Milford Sound, New Zealand
An early start, to be in town for a 7.30 coach. Walking down the hill into town presented me with the most beautiful red dawn over the mountains on the far side of Wakitipu lake. A great start, if a warning to shepherds.
I didn’t meet Shep, but waiting outside subway was Chip, from Atlanta, Georgia; a fine accent by which to be greeted. Wife Margie joined us, full of apologies for not bringing me a coffee, but I was able to assure her she’d brought exactly what I would have ordered, not being a coffee drinker. Fourth to join our queue was Paul. Not his real name, I never found that out, but he looked exactly like a gym-enhanced version of Paul from work, and he looked just as happy. I have got used to not asking my colleague how he is – the answer is never good – and didn’t try here, either.
The tour heads to Milford Sound slowly and comes back quickly. It’s a long way – four hours drive or so. It is called a sound, but because it was created by glacial movement it is in fact a fjord. The place was named wrongly by European settlers and somehow the name has stuck. I suppose telling the story of how it is really a fjord is the same as it would be to tell that of how it used to be called a sound but the name was changed. Our driver did a good job of seeming grumpy at the start of the day, chivvying people into seats at the back of the bus to allow space for later pickups, but his grumpiness actually masked a dry caustic wit and droll delivery style, and listening to stories of sheep farming turning to dairy – $1 million just for the milking shed – and deer farming – they were, like all introduced species, a pest in the wild, but valuable, so farmers tried tranquillising and riding/roping them from helicopters before they finally caught enough to breed – all passed the time quickly. We stopped at a few spots for pictures, the mountain spring for water and the Chasm (not the Screaming Orc Chasm) to see where water is forced through a narrow gap before cascading down.
Finally we were at the Sound for a 2.00 cruise. All the tours offer similar setups, a ride from Queenstown or Te Ana in glass-topped bus and a cruise, with some claiming more picture stops, others a longer cruise. On a clear tending to rainy day, 90 minutes on the water was plenty, time enough to see the waterfalls and get close to Stirling falls, 150m plus high – a lot higher than Niagara. We were shuffled on to the sales – food, drink and welcome picture-deck but soon most people made it up to the top deck for a clearer view, though the commentary was swept away by the wind at times, and the same drove some people downstairs. The cliff sides are dramatic, and it seems incredible that at times the glacier moved through at 7m per day.
Sloping off the boat, I passed the comments book, expecting to see banalities. My prejudices were satisfied with “the views are beautiful!” from Malaysia, but I was worried by “Ten years passed by and here again, same view, same person”. I think they need stronger medication. The journey back was quiet, without the commentary or stops of the way out. It was just a little overlong, but that’s the price of seeing the sights – if you’ve time to stay in Te Ana, you can cut two hours off the journey time at either end, or even stay in Milford itself, though the climate there is changeable, to say the least. There are plenty of long walks to be had from there – the longest is a four day epic, $2000 if you want your kit moved for you, $300 for the DIY version. The rain that set in on the cruise back to base accompanied us most of the way back, and it was wet in Queenstown, too, not the bright evening I’d arrived in. I made it out for a run, turning away from town along the lake and finding an undulating trail in the twilight. The fading light stopped me enjoying the downs as much as I might have, though I’d already found a part of the path open onto a cliff edge so slow seemed sensible in any case.