New Zealand Travel Log Day 3: Milford Sound

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20061201 NZ 040 Real Journeys Coach.jpg (2322333 bytes)Friday December 1, 2006, was the high point of our southern NZ tour -- the Milford Sound trip 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.20061201 NZ 022 Ted Te Anau.jpg (1226776 bytes)

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.

20061201 NZ 020 Nancy Te Anau.jpg (1709509 bytes)Along 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.

20061201 NZ 057 N on Milford Sound.jpg (1465642 bytes)20061201 NZ 042 Ted at Cruise.jpg (1398426 bytes)When 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.

20061201 NZ 062 N admiring nature.jpg (1747333 bytes)The captain inched the cruise ship up to the walls near a waterfall, so we could feel the spray from the deck. 20061201 NZ 060 T on Milford Sound.jpg (1782917 bytes)Then 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 rocks (sunning?).

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.20061201 NZ 075 Looking out the Fjord.jpg (2070069 bytes)

20061201 NZ 054 Penguin.jpg (2621817 bytes)  20061201 NZ 066 Seals sunning.jpg (2678346 bytes) 

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 experience.

20061201 NZ 120 N+T in cockpit.jpg (1151706 bytes)  20061201 NZ 092 Nancy walks on the glacier.jpg (1095957 bytes)  20061201 NZ 094 N+T on a glacier.jpg (1232895 bytes) 

Up, up and away. We landed on a glacier on top of the world! What an experience!

20061201 NZ 115 view from the chopper.jpg (1807150 bytes)20061201 NZ 091 view from chopper.jpg (1187519 bytes)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.

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