I bump into Dundee Amber who is checked in to the Wanaka YHA after spending a couple of nights in Milford Sound. It was a wise move staying overnight on the fjord as she got to kayak in calm waters with sunny blue skies giving her a totally different perspective of the fjord from when I accompanied her on the cruise there the previous day, when it was stormy and snowy.
My main accomplishment of the day is going for my first jog since I was living in Europe in June. I can't imagine I will ever jog anywhere again quite as beautiful as the Wanaka lakeside setting, with glorious blue skies giving the scene a look of perfection. I struggle to complete my jog and take a sneaky break half way, sitting on the shoreline marveling at the view and contemplating my future.
The Russians run in their first ever try in Rugby World Cup history in the evening and add two more, but they are still comfortably beaten by the Italians.
Big D described the Kea as being like a monkey with wings. I was so tired at the time that I slipped back into sleep and had a dream about a small monkey flying around my old apartment. But Big D's description was fairly apt. The Kea is a funny little creature that does indeed put one in mind of a monkey crossed with a parrot.
The girl from Dundee is, fortunately for me, on the trip to Milford Sound, so I am able to follow her to the bus station and manage to get on her 7am departure to New Zealand’s most iconic natural beauty. I am lucky, to be honest, because with the rugby tomorrow and a bus booked to the north west the following day, I would otherwise have missed out on this most beautiful of places.
After a couple of hours’ kip we reach Te Anau, ‘the gateway to Milford Sound’. From here Dion, our driver (or ‘Big D’ as he likes to be called) tells us that “Now hey, look guys, this is where our journey really begins today. So look, now, hey guys, stay awake because this really is an awesome experience. I will be back on the mike in five minutes. Just give you guys a break from me for a minute or two. Awesome.” Big D must be about fifty.
Big D is absolutely correct though. It is awesome. Awesome is a crap word but it is one of the many right words to use in regard to the road into the Fjordland National Park. Well, you could also say majestic; epic; world class; awe inspiring.
The snowy mountain pass leading into Milford Sound is truly epic. Sheer mountain cliffs soar more than 1,500 metres from the floor of the pass to the heavens. There are few places where the mountains rise so acutely into the sky above. The snow comes down in a blizzard enveloping everything in a blanket of white. Gawping out of the coach window the mountains are so high that it is almost impossible to see the peaks.
And then we begin our descent down into the fjord, witnessing three avalanches as we follow the winding deserted road. This pass was closed during the winter months in previous decades because of the severe avalanche risk, but today it only tends to be closed a few days per winter when the risk is greatest.
Our cruise on Milford Sound lasts a couple of hours. We pass the world famous Mitre peak, covered in snow and mist and head out towards the open sea. There are literally hundreds of waterfalls, while colonies of seals and penguins put in regular appearances by the edge of this epic fjord. This location was used in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the film that put New Zealand on the map for many who knew little of this nation's stunning natural beauty in the past. It simply is another world; the kind of place where no matter where you have been in the world during your life, you will still find your breath being taken away and no doubt muttering to yourself 'My God,'
As if all of this isn't incredible enough we find our boat being followed by five dolphins. The captain tells us it is highly unusual for the boat to be followed for a full 45 minutes back to shore, as the dolphins pull of all kinds of jumps and tricks behind and at the side of the boat.