We were due up in Milford Sound (a 2+ hour drive from Te Anau) at 9am the next morning for our cruise, so we did not get much sleep. We got even less because Beth’s Blackberry decided to be evil and somehow set itself an hour ahead. So when the alarm went off at 6:45am it was really 5:45am, so we were up, dressed, and in the car before we released that it was actually an hour before we had to leave. It was nice to get an extra hour of sleep, but I think I would have preferred to have it more naturally. The drive up to the the sound went pretty smoothly. It was early enough that most of the tourists were not on the road so we could make very good time. We had smooth sailing up to the big tunnel at the top of the hills.
Since the tunnel is one-way only, we arrived at a red light. As we pulled up to join the line of cars there was thump on the roof of our car. Beth and I exchanged a worried look when there was another thump and some scratching on the hood of our Prius and a kea peered in the windshield at us. For the inexperienced, a kea is the large wild parrot of New Zealand, that really looks like a cross between your normal large parrot and a hawk. They have claws and a beak that inspire fear in even experienced Kiwi rangers and a penchant for eating rubber, especially the sort that is used to seal the windows on cars. Thankfully this kea (and its two friends which joined it) did not make a meal of our car. Instead they just jumped around on our car and the other stopped cars for the few minutes until the light changed and we were able to drive on into the tunnel.
After the end of the tunnel we had smooth sailing down into Milford where we parked and walked over to the ferry terminal. What we immediately noticed was that the entire area was plagued sand flys. Imagine mosquitoes, but smaller and probably more determined to suck your blood, with bites that swell and itch more than mosquitos’. Now imagine clouds of them that descend upon you when you exit you car. This is what being outside at Milford Sound was like. The Maori have a legend about the sandflies. They way that the flies are a ‘gift’ from the god of the underworld, a reminder that no one should stay in Paradise too long. While there might not be a god involved, we were quite in agreement that the flies disinclined us from spending longer outside than needed. Our cruise was due to depart at 9:15 so we waited inside for as long as possible then motivated ourselves down the docks to our ship and found indoor seats that were as protected from the flies as it got.
Once the cruise left the harbor and headed out into the Sound, the flies decreased in intensity and we were able to head out onto the bow of the ship take pictures. The Sound was incredibly beautiful, with its steep walls covered in moss and trees and the picturesque waterfalls that cascaded down. Everything was a bit restrained due to the drought that was afflicting the entire country, but with the morning sun peaking over the eastern edge of the Sound, we had beautiful views all the way out to the Tasmin Sea. The way back was a bit less fun, since we hugged the east side of the Sound, which meant the sun was not high enough to warm us, but we did get to sail directly underneath one of the waterfalls.
After the cruise we sprinted to our car (damn flies) and drove back down towards Te Anau. We stopped briefly after the tunnel, but the kea had moved on, so we did not stick around either. On the drive back down we stopped a few times to take some short hikes out to see the sights of Fiordland. The best was probably Mirror Lake, which lived up to its name providing amazing reflections of the mountains. We were planning to have an early night, so when we got back we did some laundry in the holiday park and then headed into the town of Te Anau to do our grocery shopping for our hike ahead and get some dinner. We settled on Redcliff cafe for supper, which was apparently the dining destination of choice for the Lord of Rings cast during shooting down in the Fiordlands. It was an adorable little cafe built into what had once been a large single-story house, with an enclosed deck around the back. We had some amazing fried goat cheese with pine nuts, caramelized onions, and a fruit terrine for a starter, and then local-caught blue cod with new potatoes for our main. After dinner we went back to our triangle hut where we finished up packing for the Routeborn trek before falling asleep delightfully early.