Good Morning! We woke early: At the crack of dawn, and got ready for the big trip ahead. Today was probably the single day we were both most looking forward to while visiting Queenstown – as with any big trip, it’s important to start with a good breakfast. Our stay had complimentary breakfasts included with the room, so we headed down to the hotels’ restaurant ‘Lombardi‘ for a buffet breakfast.
We were greeted at the restaurant front desk and gave the staff our room number; and were invited to take a seat and help ourselves to the freshly cooked and wide breakfast selection available.
Being so early in the morning, there was no shortage of seats – in fact, at that time there was no-one else in the restaurant!
There are a variety of hot food and continental options, as well as even an Asian option to cater for international visitors.
As with all Accor hotels I have been to, being a French hotel chain, there is always no shortage of fresh pastries at breakfast!
Shortly after we had seated with our food, one of the restaurant staff queried if we would like anything to drink, with a teapot and coffee being delivered shortly afterwards to our table at our request.
The breakfast was good, however I wasn’t feeling all that hungry (probably due to the giant meal the night before). The hash browns they had were something a bit different, like a cross between seasoned mashed potato that had been fried. There wasn’t anything wrong with the taste though – it was just something new and not what typically comes to mind when I think of hash browns (thanks McDonalds).
After breakfast, I stopped by the reception desk to confirm that our car was ready – I had advised reception the night before of our plans to leave quite early, and they had arranged for our car to be parked outside for our early departure. I picked up the keys and we grabbed our things from the room, before hitting the road.
So for this blog post, I have decided that I will try to do minimal narration and instead let the photos do the talking (I will add some captions so you have an idea of what my random photos are, however) ;).
The journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound is approximately 4.5 to 5 hours, beginning with a drive around part of Lake Wakatipu and a loop around the Eyre mountains before Te Anau and the drive along Lake Te Anau, through some mountains before finally ending up in Fiordland, and our ultimate destination: Milford Sound.
It wasn’t long on the road until we stopped to take a couple of photos on the side of Lake Wakatipu, capturing a glimpse of some of the freshly snow-dusted hills and mountains in the distance.
The drive from Queenstown to Te Anau was relatively easy, with minimal traffic – You ca check live traffic information for Milford Road here (especially at that time in the morning). Of course being the South Island, the lack of traffic was more than made up for in the increase in sheep and cows we passed along the way, a rather pleasant change..
We stopped in Te Anau, mainly to gas up the car, as my prior research for this trip advised that it is the last stop for petrol before Milford Sound.
We stopped by the Caltex (which is on the main road, you can’t miss it) to get a full tank before carrying on – I went to use my AA Smartfuel card while there (which I had only recently received a few weeks earlier) but as I was topping up just under $40 of fuel, was not eligible for a discount (for tourists, car rental company Thrifty have an AA Smartfuel partner program).
We also picked up a few supplies and had a quick bathroom break before carrying on with our journey – We had allowed about 3 hours for journey to Milford Sound on State Highway 94.
From Te Anau, the road passes through a lot of forest, lakes and rivers – It’s quite different to the open road.
About a 45 minute drive from Te Anau, we rounded a corner coming down a hill to our first viewpoint: The Eglinton Mountains and River.
For those that are wondering why the area might look a little familiar, about the Eglinton Valley [Wikipedia]:
The Eglinton Mountains above Lake Gunn were used as a location in the Peter Jackson movie The Fellowship of the Ring where the actors walk along a mountain path with the Key Summit evident in the distance. The mountains here were also used in the Fellowship of the Ring introduction to represent the Misty Mountains. Emily Peak on the Routeburn Track can also be seen in this movie, as well as the Mavora Lakes near Mossburn.
There are two easy ways to spot scenic lookouts and viewpoints in New Zealand, and especially on the Milford Road: either 1) it’s clearly signposted (who would have guessed?) or 2) you’ll see a bunch of cars, camper vans, or busses parked randomly on the side of the road – if popular enough, possibly even before the signs!
