And why exactly does one excursion lasting approximately five hours in a 23-day trip deserve a post unto itself? Let me explain.
No trip to the south island of New Zealand is considered complete without seeing this spot. In fact, it is akin to a trip to India sans the Taj Mahal or Cairo minus the Sphinx. Everyone we spoke to inquired if we are going or have gone. And because in the 2010 trip I didn’t know then what I know now, we missed out. Thus, it’s been years in the making and on the proverbial “list” of must-see’s.
In planning this trip, I allocated five days in Queenstown. Since flying to Milford (the optimal travel means) is totally dependent on up-to-the-minute weather, one never knows. Annual rainfall is 250+ inches.
After reserving the travel – with Air Milford for a 35-minute flight in a 10-passenger Cessna, then 90 minute cruise followed by return flight – one must call the morning of to get an answer. It’s more than just checking a weather app. Air Milford has a 100% safety record for a reason. Milford Sound begins off the Tasman Sea. The weather can change in an instant. The company relies on numerous predictors to ensure safety. And since flying requires navigation through enormous mountains and glaciers, a storm upends plans quickly. The varying paths are seen below (map reprinted from Air Milford website).
The day we finally got to go, it was uncertain until 30 minutes prior to hotel pick-up if the trip was happening. A bit nervewracking, to say the least.
I volunteered for the co-pilot’s seat on the outbound and hoped pilot Tom didn’t notice when I grabbed my armrest upon a sudden dip in altitude. By the way, that seat is understandably tight and one must be positioned so as not to touch any controls. But I didn’t want to miss any photo ops either so it was somewhat tense. (Mission accomplished)
Why was this whole thing so dramatic? Our New Zealand arrival from Bali was late due to weather issues. We were scheduled to arrive at 5:30 am with a 7am departure to Queenstown for the 90 minute flight. Based on getting to Queenstown at 8:30, I booked the 11:30 Milford trip. The Air New Zealand flight crew gently informed me mid-Auckland flight that we were not going to make our connection. Ninety minutes is normally more than sufficient. But there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Bali and NZ is extremely cautious with visitors since it is a country very dependent on agriculture.
Suffice it to say, we were way late (like 2-1/2 hours getting through Auckland, tensely transferring terminals in pouring rain). Air NZ had already booked us on a later flight to Queenstown. So bye-bye Milford that day, which of course was IDEAL weather conditions. Air Milford moved our excursion from Monday to Thursday. Fingers crossed – Thursday was our last and best chance.
Of course you already know how the outcome. An absolutely glorious experience. The vistas from above — glaciers, rivers, Lord of the Rings filming sites, and finally Milford — were extraordinary.
Below, one of the enormous glaciers spotted. The pilot knew each one by name.
More rainbows spotted — there’s actually three in the photo below.
One of many waterfalls seen on the cruise. For scope, this one is the height of a 50-story building!
The combination of scenery is breathtaking: mountains, snow, waterfalls, clouds in the sky.
Below, Milford into the Tasman Sea. I submitted the photo to Peter Greenberg Worldwide
and it won Photo of the Week! Click HERE for the write-up!
While on the cruise, the hubby asked me how Milford is different from the Norwegian fjords we saw last year (read HERE). I couldn’t answer at the time but have since looked it up. Here you go:
Norway’s fjords dwarf those of New Zealand but it is fundamentally a very very different experience as they are of a completely different character. In Norway, you will see the sheer length and dramatic landscapes, and history of its many fjords. While in New Zealand you will see the dramatic landscapes of a whole other world the other end of the planet that evolved in complete isolation.
In summary, the Norwegian fjords are much larger than the New Zealand fiords, but they offer a completely different experience.
I feel fortunate to have experienced both! Below, thank you pilot Tom for the incredible ride. Next post, stop #5 takes us to Fiji.