Fiordland is a remote corner of New Zealand. Within this corner, we visited two iconic locations: Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. Neither are easy to get to. We drove from Queenstown to our base in Te Anou.
Despite their names, both Milford and Doubful Sounds are fiords, not sounds…the difference (and the only lesson within this blog) is that a sound is created by a river, a fiord by a glacier. In this case, HUGE glaciers that carved through the rocks.
Milford Sound – We almost didn’t make it!
Milford is the only fiord in New Zealand accessible by road; however, on February 3, 2020, the single road to Milford Sound was torn up by floods and slides when a storm dumped a meter (3 ft, 3 in) of rain in less than 24 hours. Stranded trampers (hikers) were air lifted from the trails. Lodge visitors abandoned rentals cars and were evacuated by helicopters.
The area and lodge remained closed for weeks, but 3 days before our reservation, after tremendous effort in rebuilding, State Road 94 opened, with restrictions to convoy transport (no personal vehicles allowed). We boarded a bus in Te Anou in a convoy of 50 buses that snaked along the road to Milton Sound Lodge.
The trip through the glacial valley was a gift: Mirror Lake and monster trees.
Our first glimpse of Milford Sound was a tease as clouds topped the mountains.
And then the rain…
It rains over 200 days a year here and our day on the boat was no exception, with the bonus of galeforce winds. But it sailed…a boat for 250 passengers, held 11, plus crew, out to the Tasman Sea and back. Hundreds of waterfalls were magnificent, and true to lore, they stop running a few hours after the rain ends…a sight to behold.
Wind Driven Waterfalls
Doubtful Sound – Isolated and Beautiful
Doubtful Sound is three times longer than Milford Sound and ten times larger. It has no direct road access. To reach this fiord, you take a boat across Lake Manapouri, a bus over the Wilmot Pass and down into Deep Cove. Then another boat through the fiord to the Tasman Sea.
Doubtful Sound was sunny and bright and gave us an idea of what the clouds obscured over at Milford Sound. At both, we sailed to the Tasman Sea before turning back.
The Maori name for Doubtful Sound is Patea – translated it means “The Place Of Silence”.