Friday, 6 May 2011

Milford Sound Overnight Cruise

Wow, I had and incredible night last night. I went to Milford Sound, a must see in New Zealand. It is actually not a sound but a Fiord, or a series of very sharp steep ridges carved out of the rock by glaciers melting. Geographically it is slightly north-west of Queenstown and not to far, but due to the terrain in Fiordland, the National park on the whole of the south west, there is only one way to drive there. That is drive south to Te Anau nearly 200km then drive on the Milford Road 94km. The Milford Road took nearly 30 years to construct, it started during the deppression in 1935 but due to the weather and WWII it wasn't opened till 1954. The hardest bit was the tunnel through one of the mountains which is 1.5km long and took 9 years to carve out. The drive was, again, on winding mountain roads but these are different to the Southern Alps. They are much steeper and greener, with birds insects and possums the only things which can manage the terrain. We stopped at a mirror lake and an interesting place called the Chasm, as formation in the rock that even Salvador Dali wouldn't have thought of. Again, there are pictures but my camera does not do it justice. The worst time to drive there is in Winter ans spring, Avalanche season. Now there is a very sophisticated avalanche warning system so the road can be closed if it has to, and sometimes they will drop bombs from helicopters to cause the avalanches, of snow, rock and trees. This means they can control the timing and clean up quicker.

After a long drive we finally reached the boat terminal and had our first glimpse of Milford Sound. It was amazing, the shadows were everywhere accentuating the jaggedness of the cliffs. The water was clear and the colours were amazing. We were shown to our rooms after a safely briefing and banana nut muffins. I paid for a 4 bed dorm but actually got my own room, on the ground (or I guess water level) with an outside facing door, rather than an indoor cabin. I also had my own bathroom. We then went outside for the cruise. It was a little windy and raining but as we went through the fiord it got better and better. The Peaks were amazing and it was just the best scenery I've seen since I've been here. We sailed right out to the Tasman Sea and at that point it got very choppy and windy, it wasn't easy to stand and I was regretting not having my hair tied back. It was also starting to get dark and was already very cold. On the way back I gave up with the photos as My camera just wasn't good enough and sat back and enjoyed the ride, especially after entering the Fiord again when it got a little calmer. From the Sea it looks like just a little bay or cove, and that is exactly what Captain Cook thought it was when he first came to New Zealand. What a shame, he would have thought he'd died and gone to heaven.

As it was getting dark I was just about to go inside and make myself a hot drink, when some dolphins were spotted. This has to be the highlight of the night, imagine about 10-12 dolphins surrounding the boat and playing, jumping and diving in the water. Swimming in the wake makes it easier for them, so they take the opportunity when the can for an easy ride. I got some videos of them, they were incredible! I'll have to figure out how to put those of facebook.

After all that excitement it was nearly dinner time. We moored for the night in Harrison's Cove, a sheltered little bit that wasn't to windy. We had assigned seats so I didn't have to worry about who to sit with, as I was on my own. We had a choice of thai pumpkin soup or mushroom (I went for pumpkin, mushrooms are gross) then a buffet dinner. We had a salad bar, roast beef, lamb, venison stew, roast veg, roast potatoes, beans, carrots, brussels sprouts, mussels, pasta for the vegetarians and for some reason special fried rice. It was unlimited food so as you can imagine everyone ate more then their fill. Then came dessert! Chocolate cake, boysenberry cheesecake, apple shortcake, coffee ice cream, fruit salad, dried fruit and nuts, and the highlight: a cheeseboard. Cheese is very expensive over here, I hardly buy it but I love a nice big cheeseboard. They had 5 cheeses, normally in a restaurant you would pay loads of money just for 2, and we got 5!!!!! I love desserts, and I did try a bit of the cheesecake but it was mostly all about the cheese for me. The only criticism was that the brie was to mild, but the rest of the meal, everything was amazing. Not the sort of food a typical backpacker gets to eat.

After dinner we had a slide show of photos from the sound from the past right through to today. The first European here was a man called Donald Sutherland. He was a gold prospector from Queenstown and went west looking for more when the gold started to dry up. However, when he arrived he decided never to leave. After about 12 years he got a bit lonely so he got on a boat and went to Dunedin, and found himself a wife, Elizabeth and brought her back. They opened up a guest house and got people to come and stay. Back then the only way to get to Milford was by boat, or by the Milford Track. Its a 54km, 4 day walk you can still do today, either by camping and carrying everything with you, or paying for a guide, cabins and cooked food, as well as someone to carry your luggage. The postman would come to Milford once a week with post, newspapers and wages. He went a different route, having to climb a mountain and then lower himself down the other side by a knotted rope. Its the ridge where the tunnel now goes through, very scary way to get to work.

After the slide show we played a few board games and had a early night. The captain woke us up for breakfast at 7, where we had a full cooked breakfast, pancakes, cereal and fruit. We then had the choice of kayaking or going out in the tender craft boat. I went out in the boat (got callouses last time I kayaked, and it was cold) and we had the nature guide with us again. We saw starfish, jellyfish, sea urchins, and tiny mussels the size of fingernails which the birds and starfish love to eat. We were also told about how every few years the trees produce lots of sees, which leads to more insects and more small animals, including mice. They swim across the Fiord and get eaten by the trout in the water. We didn't believe the guide so he pulled out a picture take from a newspaper shown a trout a fisherman caught with 12 dead mice in its stomach, 12!!!! They were still nearly whole and he got them when he was cleaning and gutting it! Gross!!! On the way back we saw a seal playing in the water, he was so funny, that was another highlight.

Now as I said I was wishing I had my dad's camera which is a pretty good one. Well the weather was nice this morning and With the sun coming up and the shadows slowly creeping down the ridges I think even my dad's camera would have been useless. You would need some sort of HD billion mm lens with all sorts of fancy stuff to actually capture the real beauty of the place. The best pictures have been take by helicopter.

We then had another cruise before returning to the harbour, and then had another 300km drive back to Queenstown. It was amazing, a trip I will never forget. EVERYONE should come here at some stage in their live, EVERYONE!!!!

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