While everyone partied the nights away in Queenstown, James and I spent our days in quiet Te Anau while hiking the Kepler great walk. Before I came to New Zealand, I wanted to complete all the of the nine great walks. Unfortunately, due to injuries and weather, I have had to make a few compromises on that goal. One of those compromises has been with the Milford Sound great walk.
The Milford Sound great walk is supposed to be the most beautiful of all the great walks, and is hugely popular among visitors and locals alike. However, it is also one of the most dangerous walks to attempt when weather conditions are not ideal. Spring is one of these times, and unfortunately the avalanche hazards on the track made it impossible to complete during our stay in the area. But luckily, there is another great way available to experience this beautiful region – a Milford Sound cruise.
We organized our Milford Sound cruise through the Stray backpacking New Zealand company and were able to get it for a great discounted rate. We were picked up in Te Anau and began our drive to Milford. The road to Milford Sound is almost as dramatic as the sounds itself, with impressive viewpoints, hand carved tunnels through mountains, and steep climbs.
We made several photo stops along the way, and there are no shortage of interesting things to see along this stretch of road. Rushing rivers through rocky chasms, reflective lakes, and high rising mountains are abundant here. However, the most exciting thing to be seen along this stretch of road (for me), if without a doubt, the kea.
Kea’s are New Zealand’s alpine parrots, who only live on the South Island. These birds are extremely curious, inquisitive, and often – destructive. They enjoy nothing more than checking out all the bits and bobs attached to your vehicle, and perhaps, even ripping some of them off for a closer inspection. Kea’s are often a major nuisance for trampers, who often come back from a long hike to discover that a large portion of their tent has been destroyed by a curious Kea.
After happily taking dozens of photos of the Kea, we eventually made it to Milford Sound. We boarded the boat and were given free hot drinks – which were definitely appreciated after spending some time on top of the windy boat. As we cruised the sound, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the time I spent in Norway’s fjords several years ago. Still, calm water, surrounded by steep and imposing cliff sides and mountains dominated the view. Rushing waterfalls of all sizes fell into the sounds from all sides.
A Milford Sound Cruise is one of those activities that can be enjoyed during any type of weather. Although the skies were calm during our cruise, I have heard reports that it can actually be better to experience Milford Sound during the rain. The wetter the weather, the more waterfalls that suddenly appear from the steep walls of the sound.
If you are going to go on a Milford Sound cruise, make sure you have a good wind resistant jacket with you. It can get very windy and cold from the viewing deck, but that is the best place to be during the cruise.
That night, our last night with the Stray backpacking New Zealand company, we went the furthest off the beaten track that we have ever been in New Zealand. Coming back along the road from Milford Sound, there is a small road which turns off into the Hollyford valley. At the end of the road you find the Gunn’s Camp homestead which offers backpacking accommodation. The entire area is filled with quirky artifacts and stories of the eccentric owners of the camp. The accommodation is cozy and quiet, and makes for a great stop in the middle of nowhere. It’s these tiny and eccentric places like Makarora and Gunn’s camp that make backpacking New Zealand so unique.
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