Two moods of the Milford Road
The sounds of water are everywhere in the Fiordlands. Rushing down rock faces, dripping quietly from moss, splattering on the hood of your jacket. Rain – from yesterday’s pounding torrent to the present misty drizzle – is at home here. We chose to accept it as a travel companion instead of letting it change our plans, and began the drive in to Milford Sound. The road in proved to be just as striking as the famed destination itself.
The new rainfall fed a countless number of waterfalls. They cascaded down every crack in the cliffs, some massive and roaring, others as slender and wispy as a tendril of smoke. Higher up, the clouds took over and the cliffs simply disappeared the sky, leaving the lofty heights to the imagination. Though we feared we might miss out on some of Milford’s iconic scenery, the weather leant a brooding beauty to the landscape.
The kea is an alpine parrot found only on New Zealand’s south island. Though they’re known for damaging property, we’ve become fond of their curious nature and bright plumage.
Just as we crossed the divide and descended to Milford Sound the overcast cracked to reveal blue sky and a timid sun— just enough light to bring the scene to life.
Milford Sound deserves all of its accolades. A long finger of deep blue ocean is surrounded by steep green slopes, topped with rocky peaks, and adorned with waterfalls spilling straight into the sea. Razor-sharp Mitre Peak is a magnet for the eye, sitting directly across the sound and rising 5,500 feet straight out of the water like a spear. Though we’d seen countless photos and postcards, it’s just one of those views that’s unbelievably impressive in person.
We stood on the rocky beach, staring out at the sound and taking it in. As if it all wasn’t majestic enough, a pod of dolphins surfaced barely 30 yards away from us and traversed in and out of the bay.
Back on the other side of the pass, the infernal drizzle returned, but we found a sheltered spot at one of the many government-run campsites that dot the road. A campfire and the last installment of our Star Wars marathon capped off an excellent day.
Emerging from our tents in the morning, we discovered that the clouds had rolled away completely. We repeated half of yesterday’s drive just to see the incredible alpine scenery in a brighter mood.
A two-hour hike through beech forest and rockslide rubble leads up to the shores of Lake Marian. Hemmed in by imposing rock walls and the impressive south face of Mount Crosscut, it’s a classic brilliant blue alpine lake and a perfect place to soak up the spring sunshine.
As the sun warmed the new snowfall on the peaks above, it weakened and began to thunder down. Literally every 10 or 15 minutes, we’d hear a booming rumble, and would quickly scan the cliffs in time to spot a massive avalanche rocketing down.
Although the lake was utterly frigid and likely just above freezing temperatures, we just had to jump in. One by one, we leapt off a rock into the icy water, each surfacing in complete shock with one thought on our minds: get out as fast as possible!
And another campfire to end the day— under the stars this time.
By the following morning clouds had moved in once again, ready to dump more water on one of the wettest places on earth. We packed up feeling quite satisfied with our two days, and made plans to come back and explore further. Even though Milford Sound is on every tourist’s list, it still feels wild and remote. The rest of the massive park extends for two hundred miles south to the end of the island, and aside from two walking tracks and one dirt road, is virtually inaccessible and untouched. Got to get that helicopter!