Starting in Queenstown we passed Te Anau and continued along the scenic State Highway 94 to get to Milford. Every once in a while we made sure to stop, look around and enjoy the perfect weather and beautiful scenery.
The Fjordland National Park was established in 1952 and is a vast remote wilderness and the heart of South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. It is the largest National Park in NZ with over 1.2 million hectares of conservation area.
With rentals being relatively expensive during New Zealand’s peak season we decided for a small Hyundai Getz from Juicy rentals. With the left-hand traffic in NZ and the steering wheel on the right, Tini wasn’t driving on this picture:
The landscapes we passed were breathtaking and since we weren’t in a hurry we stopped every now and then to take in the views:
Some of NZ’s countless sheep. Perhaps these supply the wool for Icebreaker?
One of our stops was at the Mirror Lakes:
Small lakes provide reflective views of the Earl Mountains and waterfowl and wetland plants show against a backdrop of beech forest.
View into Eglington valley with mountains rising on both sides:
Climbing through the Southern Alps, State Highway 94 is one of the highest and most scenic state highways in New Zealand. From Te Anau the Milford Road leads through Fiordland National Park to Milford Sound which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Andy sneaking up to a bird for a close up picture:
Passing through unspoiled mountain landscapes and rain-forest carpeted valleys:
One of the most incredible features of Milford Sound is the journey to get there…
After 6 hours for nearly 300 km we arrived in Milford just in time to see the sun disappear behind the Milford Sound. Over the last two million years glaciers have covered the area, gouging into the rock and creating U-shaped valleys, many of which are now lakes or fiords. At Milford Sound rocky cliffs rise out of still water with forests clinging to the slopes.
It didn’t take long to become acquainted with one of the Fiordlands most common and notorious insects, the black fly (more commonly known as sandfly)! It is a small comfort to know that only female flies suck blood because they depend on a diet of blood and water…
According to Maori legend the responsibility for the sandflies lies with the goddess of the underworld, Hinenuitepo. As she gazed the beauty crafted by Tuterakiwhanoa, the carver of Fiordland, she became fearful that humans would not want to leave such a paradise. The creation of the sandfly was her reminder of our mortality and a warning not to linger too long. Nice story, however we can only agree with Captain Cook, who called the sandflies the “most mischievous animal”. The bite itself doesn’t hurt and only starts to itch and grow into a big red spot the next day…
After setting up our tent at the Milford Sound Lodge campground it was time for dinner and another sample of NZ’s wine 🙂
We were reading that Fiordland weather is often dramatic, extremely and unpredictable. Westerly airflows hitting and rising over the Southern Alps often create heavy rain and snow throughout the region. Rain falls in Fiordland more than 200 days a year with around 1200 mm falling in Te Anau and 8000 mm in Milford Sound. Rain on 200 out of 365 days means rain on at least every second day…
Already the next morning the weather had changed from clear and sunny to cloudy. But luckily without rain as we had booked a cruise through Milford Sound.
Milford Sound is 16 km in length and it is the northern-most of 14 fiords that make up the spectacular coastline of the Fiordland National Park. We passed by Seal Rock, where we saw the NZ fur seals climbing on the rocks and bathing in the little sun:
The marine environment of Fiordland is unique as well. Heavy rainfall creates a permanent freshwater layer above the sea water within the fiords. Stained by tannins washed out of the vegetation, this layer cuts down light, restricting the majority of marine life to the top 40 meters of water depth. These 40 meter are calm and relatively warm and for that home to sponges, corals and fish of subtropical, cool and deep water varieties.
The Dale Point marks the northern entrance into Milford Sound. Beyond this point the Tasman Sea begins. Coming from the see it is very difficult to see Milford Sound and thus was missed by Captain Cook and many other vessels for so long. John Grano, a sealer, finally discovered it in 1823 and named it Milford Haven after his birthplace in Wales.
On the way back we cruised very close to the Stirling Falls. At a 146 meter drop, it is the second largest permanent waterfall and is fed by glaciers situated in the mountains behind.
Getting closer to Milford the weather slowly improved and the sun finally gained the upper hand:
In the afternoon we did some short walks. One of them was the Chasm Walkway which first led through the forest:
Two bridges spanning over the Cleddau River offer dramatic views of a series of waterfalls. Thousands of years of swirling water have sculpted shapes and basins in the rock. The sheer velocity of water gives an appreciation of how much rainfall the Milford Sound receives per year.
And all around us we saw ferns sprouting and striving towards the light:
Back at the parking lot we saw a Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. These birds are very cheeky and as they are hoping for food they even get on top of cars and seem to love pecking at the antenna.
On the way back to Milford we stopped at a mountain river to cool our feet (have a look and remember the water level by checking the large rocks):
In the evening we prepared dinner and repeated our delicious vanilla, apricot milk rice dessert. Also this time it just turned out delicious:
So far we had been very lucky with the weather. The forecast for the next days had been predicting rain but then the forecasts don’t always turn out to be right.
This time however they had been spot on. Sleeping in our tent we woke several times during the night when gusts of wind blew charges of rain against our tent from all sides. By now we were confident out tent would remain dry and comfy on the inside so we just snuggled up and kept on sleeping till the morning, hoping for the rain to stop.
But as we woke, the rain had only grown fiercer and it was pouring from buckets with no end in sight. Unfortunately we had not been very foresightful or too optimistic and left all our rain gear in the nearby car. However now the car did not seem very near anymore and it was obvious that we would get drenched walking to the car…
Eventually Andy sacrificed himself and ran to the car in underwear to get the rain gear. Next time it would be Tini’s turn… 😉
In our rainproof jackets and pants we packed up the tent. We saw that almost all of the other campers had hastily left their tents and fled to the dry lodge in the middle of the night. Their tents were now either drenched in water or blown from the site…
After packing up we had breakfast and started our trip back towards Queenstown. We would have gladly spent at least another day at Milford, but not with this weather!
Along the way we saw newly created waterfalls which cascaded from the sheer-sided mountains all around us:
Several days earlier there had not been a single waterfall anywhere close!
Do you remember the mountain river, where we sat and cooled our feet the day before? This how it looked today:
We consoled each other, that we had experienced a true Fiordland visit with a rainy day. And as we headed back towards Queenstown, the weather slowly improved the further we got from Milford. In Te Anau the sky was almost blue again 🙂
Milford Sound is surely a beautiful place to visit and while we usually don’t let a little rain slag our tours and plannings, we learned that sometimes nature wins…