Milford Sound is a fjord and runs 15 kilometres inland from the Tasman Sea. It’s known for one of the wettest inhabited places in New Zealand, with over 182 days of rainfall. It has been judged one of the world’s top travel destinations, and New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination. That’s how you know it’s a pretty incredible place.
It took about 5 hours to get here. There’s only one way in, and one way out. And it’s through the “Routeburn Tunnel”. Very similar to the Whittier Tunnel in Alaska actually. There are stop lights on both sides, so one way traffic flows throughout the day. But at night time, it’s fair game. No stop lights, and you better hope you’re not trying to go through when a mad man is coming the opposite way!
We went to the visitor’s center to find out more about our hike the next day, and about other hikes we could do. Unfortunately there’s no actual hiking allowed ON the Milford Sound unless you have a guide with you. The famous ‘Milford Track’ takes 3 days to do (the one Mat said he was doing) and you have to sign up a couple months in advance because you need to reserve a spot in one of the huts. Kind of crazy! Talk about a dedicated and legit hike! So until we went on our guided hike the next day, we had to head back across the tunnel for a real hike. There’s also no camping allowed unless you set your tent up at the lodge (which they charge you $40 a night) Slightly annoying, but what can you do? So, we headed back through the tunnel, in search of a campground. We found ‘Gunn Lake’. Very appealing name eh?
At this point, I forgot to mention how bad the bugs were in the south island. OH MY HELL. We didn’t really have a problem with them until Franz Josef, and for some reason they did not like the taste of Patrick’s blood. Their tiny little flies that bite through your clothing, and no bug spray will keep them away. I basically had welts and scabs ALL over my feet and legs. They itch and burn worse than the chicken pox. AH, that was NOT fun. ‘Gunn Lake’ had the worse bugs thus far.
After we set up camp, we hiked to ‘Key Summit’ which is on the ‘Routeburn Track’. Also another hike that you must book in advance. Note to self, we will do this next time we’re here. We hiked 2 hours to the top, and it was FREEZING up there. The wind itself felt like cold knives slicing into you. Aside from that, it was gorgeous up there. Their was also a ‘Nature Walk’ at the top with little bridges and ponds. Pretty cool.
That night was a very frigid and bug infested evening. We stayed in our tent the whole time. Thankfully we were exhausted, so we fell asleep early. We woke up at 6:30 the next morning for our guided hike and kayak tour. It ended up just being us, and the tour guide. What was the weather like? Pissing down, again. It was also really foggy. I made a rainproof camera case out of a garbage bag though. The hike wasn’t very long. We ended at a waterfall with a bridge crossing over the most beautiful turquoise water I’ve ever seen. We were so tempted to jump in it, but we were far too cold. After the bridge, is the ending of the ‘Milford Track’. We sat and enjoyed some hot chocolate that the guide brought along, while watching fellow hikers coming back from their long journey. It was peaceful.
After our hike, we had a 2 hour break at the lodge. Patrick napped, and I sipped coffee and read. At this point, we were honestly not even looking forward to our kayak tour. We were slightly disappointed for how much we paid to do the hour hike. We were exhausted and cold, and my legs and feet were burning with bites. Grumpy is an understatement. The kayak guy took us to this huge heated tent (glorious heat) and gave us all the gear and clothing we needed. We took a ferry about 25 minutes out into the middle of the fjord, next to a huge waterfall. Once we were settled in our 2 man kayak, with the guide in his own kayak, the boat sped off. Right then you realize just how far you are. Patrick asked what kind of wild life they had seen out here and the guy said “Oh there’s definitely sting rays, great white sharks, sea lions, etc.” Ah, it doesn’t really hit you or bother you about the great whites until you’re literally in the middle of the ocean, sitting in a kayak. Kind of intimidating and exciting. The guide asked if we wanted to kayak under the waterfall. He then laughed and said “most people fall out when they do that, but it’s fun!” Patrick and I both looked at each other, with sharks on our mind, and said “yeah, we’ll pass today”. hahah. It was SOOOO beautiful out here. Even though it was raining and foggy. We saw a sea lion and a HUGE sting ray. The sting ray followed us right along the kayak for about 20 minutes. It was really cool. We saw numerous waterfalls along the way. It was such an awesome experience. It reminded me so much of Alaska. Patrick was LOVING life. He was like a kid in a candy store. It took us about 3 hours to kayak back. Best experience we’ve ever been on!!
That night we sat by ‘Gunn Lake’ and watched the sunset, eating canned tuna and crackers and sipping on some wine. We then realized “oh yeah, it’s Valentine’s Day” And we laughed. What a contrast to last year. Last year we were in Maui, at Lahaina Grill, Drinking expensive wine, eating escargot and other delicious things, and going home to make sweet love. Now we both smell so bad that we don’t even want to touch each other, covered in bites, freezing, and eating canned tuna next to a lake in New Zealand. I still found it wonderful in a very unique way. 🙂