I don’t believe it happens that often in life, but when it does it’s almost a full body experience. It is a marvellous moment. It’s visual, it’s spiritual and occasionally it’s even visceral. You have no control over your emotions. The moment when you lock eyes on a vision that has you speechless, it really is something exceptional. I have been blessed to have a few of these instants in my life to date and I will cherish them dearly. Most instances it has been nature that has provided those instants and I am pretty sure that it will be nature that delivers me my subsequent one.
One of these life occurrences took place the very first time I visited Milford Sound on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. On that occasion, I was flying in by chopper with The Helicopter Line to do some filming for my travel show. Flying across the Southern Alps and The Divide on the way to Milford was an amazing spectacle in itself, but it was when we popped over the top of the last of the rugged peaks and spied upon the sound itself that the moment I speak of took place. It was awe inspiring and I wanted it again!
Which brings me to this little tale. A few months ago, I was fortunate to be invited down to Queenstown by the delightful team at Real Journeys. I have spoken of them previously and I have nothing but praise for the way the company embraces not only New Zealand’s South Island, but also their operations in general. Founded in 1954 by Les and Olive Hutchins it has remained a family owned and operated business ever since. That is a story worth investigating itself.
The invitation to revisit Milford was too alluring to pass up and although this time I was travelling as part of a general day tour I was still more than excited about revisiting this slice of mother nature’s handy work.
This journey was a little different to my last visit and as it is the most cost-effective and most popular method I was keen to share the experience so you might consider it when you visit this neck of the woods.
Departing from the Real Journeys offices on Lake Wakatipu waterfront, I jumped onboard the coach for the 5-hour passage that would deliver me to the brilliance of Milford. Now I have to admit I am not the best traveller when I am not the driver and the idea of sitting still on a coach for hours wasn’t all that appealing, at first. In saying that, this was a luxury coach equipped with unbeatable viewing opportunities with its glass roof allowing you to take in the magical South Island scenery whenever it presented itself, and that was pretty much a continual occurrence. It was actually very relaxing not driving, as I was now the spectator and there was much to take in.
You also have a few stops along the way that again showcase more of that Maori magic. Lake Te Anau is just outstanding, with is serene deep waters and as you stop here to stretch the legs, grab a coffee and maybe a bite to eat, strolling lakeside is highly recommended.
Eglinton Valley where the gradual march of the glaciers has carved out an astounding alpine valley eras ago – now it’s primed for you to take some impressive landscape shots, or just stare and add it to your own mind storage in your memory.
The second stop, however, was even more impressive. Short but undeniably sweet, I was close to having no words again (a rare moment) as I set my gaze upon Mirror Lake and caught the perfect reflection of the Earl Mountains. Damn, mother nature is the provider of perfection!
She wasn’t finished with me either. Making our final approach to the sound we headed across The Divide and were blessed with a quick stop at Monkey Creek where we were treated to a few mouthfuls of the freshest alpine water direct from the source. No need for ice cubes let me tell you. Through the Homer Tunnel, (which is a one-way affair adding a little extra excitement to the experience), we passed the impressive waterfalls and sculpted rocks of The Chasm to arrive at the cruise terminal eager to get amongst it.
Our vessel, the striking Milford Mariner was ready and waiting and with its three viewing decks no one was missing out on appreciating what lay ahead. Just as a little side note, you can actually take the Milford experience to the next level and stay overnight on the Mariner. Check out Real Journeys for more on that.
As we pushed our way out towards the mouth of the Sound where it meets the Tasman the precious moments started to unfurl. The ever-changing weather conditions making it all more thought-provoking. Waterfalls that seem to appear from the skies and explode into the waters that lie hundreds of meters below.
The local Southern Fur seals chilling out on their favourite platforms seem to know when it is time to entertain the tourists and become a little more interested in engaging. Some of the big boys weighing in at around 200kgs like to show us who is boss too! The delightful Fiordland crested penguins or ‘Tawaki’ are a real treat to see as they are the rarest penguins on mainland New Zealand. Cute little buggers too.
A highlight without a doubt is when the ship pushes it nose into one of those free-flowing falls and if you are game enough, get yourself in the right spot and let the breeze push the spray directly into your face! Don’t misjudge your position or you could wear a little more water than you had planned. Another highlight is the sight of the all impressive Mitre Peak or Rahotu as it is known to the Maori’s. Wow this is another moment. Standing at a smidge off 1700 metres above sea level it certainly is a sight to behold, and some crazies actually climb it. Not this little black duck.
It’s no wonder this part of our planet has been proclaimed to be the eighth wonder of the world. Truly an amazing adventure awaits you here and one that I highly recommend and I hope leaves you speechless like it did me.
Getting there: Real Journeys have an array of varied options when it comes to Milford and Doubtful sounds and a visit to their website will help you choose the one for you and your family.