MILFORD SOUND, NEW ZEALAND
There is a reason why Milford Sound receives over 500,000 visitors a year! This is a phenomenal amount of visitation, especially when you consider that the population of New Zealand is only 4.4 million and has a unique problem called negative population growth. Most of the tourists come during the summer months of December through February so I was lucky to visit off peak. Still, many tour buses roll in for the day where their passengers book a cruise on the sound.
Milford is a highlight of any visit to New Zealand and should not be missed! There is only one road there from Te Anau. Allow at least 2.5 hours for the drive as it is spectacular and the many marked stops are worth getting out and taking 10 to 15 minute walks (I did most of these on the return). I stayed the previous night in a free DOC (Department of Conservation) campground 6 “kays” (as they call kilometers here) south of Te Anau. The fog was low on the land as I had coffee and breakfast in my Juicy Condo and made an 8:00 a.m. departure.
After about 40 minutes of pastoral lands, the landscape became more rugged and we began to climb. The Juicy’s four-banger held its own.
More climbing and the road comes to an immense sheer granite wall. A 2.5 km one lane tunnel is the only way through and we wait about 10 minutes for the opposing traffic to clear before continuing.
Another hour descending hair-pin turns and overdosing on jaw-dropping beauty. I make a note to make many stops on the return. I arrive at Milford Sound and park Juicy. I am supposed to meet Chris and Jenny here as they were planning to finish the Milford trek. After a couple hours and no show (long-term travel has taught me to be very flexible with my plans) I decide I had better book a cruise. The weather is awesome, warm and sunny. There are five or six cruise operators that book out of a large terminal building. Most are larger boats. The lowest is NZ$78. However, Juicy operates a small boat and since I am a customer they give me a rate of NZ50, about US42. Because it is a small boat we will get literally within inches of some of the rocks and waterfalls. I pack a fleece and rain coat, my E3 and lenses, gorillapod and Go Pro. Ready!
Stirling Falls is one of two permanent waterfalls on Milford Sound. This one drops 155m below a hanging valley between Elephant Mountain and the Lion Mountain. Being a gorgeous calm sunny day had its positive and negative aspects. The visibility was superb. The seas were calm and the Gorillapod made easy work of holding a 3 lb. telephoto dead still. However, during a good rain (this area receives over 300 inches per year) hundreds of waterfalls quickly form. Ten minutes after the rain stops, they stop as well. Note to self: Come back for another tour during a rainstorm. The massive Pacific and Australian tectonic plates collide here causing the abundance of dramatic vertical uplift.
Fur Seals, hunted to almost extinction have made a remarkable comeback here in recent years due to the efforts of a very environmentally conscious culture.
Okay, now we’re going to get right up next to a waterfall and get wet. Let’s see how the drip-prof lens and E-3 camera body holds up.
Here we are approaching the Tasman Sea and our turn around point.
But there’s more! A highlight of the return is getting much closer to Stirling Falls.
To see more photos of Milford Sound as well as three great stops on the drive back to Te Anau which include The Chasm, a giant fern forest and another cool roadside waterfall click here.