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New Zealand: Auckland, Christchurch, Milford Sound, Mount Cook, Queenstown, Rotorua
Milford Sound, New Zealand: Floating in tranquility
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
When it rains its beautiful. When it shines its bliss. And rain it does in Milford Sound a region on the Southern Islands of New Zealand. Milford Sound invites over 7000 mm of rain every year. It’s a fjord (long narrow inlet of water with steep sides or cliffs created in a valley carved by glacial activity) about 300 kms from Queenstown which generally would be the base town to make a day trip to Milford Sound.
On our second day of arrival in Queenstown (my experience in Queenstown appear elsewhere), we had scheduled a day trip to Milford Sound. It would be about 600 kms round trip. Given the beautiful roads of New Zealand sans traffic, the drive would be fun and beautiful as we discovered. In fact, there would be a competition as to what was better; the journey or the destination?
It had snowed last week and the road to Milford Sound was closed for a few days. However, we were lucky. The road was clear but as per law (winter driving) it was necessary to carry snow chains for our car. Therefore, the previous evening, we hired a set of snow chains at Hertz’s city office in Queensland. We would return them the first thing next morning to ensure that we were charged the rent only for a day which was $15. Thankfully, the road was clear all along. We were saved the trouble to fit our front tyres with the chains.
Normally, 4 hours would be more than enough for the 300 kms drive. However, with picture stops on the way, it’s a good idea to add a couple of more to the journey. We started at 6:30 in the morning. As soon as we left Queenstown behind, our stops began – to shoot the beautiful landscape and of grazing cattle and sheep against the morning sun. I trust the pictures in here will do more of the narration.
It would be customary to take a break about mid way at a small town named Te Anau. While having breakfast there is optional, filling your car up isn’t - there’s no gas station thereafter. However, we did both. Breakfast at Subway. And a tank full at one of the gas stations. The going rate for a 91 octane was $1.87 a litre.
The landscape changed dramatically after Te Anau – view of plains and snow capped mountains was awesome. The icing on the cake was a stop at Mirror Lakes. As the name suggests, the still water of the lakes (quite small in size as compared to the massive lakes that New Zealand has) reflect the snowcapped mountains in fine details. Just prior to Milford Sound, we crossed the famous Homer Tunnel which is 1.2 kms long. Because it was an avalanche zone, we were not allowed to stop our cars. Missed pictures!
Finally, we arrived at Milford Sound at noon. We had opted to cruise with Southern Discoveries. Nice folks with some great boats. Visitors have two options. A ‘Scenic Cruise’ and an ‘Encounter Cruise’. The first one lasts for 90 minutes and is a larger boat whilst the later cruise lasts for about 120 minutes and takes you up close to the cliffs (and its wildlife) due to smaller size of the boats. We opted for the Encounter Cruise that would depart at 12:45. Departures are scheduled as per the season. It’s definitely a good idea to book your cruise in advance. Southern Discoveries and other tour operators, namely Real Journeys, offer the option that includes transfer and the cruise. Transfers could be in a bus or a scenic airplane or a combination – depending upon how much you are willing to pay. The encounter cruise costs $90. You have the option to buy a snack bag for $15 – sandwich, fruit, cookies and a pack of juice. Hot beverages are complimentary on board.
When we arrived at the pier (you have to walk for a km from the parking lot), it was misty all around and there was a slight drizzle too. As our boat moved, the sun was out! What more could a photographer ask for? For the next two hours we cruised the North and the South side of the fjord, saw its many waterfalls (they last only for a few days post rain), the Mitre Peak (largest peak of Milford Sound), birds and seals and many formations in the cliffs. The return journey began just near the open seas.
We were at the pier at 3PM, ready to drive back to Queenstown. On our drive back, we made a few more stops reaching Queenstown at 8 PM. Our beds at Rydges Lakeland were more than welcome!
Milford Sound Image Gallery Photo viewer
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