Fjordland! Pt I: Milford Road and Milford Sound

Note: I wrote a bunch of posts today on the train. Pictures will follow if the internet speed allows, but no time now so here’s a few of them, text-only.

To say that it’s bizarre to write about our last few days in New Zealand from CHINA is an understatement. At the moment, I’m sitting on a high speed train getting ready to leave Shanghai-bound from the Beijing South Railway Station (which seems to be almost as big as Pearson International). It’s a bit of a head $#@* to think about the wild, dramatic parts of New Zealand that we enjoyed in our last 3 days before leaving for Beijing.

But I digress.

Te Anau (pop 3000) seems to roll up the streets by about 7:00pm this time of year, so there wasn’t much going on by the time we (finally) got there. However, as an aside, can I just say that if ‘motels’ and ‘holiday parks’ in Canada were anything like the ones where we stayed in New Zealand I would go ahead and move right in? Who needs an apartment? I love hotel picnics of soup and salad! The ones we found were super clean, comfortable, quiet (I’m sure the time of year helped), private and generally awesome. The bed in Te Anau had a heating pad on the mattress. Heaven (for me. Not so much for Duncan but too damn bad).

ANYWAY, we booked a couple of tours for ourselves while we were still in Auckland. Friday was assigned to driving the Milford Road and a boat ride on Milford Sound, followed by a day-long tour to and from Doubtful Sound on Saturday. I can almost guarantee you’ve seen pictures in tourism advertising for New Zealand. It looks amazing and is amazing and is totally worth visiting in person.

Even before we took the beautiful road from Queenstown to Te Anau, I’d run out of superlatives to comment on the landscape so I gave up and turned to:

“Ugh, yeulch, it’s so disgusting here”

“Gaaaaaaah that view is revolting”

Understand this usually followed a low murmur of “oh wow”, or “holy shit”, as I fumbled for the camera or told Duncan to take a picture.

The Milford Road was a Bit Much. I mean, seriously. I can see why 500,000 tourists make their way through this piece of land (whether over the road or via the Milford Track) to the Sound. Gah. It’s an awesome stretch of road, with rolling hills, a deep valley, then crazzzeeee mountains, before you finally come out (fyi – my train to the future just pulled out of the station. Yeeeeee!).

We had a magical mix of sun and cloud for the first part, and then some delightful snow-rain up in the mountains (where the no-stopping, avalanche zone signs abounded). Did you know that there is one species of alpine parrot, the Kea? They are HUGE and like to get all up in your business. Silly parrot. Please don’t eat my car.

Yay so anyway, I guess it was okay.

By the time we got to Milford Sound, it was pouring. We’d purposely left really early, hoping to sneak in a walk along the way and/or go to the underwater observatory. There’s basically no top soil on the mountains in the fjord, so the rain makes CRAZY, temporary waterfalls that gush down the mountains and create a layer of tannin-rich freshwater on top of the salt water, and then it’s all super-dark not very deep down, so a weird array of deep-water creatures can live just around 40m below the surface ( I think; going on memory don’t shoot me). And they have a facility where you can go underwater to view them. ‘Cept a storm dun broke it so it wasn’t open. Stupid “nature”.

We drove back up the road to do a short 30 minutes walk through some rainforest to a chasm formed by a crazy river that has shaped and cut through these massive rocks (AMAZINGOMFG, even though it was a just tiny little walk that was even wheelchair accessible, though I’d defo want an all-terrain wheelchair). Back in the sound we despaired about the rain a bit, then went down to the boat launch. We couldn’t see the peaks that we knew existed just beyond them clouds and while it was all still beautiful, I was a tad disappointed.

When we finally pulled out from the dock all my misgivings melted away. Sure, it was cold and wet and clouded. But hot damn. The mountains were bleeding with waterfalls from all the rain and their sheer rise straight out of the water is truly a sight to behold. I’d love to come back and kayak, to really feel tiny and insignificant. But I gotta say, I felt small even on the big boat we were on. Our guide book was not wrong – once you’re out on the water, the other tour boats don’t bother you. Again, it’s probably worse in peak season, but the vastness of it all really dwarfs the boats.

And then!! We saw DOLPHINS!!!  A whole bunch of them swimming all over the place! Right by the boat and with babies too! I totally lost my shit with excitement. Like, I’ve-just-got-something-in-my-eye-shut-up lost my shit.

We saw some seals later, and also some TINY PENGUINS!! (Fjordland crested penguin; it’s the very beginning of their nesting season). THEY WERE SO CUTE I FORGOT TO TURN OFF ALLCAPS.

At one point Dunc asked if I wanted to go back inside the boat. Nah, I replied, ‘I paid to be cold and wet, I’m gonna be cold and wet’.

We went up the sound to the mouth that empties into the wild Tasman Sea, then back down to the dock. Along the way, the captain saddled the boat up nice and close alongside one of the mountainsides, and had them what wanted to lean against the top deck rail and just hang our heads back. Even though the top of the peaks above us were clouded over, it was magnificent. From the bottom of the water to the highest peak is five Empire State Buildings. Pretty awe-some.

We headed home after that, through snow-rain and rain, booking it to beat the tour buses. Besides, we had big plans for a hotel-room picnic and to watch the Rugby World Cup opening match at a local pub rumoured to have a fireplace.

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