We expected our visit to Milford Sound, a fiord in the southwest of the South Island of New Zealand, to be one of the more memorable experiences of our trip. And it was, but in part for reasons we didn’t anticipate. Getting to Milford from Queenstown entails a long bus ride that is a minimum of 4.5 hours, but actually is around an hour longer because all of the tour operators build in extra stops for photos and requisite restroom stops. (If you had just arrived in New Zealand the scenes likely were dramatic, but at this point in our trip some of the locales en route were almost ho-hum.)
An option for cutting the trip shorter is to add in an overnight in a small town called Te Anau. It is about halfway to the sound and would enable you to get an earlier start and an earlier return to Queenstown. We had gotten that advice pre-trip but were put off by commentary online about the road being treacherous. After a week of NZ driving I know now that wasn’t true. It was no different than other routes we had taken. The roads are good as long as the weather doesn’t turn foul. Icy conditions would alter things, but while we experienced at least three seasons during the day yesterday it waited until today to snow.
Now, our way to speed things up was to book a flight back to Queenstown from Milford on what the operator likes to call the #worldsmostscenicflight. Scenery we had aplenty, but when the pilot said at the outset the trip was “iffy” but he was going to give it a go, it was probably a sign that maybe we should have stayed on the bus. Things started off smoothly enough, smooth being relative in a 10-seat turboprop. You can’t expect an airline-quality ride in a plane of that size. But the picture at the top was taken shortly after takeoff and the two that follow I shot as we turned north along the west coast of New Zealand.
Things got interesting after that. As we turned east to Queenstown, the air got bumpier and the ride unnerving when what sounded like alarms started going off in the cockpit. Now the pilot to his credit learned his pilot-school lessons well. He remained calm, and you certainly don’t want your pilot sounding nervous, especially when he is only 10 feet ahead of you. But basically the weather closed in more quickly than expected. At one point we were flying through a sleet storm and the pilot climbed higher in an attempt to find a clear route through the mountain valleys back to Queenstown, but there was no opening and we had to turn back.
The pilot must have been able to communicate to his base the aborted flight plan because another tour operator’s bus was waiting to pick us up and take us back to Queenstown when we landed, which was a break. I had visions of a long wait for a rescue ride to arrive, followed by a long ride back. We returned to the city around 9:30 pm instead of 5, but we made it. That marks the end of the adventure portion of the trip. A late spring snow storm today cancelled our golf plan, but so it goes. Tomorrow is a tour of one of the areas where The Lord of the Rings was filmed, which should go off even in dodgy weather.
The Milford Sound boat cruise itself was great as expected , which we will cover in a separate post with plenty of photos.