South Pacific Part 9: Milford Sound

The drive from Dunedin to Te Anau took almost 4 hours and when we got to Lakeside Motel, I went into the reception to check in, got our key and a map of the drive to Milford Sound. It was one of the few times I stayed at motels since not much choices in Te Anau, the closest town to the famous Milford Sound! Luckily I booked in advanced too, rooms do sell out in this small town! Our room wasn’t too bad; it was quite spacious with a little kitchenette, dining table, and one bedroom. However, the free 1 GB wifi here is slow as snail, couldn’t even load anything!

Our bedroom, the bed was urg….but what oh well just one night!

We drove to the town center for lunch, I planned to go to Mainly Seafood but it was closed at lunch! We walked to the nearby China City instead and it was really a bad choice! I should say tourist trap! After the cheap and delicious Asian food in Dunedin, we had a sticker shock looking at its menu! First time ever, I have seen a Chinese menu with the size of the dishes (usually common with soup) and the “large” portion cost at least 50% more. The “average” portion already expensive so never mind the “large”! We three ordered the same thing – the pan fried flat noodle with beef, a famous Cantonese fried noodle dish. Price was $17 NZD oh my god, it was probably the most expensive pan fried flat noodle I ever had, even after converted to USD! It was my first time seeing this dish fried with cabbage instead of bean spouts! It tasted greasy too yikes! We ate it fast before the tour bus showed up…

We walked back to get our car and passed by those unique looking flowers, it reminded me of peacock but pink! Anyone know what’s this flower called?

After we filled our gas tank (there are no gas station after Te Anau so make sure you fill it up before the drive), we start our journey to Milford Sound, a 2 hours drive down there and only one road to get there!

The 2 hours has many scenic spots to stop for photos, and hiking trails if you have time, I found the map that I got from the motel online:

Within a half hour drive or so, we reached Te Anau Downs, the water there is crystal clear!

Eglinton Valley, it looked endless till to the snow capped mountains! My silly brother:

We made quick stops and when we left, a bus tour came!

Mirror Lakes, the parking spaces along the road was packed so we had to park further and walked, the walk was just 10 minutes or so.

On a wind-less day, the crystal clear water reflected like a mirror but not the day we went:

Couldn’t read “Mirror Lakes” perfectly due to the wind:

Those grasses are under the water, see how clear it is?

We walked back to our car and continued our way….and all suddenly we passed by an open field of fully blooming lupines! We turned back and pulled over for photos! OMG my dream came tree, a whole field of blooming lupines! (Lupines are considered foreign and invasive plants)

The shades of pink and purple on the bright green field with mountain peaks as backdrop, I couldn’t have asked for more!

I had to walk in for photos with the colorful field but I was extra careful not in physical contact with the plants as ticks love lupines (in New Hampshire it was not sure about in New Zealand)!

Surrounded by my favorite colors – pink and purple!

I was asking Jason can we stop by again for sunset photos?

Hollyford Valley Lookout:

Jason spotted a stream so we pulled over to check it out, how cold is the water brother? Freezing cold!

Monkey Creek:

We reached Homer Tunnel, a one lane tunnel and only way to get to Milford Sound. The “red light” here could take a long time so feel free to snap some photos while waiting!

Those mini waterfalls:

Our old Toyota but it got us where we wanted to go in the South Island:

We went back to line up and yay green light! I was getting a little bit excited going in this tunnel, it was so dark in there felt like those scary rides at the amusement park!

Signals off 8 PM to 6 AM hum…wouldn’t it be very scary to have another car coming from the opposite direction and then you’ll need to back all the way out in pitch dark?

We made it through the tunnel!

After the tunnel, it was a zig-zag way down, all the way down! Last point of interest before Milford Sound: The Chasm. It was a nice short hike to take a break!

The round trip loop only took 15 minutes or less if you walk fast like us. We looked down from this bridge and felt the force of the glacier water rushing down the stream! Look at how blue the water is!

On one side of the stream, those rocks have abnormal holes in them, I couldn’t believe nature craved them instead of man-made!

This info display showed how those holes were formed by water and stone:

We finally arrived Milford Sound, the iconic fjord! There are a few parking lots there and the very last one (also the closest to the cruise ship terminal) is for tour buses only. We got there at around 3:30 pm and the parking lots were still quite full. We parked across from the visitor’s center where there are restroom facilities. The walk from the parking lot to the cruise terminal was a good 10-15 min walk but very scenic for photos!

Mitre Peak on the background! The clouds were extremely low that it looked like they were floating on the mountains. The countless peaks, one behind another, with the clouds made it looked dreamy, very dreamy that you want to rub your eyes to see them clearer!

I booked in advanced the last tour at 4:30 pm with Mitre Peak Cruise at $70 NZD per person. I picked this tour because it has smaller boats so it could get closer to the cliffs and longer duration. We checked in but were still early so we walked out to the cruise terminal for photos.

There’s a little path out:

It was very windy there!

One of the Jucy cruise ship departing to start its tour:

I had to put my hood on to secure my hair and my brother….LOL!

After the long wait, we were the first ones to board and our strategy was head straight up to the deck, each take one side so we will get photos of each side! The deck quickly filled with many other photographers, some even without a seat on the deck, glad we were the first ones in! The boat started to move and right after we turned out of the terminal, there is the first waterfall we saw!

And more….

A look back of the terminal and the waterfall we first saw on the left side. Look at how low those clouds are!

Set sail!

More of the low hanging clouds!

And countless numbers of waterfalls! It was sunny blue sky when we were there but I heard Milford Sound is the most dramatic when it’s raining or right after the rain!

