The first challenge is to get to Milford Sound. Unless you own a large yacht, you have 2 choices… You can drive the 76 miles from Te Anau in a rented car or you can take a tour bus. This photo from Wikipedia shows the inside of the Homer Tunnel which leads down to Milford Sound from the mountains.
This is the scariest tunnel we’ve ever driven through. It’s narrow, it’s damp and the walls are unlined granite. The ¾ mile long tunnel was started in 1935 and it wasn’t completed until 1954…with time off for WWII. Two RV’s or two busses going in opposite directions cannot pass each other… There are stoplights at each end of the tunnel that operate in the summer but having vehicles line up at the eastern portal in the winter and spring is too dangerous…due to avalanches.
Since we traversed the Homer Tunnel, they’ve added lights on the ceiling, a satellite phone and fire extinguishers. When a bus caught fire in the tunnel with no lights for the tourists to guide them on their walk to safety, these improvements were deemed prudent.
I almost forgot! There is one other travel option if you want to go to Milford Sound… Another photo from Wikipedia shows the 2,565 foot long runway at the Milford Sound Airport. That would be one heck of a landing and takeoff…not to mention the flight over the mountains!
This is the ‘Milford Wanderer’. The brochure at the time of our visit referred to this vessel as a sailing scow…but my research doesn’t confirm this designation. This is a sail assisted motorized ship with a fairly flat bottom… We choose this over the other options in Milford Sound, and there were several, because it was slower, took longer and it had sails. It reminded us of another time and place…much like Milford Sound.
From what I could gather from the website, RealJourneys now uses the ‘Wanderer’ and a similar ship, the ‘Mariner’, for overnight adventures. Rates start at $189.00 per adult. For more information, you can just go to https://www.realjourneys.co.nz/en/experiences/cruises/milford-wanderer-overnight-cruises/. The same website offers other cruising options on faster and more modern boats as well. A 1 hour and 40 minute scenic cruise starts at $70.00 for an adult.
For perspective, here's another photo ‘borrowed’ from Wikipedia… This shows the head of Milford Sound with the town, airport and the junction of the Cheddau and Arthur Rivers. The population of Milford Sound is about 120. The small port area to the right of the waterfalls at the left side of the photo is where all of the cruises begin and end… The scenery speaks for itself!
Visiting Milford Sound would be exciting and amazing at any time…but good timing and luck can contribute to one’s enjoyment of the place. Here’s the conundrum… If it’s all blue skies and there hasn’t been any rain recently, there are only 2 permanent waterfalls falling down the side of the fiord. If it’s cloudy and raining, there are literally hundreds of waterfalls falling down the cliffs. We were very lucky… It was both cloudy and sunny and there had been plenty of rain!
The mountain at the center of the photo is Mitre Peak…so named for its resemblance to the head ware of Christian Bishops. Mitre Peak is 5,151 feet above the fiord below.
This is just one of the many many waterfalls that we saw during our excursion on the Milford Wanderer… They ranged from those that fell from the cliffs but just blew away in the mist before hitting the fiord to some very impressive waterfalls such as Stirling Falls, (508 feet), and Lady Bowen Falls, (531 feet)…the two permanent falls along the fiord.
Here’s another view of the water coming off the cliffs along the sides of Milford Sound. The mean annual rainfall at Milford Sound is 268 inches or…22 feet 3 inches! A total of 10 inches of rain in a single day is not uncommon. The town is the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand and one of the wettest in the world…
Laurie took this photo of a sea cave along the fiord…
FYI… Milford Sound is 9.3 miles long…stretching from the town to the open sea. The sound or fiord is lined by sheer rock faces on either side that exceed 3,900 feet. In addition to Mitre Peak, other notables mountains along was include ‘The Elephant’ at 4,977 feet and ‘The Lion’ at 4,272 feet.
This is the view from the mouth of Milford Sound… You are looking west across the Tasman Sea toward Australia. The Tasman Sea is about 1,200 miles wide. If you were to look at a map, Milford Sound’s closest city in Australia is Hobart, the capital of Tasmania… Milford Sound is actually more southerly than Hobart. It was windy and blustery as we entered the open sea.
This was a great tour up the fiord! No rushing, very few ‘bus tourists’ due to the length of the cruise, laid back passengers, sails raised near the Tasman Sea… Plus we had a nice mix of clouds, drizzle/light rain and sunshine. Laurie actually joined the crew to help them raise the sails!
This is Stirling Falls…one of the 2 permanent waterfalls mentioned earlier. The captain of the ‘Milford Wanderer’ gently slid the bow of the ship under the front edge of the waterfall. The passengers loved it! (Photo borrowed from the RealJourneys website)
In various places the cliffs and mountains along the sides of Milford Sound alternated bright green with vegetation versus rock slopes stripped bare. The vast amounts of rain soften the soil and moss’s hold on the cliffs and avalanches periodically strip segments of the slopes of all vegetation.
Lucky tourists can view penguins, dolphins, fur seals and occasional whales while cruising on Milford Sound. We did see quite a few New Zealand Fur Seals basking on the many giant rocks along the shore of the sound. Technically, they are Australian Fur Seals…but in Australia they’re referred to as Southern Fur Seals.
Although they were once hunted and endangered, these animals are no longer listed as a threatened or endangered species. The average female weighs between 66 and 110 pounds and they measure 5 feet long. A typical male weighs around 277 pounds and they’re about 6.5 feet long. Males as large as 550 pounds have been reported. These seals are great divers…with the females able to dive over 1,000 feet and stay down for 9 minutes…and the males able to stay down for 15 minutes and reach depths of almost 1,250 feet. That’s close to a quarter mile under water!
Yes… I did lift this photo from Wikipedia… This is one last look at Milford Sound on an almost perfectly sunny day. Spectacular!! Be sure and enlarge this photo...
After a great day on Milford Sound, we drove back up NZ Route 94 for our second night at Te Anau. I do believe that I forgot to mention that this drive has been rated as one of the most photographic drives in the world. We’re sure glad that we didn’t take a bus!
In the next edition, we’ll be headed south…to Invercargill and the edge of civilization.
Just click on any of these photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by and sharing another segment of our New Zealand adventure with us!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave