The three carparks for the public were once again full of rentals; cars, sleeper vans & motorhomes of every shape, size & style. Private cars were few and far between & once again we felt like strangers in our own country. The bus parking at the boat terminal was full, tour buses lined both sides of the park and still more were arriving. The late morning & early afternoon cruises are always busy as this is when the buses arrive form Te Anau & Queenstown. Having now driven the Te Anau – Queenstown road, I can’t imagine what a long day of travel tourists put themselves through. It’s bad enough one way, Queenstown to Te Anau but then they have the 2 hour Milford Road to travel & then the Sound cruise, I think most would be asleep on the return journey!
We decided, after experiencing Doubtful Sound on a big boat, we’d do Milford, mid afternoon on a small one & chose Mitre Peak Cruises. Unfortunately at that time of the day & after all the rain and now the hot sun, the haze on the mountains surrounding the Sound was quite bad. I thought perhaps these should be called the Blue Mountains of Milford. There were many boats out on the Sound but not enough to detract from the beauty. Our first view, as the boat pulls out from the wharf & taking centre stage, is the iconic 1700 metre high Mitre Peak. I’d love to see it in winter when the air would be clear and the peak covered in snow.
Being on a smaller boat meant the skipper could follow along the edge of the Sound very close to the towering rock faces. We were able to see many of the smaller waterfalls & any wildlife on the very few ledges along the way including these seal pups sleeping in the sun.
We wait our turn to check out a small waterfall that sends a gentle spray over the deck.
Milford Sound is quite a bit smaller than Doubtful, only 16kms long compared with 40km, and it’s also a lot narrower. Before long we were out the entrance and into the Tasman Sea on the West Coast. Being narrower than Doubtful the sheer rock walls appeared to rise more dramatically out of the calm waters, or perhaps that was because we were exploring much closer to them than when we were on the bigger boat.
And then just as I finished explaining, the cry went out “Dolphins to port” and there steaming very fast towards us were a mother & her calf, just as the boat had turned and we were heading back into the Sound. The girls were ecstatic, jumping & waving about. Way off to the side the rest of the pod splashed and jumped but only these two came close and rode our bow wave (slowly) back to the entrance, where they then peeled off and swam back to their family.
The mother kept very close to the calf and nudged it out of the way occasionally, she also kept herself between us & the baby as they surfed the bow wave & swum under and around the boat. It was like she was showing the calf the “tricks of the trade”, how to have a bit of fun with the many boats that visit each day.
Our next port of call was 146 metre glacier fed Stirling Falls, one of only two permanent falls in the Sound. The falls drop from a classic “hanging valley” carved out between the mountains long ago.
Our last point of interest is just along from the cruise terminal. The Lady Bowen Falls drop 161 metres into the Sound and are the termination of the Bowen River. The falls provide Milford village with their electricity from a small hydroelectric scheme, and are also the water source for the settlement.
We both enjoyed the cruise very much but if I had to choose I think it would be Doubtful Sound. And maybe that was because it was an early morning cruise when the sun was still low and the water calm making it much easier to photograph. That, along with the size & isolation, the feeling that you were exploring a hidden gem that not too many people get to see (not that Milford isn’t isolated, because it is). Then again Milford is more dramatic where the walls seemed to be closing in on you. They are both different but equally beautiful.
On our way back along the covered walkway to the car we had one more encounter with the local wildlife, a very large stick insect heading out onto the road, she (females are much larger) started swaying as we approached (trying hard to look like a twig in the wind) which actually gave her away, if she had stayed still I probably would have thought she was a twig on the path. David got her to walk onto his hand and moved her into the bushes. We were ahead of the crowd and I’m sure if we hadn’t spotted the insect she would have been squashed under foot.
And that was it. The road to Milford, done & dusted. We had a fantastic time, walked some beautiful tracks, saw some amazing scenery, enjoyed many encounters with the wildlife & thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Cascade Creek. And the best bit of all? Taking twelve days to do it.