We were promised rain. We were promised that Fiordland National Park was one of the wettest places in the world. They were right.
Rain pounds louder and louder inches away from our bed in the campervan. Is someone having a shower on top of our campervan or what? The wind has also been getting in on the action by rocking the camper from side to side. Perhaps it’s just preparing us for the cruise later… Because, yes, even during storms and relentless rainfall, cruises still run in Milford Sound. Some say Milford Sound is better under the rain. Let’s find out!
After a morning of putting buckets under the drips in our camper, we take the courtesy shuttle from the Milford Sound Lodge down to the Milford Sound boat terminal.
Dressed in full waterproofs, looking like a walking talking bin bag, we are ready for our Milford Sound cruise! We check in at the Real Journeys desk and hop onto the old-school Milford Wanderer complete with sailing poles. It looks like a vessel fit for an explorer!
PICKING PRIME POSITION FOR RAINY CRUISE
Everyone huddles in the indoor middle section of the ship, sipping on the complimentary coffee and wiping condensation off the windows. As for us, we are straight to the wheel house with the skipper looking out onto the front of the ship – an outside viewing area that, for some reason, seems to be deserted. Once we leave the Milford Marina, the first thing we notice is the crankin’ Bowen Falls! The waterfall that generates electricity for the whole Milford Sound Village is sheer white water creating spray like a huge mist float across the whole width of the fiord.
He invites anyone wearing suitable waterproofs to join him on the front viewing deck to embrace the gales, rain and the awesome landscape it is forming.
THE DETERMINED NATURE GUIDE
A nature guide on our “Nature Cruise” hops on the mic, saying: “Today, the theme of our cruise is going to be waterfalls.” He invites anyone wearing suitable waterproofs to join him on the front viewing deck to embrace the gales, rain and the awesome landscape it is forming.
HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS OF WATERFALLS
We don’t hesitate to get outside and be in awe on the mountains towering from sea to sky! How many places in the world can you see a mountain from summit to sea all in one view?! What makes it more impressive is the hundreds, we repeat, HUNDREDS of temporary waterfalls that form long white lines along the mountainsides. It’s like the mountains are sweating just looking at us at the front of this boat being blown all over the place.
GALE, MEET GALE. NOW STOP BLOWING US OFF THIS SHIP!
The gales… Man, the gusts of wind hitting the boat are so strong that it pushes our skin to distort our faces. It kind of feels like we’re skydiving all over again. Droplets feels like needles on our face and sea spray covers us every 10 seconds: it’s brutal out here! And our nature guide is still powering through, giving us information on Milford’s discovery, the mountains, the wildlife, how far it is to Australia, and more. What a trooper! Sooner or later, more and more people are warming up the idea of stepping outside and embracing the elements. You’re only in Milford Sound once! Make the most of it!
WATERFALLS DEFYING THE LAWS OF GRAVITY
It’s now like the waterfalls are doing a Mexican Wave in celebration as more and more passengers brave the front deck. In fact, the waterfalls aren’t falling, but going up in the winds carrying them into the beyond.
As the ship reaches the end of the fiord, the water colour changes dramatically from the dark tannin-filled water topped with fresh water in the fiord to the green Tasman Sea. The ship gets a bit of a bob-on with the increasing swell from the sea – a good time to turn around and head back down the other side of the famous fiord.
As we closely pass to more waterfalls than we can count, the ship slows right down at a place called “Seal Rock”. Like the name suggests, a protruding rock provides a bed for tens of New Zealand fur seals. We have been to Milford Sound a handful of times, and every time, the seals just don’t move. However, the rain must have stirred them, because one lifts his head up to look at us… Then puts it back down to continue its slumber… Madness!
STIRLING FALLS AT ITS MOST TUMULTUOUS
So we’ve established the temporary waterfalls around in full force in Milford Sound. As for the permanent ones, like Stirling Falls, well, they are something else. What’s more, the skipper thinks it’s a great idea to stick the nose of the boat under the spray of Stirling Falls. Admittedly, this is something Milford Sound cruises do no matter the weather, but we get more than just a little sprayed under the falls.
We follow some of the crew to the nose of the boat, make sure our waterproofs are zipped super tight, and let what happens happen. We take a full-on shower with water running down our backs, into our shoes, down our face… Hell, it’s freakin’ awesome!
NO BETTER WAY TO EMBRACE THE RAIN
There is no better way to embrace this awesome environment today. Milford Sound might not look like it usually does on the brochures, but this is a side to the fiords of Fiordland that makes you realise the power of the earth. Now that we’ve seen a fiord on a beautiful sunny day in Doubtful Sound, and now a fiercely wet day in Milford Sound, we honestly don’t know which scenario we prefer. It really makes you experience the fiords in a different way.
SO, ANYONE FANCY KAYAKING?
We don’t exactly dry off for the end of the tour, so we are getting back into the Milford Sound Lodge courtesy shuttle dripping water all over the seats. (We’re sorry, MSL). Does the rain ease off for the rest of the evening? Hell nah! This is Fiordland! Tomorrow, we are meant to be doing a kayaking tour out in this madness? Check out how that works out tomorrow!
About the authors: Robin & Laura
We’re Robin and Laura.
Other than being “cheap as” backpackers, we are the BackpackerGuide.NZ travel writers. From the minute we landed in New Zealand, we both fell in love with with awesome country. Since then, we have worked tirelessly to bring this guide to life so every traveller can make the most of our awesome new homeland.
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