Cruising Milford Sound

Queenstown, New Zealand

We almost had to sleep on the street last night.

The Queenstown Park locks its front doors at night and we left our key in the room. Usually, this wouldn’t present too much of a problem. But could it really be that easy in the adventure capital of New Zealand?

There was no outside phone or emergency contact. And being the only hotel guests, there were no windows to knock on. We walked down Camp Street and saw a television on in one of the second floor rooms. With little other choice, we began pelting the window with small rocks and mulch chips. After a couple of minutes, the lights came on and the sliding door opened. And out walked the hotel owner.

“Have you had too much wine?” he yelled out. Nope, unfortunately, we just couldn’t get back inside his hotel. We all had a good laugh.

This morning we were up before the sun at around 6 a.m. Our destination was Milford Sound, acclaimed to be New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination. The drive in the early dawn went faster than we thought — just about 3.5 hours, with a stop at a bakery in Te Anau.

As we entered Fiordland National Park, the country’s largest, the surroundings changed dramatically. The road carved through dramatic valleys as low hanging clouds framed the soaring, snow-capped mountains.

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With summer approaching, temperatures rising and snow melting, the park has become prone to avalanches. We passed several signs warning against stopping in particularly dangerous areas. By Homer Tunnel, a tremendous avalanche had come across the road a few days prior — emergency vehicles were still patrolling and cleaning up. Fun times.

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We arrived at the Milford Sound Wharf, which even at the early hour, resembled a busy train station. After considering our options, we decided to cruise with Real Journeys.

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The boat was only half full so we were able to grab a table beside one of the windows. Because a light rain was falling, many temporary waterfalls roared off the steep mountainside. Dramatic, beautiful and peaceful all at the same time.

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The outside deck became crowded with Japanese tourists when we spotted two humpback whales that had found their way into the fiord. After turning around in the choppy Tasman Sea, we passed a pod of dolphins, seals lounging on the shoreline and several blue penguins.

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Returning to shore, we took in one last look of this simply magic place.

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It was a long drive back, another 3.5 hours. But passing tour buses and arriving back in Queenstown at 4 p.m., we were glad to have done the trip independently. After resting up, we went for dinner at Pier 19, a restaurant with dramatic views, good food and terrible service.

Our flight to Christchurch, our final destination in this country, departs tomorrow afternoon.

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