by sam on 9th April 2017
View of Milford Sound from the car park
We're staying in Te Anau, the last town on the only road into Milford Sound, it's not actually that far distance wise between the two, but the road is windy and steep.... But boy is it stunning! We've said that a lot this trip, but this has to be one of the best routes to drive (so far!)
We decided to drive ourselves rather than get a bus, as its out of season so shouldn't be so busy, apparently it's crazy busy in summer so buses are better to relieve the roads a bit, but with the kids we could a top where and when we wanted, and it worked well for us. The travelling itself is about 2hrs, maybe a little under, but we stopped 7-8 times en route as it was just too pretty to drive by. J said the the highlight of the holiday so far is this road trip, not even the Sound at the end!
We had a slight first world problem, when we realised that all the info I had researched about little known places to stop en route, and distances etc were all saved on the iPad....but we were in the middle of nowhere with no phone signal never mind 3G...so we had to backtrack a few miles to get some signal to find everything and save it offline!
Our first official stop was at the Mirror Lakes, a popular stop that all the coaches go to. If you are lucky with the wind, the sun and the time of day then you get a great reflection of the surrounding mountains in them...we were lucky on all counts!
We are told that the weather is more often than not rainy in Milford Sound, but that is what makes it more stunning as all the water falls fill up and whole cliffs just turn into hundreds of waterfalls...irony of ironies....we had our best day of weather since we arrived...all day..not a a drop of rain!! Made the photos of the mirror lakes great though!
Our next stop was Lake Gunn, this was just supposed to be a pretty lake, we think, but it was as mirror like as the Mirror lakes, just on a bigger scale.
Monkey creek was hilarious, our poor little car got attacked by 2 cheeky Kea birds, Mountain parrots that love to eat anything....windscreen wipers, tyres, roof bars- think Longleat monkeys! Liss was utterly petrified from inside the car, but came out to look after a while and had a laugh, but at a distance!
The Homer tunnel was the last leg of the journey, a 1.2km steep downhill tunnel through the mountain about 10km from Milford. Before the tunnel was built about 60 years ago, there was no road access there, so it could only be accessed by sea ( like most of the other Fiords nearby) which would take days. You have to wait about 15 minutes for the traffic from the other direction to come through at the traffic lights but it's worth it when you get to the other side and have the hairpin drive down the other side.
Another boat like ours under the falls for scale
Milford Sound itself is technically not even a sound, it's a Fiord, was carved from a glacier running through it a very long time ago. It's about 35km long and leads out to the the Tasman Sea, and is pretty spectacular. The captain of our boat said that we chose a boring day to go out as the weather was too good, so there wasn't so much wildlife about, and most of the crazy wild waterfalls weren't there at all, but we could see all the snow capped mountains, the top of the stunning Mitre Peak, King of Fiordland, and a couple of the permanent waterfalls, while sitting in bean bags on the top deck of the boat. Based on recent boat-antics, I was happy more than with this!!! Even managed to eat the free fish and chips!
We cruised up the South side to the Tasman sea, lopped round and came back up the North side. We stopped to look at seals a couple of times, one was playing with a fish ball in the middle of the Fiord. We gawked at a lot of ridiculously high cliffs and valleys and wondered how many people had ever walked on different parts that looked like they'd never been touched and in the return half, the boat reversed (deliberately) into the enormous Stirling Falls to catch some water so you could see how fresh it was to drink straight away. The kids loved this bit! Only the smaller boats could manage to do this, but you can see the scale of another boat similar sized to ours in the photo.
Our boat :)
The return journey was a bit quicker as we only stopped a couple of times. Once at the Chasm, a really hard to describe or photograph place, where huge boulders have got caught in a waterfall so often that they have carved this great series of holes in the cliffs that the pounding water has then worn away more, so the water just kid of pours vertically through these enormous holes into a pool at the bottom. The colour and power of the water are something else.
Christie Falls at Falls Creek was also worth a quick stop, but by then we were getting hungry so went on back to our little campsite cabin by the lake at Te Anau, via a little pie shop that's always mentioned on Tripadvsior, Miles Better Pies, they were good, but I'm not convinced they were the best we've had here!!