Monday, January 30, 2012

New Zealand December 2011 - Exploring Milford Sound

***This post is part 9 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

Milford Sound is one of the most popular tourist destinations in New Zealand, yet ironically, there are very few facilities nearby for overnight guests. There are only two hotels (the Mitre Peak Lodge and the Milford Lodge), one small supermarket, and one restaurant in the entire area.

Plane spotting at the Milford Sound Airport

We completed the Milford Track on Christmas Day, which was a great way to celebrate. Unfortunately, that also meant everything in Milford Sound was shutting down early... leaving us with nothing to eat besides what was left from the hike. We were extremely lucky that the only restaurant in town, the Blue Duck Cafe, was still open when we arrived around 3:00 pm. Naturally, after four days of eating nothing but freeze-dried food and trail mix bars, we gorged ourselves on whatever we could order!

The Milford Lodge is the nicer of the two hotels in town. It has a wide range of rooms available, from shared dormitories to the newer standalone chalets right next to the Cleddau River. We decided to splurge a little and book one night in a chalet, which was a great idea after four long days of backpacking. I can't even begin to describe how amazing that first shower felt! While expensive (around $250/night), it was definitely worth it just for the extra privacy and convenience of an ensuite bathroom and mini-kitchen. The rooms were very modern and comfortable, and the floor-to-ceiling windows afforded some fantastic views of the scenery outside. Note that the lodge is actually a 10-minute walk from Milford Sound though, so you can't actually see the famous landmark.

Chalets next to the Cleddau River

The next morning, we walked back to the ferry terminal and checked in at the Mitre Peak Cruises counter. We had booked our tickets in advance online and everything worked out perfectly. Mitre Peak Cruises operate smaller boats that can navigate closer to the shoreline, providing an up-close view of the wildlife and surroundings. The two-hour tour was a great way to spend the morning, and we got to see the famously stunning scenery of Milford Sound, along with plenty of fur seals and birds. I had heard that often times, pods of dusky dolphins will swim alongside the boat, but unfortunately, we didn't see any that morning.

Ferry terminal

Mitre Peak

Lady Bowen Falls

View of Milford Sound from the Tasman Sea

Stirling Falls

Milford Sound

Afterwards, the Tracknet shuttle bus picked us up directly from the ferry terminal for the long ride back to Queenstown. The return trip ended up taking longer than expected since there were a couple of stops along the way as well as a bus change in Te Anau that we weren't quite expecting. At least the views during the drive were spectacular!

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