The culmination of my scenic journey in New Zealand was the day trip I took from Queenstown to Milford Sound, one of the most famous fjords in Fiordland National Park because it is one of the most accessible. From Queenstown to Milford Sound as the crow flies is rather a small distance, but since there happen to be a lot of mountains in the way, heading to Milford Sound via Te Anau takes the entire morning on a bus or in a car (around 5 or 6 hours with photo breaks). That of course was peanuts considering some of the bus journeys I’d already been on this trip, so it didn’t really phase me!
We were heading out of the Queenstown area by 7:30. It was still dark, so we didn’t get to see much for the next couple of hours. The scenery on the way to Te Anau is pretty, but nothing compared to the later part of the trip once we made it into the mountains. However, we could see lots of the dramatic low cloud cover that gave New Zealand its Maori name (Land of the Long White Cloud), thanks to the specially designed buses that have huge windows. (Unfortunately there is some reflection since these pictures were taken on the moving bus.)
After Te Anau, we headed into the mountains, taking several stops for pictures along the way. Our first stop was on a plain with dramatic mountains in the background.
We stopped at the Mirror Lakes, which were less dramatic than our next scenic stop where we got a better view of misty mountains reflected in the water.
We had several other photo ops as well. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:
We saw some kea (alpine parrots) at one of the stops where we were able to fill up our water bottles with glacial stream water if we so chose. Kea are really intelligent and curious birds who have a destructive fascination with rubber, and they are quite good at pulling out the rubber around doors in cars (as we saw to a mini-van driver’s dismay).
Eventually we went through a tunnel (at a really steep grade) and emerged to even more dramatic views.
And finally to Milford Sound itself, where we enjoyed a two hour cruise. We saw bottle-nose dolphins who played in the wake of the boat, waterfalls and multiple rainbows (the skipper even got those of us on the outer decks wet with waterfall spray, we got so close!), and seals. It was spectacular.
The trip home was beautiful but relatively anti-climactic – no photo stops, and a bus full of tired travelers.