Arriving at the beautiful lakeside town of Te Anau, reputed to be the true gateway to Fiordland, I found myself parked outside the i-Site enjoying a legendary Miles Better Pie considering my options for a visit to world famous and iconic Milford Sound.
I spotted the brightly lit and welcoming Go Orange shop right next door to the i-Site. Wow! So pleased I found these guys.
Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, cruise or kayak: They do it all and their prices leave you with funds in the kitty (for more pies!)
I walked in there expecting to sign up for a standard cruise, but I walked out booked on an adventure. A kayak and cruise combo is the best way to see the fiord from two very different perspectives, I’m assured.
It’s a two-hour drive to Milford Sound without any photo-stops but as cliched as it sounds, it really is about the journey, not just the destination here.
As daylight broke, I was entering the largest of the 14 National Parks in New Zealand, Fiordland National Park, classified as a World Heritage Site and quite simply stunning.
Amazingly, the terrain changes from pastoral farmland to a cool temperate rainforest complete with mountain vistas, temporary waterfalls and clear running waterways along the way.
I was tempted to stop every five minutes for a photo but I had clearly been instructed to meet the kayak guide and the rest of the party at Deep Water Basin in Milford Sound by 8am sharp.
Deep Water Basin road and car park was easy to find and “giddays” and “welcomes” flowed.
We spent the next half hour with our kayak guide, Lisa, as we equipped ourselves in warm waterproof gear, set up our double sea kayaks and participated in a thorough safety brief.
With a maximum group of just eight plus a guide, I was matched up with another single paddling buddy.
Since he was more athletic than me, he seemed happy to do the bulk of the work while I took photos – bonus!
Before we knew it, we were on the water, successfully working our rudders and synchronising our paddling to work efficiently as a team travelling up the Arthur River and towards the main body of the fiord.
I can’t get over how insignificant I felt with these towering mountains looking down on me. Lisa let us in on the secret: Milford Sound, is not actually a sound, it’s a fiord.
How a fiord and a sound are formed is quite different and apparently New Zealanders consider it too much hassle to change it now. Rafting up, Lisa gave us both versions of how the fiords were formed.
The more scientific explanation of a massive glacier moving through, carving out the U shaped valleys, then retreating and back filled by the sea; and the more poetic Maori legend of a godly figure who shaped the Fiordland coast with his adze (axe), starting from the south and working his way up to Milford Sound, his final masterpiece.
Following Lisa, we crossed the fiord for a shore visit at the base of the thundering Bowen Falls before we paddled our way back along the base of the mighty Mitre Peak and back to our starting point.
A quick change and we were travelling a short distance in convoy to the terminal to catch our Go Orange boat cruise having worked up a suitable appetite for the free fish ‘n’ chips served on board that was all part of this amazing combo.
On board, you can exchange cash for an excellent cappuccino, and boy was it great to warm my hands up on after my heroic paddling efforts.
I wondered whether I would need a cruise following my kayak, but I’m so pleased I did.
What we saw in the two hours of paddling was fantastic, but it was just a pimple on the chin of Milford, so to speak.
There’s so much more to see. Go Orange seem to have hit the mark for the independent traveller.
They leave half an hour before all the buses and tours arrive, leaving the fiord pretty much to themselves for a bit.
The cruise is also longer than some, so when we came across some bottlenose dolphins skipper Aaron had time to slow the boat down and hang out with them while other boats had to carry on past.
In the two hours, we travelled out to the entrance of the fiord turning around at the Tasman Sea.
Looking back into the Fiord it was easy to see why Captain Cook sailed past not knowing that the narrow entry did in fact open up into a large interior bay.
Aaron also allowed us up onto the bridge deck to have a chat and if you don’t want to get wet, this is probably the best spot to be when he noses the bow under another waterfall.
I, however, chose to stand my ground on the bow deck as Aaron says the rejuvenating spray is supposed to take 10 years off!
My drive back to Te Anau and all the photo-stops along the way is a whole new story in itself.
My advice? Allow lots of time before and after your cruise for photo stops, stay overnight in Te Anau and definitely Go Orange!