Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand. A world heritage site, acclaimed as New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination and once described by revered author, Rudyard Kipling, as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. Our visit to this astounding place? Summed up by my fellow tour mate, Sophie, as ‘the most expensive nap I ever took’ *insert French accent here*.
Now let me explain. Before I even got to NZ the one thing I knew I wanted to do, without a shadow of a doubt, was to take a trip to Milford Sound to do one of the cruises on offer. Everyone I spoke to about the South Island assured me that it would be the best experience of my life to date etc etc. So, it’s safe to say that when Contiki offered a day-trip to Milford I was front of the queue to sign myself up. For $159, Real Journeys, (a tour operator in NZ) run a coach service from Queenstown to Milford and back, including a ‘scenic cruise’ around the stunning sound. You can pay $400-$500 and fly there and back but, personally, I think that’s extortion and, whilst flying will give you some stunning bird-eye-views of the scenery, what I saw out the coach window was spectacular. Tour guide, Monique, did warn us that it was a long day with an early start and 10 hour round trip coach journey but that didn’t phase me at the time because SURELY I wouldn’t go out partying until 4.30am the night before the trip. Surely not.
Sadly, the reality was I did do just that. My God, it hit me like the proverbial wrecking ball when we had to get up at 6am to catch our coach at 6.30am. Holly, Sophie and I were a somber little group heading down to breakfast that morning and there was a moment where I genuinely thought to myself ‘I can’t do this’ and nearly ran back to my room to nurse my hangover from the safety of my bed like any normal person. BUT I am so glad that I didn’t do that – thanks mostly to Holly for giving me the pep talk to end all pep talks – because if I had I’m pretty sure I would have regretted it for a long time to come. Thankfully, the coach had the comfiest seats I think I have ever sat in and I thought to myself ‘I’ll just sleep it off and I’ll be fine for the rest of the day’. Here I just need to make a special mention about one of my tour mates – Braden. Braden is literally one of the funniest, coolest people I have ever met, with a penchant for rolling his ‘pants’ legs up as high as they will go (that’s trousers to us Brits). He was also my unlucky seat buddy for the duration of the whole, hungover Milford coach journey. Braden had the unfortunate task of listening to me moan about how cold I was the whole way to Milford (the coach driver cranked the A/C up so high I genuinely thought I was going to die), how sick and tired I was feeling, and just about anything else my disengaged brain thought to ramble at him about – so thanks B boy, you’re a babe. Despite the hangover, and the incessant rain – I forgot to mention it rained the WHOLE DAY – the coach journey to Milford is actually pretty damn stunning and something I would recommend over flying there. We drove down into stunning valleys, up into mountainous regions, by some gorgeous, blue lakes and through flat stretches filled with beautiful green, grass and surrounded by snow-capped mountains – everywhere you looked on that journey was astoundingly beautiful and I only wish I’d been able to keep my eyes open for longer. Our coach driver provided some really interesting commentary on the drive, and we stopped for photos at a number of awesome places. My only bug-bear was the lack of toilet stops but I quickly learnt to hold it in.
After 6 hours of delirious coach journey, where I was neither fully awake or asleep, we arrived at the Sound and boarded our boat. Now, if there is one word of advice I can impart it would be to WRAP UP WARM FOR CHRIST SAKE (capitals for emphasis here). In my haste to get ready I had thrown on jeans, converse, a long-sleeved top, and a thin AF fleece coupled with my summer waterproof jacket – I was absolutely freezing. Despite it being ‘summer’ in NZ, it was raining sheets and very cold out on the Sound. The boat has a nice upper deck out in the open, which is fantastic for taking in the views of the Sound – but you really need to be wrapped up properly to enjoy it. I braved the outside for a bit and it was so worth the near hypothermia. Despite the rain, which caused incessant mist over the tops of the islands, the Milford Sound is a truly stunning place. And, because it was raining, we got to witness the spectacle that is hundreds of amazing waterfalls pouring down off the cliff faces – it was magical. As part of the cruise, something I did not realise at the time, the captain takes the boat extremely close to one of these waterfalls. Which is great. Except the moment he decided to perform this manoeuvre was at precisely the moment I was stood on the top deck, trying not to freeze to death. Funnily enough, I wasn’t the only person who didn’t totally fancy getting soaked to the skin under a waterfall. As the boat turned towards the waterfall something akin to an apocalypse movie scene happened on the top deck of the boat. It slowly dawned on my fellow passengers that they were about to receive an unscheduled hose-down and, I kid you not, we all ran for the doors and stairs to the safety of the inner boat. It was an every man for themselves type situation – people were being thrown out the way, stepped on, it was absolute carnage (okay so I might be exaggerating slightly here but you get the effect). To be honest it was pretty damn hilarious. So, yeah, sorry if this ruins the surprise but, if you take a Milford Sound scenic cruise on a rainy day when the waterfalls are pouring and you’re on the top deck at a specific time – you can expect the sadistic captain to deliver you a soaking.
Moans about cold and wet aside, the boat trip was wonderful and, people were right – something not to be missed. We were even lucky enough to see some seals on the islands, although sadly didn’t spot any of the whales or dolphins which inhabit the area. Although being horrendously hungover and surviving on no sleep wasn’t ideal, it did kind of make the whole experience that more memorable and fun. And, because we essentially spent $159 to take an extended nap on a coach, courtesy of Sophie, our Milford Sound excursion will now forever be known as ‘the most expensive nap we ever took’.
It’s safe to say when we arrived back at the hotel that night that no one in our little Milford cohort was even remotely interested in going out partying. That being said, I did somehow manage to drink a couple glasses of wine down in the bar before gratefully retiring to bed – hopefully to wake up ready for my final day of adventure in Queenstown.
The Milford Sound day was genuinely one of my favourite days of the whole trip because it was just one of those rare days where you bond together through mutual hangover-sympathy. Despite how we felt, we shared a lot of laughs that day and got to see some truly spectacular scenery that only New Zealand can deliver. The Milford Sound excursion really shows off NZ in all it’s glorious beauty. Also, if Holly hadn’t been so tired she would have sat next to me in the aisle seat – which meant I would never have sat next to Braden and thus would have been deprived the 10 magical hours we spent together (I’m not sure they were that magical for him but, to be fair, we were firm friends for the rest of the trip and do still converse on a regular basis so it can’t have been all that bad).
So, yeah, I’m going to join the hoards of people who recommend a trip to Milford Sound. In fact I really want to go back again, when it’s sunny, just to see it from another perspective. I would definitely even do that coach journey again.
See you next time…
P.S. I hope you enjoyed this week’s installment – if you’ve missed any please follow the links below to catch up. Also, please leave me a comment – I’d love to hear from you.