New Zealand- Chapter Ten: Milford Sound & The Hollyford Road

I’d gone to bed the previous night hoping for a break in the rainy, gray skies I’d driven through on the way to Milford so that I could take in the legendary surroundings under photogenic blue skies. I was pleasantly surprised when this was the case. Since my Milford Sound Cruise wasn’t scheduled until 9:45, I decided I would travel back up the Milford Road as far as the Homer Tunnel to get pictures, just in case it got cloudy before I was going to be heading back toward Te Anau a little after noon.

I drove through the Homer Tunnel to lookout on the western side. I was taking pictures of the valley when a Kea flew up and landed within three feet of me. Keas are high-altitude parrots, and are famous for being trouble makers, specifically, chewing the rubber around windows and doors off of cars. This little guy seemed much more concerned with following me around, hoping I would drop some food or something else edible. I wasn’t about to let that happen, as I’d read over and over again that feeding the Keas were bad for them.

It was a unique spot from which to watch the sunrise. The sun had been completely hidden by the mountains when I first arrived at the spot, and I was able to watch it as the light slowly illuminated the tops of the peak and then worked it’s way downward.

I headed back through the Homer Tunnel and got some more incredible pictures of the road as it snaked down the valley toward the sound.

I made it back down into the valley with some time to spare, so I headed over to the commercial harbor and spent some time taking pictures of the boats and traps there. It was a sleepy morning in the commercial harbor- the one gentleman I did talk to told me that much of the fleet had gotten an early start that morning since the weather was fine.

Cruises of Milford Sound all depart from the new state of the art Visitors Terminal, an easy 10 minute walk along boardwalks from the parking lot. No less than 5 companies offer daily cruises on Milford Sound. I had wanted to do the Milford Sound Cruise with Real Journeys, the company I had used for my Doubtful Sound cruise, but Southern Discoveries, another company with a good reputation, offered the earliest departure of the day.

After checking in, I strolled around the visitor terminal, looking at the the displays. The one I found most fascination was two large models of the sandfly, the pesky little biting fly common to most of New Zealand’s coastline and one of the things most commented on by visitors, from the first explorers to today’s tourists.

We headed out into Milford Sound before the sun had even crested the peaks in most places. These shadows and patched of sunlight, combined with a few straggling low wispy clouds made for a beautiful scene.

Milford Sound was famously called “The Eighth Wonder of the World” by author Rudyard Kipling, and it is widely recognized as New Zealand’s number one tourist destination.

The tour started with us pulling up right along walls of the sound. We could see much of the sheer rock wall as it descended downward toward the bottom. Our guide used the close up view of the rocks to teach us about the geology of the sound, and also to point out marine life like the starfish that clung to the rocks just below the surface of the water.

The low clouds against the backdrop of the jagged peaks and blue skies really provided the most incredibly scenic setting as we cruised toward the opening of the sound and the Tasman Sea. The cruise to the mouth of the sound was only 15 kilometers, as opposed 60 kilometers in Doubtful Sound.

We left the sound ever so briefly to venture into the waters of the Tasman Sea. They day was perfect and sunny (if a little crisp) and I reflected how rare these days must be on the volatile Tasman Sea. (This would prove correct as the trip progressed).

Milford Sound has two permanent waterfalls, Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls, and were were fortunate to be able to get perfect photo opportunities of each.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the trip was our encounter with a pod of bottlenose dolphins as we were heading back. The pod spent quite some time swimming around our boat. There was even a calf among the pod. Our guide told us that these encounters were much rarer this time of year, so we considered ourselves quite fortunate.

Once we returned to the dock, I quickly got back in the campervan and headed away from Milford. I wanted to be back at my hostel in Te Anau at a reasonable time (laundry had become a priority by now) but I also wanted to have time to drive down the Hollyford Road to the trailhead for the Hollyford Track.

Fiordland National Park had many famous walking tracks, with the Milford Track being the most popular, but many trampers speak in glowing terms about both the Hollyford and Routeburn Tracks. I knew I wasn’t going to hike either of these, but a half hour drive down the unsealed dirt road brought me to the trailhead for the Hollyford Track, which begins by crossing a suspension bridge over the turquoise waters of the Hollyford River.

The hike I chose to do was the half hour return hike to the viewpoint for Humboldt Falls. This scenic, 900 foot waterfall tumbles to the valley floor in three different tiers.

And that was about it for my visit to Fiordland National Park. I drove back in the fading end of day light to the YHA Hostel in Te Anau (my favorite lodging on the entire trip) glowing from the day’s experience in Milford Sound and the previous days experience on the Doubtful Sound overnight cruise. Taking nothing away from Milford Sound, I remained partial to Doubtful Sound, probably because I spent more time in Doubtful Sound, but, that said, I can imagine any trip to New Zealand without visiting both of the scenery blessed areas.

NEXT: Photo Essay- Milford Sound Cruise

My Day 10 Photo Album     Facebook     Flickr

Other Links:
Southern Discoveries Encounter Nature Cruise
The Kea
Milford Sound (100% New Zealand page)
The Hollyford Road

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