When we were preparing to move to Australia, Laurel googled one of those "100 places to see before you die" lists to get an idea of what places in Australia we had to go check out. What surprised us was not the Australian locations (Uluru, Great Barrier Reef), but just how many places in New Zealand made the list. While we don't remember everything now, the one that really stuck out for us was Milford Sound, so when we started planning this trip the first thing we booked was a day trip to Milford Sound. It's a bit of a trek, about a 4 hour drive, so we opted for the bus tour out of Queenstown. This was a great decision since we were all much more comfortable and it meant Imogen did not have to stay strapped into her car seat the entire time. This made for a much happier baby. Also, we had the benefit of a tour guide who knew all the best scenic stops along the way. We were not disappointed.
Beautiful, right? And that's just on the drive to the Sound through Fjordland National Park. The park is giant and covers most of the southwestern tip of the South Island. The above picture is from the Mirror Lakes, for obvious reasons. This is a really clever sign.
Legend has it that if you drink the glacial water from this stream it will extend your life by 10 years. Greg is going to make it to at least 40, guys!
We made a rest stop in the town of Te Anau. Greg found this random sculpture of a Takahe bird. It's a flightless bird native to the South Island that stands about two feet high. It was thought to be extinct, but was rediscovered in 1948. We're a little unclear how a bright blue, 2 foot tall bird goes unnoticed.
The terrain is really rugged, but just breathtakingly beautiful. This mountain pass, even a hundred years ago, would have been the end of the line. There is no getting through that.
Fortunately, they built a tunnel. Constructed in 1954, the Homer Tunnel is one lane, 1.2 km long, and pitch black inside. It has a 10% gradient down to the other side. Pretty crazy. Another reason we're glad we opted for the bus tour.
Though the best well known, Milford Sound is just one of several sounds in the area. The peaks surrounding them are so high, that each sound has it's own climate. It's not uncommon for it to pour rain on one side of the mountain and have the sun shining on the other side. For us, when we came out of the tunnel there was no rain, just a thick layer of fog about 100 meters off the ground. It was incredible. The whole area looked prehistoric. In fact, Jurassic Park was filmed here! We would not have been surprised at all if a T-Rex had come romping through the trees.
The end of our bus tour brought us to Milford Sound itself. We got on the yacht and set off into the water with a picnic lunch. So freaking amazing.
This is one of Greg's favorite pictures of him and Imogen that we've taken. And yes, he's aware he's said this at least a dozen times.
That's some strong wind! Needless to say, we couldn't stay out in this for too long with Imogen. Fortunately there was a protected, viewing level below as well.
Yeah, I'd hang out here if I was a seal too.
Honestly, we're running out of adjectives to describe this place.
One of the options you could pick for the trip was to ride up in the bus and then fly back in a private plane, which we did not opt to do because it was ridiculously expensive. But it would have been awesome seeing the landscape from the air. Then we lucked out. They were unable to sell the plane out, and our bus driver was concerned Imogen was going to melt down on the 3 hour drive back (it was shorter without the scenic stops) to Queenstown, so he offered to sell us the plane ride at half price. Sold! The only condition was not to tell the other people on the plane. Here's Olivia with our new ride; majestic Mitre Peak in the background.
What's better about this picture? Imogen's face, or Olivia being a creeper in the background?
Yep. Totally the right decision. This is way better than a bus ride.
All the peaks are so jagged because the whole area is still geologically active and these mountains are still being actively pushed up. The only thing keeping them from being several kilometers high is the high wind eroding them as they go up.
No wonder Rudyard Kipling once proclaimed this the Eighth Wonder of the World. This was the last day of our holiday, and man did we end it on a high note.
Great vacation guys. But I'm really sleepy. Can we go home now?
Okay, Imogen. You've been so great on this whole trip. Let's go home. Thanks for the memories New Zealand!