We were only a few more minutes further along the road when we found a reasonably large group of 2) and decided we’d stop – We’d stumbled across Mirror Lakes.
Some kind of plant in the lakes block out light, allowing for the lake to act like a mirror – You need a non-rainy day to see the effect, as raindrop ripples will disrupt the image, as we learned from a American family who were revisiting the lakes after rain the day before – Their kids didn’t believe the lakes worked – And by the time they were back the following day to see it the second time round the kids were all asleep in the back of the car! 🙂
As it was now just after mid-morning, the Sun was shining through the forest, and there were touches of mist throughout.
We stopped off for a short toilet break at the next available rest stop which was a short drive off the road, located next to another lake. As you’d expect from being in such a remote area, the bathrooms were of the long-drop type.
Unexpectedly, we had come across another incredible view:
As I’ve now learned, we’d stumbled across Lake Gunn – There were one or two camper vans parked up next to the lake, and with a view like that to wake up to, it wouldn’t be a silly idea…
A little bit further up the road, I saw a sign for the ‘The Divide‘ and a clearing/parking area, which looked interesting. I pulled off the road, and soon found out that this was the starting point for something that I’ve recently been wanting to do: The Routeburn Track.
For those that don’t know, the Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks‘ with some pretty spectacular views, and has featured on one of Air New Zealand’s inflight safety videos (featuring Bear Grylls). The walk takes a couple of days, but there is a day trip variant available as well.
The further along the road we went, the deeper we descended into mountainous territory… and of course had to stop to enjoy the view:
We passed freshly snow-capped mountains from a light dumping the night before, along with some small waterfalls from the melted snow travelling down from the mountains.
Finally, we’d reached the Homer Tunnel. I hadn’t told Miss. Kiwi Globetrotter about this part of the trip, as I wasn’t too sure how she’s react – Namely due to the thought of earthquakes!
To get to Milford Sound from Te Anau/Queenstown there is the small problem of a mountain range separating these two areas, so this issue was effectively solved by drilling (and building) a tunnel through the mountain: A la the Homer Tunnel.
The tunnel runs just over 1km long and is rather dark, and the thought of driving through a mountain is an interesting one:
Traffic lights dictate the traffic flow from either end of the tunnel, there are some lights in the tunnel ceiling to provide some visibility for those claustrophobics out there 🙂
The view coming out of the tunnel is quite something, with mountains on each side it feels a bit like driving through a canyon. As I was driving we didn’t take any photos, but it looks like this:
From the Homer Tunnel it was only about a 30 min drive to Milford Sound!
Just as we were arriving, we passed the small airfield at Milford Sound, where a light plane was coming in – For those that don’t have time for the drive I guess!
Parking up in the large car park, this view greeted us at the start of the Fjord:
As we hadn’t had lunch yet, we decided to pick up a bite to eat, at the only place we could see serving food nearby – The Blue Duck Cafe and Bar. They had a selection of hot and cold foods, as well as free wifi (*conditions apply), which was a nice touch. We decided to pick up a pasta and potato salad to share – surprisingly being in the middle of nowhere, the serving size was quite decent.
It was a short 5min walk to the Milford Sound Visitors Terminal, where all the tour operators start from.
The building looked relatively new and modern and there was a lot of informative information about the area, the nature and the wildlife.
We had booked our tour with Go Orange!, and went to their kiosk booth to check in and get our ‘boarding passes’. The staff gave us a warm welcome and quick and easy, we were given our tickets for the tour on the sounds.
We decided to go with Go Orange! due to their top rating on Tripadvisor – I was hoping for a discounted tour to come up on BookMe, but the only available discounted tours were the early morning ones at 9am – Considering that would mean driving in the dark from Queenstown at the insane hour of 4am, we opted to pay a little bit more and book with them direct for the lunchtime cruise option at the more sane time of 12:30pm.
