I never thought I’d miss a landscape this much. It’s been 4 months since, yet the clouds, peaks and faraway glaciers still capture my imagination. We set out early from Queenstown for the four hour drive. We’d heard all sorts about it – the danger, the scenery – they’re all true. But what we could not prepare for was the magnificence. The photos do the drive – surely one of the best in the world – no justice at all. It’s difficult to portray scale in such gigantic and dramatic proportions. (For example, the tiny boat in the last photo is a two storey ferry…)
The drive after Te Anau is epic where the road whips between shallow, pebbly rivers and dense state forest. The golden Eglinton Valley stretches before us and for the first time we see our destination of purple hazed mountains, like a painting come to life. The road slowly ascends into the steep Hollyford Valley. Cloud cover hides most of the peaks but below we can hear a whisper of the raging Hollyford River. It’s an awesome sight, preparing us for the bleak contrast of the Homer Tunnel. Within a rising claw of grey rock, overhanging ice and waterfalls, the tunnel punches through the Darran mountains, exiting at the one of the best views I am convinced I will ever see in my life – the Cleddeau Valley. Wisps of clouds linger by the sheer cliff faces, coalescing into a ceiling of cotton candy. The air feels wet; the valley walls weep rivulets, the product of the previous night’s rainfall.
The drive from Queenstown is a long one so we chose to stay overnight on the sound. The Sound is spectacular with snow dusted mountains of over a thousand metres (they look small in the photos!) diving into the dark water. The Milford Mariner docks overnight in a bay shadowed by the Pembroke glacier and we watch the sun set over the sound. The way light plays here is unusual, you can literally see the sun retreat, replaced by dark shadows heralding the night.
Real Journey’s Milford Mariner
There are many day trips to Milford Sound but to make the most of the drive, I recommend doing the overnight cruise. (Simply put, you’ll want to do the opposite of the tour buses that reach a peak at around midday.) Watching the sunrise and sunset with no other boats on the water is a breathtaking experience. The boat is comfy – like all boats the cabins are small – but most of the time is spent on deck. Two activity options, a tender craft or kayaking means it’s a busy day until after dinner.
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