Cruising and Trekking in Fiordland National Park
The Australians may claim the Great Barrier Reef as the Eighth Wonder of the World, but Rudyard Kipling gave the honor to New Zealand’s Milford Sound. Kiwis disagree with both – they rank it first or second. Milford is the most famous of more than a dozen grand fjords that make up majestic Fiordland National Park on the South Island’s southwestern coast.
The 10-mile-long inlet is hemmed in by sheer granite cliffs rising up to 4,000 feet, with waterfalls cascading from the mountain ridges. Playful bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, and gulls call its waters home, and crested penguins nest here in October and November before leaving for Antarctica. Mitre Peak is the centerpiece, a 5,560-foot pinnacle whose reflection in the mirror-calm water is one of the Pacific’s most photographed sites. Flightseeing here is a great option, and boats leave frequently for two-hour cruises through the quiet beauty of the sound.
On land, the Milford Track was once called by a flushed hiker “the finest walk in the world,” a description that has deservedly stuck. It is a four-day, 32-mile trek most serious hikers around the world dream of undertaking, despite the sand flies, at least an inch of daily rainfall, and strenuous stretches demanding as much attention as the awesome scenery. (And don’t miss the scenic 75-mile Milford Road from Te Anau to Milford Sound.)
Getting farther into Fiordland National Park requires four modes of transportation, culminating in your arrival by boat at Doubtful Sound, the deepest and, some say, most beautiful of New Zealand’s fjords. The engines are turned off and you are enveloped in the centuries-old silence of one of the world’s most remote and magical places. Captain Cook wasn’t even sure these waters were a sound, hence its name.
Ten times larger than Milford Sound and less known, Doubtful Sound retains an element of mystery and is void of the aerial tours and boat traffic that can mar a visit to Milford.
Just two boats operate on the sound, at opposite ends and out of each other’s line of sight, giving visitors the sensation of being alone in this exquisite pocket of primeval nature. Rainfall is 300 inches a year and up, but even a rainy day has its beauty, as spontaneous waterfalls sprout out of nowhere, their sound cloaked in mist and intrigue.