on December 28, 2009
Milford Sound well deserves the title of New Zealand's number one tourist location. It is a stunning fjord in the South Island of New Zealand in the Fiordland region of the country. It is a must-sees for any tourist. If you are in the country, take the time to go on a cruise of the fjord - there are many operators available, with several tour buses leaving daily from Te Anau and Queenstown. As the crow (or tourist) flies, it is just a short hop over a few mountains from Queenstown but if the crow is travelling by bus then it's a 300km road trip that takes you via Te Anau and will occupy your whole day and evening.After dreaming of it for many years, I finally took a cruise of Milford Sound in April 2009. Named after Milford Haven in South Wales, it is nothing like its namesake, although very similar to the fjords I have seen in Norway. The walls of Milford Sound have an incredibly vivid emerald green colour from all the trees and shrubs.===The tour===I went with the operator Real Journeys and booked and paid for my trip the day before from the tourist information centre in Te Anau. The trip cost about NZD$200 (about £80), which included the two hour cruise, and coach tickets from Te Anau to Milford Sound and from Milford Sound to Queenstown (via Te Anau).The tour started early in the morning from Te Anau and finished late at night in Queenstown and involved two long and hair-raising coach journeys taken at breakneck speed together with a much more sedate and leisurely 2-hour cruise through the waters of the fjord and out to the sea. Both the coach and the boat operators provided excellent service - the guides were first class and took the time to explain the history, geography and biology of the area; the transport was comfortable with frequent refreshment and photo opportunities.The coach ride out from Te Anau stops at many scenic viewpoints along the way. My favourite was the aptly named Mirror Lake, where the water has minerals in it that cause the surface to act like a mirror and almost completely reflect the snow-capped mountains above.===The geography===Like Norway, the fjords and U-shaped valleys in Fiordland were carved during the last ice age by glaciers. When the ice retreated, the fjords were left behind - these are deep flooded valleys that are open to the sea at one end. Milford Sound is one of many fjords in the area, and is a particularly large and beautiful one. The mountains around it rise over a kilometer above the surface of the water.Although hard to believe for such a large body of water, once you have left the fjord and entered the sea, if you look back, it is almost impossible to see the entrance to the Sound. Our guide told us that this meant that the fjord was discovered relative late by Europeans, although well known by the Maori (New Zealand's indigenous population).The walls of the fjord seemed impossibly steep to be supporting such luxuriant vegetation. Our guide explained to us that the roots cannot go deep into the ground, meaning the vegetation clings like a mat to the surface. When something dislodges a tree (fairly common in such an earthquake-rich zone), then whole swathes of trees fall as one and the scar on the landscape that is left behind takes decades to be repopulated.===Other highlights===For the nature lovers, there are a great variety of birds and beasts to be seen on this trip - we saw several seals basking in the sun and countless types of birds (although sadly no penguins, which we were assured do live in this area). For me, though, it was the geography of the place that I appreciated the most - the highlight was when the boats sailed into one of the waterfalls, with cascading spray on the deck creating rainbows.===Summary===I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone visiting this beautiful country. Reposted from elsewhere.
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