Thursday, October 13, 2011

Milford Sound

It was time to let someone else do the driving. And, if you are going to have someone drive you this route then it might as well be someone who has driven it 2,612 times previously. Jack, our guide, has counted every single trip he has taken to Milford Sound and back, and after 17 years he still brings a camera every single day. He failed to mention that no camera could do justice to what lay ahead of us today.

The Milford road is about 120km of New Zealand 'highway' that runs from Te Anau to Milford. Milford is the only part of the 1.2 million hectare Fiordland National Park that is accessible by road, and what a road it is. Starting at 200m above sea level, it climbs to a peak of 940m at the nerve testing Homer tunnel, before winding all the way back down to the shore at land side of the Milford Sound.

The rain fell steadily from the grey sky that seemed closer than normal as 5 of us all told clambered into the van and headed up the Milford road. We drove along the lake shore for half an hour before forking away and winding upwards through open forest and around smaller ranges.

About an hour in we stopped at a rest stop at the wonderfully named and remarkable 'Knobs flat', a spirit level flat area of the Fiordland National park amongst all the mountains, with an ecosystem all of it's own. We hopped out to answer the call of nature and I had let Sanne trot around and stretch her little legs when a bus load of Korean visitors pulled up. Rather than go ahead and do their duty they circled the child and 'oohed' and 'aahed' and clapped at her for ten minutes before being ushered back onto their bus. Either they thought the child was a species unique to Fiordland or there is a tiny cult operating in Korea with a teeny mop-haired leader.  

Waterfall along Milford Road
We continued on upwards, the road getting steeper and the gear changes lower. Every bend in the road revealed another marvel. Temporary waterfalls caused by the heavy rain littered the cliffs above us, rushing down onto the road. Where the cliffs and forest cleared, we were left with looking down on the whispy clouds circling the mountains below us.

At the highest point in the road we reached the Homer tunnel. Dug out of the mountain 150 years ago, this 3/4 mile long one-lane yet two-way tunnel is a sight to behold. Pitch black and only 3.8 metres high at it's highest point, the tunnel uses a traffic light system in the Summer, but in the Winter when the danger of avalanches is high, it's every vehicle for itself, get through the tunnel as fast as you can, and by no means hang around outside it's mouth.

From there we started our descent down to sea level, one kilometre in ten, right down to the wharf at Milford sound.

We clambered onto the boat and with a bit of food and hot coffee in our bellies we pushed out into the sound.

This is where I started shooting with the camera at a rate of knots.Necessary, but worthless. There are no photos that I've seen that do Milford Sound justice. Sailing out from the shore with cliffs looming either side of us, we moved into the rain, mist, and cloud. Out of nowhere a huge black form rose from the water in front of us, triangular in shape wearing the clouds as a shawl. In seconds, Mitre Peak emerged from the water like some sea monster from a B movie, standing in the way of any sailor to come it's way, a guardian of the sound.

Mitre Peak
All around us cliffs stood sheer out of the water, some higher than the eye could see, some taller than the mind could comprehend, all draped in waterfalls provided for our entertainment by the rain. The sound has permanent falls also, some named, some not, such are the quantity of natural wonders on display. All are dramatic, either in the distance they travel, or the roar they make as they collide with the sound, or both.

Stirling Falls - Milford Sound
Temporary falls at Milford Sound
And all the while, as we sailed just 6 of the 14km of Milford Sound, the rain fell, the mist rose, and the clouds continued to shroud everything on display. Ancient and epic. The only things missing were a few Lord of the Rings characters, and an Enya soundtrack.

On our way back to Te Anau we stopped again shortly before the Homer tunnel to take in the encore that Milford was performing, snow swirling around the grey rocks spiralling above and below us.

Pulling into Te Anau on our return there was no doubting the score; Mother Nature 1 Everything else 0.


  1. WOW! I feel like I was 'almost' there with you! Spectacular

  2. Milford Sounds sure put on a show for you! It has atmosphere in the mist and rain. And in brilliant sunshine too. In my one and only visit there I had walked from the head of Lake Te Anau along the 33 mile Milford track to Sandfly point where we were picked up by boat and taken to the camp ground at Milford. A great walk.

  3. Did you not freeze on the boat? I love to read you like it so much there. And I had almost forgotten about the kind kiwi Koreans!

  4. It's nice, don't get me wrong, but it's no Baltimore!!!