Milford Sound gets rave reviews everywhere. But safe bets are not always the most fun to play.
The road to the sound
Leaving a place like Wanaka behind is never easy. However, the prospect of visiting one of New Zealand highlights was encouraging and so we hit the road with excitement. Ah, the roads, full of surprises they are. How about hundreds of bras hanging from a fence?
With 240 days of rain each year, Milford Sound is known for being one of the wettest places in New Zealand. With those credentials, some planning around the weather seemed appropriate. And for once, our timing was perfect.
After the town of Te Anau, accommodation comes in the form of campsites managed by the Department of Conservation. Perhaps a bit basic depending on your standards, but with first class views of the Southern Alps, clear lakes and friendly hosts, I would find it difficult to complain. The only downside could be the mornings, which can be a bit cold.
Where did that one come from?
A sound is a large sea or ocean inlet larger than a bay, deeper than a bight, and wider than a fjord. New Zealand has plenty of them, the most accessible of them, and therefore the most popular, is the Milford Sound. Each day, hundreds of boats cruise the waters that lead out to the Tasman Sea in between waterfalls, mountains, sea lions and with, some luck, dolphins. Sounds idilic, it probably is, but for us it did not quite hit the sweet spot. Maybe it was the high expectations or the fact that we were stuck in a boat without being able to explore on our own.
We did find inspiration on the cruise though. A young frenchman showed us some pictures of a hike not far from our campsite, promising a steep climb, some waterfalls and stunning views. This is more like it.
Following a few kilometres of pleasant walking through fields, the path gets more challenging without any warning. The plains give way to the promised climb and the bushes disappear leaving us with just bare rocks and a few streams.
The Gertrude Saddle gets more beautiful with each step you take and before you know it another lake appears before your eyes with a near perfect reflection of the peak above. Not long to go now.
It is hard to describe the views from the saddle. This is where all those days checking the weather forecast payed off. A clear day, offering views of the road leading to Milford Sound, the actual sound itself and, at the very end, the Tasman Sea. Priceless.
A (small) taste of a Great Walk in great company
New Zealand offers nine Great Walks, a set of tramping (hiking) tracks through some of the country’s best scenery. In the summer season, they get booked up months in advance. Which probably was a good thing for us, as we did not have the gear nor the fitness to tackle them. But at least we managed to sample the last part of one of them, the Routeburn Track. And it did not disappoint.
We were not alone on this one. Fran and Maria, a Spanish couple who we met back at the campsite joined us on the trek to Key Summit and beyond.
Our legs got carried away and we all ended up stretching the hike a few more hours so that we could reach Earland Falls. A decision we did not regret, the icing on the cake for a week of hiking through some spectacular scenery.
The whole area around Milford Sound, as charming as it may be, is a dead end – inevitably, one has to backtrack to reach their next destination. In our case, Queenstown.
A leap of faith
A typical afternoon in Queenstown:
…six, seven, eight – ok, we’ve got everyone. Hi, I am Dan and I am your driver. The ride is going to take about forty minutes. It will give you time to think about what you are about to do. Not that I think it is going to help you anyway.
Throughout those forty minutes, Dan would play a few great classic tunes like “Highway to hell”, “Mama told me not to come” or “I believe I can fly”. Can you tell they all have a similar theme!?
Anyway, at the end of the bumpy ride, you get to an apparently pointless cable car, which stands 143 metres above a small river.
Before you know it, you find yourself wearing a harness and sat on a rather comfortable chair, hearing, but barely listening to, a cool kid who is trying to explain the procedure.
Yes, you are about to jump off that cable car on New Zealand’s highest bungy jump. If you’ve got to do it, better do it properly. 3, 2, 1… jump!
To the West
The Hass Pass is one of the three highways connecting the east and west coast of south island. Starting in the town of Wanaka, it makes its way through dense forests and bright blue rivers. Sad to leave the mountains behind, but excited to discover the wonders of New Zealand’s wettest region, we hit the road once again.
Ahead of us, another glorious road that would lead us to the next chapter on our kiwi trip. But that is a story for another day.
One lake, two glaciers, four days of non-stop rain, a rainforest, caves, cliffs and grapes – all in one post.