Entering Fiordland means entering another world. (...)
Not only does the landscape change dramatically from flat paddocks to towering hills, cliffs and deep, dark lakes. As soon as we reached the area, the weather also made an 180° turn within what felt like a few minutes. From a nice sunny afternoon we were swallowed by mists and clouds, the sky turned several shades darker and sight changed from 'clear to the horizon' to 'is that a mountain there next to the road?'.
From Te Anau onwards the road winds along the lakefront for a while and we could catch some glimpses of the hills on the other side. They got more and more dramatic the further we drove, steeper, higher, partly covered in bush, partly washed clean by thousands of little waterfalls, enhanced by the rain. Their peaks were covered in a thin layer of snow. (Yes, it got damn cold, too. Not as freezing on the ground level, luckily, but nothing for shorts and t-shirts either.) The landscape is really mystic, especially when half of the mountains are obscured by mist. Their shapes are amazing, rising almost vertically from the valleys and rivers, forming one peak after another.
Along the way, we had a very nice encounter with one of Fiordlands feathered inhabitants: a nosy Kea, obviously quite accustomed to the tourists that stop on 'his' parking bay and very keen to get near our car. Made us wonder how many lunches have already been snatched away out of backpacker cars by this fellow and his friends.
On the way to Milford Sound there are plenty of worthwhile stops, such as the Mirror Lakes with their perfectly still waters reflecting the mountains in the background. Or The Chasm, a roaring, waterfall-like cascade that presses immense masses of water through a narrow bit of the riverbed, creating awesome rounded rock formations and holes and deep green pools where the water comes to rest. Also great for a short stroll is the Lake Gunn Nature Walk – a loop track through typical Fiordland forest, everything covered in a beautiful thick layer of moss.
Even amidst rain and clouds the highway to Milford is breathtaking. Milford Sound itself was only visible in silhouettes of different shades of grey, but still crowded with tourist buses and backpacker vans.
The next day the rain clouds were gone, the sun came out and we could take in Fjordland in all its glory. Of all the beautiful landscapes we have seen, this one we found most impressive. I don't even have enough words to describe just how beautiful it is, with its steep cliffs, deep forest, rough peaks and sparkling rivers.
We definitely fell in love with the landscape. A pity that Milford road is the only possibility to get into this vast area without a boat. But then, if they allowed people to drive through all of it, it would spoil the untouched beauty of it, so I guess it is for the best. Maybe, if we have some money to spare, we will make the Doubtful Sound boat tour later on our journey – it is supposed to be amazing, a lot bigger and more remote than Milford. Getting there involves a journey by boat, then bus, then boat again, which makes it quite expensive.