We had a short window of good weather, and time, to visit Milford Sound, having to return to Dunedin in 2 days for a (very important) Super Rugby match! We arrived late at a rest area on the way to Te Anau, located on a parking lot of an old train station, which was quite original.
The next day we drove to Te Anau, the weather being still uninspriringly grey, we did a spot of shopping and popped into the tourist info. There we found out that we couldn’t afford any of the many amazing, but overpriced, activities on offer, so opted for the cheapest: a 2-hour boat ride around the Sound tomorrow, for 50 $NZ.
In the afternoon we decided on a short hike to the first hut along the Kepler Track, one of NZ’s famous Great Walks. The flat, easy, trail meandered through dense mossy forest and along a few quiet rivers and marshes. We were slightly underwhelmed, probably because by now we had had our fare share of forest walks. Renaud was inspired by the find of a perfectly-shaped stick, to hold a little javelon-throwing session. We walked all the way to the hut, the sandfly-infested lake, and back to the trailhead.
We still had a few hours of driving to reach the closest affordable campsite to the Milford Sound ferry terminal. It was very pretty, located in a grassy valley, and decorated with original ‘3D’ Irish jokes! We didn’t linger outside long enough to fully appreciate the sparkling sky above, due to the strong, bitter-cold wind. But a hot shower, and roast chicken with fried potatoes later, and we were as good as new!
We got up early the next morning for the boat tour. It was a beautiful day fortunately, the soft early morning sun casting golden crowns on the round domes of the fjords.
The boat wasn’t full, and the captain and staff were quite entertaining. We even got a bacon and egg roll for breakfast. We navigated through the deep blue waters, admiring this alien landscape, which looked like giant vegetated boulders had been dropped hap-hazardly into this vast stretch of blue lake that spilt into the agitated Tasman Sea.
We were reminded of our boat tour through the Sumidero Canyon in Mexico. This time, instead of crocodiles, we saw seals lazing in the sun along the shore, and a huge pod of bottle-nosed dolphins playfully racing the boat, and doing all sorts of pirouettes in and out of the water, right beside us. This lucky sighting included a mum and her cute calf, just learning to swim ‘belly-up’.
We ended the tour with a close-up of one of the many towering waterfalls that drop from the shear cliffs into the icy waters bellow. We got sprayed as we passed through the cloud of mist at its base.
It was still early by the end of the tour, so we decided to tackle the ‘Gertrude’s Saddle’ hike, classed as a very difficult ‘tramp’ in NZ terms, and offering a different, and cost-free, perspective on the fjords. We stopped at a few viewpoints and a small gorge on the way, and had lunch in the sun, at the trailhead.
We were one of the last to leave, at 1 pm, so we had to pick up the pace. It was steep uphill all the way, but we were rewarded at every turn with beautiful clear views on the valley behind us and the rugged snow-speckled mountain faces around us, reflected in the still water of tiny enclaved lakes.
The final ascent was easier, just scrambling across smooth granite rock. We only saw the other side of the ridge we were climbing towards at the end of the hike: a hazy view across the fjords all the way to the Tasman Sea, the trees in the forests just below our feet, as tiny as ants.
We enjoyed the spectacular scenery, basking in the dying afternoon sun for a full hour, before rushing down to beat nightfall. We would probably rate that as the best day-hike we did in NZ, and mainly thanks to the amazing weather (it shouldn’t be attempted otherwise). A perfect ending to our express stay in the world-famous Milford Sound area.
That night we drove to a cheap camp an hour away, enjoying a home-made Mexican dinner by the first, and only, campfire we would make in NZ (they are almost always banned, and the wood is almost always too wet!).
The next morning the glorious sunshine revealed our surroundings: endless fields of high golden grass cupped by dizzying granite rock-faces. We were vitually alone in the campsite and in good spirits for the first time in a long time! We departed after breakfast, headed the second time to good-ol’ Dunedin!