Milford Sound - New Zealand's crown jewel

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Milford Sound
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Milford Sound in South Island has often been dubbed as New Zealand's crown jewel with its stunning mountain peaks, pristine waterfalls, and forest-clad cliffs.  Knowing that no trip to New Zealand would be considered complete without visiting this fiord, I made it my first stop and booked the kayak tour with Rosco's that stretches from the base of the Sound to the legendary Stirling Falls, which is only accessible by boat or kayak.  However, getting to this natural wonder is a challenge as it's a 4-hour drive from the closest regional airport, Queenstown, and a 2-hour drive from Te Anau, which is the closest incorporated town.  So after flying for 14+ hours and going to the gym in Queenstown, I hit the road for a 2-hour drive between Queenstown and Te Anau all in the same day.

Rosco's shuttle van arrived at my hotel dark and early, and we hit the road for a 2-hour drive to Milford Sound.  Cell phone reception went dark about 20 minutes into the drive, and before long we were already surrounded by breathtaking cliffs and waterfalls roadside.  With the 90% chance of precipitation for the day, there was literally an endless cascade of waterfalls.

After arriving at the kayaking basecamp at the Deepwater Basin, we suited up and got ready to paddle out.  That's when our guides received word of sustained winds of 60 mph with gusts of 120 mph at the mouth of the fiord.  Playing it safe, they dropped the hammer on our kayak workout and regrettably took us to the Milford Sound Visitor Center, which is where the road literally ends and the boat cruises begin their voyages into the fiord.  Although battling 100 mph winds behind the oars would be quite the upper body workout, safety and survival would have to be the priority on this day.

View of the fiord from the boat cruise docking stations

Rosco's booked us on a 2-hour Nature Cruise that would get us from the visitor center to the mouth of Milford Sound where it intersects with the Tasman Sea.  The triple-decker ship consisted of two indoor seating areas and an open penthouse.  The first view just to the right of the visitor center was Bowen Falls.

531-foot Bowen Falls

To get a better view of the Sound, I decided to leave the warmth of the interior cabins and went to the penthouse, which was exposed to the 40-degree rainy weather.

We traversed through an endless charade of cascades, which the skipper said only occurs when it rains.  About halfway to the mouth as we rounded a curve facing into the Tasman Sea, the wind speed picked up dramatically and we literally had to lean against the headwind to avoid getting blown over, or worse, off the ship.  This turn is where the "rage" of the Tasman Sea channels its velocity, turning the fiord into a literal wind tunnel.  Anyone on the boat's penthouse was considered a brave soul according to the skipper.

Mouth into the Tasman Sea.  You can't tell from this photo, but the windspeed was 60+ mph

After turning around at the mouth, we headed towards the legendary Stirling Falls for the return.  The ship touched the base of the falls.

There was nothing like getting showered by a waterfall in 40 degree weather with high winds.  Still, I had to stay on the penthouse deck in order to qualify for literally touching Stirling.  After the bath, we headed back to the visitor center for further breathtaking views of the opposite shoreline.

Rosco's was waiting for us at the visitor center as we disembarked the ship.  After another 2-hour drive, where most of us slept during the way, we were dropped off at our respective hotels.

Bottom line

As much as I would have liked working out against the 60 mph winds behind the oars, the cruise did take us farther than we would have been able to paddle on the kayaks.  All in all, the cruise was a wonderful experience, and Milford Sound is unlike any other.  It also helps that you don't have to personally drive 4 hours roundtrip from Te Anau or 8 hours from Queenstown on the same day.  And yes, I was issued a refund for the price difference between the more expensive kayaking tour and the nature cruise.


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