Queenstown Week 2: The Most Stunning Scenery Thus Far – Fiordland & Milford Sound

Finally all of the bumming around Queenstown has led to some excitement when I went on my long awaited, highly anticipated day-trip through Fiordland to the Milford Sound in what was easily the most beautiful drive I’ve ever taken. I rode past heaps of snow-capped mountain ranges, met up some with cheeky keas, witnessed an abundance of waterfalls, and finally cruised through the moody, foggy Milford Sound. This is what you come to New Zealand for.

The weather has been iffy the last several days that I’ve been here. Some days are clear and warm, then others are dreary and overcast so you just never know. One thing I have to say I do love about Queenstown, though, is that even on the rainiest and gloomiest of days, it still manages to be beautiful af.

God Rays in Queenstown
I mean, just look at that…

I’d booked my Milford Sound cruise a few weeks in advance because I’d found a killer deal online (if you’re traveling NZ, I’d recommend having a look on Bookme.co.nz for crazy good deals on activities depending on the dates you choose – I paid only $65 for this entire bus + cruise trip!) so I jumped on it to lock it in. However once the day was approaching I could tell the weather was going to be completely wretched so I called and asked if it was possible to adjust the dates and luckily they were able to do it for me. Fortunately my newly rescheduled date was rather warm and clear. Huzzah! It’s worth noting that some people say it’s better to go on cloudy or rainy days because the clouds and fog settle in lower, and the waterfalls are more intense – you probably can’t choose a bad day to go.

Snow-Cap: Te Anau-Milford Hwy - Fiordland National Park
But for the record, I chose a good day to go ;)

I woke up at the crack of nonsense so I could pack my lunch, eat breakfast and catch my 6:30 a.m bus then set off. Our tour guide Lewis made relentless attempts at humor but was informative and interesting at times so I endured to as many of his weird puns and sarcastic dad jokes as I could stand before putting headphones in to drown it all out. He made a lot of oddly specific measurements and numerical values for plant and animal life, and I didn’t see a cheat sheet in his hand so part of me wonders if he was just bullshitting us half the time or if he really had all that memorized. One of the things I liked best about our bus was that it had a sun roof type viewing window so you can see that much more of what’s up ahead [video of the sunroof to better demonstrate what I mean].

Top of the bus - Fiordland
Winduhs for days.

The scenery we passed was nothing short of unreal. The mountains all had a clouds that couldn’t decide if they were just fog or not, the mountains still had some snow on them that hadn’t quite melted, and the rivers were all a clear blue. Put it all together and you have scenery that is impossible to take a bad photo of.

Tutoko River near Pop's View Lookout
The river has this unreal blue color b/c of the presence of mica (or so said Lewis).

On the way from Te Anau to Milford Sound, we made a pit-stop at Monkey Creek where Lewis advised we can fill up our water bottles from the stream since the water is fresh from the glacier. I went ahead and passed on this for fear of my accident-prone self somehow messing up and getting dysentery. I did, however, meet a couple of cheeky keas that were just chilling beside our bus probably hoping one of us would drop a snack for them. Lewis informed us that they’re some of the most clever parrots – even though they can’t speak, they have been known to attack sheep and to coordinate with other keas in distracting travelers whilst the others go on the bus and steal the hiker’s lunches. Cheeky. With us though they just tried to eat our shoes [video of shoe-starved kea].

Kea at Monkey Creek
They’re so fluffy and fearless – they let me get remarkably close to them.

Probably the worst part about this drive (other than having to be seated in the same spot for nearly ten hours) was there was this one girl on our bus who was obsessed with taking as many photos of possible, usually with her posing in front of whatever it is she’s interested in. This resulted in us spending at least 5 extra minutes waiting on her to wrap up her photo shoot at every stop to the point that upon her finally getting back on the bus, Lewis made a snide remark that if “we” can’t get back on the bus in time, then the driver will just leave “us” for the next coach to pick up on the way. He used the royal we so as to not make the girl feel like she being personally attacked, but we all knew who he was talking about. Any and all resentment I had toward Lewis’ dorky commentary was then replaced in that atta’boy moment.

Monkey Creek - Fiordland National Park
Ol’ Monkey Creek. It’s not clear why it’s called that. Shoulda asked my main man Lewis.

Five hours (including pit stops) of driving later, we finally arrived at Milford Sound. The cloud cover was settling in over the tops of the hills and mountains, and distant waterfalls were rushing down pretty much everywhere on both sides which looked quite epic [video of distant falls].

Milford Sound Cruise
The Sound looks like a scene out of Jurassic Park.
Distant waterfall - Milford Sound
Foggy Fiordland falls…

We cruised down the sound (technically it’s a fiord – the difference is that a fiord is made up of glacier water whereas a sound is river water [at least according to Lewis’ spiel which I never fact checked]) for about forty minutes before we reached the end then turned around and headed back. Since it wasn’t raining and was rather warm, I decided to stay up on the top viewing deck at the very front so I could take it all in. The only downside to this was that despite being warm, it was incredibly windy from up there [vid of me smiling despite all odds].

Bundlin' up on the Cruise
I decided warmth > fashion and as a result looked like this for forty minutes.
Selfies on the Sound
During a brief nautical break when the winds died down, I took a slightly more flattering selfie.

On our cruise ride back we passed through Stirling Falls and went nearly underneath it. Everyone who was on the top deck got soaked. I went up there briefly to see what all the chaos was about but then noped the hell out of there as soon as it started pouring down on top of us. It as hilarious watching how determined some of those people were to get footage of what? Inside the waterfall?! [vid of the chaos that ensued on top deck]

Sterling Falls view from below - Milford Sound
View of Stirling Falls from the safety of the lower quarters.

After our shower we were pretty much back at the harbor then we loaded all in the bus yet again for another five hour journey back. On our trip home, though, we made a couple stops. First we had a twenty minute excursion at a place called The Chasm which is about a ten minute walk in, then you see a huge eroded rock hole with buckets of teal water spilling through. I tried to muster the enthusiasm for what a spectacle it was to behold but honestly I was pretty beat at this point, and just wanted to go home. Looking back The Chasm was actually one of the more interesting nature phenomenons I’ve seen [vid of The Chasm – it’s actually quite cool].

The Chasm - Fiordland National Park
Watch the video – this photo doesn’t do it justice.

 

By the time we got to our second pit-stop Mirror Lake, I nearly slept through it but pushed myself to take at least one photo while we were here. It was ‘meh’ since the weather/wind was not particularly still so it wasn’t exactly living up to its name.

Mirror Lake - Fiordland National Park
If you zoom in, you can see the mirrored Mirror Lake sign that is legible from the reflection of the water.

That’s about the long and short (but mostly long) of it! After a 12 hour saga I finally crashed in bed after a long day of sitting through mediocre dad jokes and breathtaking scenery. You take the good with the bad and I guess that’s just life.

Full gallery of Fiordland and Milford Sound photos here.

Next time: Paragliding in Wanaka!

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4 thoughts on “Queenstown Week 2: The Most Stunning Scenery Thus Far – Fiordland & Milford Sound

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  1. Thank you. Yes – if you do decide to visit NZ you cannot miss the Fiordlands. And I’m traveling all over the country for a year so I hope to see some more beautiful scenery as I go :)

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