Mr A and I had been unable to decide whether to visit Doubtful Sound or Milford Sound. In a moment of decadence we decided to just visit both. Fiords, by the way. They are actually fiords, not sounds (dug out by glaciers, not rivers). We found a great deal with Real Journeys and booked with them – also, since the road to Milford had been closed recently due to avalanches and neither of us was keen on driving in winter conditions with summer tyres.
The first day, we were picked up and driven to Manapouri where we checked in and boarded the first boat to cross Lake Manapouri. At the power station we boarded a bus which took us across Wilmot Pass and down to Deep Cove where we got on board of the vessel which was to take us out into the sound.
The further we got out to the ocean, the more the clouds lifted and all of a sudden we were in bright sunshine – with the odd rainbow for good measure. Absolutely stunning. Every now and then, a seal or penguin would make a brisk appearance between dives and the scenery was nothing short of spectacular. Quite contrary to the last time I’d visited Doubtful Sound, when torrential rain had been soaking us in our kayaks within minutes, this time our surroundings presented themselves serenely beautiful.
At the end of the fiord we turned around to retrace our way back to Deep Cove and into the humungous Manapouri power station, which produces 12 % of all electricity used in New Zealand. Given that buildings aren’t insulated and most don’t have central heating, making people rely on electric heaters in winter and air conditions in summer, this must be a lot. The power station is a massive construct built into, below and literally right through the mountain – mind-blowing in size and to Mr A maybe the highlight of the day.
My favourite part of the trip was what the captain called the “Sound of Silence”. He took the boat to a side arm of the fiord and told everyone to find a spot, to put away their cameras and phones and to be quiet. Then he turned off the engine and even the radar for a couple of minutes. What followed was pure magic: The only audible noises were the waves lapping against the boat and the rocks, the crashing waterfalls, the chirping of birds, the song of the wind. These minutes were incredibly powerful, I was suddenly confronted with the sheer intensity of nature herself and she took my breath away.
When we returned to Bob and Maxine’s homely hostel, we learned that the road to Milford Sound, which had been closed for the better part of the last couple of days, had been cleared and all looked good for our trip the next day. And good (i.e. sunny) it did look the following morning when we were once again picked up and brought to the i-site to wait for our bus.
The bus was filled with kids and Mr A quickly understood why I had been so adamant against staying at Queenstown. Nothing against a party crowd – as long as we don’t have to be part of it or sleep in its vicinity.
The drive to Milford itself is a wonderful journey and thankfully the driver did stop numerous times to whisk us out of the bus to take photos, have a quick walk or simply take a few breaths of fresh air and he also gave us insightful introductions to the areas we drove through. On the other side of Homer Tunnel we received last instructions on how to find our boat and were soon boarding the respective vessels. We had chosen a “nature cruise” which came with a nature guide on board – as well as free (vegan!) veggie soup and bread along with complimentary tea, coffee and hot water.
We had the rare experience of seeing Milford Sound in brilliant sunshine – in an area where it rains on approximately 200 days per year.
The photos speak of themselves, I think.
You will notice that the boat got really close to the waterfalls. This is possible because Milford (like Doubtful) Sound is actually a fiord and therefore, its sides rise almost vertically from the bottom of the sea. A “real” sound will be more of a V-shape, while a fiord is shaped like a U.
Upon getting off the boat and on the bus again it was a pleasant thought to know ourselves being chauffeured back to Te Anau and not having to drive there. We actually chose not to be dropped off at our hostel but walked the two-something kilometres from i-site to stretch our legs after all those hours on the bus. Oh, and I got bitten by a sandfly on the bus. So there are sandflies in winter.