I can see why Milford Sound is both New Zealand's most visited destination and the world's top travel destination (according to Tripadvisor's 2008 Travelers' Choice Destinations Awards). Rudyard Kipling even called it the eighth wonder of the world. But you know that Kippie, always exaggerating.
Just kidding. But he is still the youngest writer to win the Nobel for literature (at age 32), so yeah, I've got nothing.
Anyway, from Te Anau, we took a bus to Milford Sound, and our very cool Maori driver let us stop at some neat places.
First, we went to the Mirror Lakes:
It started raining, but we didn't mind because we were treated to more waterfalls than I'd seen in my entire life:
We started driving up into the mountains, where the waterfalls poured down the rock faces of the mountains and then accumulated in piles of white ice:
There had been an avalanche about ten days before, and we were lucky to be able to go to Milford Sound at all, as the road had been closed for over a week while they cleared the snow from the roads and tunnels. They'd just reopened the road the day we were going (phew).
And then, in typical New Zealand fashion, about ten minutes after seeing these snowplow tractors, we were trekking through jungle (yet again) to reach the Chasm, a powerful waterfall that gushes into this narrow chasm (hence the name) of black rock. And of course, we saw some picturesque streams on our way there.
We learned about treeslides, where entire trees literally slide down a mountain. The trees grow to be quite large, but their roots can't get a great hold in the rock mountain, so too much snow pushing down on them, for example, can cause them to slide right down the mountainside. Here, behind the trees in the foreground, you'll see a stripe of black rock going down what used to be a tree-covered mountain:
When we finally reached Milford Sound, we learned it was actually a fiord (a long, narrow arm of the sea bordered by steep cliffs, usually formed by glacial erosion) and not a sound (a relatively narrow passage of water between larger bodies of water or between the mainland and an island, usually not formed by glacial activity), but it was named by Welsh explorer, John Grono, in 1812, and he wasn't familiar with fjords. So, there you go.
In any case, we boarded the Spirit of Milford and were immediately transported into a real-life Chinese watercolor.
The mist gave it an enchanted feeling, and it was neat to see the layers of mountains:
Our camera lens got wet as we stood on the deck, but we thought the results were interesting (and there was no permanent damage):
The mist cleared a bit as we sailed on, and we saw what felt like millions of waterfalls cascading down the two mountains on either side of the narrow channel:
And as if for a grand finale, we saw seals on our way out:
After a lovely picnic on the boat, we took the bus back to Queenstown, racking up some serious bus hours for the day (about seven, I think), but it helped that the scenery was gorgeous and constantly changing, from snow and mountains...
to our first blue-sky sighting of the day...
to sparkling rivers...
to a sky full of long wispy clouds...
to ominous backlit mountains...
to what looked like a cross between God and Homer Simpson:
When it got dark, we watched "Whale Rider," which I'd seen in the theater and loved-- but it was great to see it in New Zealand, where it was set.