After a month in my dairy farm in Southland, Julie, the young woman of the farm took me to Te Anau in Fiordland to see her parents and discover the region. As I told you in the previous article, Julie’s parents, Alan and Jill live in the village of Te Anau on the edge of Fiordland National Park, located in the southwest of the South Island. We left the farm, accompanied by Isla, Chloe and Carter, on Monday, September 5 after tea time (diner). I did not see much of the landscape as it was night. We arrived in Te Anau around 10pm where Jill and Alan welcomed us. Transporting children asleep in their beds and I after talking a bit and went to bed too. Tomorrow morning I will visit Milford Sound! Te Anau is the ideal location for exploring the Fiordland region. From the village, it is possible to visit many of the fjords in the region and make a lot of excursions including three Great Walks (supposedly best multi-day walks of New Zealand). Initially, I thought to visit Fiordland simply for hiking. Cruises in the fjords were not part of my list. Too expensive, too touristy. But Julie found me a few days before coming to Te Anau, a cruise on Milford Sound with discounts. $90 instead of $175 with Milford Sound Full Day Tour – VIP Milford! Although it was still expensive for me, I was tempted. Comfort Shuttle of only 18 seats, photo stops and short walks during the journey, 2 hours cruise with buffet. And besides, this is the cousin of Julie, who is driving the shuttle. So I said yes. Justin will pick me from Julie’s parents house at 8am tomorrow morning.
Wonders of Fiordland
The next day I wake up with great weather. The view from the lounge is beautiful. Nice house with large gardens and the snowy Murchison Mountains in the background for landscape. I dressed and take my breakfast quickly and Justin come to pick me. We are only three visitors! Two young Australian girls and me. The day is gonna be quiet.Justin introduces himself and explains how the day is gonna be. About two hours ride with photos / walks breads to reach the fjord around 10:30. From there we board on our boat at 11am for 1h40 of cruise. Justin then will pick us back at 1pm to be bring us back to Te Anau around 3:30pm. It is a bit shorter than I had imagined, but well, it’s like that. We follow Lake Te Anau, which gave its name to the village and I am already amazed by the view. The lake is huge (344 km2) with many arms that dig through the mountains. The temperature difference between the cold night and a day that is gonna be hot creates a little bit of fog. We arrive to Te Anau Downs, a big farm beside the lake where there is also the point of embarkation to reach by boat the start of the Milford Track, the most famous Great Walks. From there, the road leaves the lake to sink into the Eglinton Valley, a beautiful valley formerly occupied by a glacier. The valley is filled with yellow grass meadow and is bounded by steep mountains. In the morning when we went, the place was almost covered of mist creating an extraordinary landscape. Alas no break picture here in the morning. It will be for the return. (Which left me a little disappointed because it was clearly in the morning that the place was more interesting to photograph).
We make our first stop along the small Mirrors Lakes to stretch our legs and enjoy the reflection of Earl Mountains in the lake waters. It’s freezing cold. We pass the Disappearing Mountain, where an optical illusion gives the impression that as we approach, the mountain becomes smaller (not bigger). The landscape is gorgeous. Second stop for photo shoot at the waters of Lake Gunn. The perfectly calm water allows an absolutely incredible reflection of the landscape.
We arrive at the end of the valley, covered with snow and cross the Homer Tunnel. This old tunnel carved in solid granite needed 20 years of work. It measures 1270 meters and is only one way. A spectacular view of the valley awaits us on the other side.
Stroll of forty minutes for visiting The Chams. These are waterfalls on thein the Cleddau River. The turbulent waters sculpted for thousands of years the rocks surrounding the waterfall giving them strange shapes. Back in the car park where Justin await us, I met a Kea, the largest alpine parrot from New Zealand. This is the first time I see one in the wild (and not in an aviary). He is not shy at all, strolling quietly among the few cars in the car park. Justin explains that the Keas are alpine parrots living on the South Island and endangered. They are very curious and mischievous birds, and have not learned the concept of danger that people / cars / dogs can represent. Usually in groups, they do not hesitate to climb on cars, pecking the rubber surrounding the window or rummage in bags left unattended. Which can cause some problems with the many tourists who visit Milford Sound. (A link to listen to the particular sound of Keas).
Fifteen minutes later we arrive at the fjord entrance where a very small village (a few huts and lodges) and the embarcation center. Not a cloud in the sky! Justin drops us and we board on our VIP boat, the Milford Sovereign with a group of twenty Asian. Other than that, the place is not full of tourists. The advantage of leaving Te Anau early in the morning, allows us to avoid the many tourist buses arriving from Queenstown in the fjord around 12pm. For now it is still relatively quiet.
Once embarked on the ship, the two Australian girls and I, rush to the buffet to eat as quickly as possible and then be able to enjoy the cruise. Different dishes (with a majority in Asian style) are waiting for us. I pick a little of everything. Well, it is a delight! And the little pot of ice vanilla to conclude the meal is like the icing on the cake.
I eat my lunch and then rush on the last deck of the boat, outdoor, to enjoy the scenery. It is absolutely beautiful. The high mountains that surround the fjord are covered of New Zealand beech forest. Several waterfalls dump their torrent in the clear waters. The sun’s rays cause contrasts between the mountains. I have the impression of being in the Lord of the Rings in The Fellowship of the Ring when the community passes through the Argonath, the huge statues carved in stone on either side of the Anduin River.
Milford Sound or Piopiotahi in Maori, is a fjord of fifteen kilometers with a depth exceeding 400 meters. The surrounding mountains have abrupt walls and culminate on Mitre Peak at 1692m altitude. This is one of the wettest places in New Zealand.
We stop at Fairy Falls, where the sun’s rays cause pretty rainbows and reach the Tasman Sea where the ship turned back. A small fishing boat accompanied by a horde of gulls pass to our side. From the sea it very difficult to notice the entrance of the fjord. We go back in the opposite direction along this time the other side of the fjord. Four Fur Seals are sitting on Seal Rock, a particularly well-appointed rock. Apparently a mom with children. And we go see Stirling Falls, the most iconic waterfall on the fjord for a free shower.
The end of the cruise ends with a passage at Harrison’s Cove, a beautiful cove covered in large part by a swamp and where there is an underwater observation center. The last waterfall of the cruise, Bower Falls, is located just next to the embarcation center. This is the prettiest of the three, I find.
The Sovereign drops us down and I enjoy twenty minute of free time to marvel at the scenery and the power of the place. This place is an absolute beauty. But it’s not so quiet anymore. The buses from Queenstown have arrived and about 300 people are waiting to board. For the 11am boarding we were about thirty people on the boat. As for the 1pm boarding, the Sovereign will host about 200 people! I’m glad I made the cruise of the morning. Between the absolutely gorgeous weather and the few people present on the boat, it was perfect! It’s just a shame that there is not more free time for walking around the fjord.
The return is very quiet. I talk to Justin about my job on the dairy farm and children, that he knows well. Unfortunately some clouds appear. We meet again a Kea during a photo stop. I have had predicted on the morning, the photo stop in the Eglinton Valley is much less interesting than in the morning. All the mist has disappeared and the clouds obstruct sunlight. Well, I can’t do anything about that. The place still remains impressive.
Justin drops me at Julie’s parents house in the late afternoon where I share my enthusiasm and joy following the visit with Julie and her parents. The evening is concluded quietly with a couple of New Zealanders, family friends, who came to have diner. I fall asleep with lots of beautiful memories in my head and pretty tired after this beautiful day. Following on the next post, the rest of my stay in Te Anau!
Note: all pictures published in this article are my creations. They are not royalty free. Thank you for not using them without permission.