Queenstown and Milford Sound
Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand with people flocking there to enjoy the adrenaline-fuelled activities such as bungy jumping and canyoning which are thrilling! Queenstown is nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu facing The Remarkables mountain range and was the site of the largest gold rush in the country.
My day trip was composed of the morning hurtling through the Shotover canyon on board a Shotover jet boat and then an afternoon hunting for gold! Sadly, I did not find any gold, but we were all given a flint of gold for taking part in the tour!
Hurtling through the canyons on the jet boat was an exhilarating experience. It is fast furious and if you are lucky, they will rotate you 360 degrees whilst having the time to enjoy the beautiful pristine views! Operated by Ngāi Tahu, the Māori people of the land, their connection to Kimiākau (Shotover River) goes back centuries so you can rest assured that you are in good hands and that the activity is operating in the spirit of respecting the local environment.
I also had the time to hike the short Tiki Trail which begins at the base of the Skyline gondola in Queenstown and takes you to the top. The hike is steep and through pine forest and you must be incredibly careful to keep your footing and avoid the mountain bikers who hurtle down at an alarming speed!
When you reach Bob’s Peak there is an opportunity to do luging and if you have time and the weather is good continue along the steep path to the Ben Lomond summit. Before I got the Skyline gondola back down the slope to Queenstown, I made the most of the spectacular views of the lake and The Remarkables. It really was an awe-inspiring sight and I really could have spent all day just staring at the view so together with the adrenaline activities Queenstown really does have something for everyone – especially if you are brave and a true adrenaline junkie!!
I think most of the backpackers must have been in bed hung over because the bus was virtually empty on the day trip to Milford Sound. They missed out on dramatic scenery and a beautiful cruise through Milford Sound which is highly recommended if you can prise yourself away from the adventure activities in Queenstown!
Located in Fiordland National Park in the southwest of New Zealand’s South Island, the park is part of Te Wahipounamu which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a fiord not a sound and is the only fiord accessible via the road due to the remote beauty of the surrounding area. There are steep, sheer cliffs which rise from the water, with cascading waterfalls and dense rainforests which surround beautiful water. The dramatic scenery and landscape are a traveller’s dream and provide unique and captivating views, scenery, and dramatic photographs!
The Maori discovered Milford Sound around 1.000 years ago and it provided an ideal location to catch fish, hunt around the fiord as well as an opportunity to collect the precious pounamu. In Māori legend, Milford Sound was formed by Tu-te-raki-whanoa. He was an atua (godly figure) who was involved in shaping the Fiordland coast. As he chanted mighty karakia (prayer), he hewed the towering rock walls with his toki (adze) called Te Hamo and carved it from the earth.
The Māori name for Milford Sound, Piopiotahi, means ‘a single piopio.’ When the legendary hero Maui died trying to win immortality for his beloved people, a piopio (a long-extinct native bird) appeared to aid in his mourning.
John Grono was the first European to discover Milford Sound in 1823 after Captain Cook missed the entrance to the Sound twice! Grono named Milford Sound after Milford Haven, a small sea-side town on the Welsh coast. Donald Sutherland became Milford Sound’s first permanent European resident, leaving everything behind he sailed there in 1877 with his dog and decided to stay where he lived at Lady Bowen Falls and eventually married his wife in 1890.
The Sutherlands built the first hotel in Milford Sound, to accommodate the growing number of walkers arriving there on what is now the Milford Track. After Donald died in 1919, Elizabeth sold the hotel to the government. British writer Rudyard Kipling visited it in the 1890s and declared Milford Sound ‘the eighth wonder of the world.’
From 1935, workers began to build the Homer Tunnel, drilling through solid rock from the Hollyford Valley into the Cleddau Valley. The tunnel finally opened in 1954, allowing road access to Milford Sound resulting in a high number of visitors who were keen to see the beauty of Milford Sound for themselves. In 1990 Milford Sound, along with the rest of Fiordland and three other national parks, were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The best way to explore Milford Sound is take a cruise. We went on a standard cruise which was 1 hour and 45 minutes long. The ship travelled along the fiord close to the cliffs which enabled us to witness the cascading waterfalls while we sailed to the mouth of the Tasman Sea.
As you cruise a long Milford Sound you will see a various spectacular landmarks including Lady Bowen Falls, which at 162 metres high, is the tallest waterfall on Milford Sound. Named after the wife of New Zealand’s first governors they provide water and electricity to the people and businesses of Milford Sound.
Opposite the wharf is Sinbad Gully and within this remote gully the rare native Kakapo bird was discovered by scientists in the 1970s after fearing it had become extinct. Mitre Peak is the most iconic landmark overlooking Milford Sound and stands at 1,692 metres above sea level. It has the shape of a bishop’s mitre or hat! Fairy Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are other waterfalls that can be seen along Milford Sound and become like a torrent when it rains.
Although most of the cliffs have a sheer drop Seal Rock is flat enough for seals to climb on. It really is a spectacular sight watching these amazing animals basking in the sun. The cruise ship brings you right out to the mouth of the Tasman sea.
The cruise provides some beautiful and dramatic scenery but when you are waiting for your cruise also look out for the pesky Kea Parrot. They are little terrors, trying to steal people’s sunglasses and making nuisances of themselves!
The Milford Sound Cruise is yet another one of New Zealand’s scenic delights and it is completely understandable that Rudyard Kipling declared it to be the ‘eighth wonder of the world!’ so if you fancy a more relaxed day after the adrenaline-fuelled activities that Queenstown has to offer visit the scenic wonders of Milford Sound!