drive was to there so we could get gas. The drive was kinda crazy, it was really beautfiul, but as soon as we were past the remarkables the moutains disappeared into the distance and it was a lot of rolling hills. And it was WINDY. Rachel who was driving had to hold the steering wheel hard. This was, in my opinion, one of our coldest days. I say ‘in my opinion’ because this was the day I started to get sick, it was the worst of the sickness (thank God) but still not very good. I had a sore throat for a couple of days, but that was about it. I was really worried when I started to feel bad that it was going to ruin some of the stuff we were doing, but fortunately it never did! And thankfully it was a pretty chill day and we were just driving for most. Anyways, I had the chills so that’s why it felt way colder. After our gas fill up we went to our campsite in the park, there aren’t many campsites along the road to milford, and we had a 9 am boat ride the next morning, which meant we were going to have to wake up early to drive the rest of the way.
There were only a few other people at our campsite, but we made our dinner and played cards as always and went to bed early because we were waking up at 5:30 the next morning.
It was a difficult wake up.
No one really talked as we got ready and put shelley away. And lucky me it was my driving day. So we were on the road by 6 or so. We were supposed to be 45 minutes early so we had to be there by 8:15. So I started driving in the dark along the windy roads. We entered a forested area and I knew we were getting closer. The clouds were really low and so the light was blocked. We turned a bend and staring right at us was the biggest mountain I’d see yet, snow capped and all, only illuminated by a bit of sunlight near the top. It was stunning. The rest of the drive continued like this, twists and turns between the 8mountains with only glimpses of their beauty. Then the coolest thing happened. We had driven through tunnels and such on lots of our drives, but many of them short and very industrial looking. But this was different, this was a cave. The tunnel had obviously been man created, but the rock facade of the walls was kept in tact. So I got to drive through a cave, and a long one at that. On the other side was the fiord. Just a bit further was the car park, which is a bit of a walk from the boats. We got there, parked, and realized we had a lot of time. So we hungout in the warm car, got some coffees, and then walked over to the terminal. Inside there are booths for all the different boat operators. We checked in at ours and boarded our boat.
It was a pretty big boat, with probably just under 100 people on board. We started on the back as the boat pulled out of the harbour. As the tour continued through the sound we moved all around the boat to get the best view. The views were breathtaking. There were waterfalls everywhere, ranging from little streams to massive gorges. There were the biggest mountains surrounding us as our tiny boat travelled through.
As we were approaching the open waters the five of us were all standing together at the front of the boat. We were looking off into the water just about to change location when MK was being waved up by the captain. Just above us was the bridge where the captain was driving the boat. It took a minute of confusion to understand that he was waving us up to where he was. So one after the other we hesitantly took the little ladder up to the bridge. There we met Dennis, an older man driving our boat through the sound. He introduced himself and asked us about ourselves. He told us it was his last day working there, and this was his last ride. We asked him all about his time in Milford and he told us stories about driving boats and what it was like all the years he’d done it. And as he was sharing with us he let each of us take hold of the boat for a minute.
After meeting our friend we went to sit inside the boat. The ride came with a free sandwhich so we enjoyed those and ventured out again. As we were heading back through the sound toward the harbour Dennis came over the intercom and pointed out the dolphin that was swimming alone beside the boat. We were near the front of the boat and were trying to see. He was right, there was one dolphin near us. We saw it come up for air a few times. He then said he was going to try and ride with the dolphin, whatever that meant. So he zoomed ahead and slowed down again. He then called down to Steph, who was at the very front and said “hey canadian, look over the edge to see if she’s there”. Steph, in all her confusion, went forward and looked over the edge and then she squealed with excitement. We all quickly ran up beside her to look, and there, exactly as Dennis had said, was the dolphin, riding right alone the front. It was beautiful. And seriously took my breath away since it was such a shock to see it so close.
We eventually docked, went back to Dennis to say thank you and to wish him a happy retirement. And spent a few more moments on the dock before we had to say goodbye to Milford Sound.
As we drove out of the national park, this time in light, we made a few stops. One place was called The Chasm. It’s a giant waterfall that falls into this giant chasm, it was huge and beautiful!
Afterwards we drove out through the beautiful park back to Te Anau. We stopped at the gas station for a bit and had some snacks and then continued on to Invercargill. Quite a lot of driving but also a really great day!