We had originally planned to spend the day leisurely making our way from Wanaka to Te Anau which takes about 3 hours.  We were going to stop in Queenstown and some other spots along the way, but the day before we had heard a weather report that indicated a storm system was moving in and Friday was going to be rainy.  Our original plan called for a cruise on Milford Sound on Friday.  Milford Sound was one of the major activities that had caused us to want to go to New Zealand and weather would play a major factor in our enjoyment of it.  We woke up to sunshine and all agreed, we would hop into the van and drive straight through to Milford Sound and try to get on a cruise.  The drive from Wanaka to Milford Sound is about 4.5 hours which was the last thing that Tyler wanted to do after spending quite a bit of time in the van the day before.  He basically fell asleep in the van the night before and woke up in the morning and we got back in the van for the long drive.  Needless to say he wasn't very excited about it and it was probably the worst he behaved on the trip.

I did have enough time in the morning to notice a beautiful sunrise on the mountains and run out and grab a couple of quick pictures.

The mountains across Lake Wanaka

We drove for a couple of hours to get to Te Anau and stopped to grab a quick bite to eat at a pie shop.  We called to make sure we could still get tickets for a cruise that day and once we found out that we could, we started the drive to Milford Sound.  We were in a hurry to get to Milford Sound to make the upcoming cruise, so we didn't stop to take any pictures along the way.  I will say this, the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is fantastic and one of the most scenic roads we drove on in New Zealand.  That also equates to not making the best time on it.  We did get to the cruise terminal on time and were able to get tickets for the cruise that was leaving in about 15 minutes.  We had just enough time to get ready before it was time to board the boat.  The tour tickets were $152.50NZ for the 3 of us.  There are several different cruise providers with various different tour operators.  We chose one of the smaller boats because they claimed they could get closer to the sights, but I'm not really sure that it makes any difference.  We did learn some interesting facts on the tour including the fact that Milford Sound is actually a fjord and not a sound.  There are many fjords in the area that are labeled sounds, but they decided to name the national park Fjordland National Park.  Apparently the people that "discovered" the sounds didn't have a good grasp on the difference between a fjord and a sound.  For your reference, a sound is formed by running water like a river, while a fjord is formed by glaciers.

Aboard the boat waiting to start the tour

The first major sight that you see upon leaving the cruise terminal is Bowen Falls.  This is quite an impressive and large falls and it sets a high mark for the scenery right at the beginning of the cruise.  Unfortunately, due to the time of day and the lighting conditions, I had a hard time getting many good pictures from our cruise, but I posted a bunch anyway because the scenery is so amazing that even bad pictures are fun to look at.  You can't really get a feel for the scale of if from pictures, but it is 528 ft tall.

Bowen Falls

After we got past the falls, we turned around to the front of the boat and saw these views.

Spectacular views from the very start of the cruise

We got started on our way down the sound and got to just relax and enjoy the scenery and the gorgeous weather.

Us enjoying the scenery

In addition to Bowen Falls, there is another large waterfall that you get to see on the cruise, Stirling Falls.  Stirling is not as tall as Bowen Falls, it is "only" 508 ft tall.  I was able to get a good picture of another boat by the falls, which helps you to see that actual scale of the falls.

Stirling Falls

The scenery never quits on this cruise.  I have to say it is the single most spectacular place I have ever been to in my life.  I think my parents might agree with that too, and they've been to a lot more places than I have.

More views in Milford Sound

We even got to see a few fur seals.  At this point in the trip, fur seals weren't as exciting since we had seen so many of them already in New Zealand.

Fur seals on the rocks

The tour continued out towards the mouth of the sound.

More views heading out to the ocean

Everyone was having a great time soaking up the sun and the views.

Enjoying the cruise

The cliffs gradually started to get smaller as we neared the mouth of the sound.

Almost to the ocean

We when finally made it out into the ocean, there were some great views looking back toward where we had just been.

Mountain peaks

I couldn't stop myself from taking lots of pictures of the islands and the mountains that you can see from the ocean.

Views near the mouth of the sound

This shows the mouth of the sound from just a little ways out in the ocean.  Notice how hard it is to tell that it is even there.  It was amazing how close you had to be to the inlet of the sound before you could actually tell that it was there.  It disappeared quickly as you left the area.  It is very narrow compared to how far it actually goes back.

Mouth of Milford Sound

While the boat was spending a few minutes turning around, someone on the ship noticed a shark out in the ocean.  This was the first time I've ever seen a shark out in any ocean, but unfortunately we didn't get to see much of it and it was pretty far away.  It quickly swam below the surface and we never saw it again.


Like I said, I took lots of pictures.

Tyler and me at the bow

We turned around an headed back towards the cruise dock.

Thin, but tall, non permanent waterfall

On the way back, we were promised a much nicer view of Stirling Falls, our captain did not disappoint.

Stirling Falls ~ 508ft tall

Looking in towards the cruise ship docks.  I can't really describe how massive these peaks actually are, without a reference point in the picture your eyes just don't comprehend the scale of everything.

Did I mention that the captain promised us a better view of Stirling Falls?  How about actually going under it?  We didn't actually get to the main stream of the falls, but we were definitely under the spray.  We had to run inside to get under the glass or we would have been soaked.  In the last picture you can see some kayakers that headed up right under the falls.  I would love to come back some day and do a kayak tour in the area.  It must be amazing.

Stirling Falls up close and personal

We were getting near the end of the cruise and they told us some more information about the peaks in the area.  Mitre Peak at 5522ft is the world's tallest sea cliff.  It drops more than a mile from its summit straight down into Milford Sound.  Clearly at this point I'm running out of adjectives to describe the area.  I can't stress this enough, but if you ever go to New Zealand, please book a Milford Sound cruise!

Some of the largest peaks in Milford Sound

At the end of the cruise, we got a few more views of Bowen Falls.

Bowen Falls ~ 528ft

It was hard to get off the boat, I wanted to stay on and immediately go on another cruise.  Since they made us get off the boat, we got back in the van and headed back towards Te Anau.  We took our time on the way back and stopped at a few places.  The first place we stopped at was called The Chasm.  It is a neat little area with an interesting rock formation formed by a river.  It is only a short loop hike from the parking lot and well worth the stop if you have the time.

The Chasm

The lush foliage was a drastic change from the mountains and water of the cruise.

Views along The Chasm trail

The road between Te Anau and Milford Sound goes through a long one way tunnel called the Homer Tunnel.  Be prepared to wait for the traffic light there, but we got lucky and didn't have to wait very long in either direction.  Driving down the road, we saw a nice little waterfall on the side of the road.  We stopped and got out to take a closer look.  The water was a beautiful blue.

Waterfall on the side of the road.

We made it back to Te Anau and had dinner at a neat little fish and chips trailer near the lake.  We check into our room for the night.  We had a 3 bedroom cabin at the Birchwood Cottages which very affordable at $170NZ for the five of us.  The day didn't work out exactly as we had originally planned, but the great weather we had at Milford Sound more than made up for the changed itinerary and long drive.

Continue to Day 12

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