After receiving loads of glowing reviews of Fiordland, we spent a night debating whether to visit Doubtful Sound or Milford Sound. The former was definitely less travelled, and for good reason. It’s only reachable via a tour operator and involves a boat ride and coach ride to arrive to the sound. We opted for the pragmatic option, Milford Sound, the only Fiordland sound reachable by public roads we’re told. And are we glad we did!
The drive to Milford Sound through Fiordland National Park is distractingly beautiful, with numerous look-out points, walks, and impressive waterfalls. We made several stops along the way, the first at the entrance to the park to stretch our legs and take advantage of a ‘non-rainy’ moment in a picturesque valley. We stopped 20-minutes later alongside an impressive waterfall, our van being sprayed by the giant’s mist. We didn’t realise until later that this was one of literally hundreds of spectacular falls, made all the better by the recent rains. We pulled over again at the entrance to the tunnel where we were greeted by native alpine Kea parrots — they flocked to our van, landing on top of it as we all poked our heads out to see. We made our last pit-stop to walk the short 30-minute loop along the Chasm Walk. In fact, we stopped so frequently along our drive that we arrived late to the actual sound, around 4pm.
Our day was frequented by rain showers, about every 15 or 20 minutes or so. The woman in the information kiosk at Milford Sound informed us that we were lucky to be there on such a day because it was prettiest in that weather. And was she ever right. It was almost too fantastical to be real: waterfalls cascading down verdant peaks for hundreds, even thousands of meters — we could trace their descent down the sides of the severe mountain faces and watch their final plunge into the sea. The low clouds, which hung to the lush cliffs, made everything all the more dramatic, even mystical.
We asked if there were still boat tours available and were informed, just one, with Mitre Peak Cruises, but only a small boat. That sounded disappointing but it was anything but. The smaller boat , still holding about 30 people, felt intimate and we got to know a few of our shipmates. The smaller vessel also seemed more maneuverable, and the captain led us directly under waterfalls and nestled in close to resting fur seals on multiple occasions. The highlight of the journey though, had to be the dolphins. As we made the turn from the rough Tasman Sea back into the sound the first mate came to the bow and pointed the captain in a northerly direction. At first, we assumed he was cautioning him about rocks but when the boat turned into the direction he was pointing we were surprised. We all scanned the waters ahead and spotted dorsal fins—bottle nose dolphin fins. As the captain came along side them the playful dolphins rode with the bow of the ship, jumping, splashing and frolicking alongside us. Within minutes every person on board made their way to the bow and leaned over to watch the amazing sight. The dolphins swam alongside our boat for a good ten minutes, almost as if they were racing us through the sound. The kids were squealing with delight and every time a dolphin jumped out of the water the whole boat ooohed and aaaahed! It was spectacular!!
It was a long but memorable day. Next time, Doubtful Sound.