Fiordlands National Park is a huge attraction on the South Island. Fiords are inlets from the ocean which have towering vertical cliffs on both sides. They were carved out by glaciers forcing their way inland over the course of a few million years. We enjoyed hiking Fox Glacier so much, we figured it would be pretty cool to see the impact other glaciers left behind.
The most famous fiord is known as Milford Sound. The nearest town, Te Anau, is an hour and a half drive on a slow-moving two lane road. The total driving distance was a bit discouraging, but we heard great reviews. We also found an awesome deal for tickets for a cruise around the sound on GrabOne, New Zealand’s equivalent of Groupon. Someone told us about the site earlier on, but this was the first time we were able to apply it and we felt pretty slick once we were on the boat. We decided to sleep in our car at a camp site along the way to be able to get to there bright and early before the herds of other tourists. It saved us money and was actually not that uncomfortable, it poured for most of the night which made it really difficult to sleep with the loud rain drops smacking the roof of the car. On the bright side, we were up by 6AM to make it to Milford.
The cruise was run by Jucy, the Aussie owned camper (pronounced camp-ah) van company, so it was pretty bare bones.
We didn’t mind though and started the trip on the upper deck. When traveling the sound, you can’t help but realize how black the water is. It is some of the most unpolluted water in the world, but the combination of extreme depth and lack of sunlight from the shade of the cliffs make it pitch black.
The next thing you notice is horizontally growing trees going up and down the sides. It is pretty amazing that the trees are able to grow sideways and they are only able to grab hold in areas where there is no water flowing down the side. The cliffs on both sides have waterfalls, big and small, flowing off into the sound. At certain points the boat took us right up to the waterfalls and we were soaked.
We also saw families of seals hanging out on small rock islands in the sound, who doesn’t love a fat seal with a moustache?
We braved the wind on the upper deck for most of the journey, but made our way inside for part of the trip to watch through the windows. To our surprise there was a fully functioning Pita Pit inside with about a quarter of the passengers eating indoors not even paying attention to where they were. We found it hilarious that people made the trip from all over the world to see a fiord, but in the end were more interested in the preservative filled wraps.
We were still able to enjoy ourselves, but if you have the budget, we would recommend taking a helicopter ride from Queenstown to save time and taking one of the more upscale cruises. We saw that they were able to navigate through some of the smaller nooks and crannies of the sound and gain a better understanding of the environment.