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In the brand-new silvery rental car of our French friends Younn and François, we are driving fast on the Stae Highway heading to the Fiordland… The Fiordland ! This mythic place, located at the far south-west of the South Island, is reputed to be the most magnificent area of New Zealand! Remote and hard to reach, this land displays incredible and universally admired  sceneries of moutains and fiords. Its so beautiful than even the 300 days of bad weather pouring over 6000mm of rain every years (10x more than in London!!!) and the angry clouds of sandflies can’t discourage people from all over the world from coming to look for its natural wonders!

On the way to Fiordland and the Key Summit walking track

At Te Anau (the last little town on the way to the fjords), we meet our friends Sam and Lea, whith whom we walked along the Abel Tasmal Coast. We decide to enjoy this unbelievably unlikely beautiful day together to go for a few walks in this wild paradise.

The unique road that drive trough the Fiordland gives us a hint of the splendid wilderness of the area. Of course to enjoy it at its best, it’s necessary to take either a boat or a plane! But for now, the stunning beauty of what we see along the road is sufficient to make us happy! We stop every 5 kms to try our best to shoot pictures that won’t probably be half as beautiful as the original. A little polar-blue river winds its way at the bottom of an old valley carved by ancient glaciers, while bunches of tussock (those tall golden grasses that enjoy the area so much) glitter in the sun. This beautiful panorama is set preciously between incredible steep purplish mountains ranges… Stunning!

We make a stop at « Mirror Lakes » to admire those peaceful ponds perfectly reflecting  the surrounding mountains. A little further up the road, we set up for a 3 hours return walk up to Key Summit, which sits at the start (or at the end, depending on wich way you start) of the Routeburn Track, one of the Ninth Great Walk of New Zealand. If your can’t take the time to do this 3 days route trough the moutains, the shorter walk to Key Summit will already give you a good overview of what the Routeburn can offer!

The Fiordland National Park reflecting into the Mirror Lakes

The Fiordland National Park reflecting into the Mirror Lakes

It’s a beautiful walk, indeed! At the top, we discover a typical alpine plateau dotted with small blue lakes sparkling in the midday sun. From there, we get a breathtaking view over the valley and the surrounding snowy peaks. It’s hard to keep our eyes from this glorious scenery!

Back in the valley, and as the sun starts to drift behind the mountain range, we bid farewell to Sam and Lea et drive back to Te Anau, where Younn and François booked a room for the night. We are already dreaming about tomorrow and enjoying an other busy day in the Fiodland! We want to watch the sun rise over this beautiful land, and then we will enjoy the inescapable cruise on the most famous fiords of New Zealand : Milford Sound!!

Key Summit

Key Summit

Cruising on Milford Sound

As we draw near the fiords following the same winding road than yesterday, the morning sunrays play with the peaks of the mountains, turning them to gold one by one. Gradually, all the mountain range  is lit by the sun magic, while a powdery light filtered trough the low white clouds.

Le Fiordland National Park s’éveille

Le Fiordland National Park s’éveille

When we finally arrive to the jetty, the magic feeling we had from the beautiful sunrise gives way instantly to tourism industry gloominess! Bye lyrism, hello tourism! The boarding platform for all the different cruises looks like an airport departure lounge! We take place reluctantly amongst the long stream of visitors waiting to get their tickets. After the freedom we had in the broad wild valley, we feel a little bit squeezed in this busy crowded queue, lined up like sheep awaiting shearing.

Fortunately, the boat we chose is not too big and launches first on the deepwater fiord, allowing us to appreciate the view without too many human interferences. We must admit the cruise is well worth it. It’s spendid! Even if the weather is not as good as yesterday and that the fiord is mostly in shadow at this time of the day. The height of the sharp peaks around is truly impressive, as are the powerful waterfalls that cascade down the cliffs. With all this wonders surrounding us, we no longer know where to look!
At one time, François, in urgent need, tries the free coffee offered on board. He calls it the « Worst Coffee Of All Time » and throws it overboard!! A bit further on, a groupe of furred sea lions basks on the rocky shore, posing like american bimbos!

