Now for the best part, Fiordland! This area is part of a national park that encompasses the entire southwest coast of the island and has multiple fjords, many of which are rarely ever seen or influenced by people. In other words: the coolest place you will ever go. Kylie and I headed off from Queenstown on a Jucy bus tour which gave commentary and stopped at all the major sights on the Te Anau-Milford road. Our bus driver’s name was Oz and he was super awesome. The road was absolutely a destination in itself! I see now why they call it one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Soaring, huge, snow-peaked mountains were on all sides of us the entire way there and it just got better at Milford! Once at Milford Sound (actually, it’s a fjord, but that’s a different story) we took a cruise in the afternoon/evening which was just beautiful. Peaks from sea level to over 900 meters (that’s 3,000 ft!) enveloped us and we were lucky to have come on a rare sunny day, so we got to see it all! There were a couple of awesome waterfalls (that I took way to many pictures of) and fur seals! That night Kylie and I headed to the only accommodation in Milford Sound and hit the hay early.
The next morning, due to some weird planning and bad refund policies, I took another cruise through a different company. I preferred the evening cruise scenery, but the commentary was much better on this one. That afternoon we decided to try a tramp that was close to the lodge called Tukato Valley. It was a beautiful tramp through lush rainforest, complete with scrambling over tree roots and rocks with a few stream/bog crossings thrown in there for good measure. The trail was supposed to end up at a waterfall with the view of Tasman glacier in about 2.5 hrs but, as we learned once again, DOC cannot tell time. After four hours of tramping, the clearing in the trees seemed no closer and it was getting late in the day, so we decided to head back without getting a view. It was pretty disappointing and frustrating to do such a difficult tramp with little payoff, but we got over it after a bar of Cadbury. It was a good lesson that not everything can go right. The next day we packed up from the Milford Lodge and headed to Marian Lake, which was about 40 minutes from the lodge. This was by far one of my favorite tramps in New Zealand so far. After the day before, the trail seemed super easy and we sped up it in less than an hour to arrive at one of the most stunning alpine glacial lakes I have ever seen. Marian Lake is on the smaller side, but the water is the vibrant blue-green of NZ that I love and it was nestled in a bowl of sheer mountains that had a brushing of snow at the top. I even took a quick dip, and I am really happy I did! After that we headed for The Divide to do the other side of the Routeburn up to Key Summit. Again, this walk was super easy and we zoomed up the trail in no time. Unfortunately it was rather cloudy at Key Summit (919 m), but we did get breaks in the clouds every now and then and the view was spectacular! We could actually look down on Marian Lake from one viewpoint which gave a cool perspective. After that we waited out the sandflies for our shuttle and headed to Te Anau.
The next morning we met up with Ben and Marius in Te Anau and headed to Doubtful Sound for an overnight cruise. Doubtful is much less trafficked due to the difficulty of getting to it (boat ride plus coach), but it was definitely more stunning then Milford! That day there was heavy wind and rain but it just made it better because all the temporary waterfalls were in full force. There was water rushing down the mountains into the fjords at every look; I couldn’t count the waterfalls if I tried. The cruise also had AMAZING food and we all ate better than we had in weeks. That evening I went on a kayak trip that was included in the cruise and got to see some waterfalls and wildlife up close, which was definitely worth the wet clothes. The next morning it had cleared up, which was awesome because we got to experience both sides of Doubtful. It was absolutely gorgeous and near the end of the cruise we went into Hall Arm and they did this thing called “the sounds of silence” where they turned off all the motors and no one was allowed to move or take pictures for three minutes. It was the perfect ending to an extraordinary trip—I could have stayed there for hours. That afternoon we arrived back in Te Anau and I went on a trip to see glow worms, which are little worms that glow bright blue in caves. The highlight of the tour was the end, where you’re put in a boat and it’s guided, in complete darkness, through a cave that is just covered in glow worms. It was a super cool experience and I would definitely suggest it. The next day we packed up and left for Dunedin, which you can read about in the previous post.