We got up at 8:00, hoping to have breakfast at 9:00 and leave for Milford at 10:00, which would give us plenty of time to do some of the small walks along the way. We gassed up the car and went to the Sandfly Cafe for breakfast, recommended in the guidebook. Marc got the pancakes, which were light and fluffy and I ordered the muesli, thinking it would be “low calorie…” Their homemade muesli had chunks of white chocolate in it and dried fruit, and came with what looked like whole milk and what tasted like whole fat yogurt… Needless to say, it was delicious, even with the canned peaches on top. Yum yum yum! We also went to the Countdown market and bought fixin’s for sandwiches, including more Kapiti smoked Havarti, yum yum yum!
Then we were on our way to Milford. The guidebook had said to leave at 8:00 or 11:00 to miss the tour buses, and the road was chockers (thanks Sarah!) with them. The first stop was at Mirror Lakes, which was very beautiful since it was clear. I particularly liked the sign which is placed upside down in the lake, so that you see read it in the reflection. Clever! There was a huge row of buses and tons of people admiring the view.
Next we stopped at Cascade Creek to Lake Gunn walk (45 min return). We spent over an hour here, the trees by the lake were also chockers with birds, and we spent a good 1/2 hour listening to them and watching them. We ran into only 2 other couples doing this walk.
Next we went to what we *think* was Pop’s Viewpoint (again, no tour buses–no room for them to park) which overlooked the Hollyford valley. We were going to have our sandwiches outside, but some giant killer bumblebees were after our Havarti and we had to eat in the car–still a pretty view. The day was remarkably clear and I was hopeful we would have excellent weather for our cruise.
A side note about the cruise… I had been checking the Real Journeys website from home months before we left, watching to see if it was close to filling up. Then I had meant to book it once we arrived in NZ. I finally booked it on our drive to Owaka. When she gave me the final price, it was about $380. I asked if we had been booked for the right one, because I know the Real Journeys website would have charged me $480. She said they were having a special, so I was extremely glad that I had waited!
Next we stopped at the area right before the Homer Tunner. There is a short walk that allows you to study the sub-alpine flora and fauna, and I saw some interesting plants that I’ve never seen before. That took about 20 min.
Next we did the Chasm walk, where the Cleddau river winds through some deeply gouged boulders, creating a deep waterfall pit. We didn’t see any beggar keas there, although our guidebook said they would be hanging out looking for handouts.
We got there 1.5 hours early, at 2:30 pm. We went to the Blue Duck cafe and had coffee and split carrot cake… I got an awesome picture of my cappuccino with Mitre Peak behind it.
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect–clear and sunny and I was too warm in my long underwear. At 3:30 we walked over to the boarding area and by 4:15, there were only about 20 people waiting to board. After we boarded, Marc and I were both directed to “Cabin C,” which I assumed would be an area of cabins rather than one particular cabin. Then we got to Cabin C and realized it was a specific cabin with a double bed and two twins bunk above it–huzzah! We got to have our own cabin! Marc was so happy then… He had been worried about having to share a small cabin with a bunch of strangers. And so was I, after seeing how small they were…
Next we went up for a safety briefing. I counted the number of people at only 20 passengers and the boat has a max capacity of 60. I was also surprised that there were so many young people on the boat, I had been expecting it to be mostly older people, but I would guess that 13 of the 20 were under 30. The “old folks” consisted of Marc and I, and one group of five 50-somethings traveling together. They had just finished hiking the Milford Track. We were fed veggie lentil soup and bread as we headed out on the sound. We had a couple hours of cruising and as I mentioned, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. We felt extremely lucky that the weather was cooperating, that we had our own cabin, and that we’d got it at a discount.
Here is a video of our approach to the waterfall:
Then we pulled up into Anita Bay to commence our “afternoon activity.” We had been planning on going kayaking, but hadn’t brought an extra change of clothes (the kayaks had no skirts) and frankly were rather sick of kayaking… We went out on the “tender craft” in the hopes of seeing some wildlife. No such luck though. And the guide, whose name was pronounced either “Key nay” or “Fee nay” wasn’t very enlightening… We really didn’t see much and it was the only dud of the trip. Also the sandflies were particularly bothersome in the tender craft.
Next it was back to the main boat, and since the kayaks were still out exploring, I decided that if I didn’t go swimming in Milford Sound that I would regret it. So I suited up and slid into the frigid water from the back of the boat. Marc got some great pictures of me with the fjord behind me… The water was 13 Celsius I think…? It was SO COLD. I spent maybe 15 min in the water and that was all I could take. I took a hot shower and helped myself to some hot chocolate when I was done showering. They had a “help yourself” coffee bar with instant coffee, lots of teas, cream, sugar, milk, and hot choco.
Next was dinner. At dinner I further appreciated our small number onboard… The cabin has 10 tables, with a long, low center table with maps and pull-up seats. But if the max capacity was on board, that would put 6 at each table… Marc and I had our own table, of course. Dinner was beef with stuffing, scalloped potatoes, gravy, roasted pumpkin and veggies with a hollandaisey-type sauce. It was SO GOOD. And the portions were HUGE! They also had a big mixed green salad with more veggies and even potato salad, not that I had room for that. I was really impressed with how yummy and hearty the food was. There was even extras, and many of us went back for more taters and pumpkin (well, that’s what I went back for). With dinner we both had Monteith’s Black for $6 a bottle.
As it got dark, a lot of people stayed inside after sun set, but we stayed out until the cold forced us inside… Even with my 3 layers on top and two layers on bottom, I was too cold. The sunset was gorgeous. Here’s a movie I took doing a circle on the boat:
They served up dessert, again, it was surprisingly good–a freshly baked brownie with vanilla ice cream and berry sauce. The brownie was extra moist (and huge) and had coconut in it. The crew had put various games out, and I was bummed that Scrabble had already been claimed, so we made do with card games and I taught Marc how to play gin rummy as we had a second Monteith’s. “Fee nay” began to flirt with the group of girls and hooked up his MP3 player to speakers and we had to listen to his unfortunate playlist of bands like AC/DC, Journey, and Queen. We chatted with the group who had hiked the Milford Trek on their own.
By 9:00 we were really tired, but I was determined not to be the first to go to bed… The 50-somethings went first and we followed soon after, turning in at 10:00. Hot breakfast would be served from 7:00-7:30 so we set our alarms for 6:50. At about 11:00, I regretted my second beer… The W.C.’s are in the back of the boat, so I had to get up, put on shoes, walk upstairs in my t-shirt and long underwear bottoms to go to the bathroom. And then I had to do this again at 1:00 am, and the only 2 people up were “Fee nay” and another girl who was talking his ear off. Poor Feenay, I don’t think he got lucky that night.
Go on the next part of the journey!