The Road to Milford Sound

While I have already written about the natural wonder that is Milford Sound, the journey to it was nearly as magical. With many places to stop, the Fiordland National Park is the perfect place to spend a day exploring the bush. There is a chunky list of things to do en route to the Sound, but alas, we only had time to do a few. The ones we chose at random were The Mirror Lake, another one I can’t remember, and Lake Marian.

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From Te Anau, it is a 120km drive up to Piopiotahi, and the views on the road are quite spectacular. The change in environment as you make your way are noteworthy. You come from open town, through forest and bush, through towering mountain ranges and to the still lakes of the Sound. This route can be fairly treacherous though, and there are a number of reasons why. The snow, ice and possibility of rock slides can cause issues, but I think the biggest issues come from the pesky Kia’s. These large mountain birds are known by many to be extremely peevish. The first one we saw we got out of our cars and had pictures next to. We will never make this mistake again. This crafty little bugger was acting as a decoy while its friends tried to pinch our belongings from the top of our car. I imagined it with the Italian Job or Mission Impossible music going on in the background while they made there great heist. “I only told you to peck the bloody doors off!”, he squawked.

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Our first stop was at the Mirror Lakes. While you can see a mirroring effect on the Sound itself, it wasn’t quite as motionless as this one. It is relatively small, but the gargantuan mountain overhead shown in the lake is a sight to behold. One does wish that the lake was larger to gather a greater image of the mountain, but it is still very cool.

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Next, we stopped at a trail described as a beautiful waterfall. The problem I have here is that I cannot remember what it was called. I have tried and tried to think, but to no avail. It is definitely one of the points between the Mirror Lakes and Lake Marion (but this doesn’t really help because there are quite a lot in the middle of them.) While I cannot remember where it was, I certainly remember that it was indeed beautiful. It offered a picturesque creek and a stunning waterfall. As the water came down it looked like silk on the back of the smooth dark rock. Mixed with the hearty greenery of the bush, it is worth checking out. (Even if this does mean you have to have a guess where it is)

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Our final stop on the journey was Lake Marion. On this occasion I have saved the best for last. What a treat to stumble upon, and we didn’t even walk the whole trail! You first cross a swinging bridge over a creek, and then it is a steady ascent up and then back down to the lake. We were strapped for time, so we only got the chance to walk for around 40 minutes. On the incline, you walk along the running stream and pass waterfall, after waterfall, after waterfall. Each more stunning than the last. There is something very soothing about the noise of falling water as you stroll through the bush. We had to shoot back to the car as we were going to the glow worm caves later that afternoon, but how I long to see the end of that track. It was wonderful.

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All in all the journey to Milford Sound was nearly as delightful as the place itself. While it is great to be ferried around on a boat and leisurely gaze upon the mountains in the Sound, it is another thing to strap on your boots and explore yourself. I think the trip highlighted for me that I am the type of person that enjoys the latter much more. We will be traveling back here soon to visit the other possibilities on the journey to the Sound, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. (I may even find the name of the forgotten waterfall)

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Milford Sound

For my first real holiday since moving here for work, we went to Milford Sound. Now, when I think of New Zealand and what it has to offer this is what springs to mind. All the research you can do on the country beforehand seems to point to Milford Sound, and there is a very obvious reason why. It is phenomenal.

Piopiotahi, as it is known in the Maori tongue, was first discovered by Europeans in 1812, with Captain John Grono. He originally named the paradise Milford Haven after his home in Wales. It was then changed to Milford Sound later by Captain John Lort Stokes. Interestingly, Milford Sound is not a Sound at all. Technically it is a deep water inlet between steep sided, high mountains, which would make the place a fiord. It is about 13km in length and is one of the most, if not the most, popular tourist attraction in New Zealand.

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Due to its fame and popularity, I think there is quite a bit of pressure to explain the majesty and the beauty of the place to a high standard. Moreover, for anyone that has looked into New Zealand at all, they would have already read a fair amount about it. What I will pick out of the trip is how it differed for me, and hopefully you will be able to read some rather cool stuff. The three main ways it did this were through rainfall, waterfalls and wildlife.However, I will start by giving my best attempt at a description of Milford Sound to you. Can you remember in Jurassic Park when Hammond (Richard Attenborough) first shows them the  park and the iconic theme music sets in? First setting out on the boat and turning the corner to the witness the mountains, the mirrored lake, the waterfalls, and everything else, is close to that. It is just incredible. I think in a rather cheating way it is beyond description. But I think Rudyard Kipling had it best when he described it as the eighth wonder of the world. That is certainly apt.

One of the main ways it could have been different from what you have read before is that it did not rain. This is nearly unheard of, especially when considering we had holidayed in the middle of winter. The fiord normally experiences 180+ days of rain per year. With an average rainfall of around 150inches per year. We enjoyed a glorious day of clear(ish) skies, albeit a tad cold and windy.

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It had obviously rained very recently when we had arrived as the waterfalls were in full force. They really add to the allurement of the fiord. How the waterfalls may read different to what you have heard before was a personal event that transpired. When the waterfalls were especially big and easy to get to, the captain would often sail right up to them in order for us to get great pictures. There was one that I saw that I was very eager to get close to. The problem was that I didn’t have a rain coat. All we had were these incredibly cheap ponchos. As we glided ever closer to the waterfall I violently struggled to get this poncho on. All the while trying to have my phone out ready to take this picture I dearly desired. The ponchos we bought were so cheap they ripped as soon as I put them over my head. Poncho, after poncho, after poncho I threw on. Until it was too late. The fall came and quickly consumed me. Luckily I had enough ponchos for the whole boatload and more, so you’ll be thankful to hear I didn’t get too wet. I later found that the captain of the ship was in hysterics at my ordeal and I do not blame him.

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The final way my experience may have differed was the wildlife. Although known for its animals we were incredibly lucky with what we found, and I believe I will struggle to see anything quite so amazing ever again. What we saw was a dolphin. And I know what you’re thinking, ‘everyone has seen dolphins before, why is that so cool?’ But this was no ordinary dolphin. Just as we set off on our return journey the captain alerted that a dolphin was at the hull. I was so excited. We all rushed over to the front of the boat and saw this friendly dolphin effortlessly glided along with us. It bobbed and it weaved and it played. I really was awe struck. It was an animal of pure muscle. Perfectly content with its lot in life, and perfectly happy to play with us. The dolphin stayed with us for at least 20 minutes, and it made the whole trip for me. I remember I used to hear people say, ‘Dolphins are my favourite animal’ And I just didn’t get it. ‘What is so special about them?’ I thought. Well now I know, and I’m pretty sure they are now my favourite animal too.

If you put it all together, the mountains, the waterfalls, the clear lake, the wildlife, it really looks as if it should be the location of a kingdom in a fantasy novel. You would expect to see water elves, nymphs, fairies or mermaids if you came here. I implore you to visit Milford Sound. There is an enchantment on this place, and I guarantee you will walk away with a spell on you.