Milford Sound is, according to the Lonely Planet, one of the top 100 places to visit in the world. Fjordland, the National Park in which it sits, is ranked second only after Yellowstone. With that in mind, we were pretty excited to be headed towards the area. Our only reservation was it is also one of the wettest places on Earth with more than 6m of rain falling annually – six times the national average of NZ – and summer was already a month late. And it was cold. And raining……
Milford Sound is very definitely at the end of the road. The nearest town, with the last access to food and fuel is Te Anua which is about 100km S of Milford. It also has an excellent pie shop called Miles Better Pies. The Venison and the Chicken and Cranberry ones are strongly recommended – yum. The whole area is protected and only officially approved sites have been developed, most of them to a basic standard. Few businesses are allowed to operate within the park and are tightly controlled. The number of campsites is small and each is allowed few campers. For self contained vans, it is a little easier with several dedicated sites that they can park up on. Conservation is the name of the game.
We chose to stay at the wonderfully named Knob’s Flat, about 50km short of Milford Sound and the last campsite that had space for tents. Note for others – you MUST book ahead if you wish to stay in the Milford Sound. If you don’t you are most likely going to find yourself all the way back at Te Anua. We arrived in the rain and set up on a damp spot, surrounded by bog. The whole area had had heavy rain for several weeks, summer just not arriving as it was supposed to and everything was waterlogged. Sadly that also meant low cloud and fleeting views of the hilltops around us.
The campsite had an excellent little kitchen which, due to the small number of campers allowed, never felt too busy and was a friendly chatty place. We met some exchange students from Edinburgh Uni doing some exploring and a UK mum, Alice and Rose, her very small daughter, travelling in a beat up caravan, wondering if she really wanted to go back to Europe.
Although advertised as such, it didn’t really have “the best showers in the world”. Saying that, we saw a few walkers coming out of them with big grins on their faces, having warmed up for the first time in days. It is all relative.
I dare say the drive up to Milford would have been amazing if we had been able to see anything. As it was, there were an awful lot of waterfalls, lots of steep green slopes disappearing into the cloud and a boring amount of rain. The highlight was the 1.5km long tunnel, burrowed through a mountain to reach the valley that led to the Sound.
Even though we could only see to about 1100m, Milford Sound was still pretty special. The waterfall by the ferry port was thundering away and throwing our huge amounts of water and spray. We walked around the Sound on one of the trails, dodging the rain and seeing some bedraggled wildlife, mainly consisting of Chinese tourists, of which there were many……
On the way out from Milford Sound, on the recommendation of our camp manager, we stopped at The Chasm. Well named, millennia of water has torn through the earth, leaving interesting shapes ground out of the rock, a very, very deep gully and lots of roaring noise.
In the car park, we met NZ’s parrot, the Kea, of which there are thought to be about 5000 left. One took a shine to Eleanor’s boots. They are not tame as such, just so used to being watched they feel totally unthreatened. There are notices up everywhere asking tourists not to feed them at all. Their colouring allows them to blend in to the green canopy. Once they flex their wings, you get a glorious blast of colour as the hidden orange and red plumes suddenly become visible. Their habitat was hard hit during the logging eras of the past century but their numbers are now on the increase.
Our last stop in the Sound was at Lake Marion. There were a couple of walks we could have done including a few hours hack up to the lake itself but with more rain forecast and not being well equipped if bad weather had come in, we opted for the shorter walk, following the trial up the hill for a couple of miles, crossing a rather wobbly swing bridge (largely due to Hannah and Eleanor’s antics on it) to see the rumbling waterfalls.
The whole drive back to Te Anua was in drizzling rain and again we got to see only the bottom of the valley. I suppose we were just unlucky with the weather but it was a shame that one of the most glorious areas of NZ had chosen to hide itself from us. We left Knobs Flat and Milford a little disappointed and headed towards Cromwell and Queenstown. Queenstown is a winter skiing destination, described as very touristy in the summer season but a favourite of Lorna of Quatsino and Cromwell, just up the road , a recommendation of Paul Sell, an area he loves for its walks. We stopped just once more at the pie shop and headed N following the inland road to our destination.