After spending one night in Queenstown, it was an early morning for an approximatly 5 hour drive to Milford Sound for a senic cruise. I just mapped the distance on Google Maps and it only says 3.5 hours, but you gotta allow for time to stop and take a million pictures along the way. Once you get your arse past Te Anau, get ready for beautiful scenary and lots and lots of stops for pictures. Luckily, even though the road is one of the more popular ones during the summer, there are still so few people, that you can pull off almost anywhere it’s safe to take a picture and you don’t have to worry about being mobbed with lots of crowds. Don’t forget to stop before you enter the Homer Tunnel. And stop off at any of the many Senic Viewing Points to say hello to a Kea bird. These birds are so smart! They look like parrots and will come right up to you begging for food. The one we saw was limping and we were all like, aww, it’s limping! Lets give it food! (We didn’t.) We found out later that lots of them do this trick to evoke sympathy to get food specifically. How funny is that?!
We arrived early for our cruise. Once you get into the Milford area, which will be totally obvious with all the cars filling the parking lot and the road, just find a spot and park where. We went to the cruise boarding area to get our tickets. All the cruises start and end in the same place and under the same roof, so just remember which company you bought from. We did our cruise with Real Journeys and they were good, but I doubt there is much difference between them unless there is something specific you want to see or go on a longer then 3 hour tour (I kid you not with the time). Since we arrived early, we walked back over to the cafe and information centre which was a great place to grab a coffee and snack before the cruise.
The cruise was fantastic. Super touristy, but you kind of have to do it when you come to New Zealand. There are other tours of the area, some focus more on nature and some more adventure ones where you can go kayaking, which I would have liked to do if we had more time. (Oh well, reason to go back someday!) There are also other less popular sounds, such as Doubtful Sound which for some reason or another don’t get the tourist levels that Milford gets, but I am sure are just as good.
This is also home to one of, if not the most popular hike in all of New Zealand in the summer, the Milford Trackwhich takes 4 days to trek.
I did this with my family, so we had a car but another altertive is jumping on one of the millions of day tours from Queenstown where they pile you on a bus and someone else does the driving. After the long day of driving I had and getting stuck behind a bus on the long and windy road out of the Sound, the bus route actually sounds pretty good.
Instead of driving all the way back to Queenstown that night, we stopped for a night in Te Anau and stayed at the Edgewater Motel which was very pleasant. We got upgraded to the Honeymoon suite, which had a jet bathtub, which I claimed immediatly as I hadn’t stayed in a place with a tub in nearly a year and because of all the driving I had done. Ohmigod, it was fantastic. Unfortunatly, we were only in town one night, but the next morning, my sister woke up early and went for a run on the lake’s edge and I remember her coming back and saying how nice everyone she ran by was. Everyone said hello to her! That’s New Zealand for ya!
Moral: The whole thing is super touristy, but for good reason. The sceneary is so beautiful, spiritual, as my mother said. It rains most of the year, so summer is your best bet, but still not a gaurentee. We got super lucky with our weather and it was a fantastic day. We saw seals sunning on rocks, dolphins in the water and full water falls. It was worth the drive and a great way to start a great trip.