Cruising around Milford Sound

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2011

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Where I stayed
Lake Monowai DOC Camp

Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Sunday, October 31, 2010

We woke up and chanced the loo again only to be the appetiser for the bugs breakfast. The lake though was incredible again. It had a low lying layer of mist about 1m above the water and it was like glass. It was just beautiful. We continued the drive to Milford Sound stopping off at various lookout points along the way our favourite being The Chasm which is a thundering body of water that has shaped boulders in to fantastic forms.  Despite it being 8am we were still in somewhat of a conga line of coaches and minibuses en route to the Sound so we got our foot down a bit to try to leave them behind.  We came to the Homer Tunnel, carved in to a sheer rock face the 1207m long tunnel that took 20 years to complete as it was excavated by hand with just basic tools.  Now we had heard horror stories about this tunnel, one woman had cancelled her long reserved hotel room in Milford as she just couldn't face the thought of it!  We waited in line at the traffic lights (the tunnel is one lane) as the cheeky Kea’s, the worlds only alpine parrot, scavenged for food from the tourists.  Then we were off, it was extremely dark and downhill all the way – and apparently on a wet day it leaks a lot making driving conditions a hell of a lot worse.  Fortunately for us the weather was fine so we came out of it unscathed and out in to the beautiful Cleddau Valley 'ice carved ampitheatre’. 

The scenery was absolutely stunningly beautiful all white topped mountains and impossibly high waterfalls cascading down rock walls.  The road twisted and turned all the way in to Milford and when we arrived at the car park to the ferry terminal to book our tickets we were immediately savaged by sand flies.  Out came the super strength insect repellent and we walked the 10 minute walk to the terminal in the shade of the imposing Mitre Peak – I think the highest pinnacle in the world to rise directly from the sea floor.  That might be wrong so don’t quote me on that.  Anyway we booked our tickets on the 12.45 Nature cruise with Southern Discoveries (we managed to get 2 for 1 with the Escape book that we had badgered out of the guy from our campsite in Queenstown) managing to save 90 Dollars, value!!!  On the way back to the car I was busy taking pictures of Mitre Peak and Andrew disappeared off.  Somehow I managed to get myself totally disorientated and lost the van – yes the big spray painted Gimp Machine.  I eventually found him after about 10 minutes wandering around a car park with only a few cars – we were in actual fact parked in a car park behind a hedge across the road.  By the time I got back Andrew had cooked an egg sandwich, eaten it and cooked me one – bless....he just shook his head. (Andrew Edit - Being eaten alive for the privellage)

We drove out to Milford Sound Lodge in the 2 hours that we had to kill before we embarked on our cruise as we didn’t know whether it would be nice to stay in these parts for a night – I think the sand flies made our decision for us though they were everywhere and I was beginning to struggle coping with them, I don’t know how the people who live here cope.  It got to 12.30 and we again walked to the terminal and boarded our boat that was a lot smaller than the rest with a lot less people. We even had the luxury of free tea and coffee which we got stuck in to straight away as it was quite cold and windy on the outside deck.  As this was the Nature Cruise we had a narrator on board explaining all the sights to us such as the Bowen Falls, Fairy Falls, Anita Bay, Sinbad Gully, Mount Pembroke and Sandfly Point.  What really amazed us both was the colour of the water, it was almost black, apparently the fiord is such a unique habitat for sea life as the rain water running off the rocks creates a 5 metre tannin stained fresh water layer above the warmer sea water below so animal life that may usually live in much deeper and darker ocean conditions thrive further towards the surface.  Wow!

The Sound really astounded (sorry) us – it was just so vast and made you feel so insignificant and to think that it had all been created by glaciers just blew our minds.  The waterfalls were impressive too, although not as impressive as they would have been on a rainy day, but maybe that was a good thing as we got totally drenched anyway when the boat pulled in underneath one.  What really made the cruise for us though was when we managed to spot two crested penguins waddling towards us over rocks in one of the bays.  They were absolutely adorable and our first penguin spot in New Zealand and of the whole trip, we were thrilled.  We got off the boat having loved the experience and really glad that we had chosen this option to some of the other cruises that are marketed as the ‘scenic’ option.

We headed out of Milford undecided as to whether or not to tackle Key Summit, a hike covering the start of the Routeburn track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, but quite frankly when it came to it we couldn’t be bothered.  It had been something that I’d listed on my ‘Things to do’ list but as we both felt the same, neither of us able to convince the other that we definitely should do it, we drove on by past the DOC sign feeling a bit guilty.  We drove for a few hours through farm land and rolling hills then decided to set up camp for the night at a free DOC camp at Lake Monowai.  Everything looked lovely at first, the sun had really come out and it was glorious by the lake so we got the chairs out and the camp stove only to be descended on by hundreds of sand flies, they were everywhere within minutes (andrew edit - and by everywhere we mean everywhere in my mouth, ears up my nose etc we were then met by a swarm of regular flies that were going mental around us).  We speed cooked a beef red curry, I’ve never chopped an onion so fast, I could have passed as a professional.  We sat in the front seats of the van eating tea intermittently killing sand flies – I think at the last count there were twenty squashed ones on my window alone – you could call it a massacre.  Hopefully what we have heard is true and these pests are only a nuisance on the West Coast – we hope and pray.
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