March 1st, 2015 - Queenstown, New Zealand - Day 197

Today was a big travel day for us.  Not to another checkpoint on the trip, but rather a day trip to Milford Sound, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place Rudyard Kipling called the 8th wonder of the world.  We had researched the drive and people said it would take between 3.5 and 5 hours depending on traffic and how much we stopped to gawk at the incredible scenery.  

We headed out at 8:00, filled up the car and hit the road.  The scenery was indeed beautiful, but because we have been driving around here for three weeks (and live in Idaho where the scenery is pretty darn good as well) we were more focused on getting there than stopping at every pullout.  Stacie and I had an amazing conversation about what we wanted life to be like when we get home which made the time fly by.  We stopped in a little town called Te Anau to refill and the kids got Subway - it was our first fast food stop of the entire trip - 197 days without a chain meal, that is pretty good!.  

We made our way for another 100 kilometers or so and were making great time.  We thought the drive was pretty, but were wondering what people were raving about, it was not all that much different than the rest of NZ.   Then we descended into a valley and the world changed.  The clouds clung to the mountaintops, a rain forrest emerged and water was everywhere.  It was like we had gone through the looking glass into another world.  We instantly changed our mindset and stopped at the first pullout to take some pictures.  

The first waterfall we stopped at 

There gawked at our surroundings.  The blue river cascading through massive boulders, the huge waterfall cascading into a green pool, and the dozens of ribbon waterfalls tumbling down the granite cliffs made for a scene like nothing I have ever witnessed with my own eyes.

We jumped back into the car and ooohh'd and ahhhh'd around every corner as if we were at a Fourth of July fireworks show.  Then we came to a one way tunnel where we had to wait at a light.  I got out and too some more pictures of our surroundings.  

These pictures above are not anything special - literally every wall of the canyon looked like this, it was surreal.  

Then it was our turn to head through the tunnel - which was surreal as well.  This was no highly engineered tunnel, it was blasted through the mountain in a haphazard way and angled straight down at about a 10% grade.  The walls were rough and jagged and there were tiny little string lights along the side.  It reminded me of something that would have been made 100 years ago.  

It took about 2 minutes to make it through the tunnel and then we were back into waterfall land.  Everywhere we turned there was water tumbling down the cliffs.  20 minutes later we pulled into Milford Sound.  The "town" is really just a restaurant and dock for the half dozen tourist ships which take about 550,000 passengers a year out for 2 hour cruises on the Fjord.  

We went into the restaurant to make a booking on Cruise Milford and grabbed a couple of things to eat.  We needed to hurry over to the dock to make our cruise time so we got our stuff together and started the 10 minute walk over.   The beauty of this place is literally staggering.  I would imagine Alaska looking like this, but not many other places in the world.  

We made it to our boat with a couple minutes to spare.  We chose a smaller boat based on some Trip Advisor reviews that told us they would get closer to some of the main attractions.  

We boarded quickly and got comfortable on the boat.  There were only about a dozen other passengers so it was quite roomy.  We ate our lunch while they prepared us for departure and within seconds of heading out were greeted with our first up lose waterfall.  

While most of the waterfalls we had seen were ribbons caused by the rain, this one was a giant.  As it turns out, there are only two year round waterfalls in this area, the rest are caused by rain.  Good thing they get 280 inches of rain per year.  

We cruised up the fjord and our captian / guide gave us a tour of the area and filled us with fun facts like the fact that these fern trees can get up to 45 feet tall!

We edged our nose right up to these teenagers taking a nap on the rocks.

Cruised under Mitre Peak, which at 5551 feet is the second largest peak rising directly out of the ocean in the world.  

Lea even pretended to be Rose from Titanic, but Peter had no interest in standing behind her and taking on the role of Jack!

We put the nose of the boat right underneath this waterfall.

And just enjoyed the scenery everywhere we looked.  I ended up taking over 300 pictures in 1:30 minutes, which is funny because I was just telling Stacie how good I was getting at only taking really compelling pictures rather than shooting everything.  So much for that theory.  

Then after an hour and a half we were back to port.

As opposed to out trip on the TSS Earnslaw, we throughly enjoyed this cruise.  We loaded back into the car for the trip home.  On our way back up the valley we had reached the point of waterfall overload and made no more stops until we were forced to by the traffic light at the tunnel.  Here we found this parrot, which is a Kea, the worlds only alpine Parrot.  They are notorious for being highly destructive and eating windshield wiper blades.  This guy wanted some food, but we had been warned to keep our distance.  

The trip back was uneventful and quite a bit quicker than the trip out since we did not need to make any stops.  We actually made it back in 3:25, which was a big relief to me.  7:30 driving on the wrong side of the road through the mountains makes for a long day, but I am so glad we made the effort.  None of us will forget Milford Sound anytime soon.