New Zealand Travel Log Day 3: Milford Sound
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Friday December 1, 2006, was the high point of our southern NZ tour -- the Milford Sound
via "coach-cruise-helicopter" which took the entire day and was greatly
informative and fun.
First off, it was a
bus ride departing at 7:30 AM. Since the direct route has no roads (over the
"Southern Alps"), we were forced to travel south then east, and finally back
north -- a five-hour journey! But surprise, the bus ride was the most
fun. Instead of reading our books, we listened intently as our driver
spoke almost continuously, describing everything en route, from the flora
and fauna to the farming history of the regions we traveled through.
Tourism is the biggest industry in New Zealand,
followed by farming (combination sheep, deer, cattle, dairy. The third
largest industry group is lumber/forestry. Our driver regaled us with facts and
figures and cool stories as we drove the long mountainous route. Of
course we stopped in the city of Te Anau for a rest stop, and toured the
cute tourist town next to another huge lake.
the final leg of our bus trip, the Milford Road, we stopped several times
for local tourist stops, all quite interesting. For example, one involved a
brief hike (very brief) through a rain forest (not a tropical one) where we
watched waterfalls and rivers crash noisily down the gullies. Another stop
was a huge glacially-created valley where we just got out and walked around
the "mirror lakes" that had formed. There was also a tunnel through the
mountains, unlike any tunnel in the USA. The Homer tunnel is less than a
mile long, but one lane only, is a steep grade throughout, and has no lights
inside, no paved roadway, and no painted lines. It was like driving though a
scary dark tunnel in some horror movie.
we finally reached Milford Sound, we embarked upon a 2.5 hour cruise that,
again, was punctuated by the captain being tour guide, showing us all the
natural sights of the Fjord and describing its history as well. Although all
14 fjords are named as "sounds," they are technically "fjords" because they
were created by glaciers carving them out instead of erosion from mountain
rivers. Characteristic of fjords, Milton Sound's mountains rise dramatically
straight up out of the water -- there is no beach as all. As Nancy said, if
you were swimming, there is no place to get out of the water.
captain inched the cruise ship up to the walls near a waterfall, so we could
feel the spray from the deck.
he piloted us all the way out the fjord, into the ocean where we turned
around and slowly returned. In a rocky shore area before the steep ways
began, we spotted a penguin, which had wintered here and (the captain told
us) would be leaving with new chick any day now that summer is coming. We
also stopped at another rocky place where New Zealand seals were on the
So we had a super, sunny day at Milford Sound. That
was lucky because it is one of the wettest places, with annual rainfall
ranging from 6 meters to 9 meters (egads!) in recent years.
But our journey wasn't over yet. We decided to fly
back to Queenstown rather than endure the long bus ride home. There are both
airplanes and helicopters to choose from, so we opted for the chopper
Up, up and away. We landed on a glacier on top of the
world! What an experience!
Then we helicoptered in a straight line
route over the mountains, straight back to Queenstown.
All in all, a memorable day. I must admit, this is the
way to do sightseeing. I'm glad we didn't leave Queenstown as planned and go
to Mount Cook on Friday.
BTW, Queenstown is a very neat little city. It has
become an overpriced tourist place, of course, but it has a lot to offer and
is a good base camp for touring the Southland. They have made it look a bit
like Aspen, even, which is quite cute.