Home > New Zealand > Day 6: The Best of The Best

Day 6: The Best of The Best

05 June, 2010

I swore to myself that I would cut way down on pictures this trip. But then again, I had never been to Fiordland before, and I had no idea how gorgeous it would be. Between yesterday and today, I have nearly 600 pictures—just in the Fiordland area.

Our original plan was to climb Gertrude Saddle (an intense, 3.5 km, 5-hour hike that gives fantastic views of Milford) and then head back to Queenstown. Instead, we decided to take a boat tour of Milford. For ~$60, we got a two-hour tour of the beautiful Milford Sound, complete with tour guide and tea/coffee.

The day was a bit dreary looking; fog hung low and a lot of the sky was covered with clouds. The sun wasn’t showing, and it even threatened to rain. Still, I knew that the boat tour would be great. We hopped on the boat at 9:45am and began our tour.

Milford Sound

Taken from the boat heading out on our tour of Milford Sound.

Our boat was the Lady Bowen, named after the huge waterfall that is one of the main characteristics of the sound. The company it was with did a really good job. The crew was friendly, and the tour guide was knowledgeable about both the wildlife and geography/geology of the area. And best of all, the boat was fairly empty. There were less than 15 passengers, even though the boat had a capacity of 85. This made for great views without having to fight for a spot.

We took off into the harbor, complete with mist and fog surrounding the mountains. The water was perfectly still, looking almost like a mirror, so the ride was very gentle and easy. We got good views of Bowen Falls before heading out to the area of the sound you can’t see from the shore.

Looking Backwards

Looking back across the side of our boat.

Milford Sound is actually a fjord, a glacier carved valley that got filled with ocean water. Because the rock in the area is so hard, the cliffs held their shape and didn’t cave down. You can almost see the glacier marks as you look at the cliffs. The coolest part is that the peaks that you see are not the entire mountain; they begin below on the floor of the sound. If you count the part underwater, it makes the mountains in Milford some of the tallest in the country.

Because they are so steep, there is not much wildlife in the mountains. The water, though, is filled. While we didn’t see much on our journey, the tour guide said that it’s not uncommon to see sea lions, seals, eels, giant jellyfish, or even dolphins. Because there’s so much rain in Milford (about 30 ft/year), there’s a layer of fresh water that sits on the surface of the salt water, making for a unique habitat. Fresh water animals ride on the top layer, while ocean animals swim just below that. Because of the diffraction of light, though, little light gets below ~40 meters, and it’s completely dark below there—much like the very deepest parts of the oceans.

We're on a Boat

Katrina is very bright.

The vegetation grows thick since it’s a temperate rainforest, even on the rock cliffs. Moss starts to grow from the moisture, and trees plant the beginnings of their roots in there. As they grow, they can’t dig into the rock, so they form a sort of interwoven web that holds them together. (It reminds me a lot of the network of trees in Avatar.) While this helps the trees to grow, the downside is that a single tree can bring down the entire mountainside’s vegetation in a single tree avalanche. This leaves a huge scar on the side of the mountain, and it takes ~150 years to grow back.

The best part of the trip was about halfway through. Rain started to fall above us, but the sun peaked out just over the ocean. We got to see some beautiful rainbows forming between the cliffs. This, combined with the mist that was still hanging around, made for the single most spectacular thing I have ever seen.

Rainbow over Milford

The weather was just perfect for our tour. There was just enough misty rain that, combined with the bit of sun that peaked out, led to a bunch of rainbows along the tour. This particular one was spectacular, but my camera was not able to capture it anywhere near its initial splendor.

The other highlights of our trip:

-We pulled up to a rock where a bunch of young seals tend to congregate. They get pushed away from their usual ground by the older males and hang here for a while until the older males leave or calm down.


Seal Rock

-We also saw Stirling Falls, the other of the two permanent waterfalls. We pulled up close to this and got to look straight up. My lens got soaked, but it was totally worth the pictures.

Stirling Falls v2

Our boat got right up next to the falls, allowing me to get quite a shot. Unfortunately, I also got a lens full of water, which you can really see towards the top of this shot.

After we returned, Kat and I drove back towards Te Anau, saying goodbye to Milford. We stopped at The Chasm, an area where the river carved deep into the rock, making a huge gorge. Even better, some areas of rock were softer than others, and large boulders had holes snaking through them through which water flowed, with the rest of the boulder remaining intact. The main path didn’t give a very good view, but a small dirt path off to the right gave much better views, taking you dangerously close to the edge of the chasm.

The Chasm Waterfall

The waterfall spilling out of The Chasm.

Our other stop was at the Gertrude Valley, the start of the Gertrude Saddle hike that we were originally going to do. While we didn’t have time for the whole hike, we did walk to the end of the flat section, the part just before the path heads into alpine territory. I didn’t take my camera, but it was a fantastic sight. It was weird being at the end of a valley: like a peninsula, but instead of being surrounded by water on three sides, we were surrounded by high mountains.

We drove back to Te Anau, hoping to get some coffee from the Sandfly Café. Unfortunately, it had closed just 10 minutes earlier. Still, we found a seafood stand and picked up some seafood chowder. We ate this while watching one of the best (and definitely pinkest) sunsets of my life. Three months ago in Kinloch, a German traveler said that he witnessed a sunset in Fiordland “so colorful that it made [him] physically ill.” I now understand what he meant.

On the Lake

Before the seafood chowder.

Lake Te Anau

During the seafood chowder.

Sunset on the Lake 2

After the seafood chowder.

We spent the next two hours driving to Queenstown. We walked around a bit before heading into Fergburger, what (I’ve been told) is the best burger in the world. And I have to say, it held up to its reputation.

I was surprised to find that Fergburger only had a small number of beef burgers, the rest being chicken, fish, tofu…you name it. Kat got the original beef Fergburger, and I (off the recommendation of the cashier) got a Cockadoodle Oink. It was, by far, the best thing I have ever tasted. The sandwich consisted of a huge, breaded chicken breast, American streaky bacon, avocado, tomato, red onion, and aioli, all on a bun about the size of my head—and all for $12 NZD. You can’t beat that.


Fergburger, home of the best burger I've eaten in my life. I ate there twice in two days, and am regretting not eating there a third time.

We ended up running into Jamie (my flatmate) and some other friends. I knew she was in the area, but never expected to run into them. That makes the third time I’ve seen someone that I know in a strange part of New Zealand, something I don’t even get at home. Just shows how small of a country it is.

I have to say, these past two days were filled with some of the best things I’ve experience in my life. The best latte, the most beautiful location, the best sunset, and the best burger. And it’s only two days out of our 10-day trip.

If nothing else, I have to say that everyone needs to make a trip to Fiordland, New Zealand at least once in their life. If you can see the rest of the country, that’s even better. But Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand is by far the most amazing place I’ve ever been.

See the full set on Flickr! (Photos will be uploaded as I go through each day.)

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