Overnight on Milford Sound's Wanderer ship

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by wanderluster on August 2, 2003

Peer closely through misty fog and you will see ribbons of water trickling down steep 4,000 ft. rock faces, splashing into Tasman Sea. These mighty mounts loom oppressively over tiny ships in the fjord, waiting to swallow them in a calculated feeding spree, to keep this pristine wilderness people-free. Or so it seems.

Touted as the premiere day trip from Queenstown (5 hours away), hoards of tourists visit moody Milford Sound taking hour-long cruises and peeking inside luxuriant rainforests edging up to the glaciers. Some explore deeper, sampling the canopy of moss-laden trees and giant ferns representative of nearby Great Walks on Milford, Routeburn, Greenstone and Hollyford Tracks. Most people completely disappear by late afternoon. When the last bus departs, the buzz turns to hush.

The few that remain have chosen to stay overnight aboard one of three ships. All cruise the length of the Sound, provide wildlife viewing from kayaks or zodiacs, hot showers, buffet meals and the opportunity to listen to the brooding silence of the fjord. Differences? Sleeping arrangements. The Mariner sleeps 60 in private ensuite cabins, 61 passengers on the Wanderer share four bunks per compartment, and the Friendship sleeps 12 in a single bunkroom.

We arrived by bus from the Divide, a forty minute ride from the ending point of the Routeburn. After catching up on emails at the Milford Internet Café, we walked to the dock and boarded the three-masted Wanderer at 4:30pm.

Heavy clouds cast dramatic shadows on the mountains, creating sinister silhouettes against a darkening sky. Dressed in fleece, we stood on the bow in heavy mist and biting winds listening to the captain's narration as we sailed under towering Mitre Peak.

Anchored in Harrison Cove for the night, I joined a nature excursion aboard a zodiac boat. Although the fjordland-crested penguins and Hector dolphins won the game of hide-and-seek, our guide pointed out some interesting geology as we trolled along the shoreline.

Back on board, I joined my husband for dinner. He was sitting in one of the semi-circular booths conversing with guys we'd met previously on the TranzAlpine train and Routeburn. Tonight's menu was pumpkin soup, roast chicken, potatoes and gravy, kumera (yams), broccoli, salad, fruit, chocolate pudding and ice cream. Absolutely yummy, especially after tasteless meals on the trail!

Sharing NZ wine, we spent the evening immersed in conversation while others around us played board games like Monopoly in the congenial atmosphere.

Bunks were comfortable, but laughter and light traveling down open stairways after midnight kept me awake. Romanticized visions of being lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the ship evaporated like fog. The stationary ship could've been a hotel had the noisy generator not gurgled all night.

Through gray skies the next morning, the captain cruised over to a thundering waterfall and lingered under it's spray before returning us to the dock after breakfast.

Sailing . . . relaxing finale to a great hike.

Milford Sound
SW of South Island Within Fiordland National Park
South Island, New Zealand


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