Introduction
The journey begins/Visit to the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge, Christchurch (Domestic)
Day One
Day Two – Milford Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand


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.

Hot food buffet selection ('Hash Browns', mini-pancakes, bacon and sausages)
Hot food buffet selection (‘Hash Browns’, mini-pancakes, bacon and sausages)
Hot food buffet selection (Mushrooms, fried noodles, scrambled and fried eggs))
Hot food buffet selection (Mushrooms, fried noodles, scrambled and fried eggs))
Continental food options, including cereals, muesli, various toppings and accompanying milk
Continental food options, including cereals, muesli, various toppings and accompanying milk
Continental food options, including fresh and canned fruits, plain yoghurt and yoghurt with toppings, bircher muesli and smoothie shots
Continental food options, including fresh and canned fruits, plain yoghurt and yoghurt with toppings, bircher muesli and smoothie shots
Asian hot food - Congee and accompaniments
Asian hot food – Congee and accompaniments

As with all Accor hotels I have been to, being a French hotel chain, there is always no shortage of fresh pastries at breakfast!

Selection of bread rolls, pastries and muffins, croissants and fresh fruit
Selection of bread rolls, pastries and muffins, croissants and fresh fruit
Bread loaves (cut to your liking), cold meats, cheese and various spreads
Bread loaves (cut to your liking), cold meats, cheese and various spreads
Juice fountains/cold drinks area
Juice fountains/cold drinks area

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).

Breakfast of champions
Breakfast of champions

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.

The road trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound (and in our case, and back again)
The road trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound (and in our case, and back again)

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.

Snow-capped mountains, Lake Wakatipu
Snow-capped mountains, Lake Wakatipu

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..

About 2 hours later.. We finally arrived in Te Anau!
About 2 hours later.. We finally arrived in Te Anau!

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.

Next stop (well apart from all the scenic stops): Milford Sound!
Next stop (well apart from all the scenic stops): Milford Sound!

From Te Anau, the road passes through a lot of forest, lakes and rivers – It’s quite different to the open road.

Plenty of roads to get in touch with your inner 'greenie'...
Plenty of roads to get in touch with your inner ‘greenie’…

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.

Just a flat piece of land with mountains all around.. Beautiful.
Just a flat piece of land with mountains all around.. Beautiful.
Handy signposts tell visitors about the area and fun facts..
Handy signposts tell visitors about the area and fun facts..
Panorama of the Eglinton Valley - Also one of the shooting locations for the Lord of the Rings!
Panorama of the Eglinton Valley – Also one of the shooting locations for the Lord of the Rings!

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.

Still waters result in a mirror image of the mountains towering nearby
Still waters result in a mirror image of the mountains towering nearby

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! πŸ™‚

A crafty little trick with the sign.. I see what they did there..
A crafty little trick with the sign.. I see what they did there..
The view at Mirror Lakes
The view at Mirror Lakes
The Earl Mountains and its reflection in the lake below
The Earl Mountains and its reflection in the lake below

As it was now just after mid-morning, the Sun was shining through the forest, and there were touches of mist throughout.

Making our way through the misty forest...
Making our way through the misty forest…

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:

Not too shabby for a bathroom stop..
Not too shabby for a bathroom stop..
Lake Gunn
Lake Gunn

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.

routeburn_track_key_summit

DOC sign: The Routeburn Track
DOC sign: The Routeburn Track

The further along the road we went, the deeper we descended into mountainous territory… and of course had to stop to enjoy the view:

Mountain viewpoint/rest area above Hollyfiord river
Mountain viewpoint/rest area above Hollyfiord river
Mountains all around..
Mountains all around..
Panorama of the mountains above Hollyfiord river
Panorama of the mountains above Hollyfiord river
Watch out for the Keas! ... they're quite fond of eating cars..
Watch out for the Keas! … they’re quite fond of eating cars..
'Pops View' lookout
‘Pops View’ lookout
The Hollyfiord river
The Hollyfiord river

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.

Freshly snow-capped mountains
Freshly snow-capped mountains
Small waterfalls passing by along the side of the Milford Road
Small waterfalls passing by along the side of the Milford Road

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:

The Homer Tunnel
The Homer Tunnel

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 πŸ™‚

View driving through the Homer Tunnel
View driving through the Homer Tunnel

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:

View of the Milford Road, (milford side) just after the Homer Tunnel. Photo credit: Kathrin & Stefan Marks
View of the Milford Road, (milford side) just after the Homer Tunnel. Photo credit: Kathrin & Stefan Marks

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:

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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.

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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.

The Milford Sound Visitors Terminal
The Milford Sound Visitors Terminal

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.

For those wondering, there are numerous operators on the Sounds, with many of them offering deals on GrabOne, TreatMe or on BookMe.

