“No filter!” Rob exclaimed as he enthusiastically thrust his phone in front of my face. The screen showed emerald blue waters with craggy mountains blanketed in rainforest rising out of the waters. It was Milford Sound in the Fiordland National Park. A jewel of natural beauty; it is one of the only fiords easily accessible to the public. Kipling, the author of the Jungle Book, even declared it the “eighth wonder of the world.” The park itself is renowned for the Milford Track, a four day tramp which is up there amongst the list of the best walks in the world and I’ve been told you need to reserve a spot months in advance if you want to do it as it is so popular.
Milford Sound was the number one itinerary item in my books for STRAY’s tour of the Deep South. A three day excursion which leaves and returns to Queenstown hitting Milford Sound, Invercargill and Stewart Island if you wish. We were leaving Queenstown at the crack of dawn to get there to catch the noon boat tour. Alarms were rudely set and we all arrived blurry eyed on the bus ready for shut eye until we reached our first pit stop, Te Anou, a small and quaint town just before you drive into the wilderness of the park. There, the ferry tickets to Stewart Island would be bought if you were popping over on day 2, picking up groceries for the evening and a much needed coffee. The charming café that we were told made great coffees was the Sandfly Café and it’s true! They make a great mocha and the best cookie caramel square that I had while in New Zealand. These are a hybrid of a millionaire shortbread squares and a chocolate chip cookie! What a delicious discovery! Te Anou, is also home to Miles Better Pies, where one can find some of the best pies in New Zealand, according to Pacman. Although I didn’t try them as I was stuffing myself with a cookie caramel square, Jack and Jen both can attest to the claim as they had one from the shop.
We arrived at Milford Sound after witnessing Kea’s and their love of car antennas. We were waiting to go through the Homer Tunnel and in the car park Keas had taken residence on top of a few cars who were also waiting to go through. They are very pretty birds but definitely bold! Pacman got us to the Pride of Milford, a large catamaran that would take us up and down the fiord, in time for our noon tour. The tour gives you running commentary as you chug along and gets you up close and personal to some of the larger waterfalls in the fiord. It was unfortunately gray, windy and cold but Pacman was prepared for anyone who might not have enough layers and provided a whole selection of onsies. Santa, Reindeer, Tiger and a Dinosaur all walked onto the boat with us. While the weather might not have been the best, it didn’t take away from the majestic beauty of the place. Because of the rainfall over the last few days the mountains were covered in waterfalls that magically only appear when it rains. It is so impressive, if only for the sheer size of the mountains surrounding you. You are completely dwarfed, a feeling which is hard to capture in pictures alone.
One of bonuses of doing the Deep South tour with STRAY is that they stay at Gunn’s Camp. Nestled into the national park it resembles a mining camp, complete with little wooden cabins, some with wooden stoves and a giant mess hall with board games and puzzles.. It was originally for the workers who built the road and tunnel into Milford Sound. Supposedly the night sky is unbelievable there as it is an official dark zone, of course, the rain that had patiently waited till we exited Milford Sound came down in torrents so there was no star gazing that evening. We did have a delicous homemade comfort meal of bangers and mash though with enough mashed potatoes to probably have stopped the famine in Ireland.
The next day was a travel day heading down to Invercargill, the Southernmost city in New Zealand stopping off at Mirror Lake and The Chasm. In Invercargill a few of us would take the ferry over to Stewart Island to see if they could find the illusive Kiwi bird, and the rest of us would try the most southerly McDonald’s in the world, take in the Caitlins and go to the most southerly point in New Zealand.
I had chosen to stay on the mainland and because of that we got a coveted leisurely meeting time of 9:30am on the 3rd day. It was a great treat. As we headed out towards the Caitlins for the day Pacman shared his love and stories of the little city as it was his home town. Our first stop was Waipapa Point the start of the Caitlins coming from the South, and home to a lonely wooden lighthouse that was built after one of the country’s worst civilian shipwrecks with 131 lives lost in the 1800s and a lot of fat content sea lions. Jack came across one hiding in the hills and we quickly named him Stanley, snapping away as he showed off his flippers and waddling skills. Next, down a very long and windy windblown road there lies Slope Point. The most southerly point in NZ where one is only 4803km away from the South Pole! Kind of cool! Of course we took the mandatory sign post photograph and then booted it back to the bus to escape the wind! Lunch was eaten overlooking Curio Bay looking for dolphins. Although we never saw any I did get to check off another ocean off my list as Claire, Katy and I dipped our feet into the frigid waters of the Southern Ocean.
By this time our time was running short so we headed back towards Invercargill to pick up the Islanders from the ferry at Sterling Point. We picked up our missing crew, picked up Domino’s for dinner and hit the road bound to Queenstown to meet up for one last soiree with our crew from Nippers Bus.