This morning we had a flight-cruise-flight tour booked. It involved a scenic flight going over the mountains of Fiordland National park and landing in Milford Sound, then boarding a boat for a scenic cruise. The flight was weather dependent since there had to be few clouds to fly into Milford Sound.
We were unable to fly directly into Milford Sound. However, the company, Air Milford was able to fly us to their private air strip in Te Anau Downs. From there, they hired a charter van and took our group of 16 to Milford Sound. There we boarded a cruise on Southern Discoveries and saw the sound. It was cold and beautiful. After that we boarded the van back to our flight and then flew back to Queenstown.
This was an AMAZING experience. Originally I splurged for the flight because to drive there it would have taken about 5 hours each way from Queenstown. I did not want a 12 hour day of one activity for the kids. With the flight alteration, we had about 3 hours driving in total. So we were able to get back before dark, come back to our rental to relax a little, and then go out to eat.
The drive to Milford Sound was pretty. It was not as steep as I expected though. I imagined it would be like driving in Switzerland and driving over mountains. However, most of the drive is on the valley floor. One part of the drive goes through a large tunnel. During the drive you could see the terrain changing, which was pretty interesting. At one point it was comprised of mostly red beech, but about twenty minutes later it was an entirely different sort of flora.
The van driver spoke to us about the flora and fauna of New Zealand. We learned about the endangered Kakapo parrot and what was being done to try to bring this endangered species back. We learned about the non-native predators that ancestors brought to the island – cats, rats, stout, and the possum. In New Zealand they consider possum to be road bumps. The possum are nocturnal and when they feed they feed on NZ's trees and also their birds. They are essentially stealing resources from other wildlife. We learned a little about the kea parrot. That was one of the highlights for me, seeing this beautiful bird in the wild. And finally, we also learned about the Southern short-tailed bat and the efforts scientists are going through studying these in Fiordland National park.
The cruise was beautiful. It was a one hour, forty-five minute cruise. They provided us with a bag lunch. This was the best supplied bag lunch I had ever seen. Each lunch included a sandwich half, cup of soup, apple, kiwi, potato chips, piece of chocolate, water, and a cookie. It mostly rained during our cruise, but that is typical of the environment here. We saw some sea lions sleeping on rocks during the cruise. The funnest part of the cruise was when the skipper drove the boat right up against the waterfall. The spray was impressive. I now have no desire to visit Niagara Falls after this experience. The part I loved about the waterfall was that it is secluded and not just tourist attractions and hotels surrounding it.
We ended our adventure on a return flight back. On the way back, Jonas acted as co-pilot. The flight back was equally as beautiful as the flight out there. This was the New Zealand scenery people imagine. We saw Lord of the Rings locations. We saw sheep from above. We saw mountains, we saw farming land. We enjoyed great vistas of lakes and streams. I could have flown from that height all day. I had thoughts of purchasing my own Cessna 🙂
As I mentioned above, after site seeing we relaxed, and then went out to eat at a pizza restaurant. We then came back to the rental and relaxed some more, then went to bed.