You wouldn't be able to believe your luck - two days of perfect sunshine in a row, for our cruises. I was in seventh heaven on the Milford Sound cruise. I had to keep reminding myself that I was here, doing this, having this wonderful experience. Up on deck nearly all the time, in the wind and the sun, looking at these steeply rising, glorious mountains, a flawless blue sky, blue waters, waterfalls like white streaks on the mountains from afar.
Because last time we did the cruise it was in the rain. I'm glad this was the one Freya would remember.
The cruises seem to be about a third to half-full of people in autumn, even so there was only just enough room for taking photos if you wanted a good vantage point sometimes.
The queue to get on the boat had a ridiculously panicky feel to it! A crowd of Chinese women pushed in from the left and the crew members got quite irritated telling us all to move back to one side. The gates opened and there was a barely controlled mini stampede. In contrast, once we were on, people quickly dispersed. Oddly enough, many of them to the restaurant, from which smells like well-cooked sausages and vegetables drifted about throughout the journey. It was not a place I would want to waste my time in. I wanted to be out in the fresh air, taking in every moment.
But first, to take advantage of complementary hot drinks, we sat inside, next to a woman and her daughter with whom we struck up an instant friendship. They hailed from Australia and were on a three-day visit to New Zealand, staying in Queenstown. They had been to Glenorchy too.
Up on deck, excitable keen photographers jostled for the best position when dolphins were spotted. Our boat approached them carefully and they leapt out of the water and came close to us. This 'Scenic Cruise' took us right out to sea then turned around. It was an hour and a half long and quite sufficient to see everything. The longer and more expensive 'Nature Cruise' was not really worth it for our family of four. We were over the moon with our trip. We could not have asked for more. Milford Sound deserves the title of Eighth Wonder of the World.
Of course, the Milford Road is a wonder in itself. Taking about two hours to drive down, it is fairy flat to start with. You pass Te Anau Downs, a big picnic area, then continue through landscapes of scrub, tussock grassland, beech forest, a rash of DOC campsites - we stayed at Kiosk Creek, a nice little area which we shared with two motorhomes and two tents - then the road becomes more winding, up and down, passing parking areas with view points.
Interesting features of our journey: a bride in a white dress, being photographed against a backdrop of snowy mountains, the Homer Tunnel, where you wait by traffic lights that count down the time you have to wait for the single-lane drive through this roughly hewn tunnel that was built (over 20 years from the 1930s) with picks, shovels and dynamite. By now it had lights in the roof, not there 14 years ago. We also had a chance to see some kea - the only Alpine parrot - along the Milford Road, at very close quarters. Signs request that you don't feed the birds, but people do, we witnessed a group throwing half a banana to them. We stopped at The Chasm, a walk to view the surging River Cleddau and waterfall rushing under a bridge. The water had carved out solid rock, scoured holes in it and polished it all smooth.
Of course you get to see the scenery again on the way back as Milford is at the end of the road. And it is worth seeing twice.