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

The Go Orange! Kiosk - Where we went to check in
The Go Orange! Kiosk – Where we went to check in

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!) πŸ™‚

A panorama taken off the Milford Sound Visitors Centre pier looking towards Mitre Peak and the sounds
A panorama taken off the Milford Sound Visitors Centre pier looking towards Mitre Peak and the sounds
Our beautiful Go Orange! tour boat, the 'Milford Haven'
Our beautiful Go Orange! tour boat, the ‘Milford Haven’
Some of the other tour boats coming back from their early morning tours
Some of the other tour boats coming back from their early morning tours

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.. πŸ™‚

One of the large waterfalls that are always flowing in the Milford Sound
One of the large waterfalls that are always flowing in the Milford Sound
One of the pluses of having recent rain/snow is the water feeding the numerous waterfalls such as this..
One of the pluses of having recent rain/snow is the water feeding the numerous waterfalls such as this..
The sun streaming through the clouds onto the sounds
The sun streaming through the clouds onto the sounds
The view looking back off the boat towards the Visitors Centre
The view looking back off the boat towards the Visitors Centre
The Go Orange! boarding passes which also doubled as vouchers for lunch!
The Go Orange! boarding passes which also doubled as vouchers for lunch!
A classic Kiwi fish n' chips lunch!
A classic Kiwi fish n’ chips lunch!
View towards the crown/top of Mitre Peak, one of the largest mountains in the Milford Sound
View towards the crown/top of Mitre Peak, one of the largest mountains in the Milford Sound

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One of the areas in the sounds where New Zealand fur seals like to laze in the sun and bask on the rocks.. try and spot the seals!
One of the areas in the sounds where New Zealand fur seals like to laze in the sun and bask on the rocks.. try and spot the seals!
One of the cheeky NZ fur seals poking their tongue out for us visitors!
One of the cheeky NZ fur seals poking their tongue out for us visitors!
Three of the 'Four Sisters' waterfalls on the side of the mountain range
Three of the ‘Four Sisters’ waterfalls on the side of the mountain range
Two of the 'Four Sisters' waterfalls cascading down the mountains
Two of the ‘Four Sisters’ waterfalls cascading down the mountains
One of the larger waterfalls in the sounds..
One of the larger waterfalls in the sounds..
Water gushing everywhere!
Water gushing everywhere!
Some of the waterfalls in Milford Sound
Some of the waterfalls in Milford Sound
Panorama view from the mouth looking in towards the Milford Sound
Panorama view from the mouth looking in towards the Milford Sound
The entrance to the Milford Sound
The entrance to the Milford Sound
The Sun shining down on us, out on the Tasman Sea
The Sun shining down on us, out on the Tasman Sea
More cute NZ Fur Seals! Considering how all you ever do is see them lying around, I'm not sure how on earth they got on top of that rock...
More cute NZ Fur Seals! Considering how all you ever do is see them lying around, I’m not sure how on earth they got on top of that rock…
Another massive waterfall (Stirling Falls) on the other side of the sound, where it was hard not to get wet..
Another massive waterfall (Stirling Falls) on the other side of the sound, where it was hard not to get wet..
That's a lot of water.. the 155m Stirling Falls Waterfall
That’s a lot of water.. the 155m Stirling Falls Waterfall
Looking up at one of the massive cliff faces in the sounds
Looking up at one of the massive cliff faces in the sounds
Quite the rock climbing challenge for the vertically inclined!
Quite the rock climbing challenge for the vertically inclined!
Mist rising off the top of Mitre Peak as we reached the end of the tour..
Mist rising off the top of Mitre Peak as we reached the end of the tour..

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:

One of the smaller mountains reflecting in the marshlands, Milford Sound
One of the smaller mountains reflecting in the marshlands, Milford Sound
The mountain ranges above the Milford Sound 'town' reflecting in the marshlands below
The mountain ranges above the Milford Sound ‘town’ reflecting in the marshlands below

Walking along the trail back to the carpark, I looked out through a clearing in the trees and saw this:

My favourite photo from the Milford Sounds - and currently my desktop photo at the moment!
My favourite photo from the Milford Sounds – and currently my desktop photo at the moment!

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!

One of the local inhabitants came to say goodbye..
One of the local inhabitants came to say goodbye..

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 Cleddau River, Milford Sound, New Zealand
The Cleddau River, Milford Sound, New Zealand
Water from the surrounding mountains flow down this river and feed into Milford Sound below
Water from the surrounding mountains flow down this river and feed into Milford Sound below

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:

The view over Lake Te Anau later that afternoon..
The view over Lake Te Anau later that afternoon..
The afternoon sunset over Lake Te Anau
The afternoon sunset over Lake Te Anau
Panorama view of Lake Te Anau as the Sun began to set
Panorama view of Lake Te Anau as the Sun began to set

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 πŸ˜€

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.

'Soup Du Jour': Lombardi homemade bread with oils
‘Soup Du Jour’: Lombardi homemade bread with oils
Keeping the wine chilled, the service was excellent
Keeping the wine chilled, the service was excellent
'Roasted Pumpin Ravioli': Sundried tomatoes, rocket, pralines, dried kalamata olives, sage butter sauce
‘Roasted Pumpin Ravioli’: Sundried tomatoes, rocket, pralines, dried kalamata olives, sage butter sauce

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:

'Wild Fiordland Venison Cutlets': Braised red deer shoulder, warm apple terrine, picked apples, kalamata olive oil - Perfectly cooked and rather delicious!
‘Wild Fiordland Venison Cutlets’: Braised red deer shoulder, warm apple terrine, picked apples, kalamata olive oil – Perfectly cooked and rather delicious!

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.

The tiny SkyCity Casino in Queenstown, located on the waterfront
The tiny SkyCity Casino in Queenstown, located on the waterfront

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 πŸ™‚

Jeremy

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