My brother and I sat on the left side of the boat when facing front while Jason on the right side. On the first few minutes of the ride, water was splashing on Jason’s side that people on his side got up and stepped back from the bench, it was getting wet! Our side was dry but with no face fronting view of the waterfalls on the first 20 minutes or so of the cruise. Instead of waterfalls, I took photos of those sharp straight up cliffs:

Then, the captain announced the sea lion rock on our side….wow so many sea lions resting there!

Many photographers in this cruise!

The sea lion rock:

Another cruise ship went by, the larger ships couldn’t get as close as the smaller ones!

My side’s turn for waterfalls!!! We got so close that I felt like the water drop right on us! Well, we got a bit wet from the mist!

It was getting windier and colder that my thin layer hoodie was not made for this cruise! I kept rubbing my hands to keep warm and hide my body next to the staircase so it could block some of the crazy wind! We sailed through the fjord into the open ocean!

And then made a turn back into the fjord once again in hunt for….dolphins!!!! As soon as the captain said dolphins, forget about the cold, time for photos! Those two got so close to our boat that my 24-70 mm lens was able to capture them instead the need of a super zoom lens 🙂

A pod of them there!

There were swimming back and forth both sides of our ship, so adorable!

Then we had to say good bye to those dolphins 😦

Back to the cold again….by this time the deck was getting empty as people couldn’t stand the cold and went downstairs to take shelter!

I walked downstairs to the front of the ship to check out the view, you can tell I was very cold LOL!

Another waterfall that we got so close to, this is called the Rainbow Fall, and you know why!

Getting closer and the mist started to blur my lens!

Double rainbows!

I was cold and got wet taking those photos but worth it!

Look at how straight up those cliffs are!

Time to get some heat and relax!

Free hot tea helped!

A snow-capped peak:

I was hiding there in that corner to help block some wind on the 2 hours cruise!

The late afternoon sun painted the green mountains into warm glowing color:

Dreamy doesn’t it?

We were the last boat back I think and it was 6:30 pm! The parking lot was so empty by then, we walked quickly as we could back hoping that the visitor’s center is still open to use the restrooms.

But I had to stop for photos, I was immediately attracted by the scenery! Look at the difference the angle of the sun made!

This was at around 3 pm when we got there:

This is at 6:30 pm after the cruise (sunset at 8:40 pm):

The mood, the tone, the scenery at that moment was speechlessly beautiful!

I highly recommend the last tour (depending on the sunset time) so when the tour is finished, you have the place for yourselves (all the tour groups will be gone by then) and that sunset glow!

The visitor’s center was closed but there was another bathroom right at the outside of the center, in a separate building and that is open when we walked back. We used the bathroom and took the drive back to Te Anau. When we were waiting for the 3 minutes wait at the tunnel, we saw a kea! I got off the car and took photos, it was right next to our car!

Be aware not to feed the bird even though it looked so poor because the park warned that once people gave them food, they’ll become beggar!!!

The greenish color and the pattern of its feathers looked very nice!

It was a pretty big bird, not sure how big Kea could get, and it was this close to our car! My brother and Jason were entertained by it!

It walked and hopped from car to car starring at the people, probably begging for food but do not feed them! We drove nonstop back to Te Anau….wait where’s my lupine field???? It took less time to get back without stops and we made it back right on sunset before it got dark.

We went to Mainly Seafood again and yes it was open! It was cafeteria style, order and pay at register, this place looked like run by only 3 Chinese!

After we ordered, the place got very pack! Those cute mini soda bottles, I have never seen such small bottles!

Mainly Seafood as the name indicated, all seafood! Jason ordered a fried fish (don’t remember the what kind of fish it is since I am not a fish lover, I don’t pay attention to those fish names hehe) and a seafood chowder. It’s more watery and less creamy than the New England chowder we have at home but still yummy.

Brother ordered a huge Te Anau Tower Burger: hush brown, onion rings, and two patties of New Zealand beef, yummy!

I ordered the Hawaiian burger with grilled pineapple:

The food was delicious and fresh and only cost us $47 NZD 🙂

After dinner, we went back to our motel to rest, thanks hubby who drove 8 hours today! One very odd thing about our motel bathroom sink……one side super cold and one side super hot!!! Who in the world came up with this idea???? I asked Jason how, he said use both of your hands to fill some cold water first and then immediately over for some hot water to make warm water >.< That was how I washed my face sigh!

At night, I walked out of the door to check out for the sky condition, it was cloudy so no hope for the Milky Way…..Jason could get some rest and sleep 🙂

The Lake Side Motel in the morning:

The lake view rooms are facing Te Anau Lake:

Goodbye Te Anau, goodbye Milford Sound, it was a great experience to the most visited tourist spot in New Zealand despite the chilly cold, I would be better prepared for the weather next time! We first stopped by the supermarket to get some breakfast items, drinks, and filled our tank again before our long drive back to Lake Wanaka. Originally, I planned two nights at Te Anau so we just take our time to get to Te Anau the first day then one full day on the next day to Milford Sound. Then, I saw photos of Lake Wanaka and made me changed my plan to split one night each. One night in Te Anau wasn’t too bad; we didn’t had to rush to see Milford Sound and enough time for the last cruise and then drove back to Te Anau before it got dark! We were there in early January so sunset was 8:40 pm, remember to take that into account when planning!

Stay tuned for the next destination of our 2 weeks New Zealand trip: Lake Wanaka. Subscribe to my blog for the latest trip report 🙂

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