Day #92 - Fioooord! Would You Look at That!

 An early start today. Up, out and on the road by eight o'clock this morning. We had a long drive ahead of us so needed to get going. 

The frustrating thing is that our destination today is only about 50 miles away as the crow flies. However, because of the geography of our region and in particular a collection of mountains, our driving route is actually 155 miles and would take us the best part of three and a half hours. 

Our destination was Milford Sound - the essential experience for all South Island visitors. From the town, visitors embark on a spectacular cruise through the sound to admire the stunning scenery and dramatic coastline.

En route, we stopped off at various photogenic locations - it's hard to drive past without the urge to stop and admire!

The Key, Southland

Te Anau, Southland

Henry Creek, Southland

Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park

The Chasm, Fiordland National Park

We then arrived at Milford Sound, parked up and boarded our boat. Much to our surprise (and due to the benefits of a forgetful mind) we had also booked a picnic lunch and a stop at the observatory located on the shores of the sound. Lots to look forward to. 

Probably the best way to describe our Milford Sound cruise is to show you (yes the weather wasn't being kind!): 

For those that want to know more, Milford Sound is also known by its beautiful Māori name Piopiotahi and is a breathtaking fiord etched deep into the heart of Fiordland National Park on New Zealand's South Island. Now that's not a spelling mistake. Here Fjord is spelt Fiord - the Viking spelling didn't get this far south!

Imagine towering, glacier-carved cliffs rising 1,200 meters (3,900 feet) from the inky-black waters, cloaked in lush rainforest that spills down to meet the sea. Waterfalls plunge hundreds of meters like silver ribbons, and the iconic Mitre Peak pierces the sky, its jagged summit often shrouded in mist. It is quite the geological wonder. 

This dramatic landscape owes its existence to glaciers that carved their way through the mountains millions of years ago. My A level geography kicked back in! As the Ice Age retreated, rising sea levels filled these valleys, creating the stunning fiords we see today. Milford Sound is a place of superlatives: it's the wettest place in New Zealand, receiving an average of 6,813mm (268 inches) of rain annually, and boasts the country's tallest waterfall, Sutherland Falls, which cascades a staggering 580 meters (1,903 feet). We saw it on one of its wetter days!

Here was one particularly wet waterfall!

It was interesting to learn that the name "Milford Sound" was bestowed by English explorer Donald Sutherland in 1877, in honor of Milford Haven in Wales - you couldn't get two more different locations! However, the Māori name Piopiotahi holds deeper meaning, translating to "place of the Piopio," a once-abundant but now extinct thrush. This dual naming reflects the respect given to both the European and Māori cultural heritage of this awe-inspiring place.

On the way back, we stopped off at the Mildford Sound Observatory. Now I know what you're thinking - it's daylight, how could we see the stars. Well this was an underwater observatory for watching the fish! We descended a spiral staircase 10 meters below the water to watch the fish in the fiord. Sorry about the green hue - that's due to the water colouring the light. 

It was very relaxing to watch the fish come and go. There were "gardens" that had been created just outside the viewing windows, to encourage the wildlife to come and pay us a visit. 

Then we returned to shore and found that in our absence, our car had attracted some foul attention:

We carefully maneuvered our feathered friends off the car and to safety and we exited the car park to head back to the cute town of Te Anau where we were staying for the night. Again, on the journey we stopped off at a few places we missed on the way to Milford Sound:
Fiordland National Park
The Mirror Lakes

The Te Anau Downs
We arrived back in Te Anau and found our hotel for the night. We found it online (who doesn't these days) and it was £100 for the night, so we weren't expecting much. However, it turns out we have a lovely room, good facilities and a breakfast thrown in! Bargain! We also headed out for an evening meal in a nearby restaurant which was also fantastic.