During our Christmas break, we spent two days in the area of Fiordland National Park where we planned to make two cruises - a shorter one in Milford Sound and a full day one in Doubtful Sound.
From our base in Te Anau, we headed off to Milford Sound along State Highway 94 which is regarded as one of the highest and most scenic highways in New Zealand. There is a number of short sidewalks which are definitely worth stopping such as The Mirror Lakes or The Chasm but just drive itself through the glacial Eglinton Valley is spectacular.
Once we reached the Homer Tunnel, the traffic started to be quite dense as the tunnel was only one way and operated by a traffic light. About 1200m long tunnel hewed from solid granite had nothing to do with those wide, smooth tunnels in the Alps in Europe.
We arrived in Milford Sound shortly after midday and as the traffic around the tunnel indicated, the place was really busy and crowded. Boats of different operators were taking turns at the harbour and any minute we could hear a noise of small scenic planes in the air. I was at the place about 10 years ago and I don’t remember such a buzz.
While waiting for our cruise, we made an easy 20 minute loop through beech forest and along shore with some nice views of the fjord and surrounding peaks. But then we were ready to hop on our boat and enjoy the cruise.
The trip lasted about two hours and from harbour we cruised about 16 km to the open Tasman Sea. Straight at the beginning, we passed a massive Bowen Falls and the iconic Mitre Peak. We spotted a few fur seal colonies lying on the rocks. Once we reached St. Anne’s lighthouse and got to open sea, the waves were quite rough and our boat swung a lot. Luckily, our skipper didn’t let us suffer too long and after few minutes turned the boat back to the harbour. We concluded the cruise with the spray from Stirling Falls as the bout tried to approach it as close as possible.
We had not even absorbed the Milford Sound experience yet and we were already heading off to Lake Manapouri, where we started our full day cruise to Doubtful Sound.
The day started with an early and quiet cruise across Lake Manapouri to the West Arm Visitor Centre where we got some interesting information about the adjacent Underground Power Station. From there, we carried on by coach over Wilmot Pass into Doubtful Sound. In the morning, we were a bit in a rush but in the afternoon, on the way back, our driver made a few stops along this section, so we had enough time to wander around and enjoy all views.
The second part of the day started at Dove Cove where we got on board and cruised again about 30 km to the open Tasman Sea. We slowly sailed between tiny islands which reminded turtles lying on the water surface and big peaks which reminded an elephant’s head.
As we got closer to the mouth of sound we chanced on fur seals. Later, on the way back, we met a few others that were excluded from their colonies to bulk themselves. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any luck to see penguins or dolphins.
It was definitely a good decision to go with the first early cruise option because there were no other boats and everything around looked quiet and calm, so we could fully enjoy that isolation. It was such a big contrast to busy Milford Sound and, eventually, it was also the reason why we preferred Doubtful Sound in the final rating.