Something I thought was quite good was Go Orange clearly show on the reservation E-Mail voucher important information for your journey to Milford, to ensure you have adequate time to make the tour departure:
Check –in: 20 minutes prior to departure at the Go Orange counter inside the Milford Sound Terminal. Drive Time: Te Anau – Milford Sound o Allow 3 hour min o Includes 2hrs hours drive time, o photo stops o park n walk to terminal (10minutes) o 20min check in period Queenstown – Milford Sound o Allow 5.5hours – includes the above plus: o 2 hour drive Queenstown – Te Anau o 1/2 hr fuel, food & pit stop in Te Anau Note: No Fuel available in Milford Sound – last fuel stop is in Te Anau.
Check out the road status for any delays or closures before travelling http://www.nzta.govt.nz/projects/milfordroad/RoadStatus.do
It wasn’t too long until our departure, so we took a couple of photos of the Milford Sound from the Visitors Centre Piers as well as our very visible and stylish tour boat (it wasn’t hard to figure out which was ours!) 🙂
Finally, we set off into Milford Sound for the tour through the fjord.
I’ve decided that I’m not going to narrate too much about the tour – In fact, I’ve narrated far too much already: So I’m going to shut up and just let the pictures do the talking for this incredibly beautiful place.. 🙂
Back on solid ground, I took some photos of the surrounding area and marshlands, which also have the same ‘mirroring effect’ like at Mirror Lakes:
Walking along the trail back to the carpark, I looked out through a clearing in the trees and saw this:
As it was another 4-5 hours back to Queenstown, we didn’t stay for long in Milford – One of the locals turned up to farewell us goodbye though!
We did stop at a bridge we passed along the way to take a few photos of the flowing Cleddau River, gushing with water from the nearby mountains:
The drive back to Queenstown was just as nice as the drive there, and we stopped by this lake (which I believe is Lake Te Anau) to take a photo of the afternoon Sun beginning to set over the area:
There wasn’t many more photo opportunities after our little stop at the lake, with the Sun setting for the last hour or so of driving.
Once we got back to the hotel, we went back to the hotel room to refresh before having dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Lombardi. I had a complimentary wine voucher which we redeemed for a bottle of the available ‘house wine’ which turned out to be the Montana ‘Festival Block’ for Miss. Kiwi Globetrotter‘s preferred choice of a Sauvignon Blanc; but I think she was more excited about the ice cooler provided for the wine at the table 😀
The food was delicious, and the low light photos don’t really give the food any justice. The Lombardi-Autumn-Menu-2014 offers a wide variety of options.
I was considering the steak (‘Chargrilled Wakanui Beef Fillet’: Cauliflower & truffle puree, potato curl, sweet garlic, beef jus) but opted for the Lombardi Signature Dish instead:
I was in the final month of my Accor Advantage Plus membership, which I used to take advantage of one of the card’s major benefits: 50% off dining at Accor Hotel Restaurants within Asia Pacific (when dining with 2 people).
After such a long day, we decided to take a short walk down to the waterfront to the SkyCity Casino to try our luck before retiring for the day.
All I can say is: Smallest casino. I have ever. Seen. I honestly walked in, had a quick look around, and said “Where’s the rest of it??” – It is seriously tiny in comparison to SkyCity Casino in Auckland.
Still, they had a few pokie machines and we tried our luck for a while (show me the money!) before we ran out of funds and decided to head back to the hotel to relax and get a good night’s sleep for the following day ahead: Arrowtown.
What a full on day!
For those looking or considering doing this trip to Milford, I would suggest possibly considering a stop in Te Anau for the night (either the night before or after) so there isn’t so much pressure to get there and back on the same day, as it is quite tiring but very do-able.
That said, I do not know what accommodation options there are in Te Anau (I believe it is also possible to stay in Milford itself, but accommodation is limited) or prices, but if there is an option that is suitable and matches your budget, it will allow you to enjoy the area more and take in the local sights and sounds.
I hope you enjoyed this photo tour of Queenstown to Milford Sound and back, and of the surrounding Fiordland area! For those with any questions, please feel free to post a comment below and I will do my best to answer them 🙂