Le Queen Mary II arrive au bout de Milford Sound

Le Queen Mary II arrive au bout de Milford Sound

We spend an hour and half on the fiords and would have loved to stay a while longer to explore them a bit further up! As we sail our way back to the pier, we witness an unexpected event : the Queen Mary II engages in the fiord and starts following us! That definitely spices up our cruise! The floating Behemoth is ridiculed by the high greatness of the surrounding cliffs, making her looks like an ordinary zodiac!!
On this comical picture ends our cruise to Milford Sound. It’s now time to leave Fiordland to drive back to Wanaka where we will say goodbye to our two dear friends. God knows when we will see them again!!

Cheers!

Tintin & Riette

Les rayons matinaux du soleil percent les nuages et rasent les sommets de Milford Sound

Les rayons matinaux du soleil percent les nuages et rasent les sommets de Milford Sound


 

Tips :

Hiking in the Fiordland National Park :

  • Key Summit : 3.4km, 3 hours return in the heights of the park on a easy track. Up there is another easy loop track going all around the summit plateau with a stunning 360 view. A must do !
    Start is at the Routeburn Track start. Toilets and car park available.
  • Lake Marian : 2.4km  3 hours return. This hike will take to next to a cute little waterfall before going up in the heights of the Fiordland National Park, to the edge of a lake in which the mountains reflect. Another hike to include in your holiday planning !
  • Gertrude Saddle : 7km 4-6 hours return. Do you want to hike on the summits and have a breathtaking view over all the sound around you ? Then that THE hike you want to do ! The must of all hiking tracks in the Fiordland National Park.
  • Routeburn Track – Kepler Track – Milford Track : Those 3 hikes are among the 9 Great Walks of New Zealand. We won’t talk about it here, as you’ll find lot of information about it all around Internet. But if you really want to do it be aware that Milford MUST be book months ago ! During high season the track is booked sometimes 6 months in advances ! Keep also in mind that the huts on those tracks are bloody expensive, and camping is not allowed on all of them !

Camping in Fiordland National Park :

  • Between Te Anau and Milford tunnel, there is heaps of campsite along the road. From 2 to 20 sites  each you’ll be able to camp on (in the order from Milford to Te Anau) : Lake Gunn, Cascade Creek, Upper Eglinton, Smithy Creek, Kiosk Creek, Deer Flat, Mackay Creek, Totara ou encore Walker Creek

The Milford Sound Cruise :

  • As we travel with little money the Milford Sound cruise was a little bit over the budget for us… But we had to do it ! So we choosed the cheapest as possible with Juicy Cruise. 55$ for 1h30 cruising (price for the 9:15am start only! Every next start the price goes up : 69$, then 79$).
    If you’re like us, on a budget the, that cruise is the one you want. But keep in mind that the light is not amazing (as you can see on our pictures) because the sun is still behind the summits. So if you want to do you National Geographic style picture you’ll have to cruise later.
  • If you want to be the really first of the day to cruise on Milford Sound, or if you want to cruise late, we recommend you Real Journeys. Indeed they have an early start at 9:00am. For next departures, they propose a 88$ package, a little bit more expensive but they’ll take you around Milford Sound during 2:30 hours !
    If you have the Frogs-in-NZ membership card, you’ll have 10% off the price with Real Journeys !

The Doubtful Sound Cruise :

  • The top of the op of the cruises in Fiordland. If you have the budget for it (220$ with Real Journeys) go for it ! 7 to 8 hours of breathtaking and stunning landscape. Doubtful Sound is known to be one of the most incredible experience in New Zealand, and to be even more beautiful than Milford Sound. It’s also A LOT less touristic because it’s not accessible by road ! So if you have the money, do not think, GO ! If we had had the money, we definitely would have gone for it !
    If you have the Frogs-in-NZ membership card, you’ll have 10% off the price with Real Journeys !

 

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