Milford Sound – A beautiful yet unexpected thrill seeking adventure
Welcome to the post about one of the most thrilling yet shit-my-dacks-scary travel moments of my life. One that I am still raving about now that I am home.
One wouldn’t normally associate fear with the beauty and tranquilness that is Milford Sound, yet here I am.
Milford Sound is a fiord in the Fiordland National Park area of the South Island of New Zealand. It is well known as being one of the most dramatic and scenic parts of New Zealand, where valleys and mountains are massive and the scale of it all is really beyond comprehension. Located 290 kms from Queenstown, Milford Sound can be accessed by car, bus, small plane or Helicopter. The trip is roughly 4 hours each way, but generally longer on the way to Milford Sound as the scenery just compels you to get out and take a good look.
For mine and Hannah’s trip to Milford Sound we used Jucy Cruises via booking on Bookme. The bus picks you up from out the front of the Station building on Camp St at roughly 7.15am and from there is a few hours of watching the sun rise (or sleeping) on the way to Te Anau where we were able to stop for a hot coffee and something to eat. Back on the bus, it is another few hours before arriving in Milford Sound, but those couple of hours are perhaps the most scenic and includes many stops for photos and to stretch your legs. For those of you with a keen interest in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, you are practically in middle earth here so soak it all in. This is where I got to step my feet out on snow for the first time in my life! Whoo!!
Our bus driver was a real hoot, dropping dad jokes left, right and centre. Some of it was a bit cringe worthy, but mostly hilarious. Regardless of the quality of his jokes Hannah and I quickly came to really respect his accommodating attitude towards keeping his guests happy. On the bus ride to Milford Sound he let us know that after our ferry ride on the sound, the bus ride back to Queenstown would take three hours, BUT there were other options. We could take a small plane that would get us back to Queenstown in 30 minutes, or if there were enough people interested (we needed 4) a helicopter ride that would take 40 minutes and we may be able to land on a glacier, weather permitting. For us, it was a no brainer! Stuff the expense of it, we’d be mad to pass up this once in a lifetime experience! So, with that seed firmly planted in our heads we left it up to the bus driver to get us on that chopper while we jumped on the ferry for the 90 minute cruise of the majestic Milford Sound.
Heading up to the top of the ferry, Hannah and I were able to take a good position up the front of the boat so that we could really take in the view. And what a view it is! The ferry takes you along the right hand side of the Sound, passing numerous waterfalls and out to the Tasman sea before turning back into the Sound on the other side, again passing the many waterfalls and numerous sun baking seals. Although you’re on a boat with at least 80 other people you can’t help but feel the quiet peace and tranquillity of the place. For some part of the ferry ride, I felt complete stillness as I sat in awe of just how mighty Milford Sound is.
Back on land Hannah and I sprinted back to the bus to see if we were able to get on the helicopter and upon seeing the massive grin on our bus drivers face we knew we’d made it! Then my heart began to race. What the fuck had I just committed to? It is hard to describe in words how I felt sitting on the back seat against the door of the helicopter as it took off, so I’ll just say it was a weird mixture of pure fear and absolute elation. Was I that nervous or that excited I could have vomited? I don’t know. Once we were in the air and cruising over Milford Sound I started to calm down a little and really started to enjoy the experience, every moment was just so surreal to me.
That was until the pilot attempted to land on one glacier area and a gust of wind came in so strong that the helicopter jolted out of the blue. Several times! At this point, you can only imagine how I was feeling! Yep, about ready to vomit. There is actually a video of this happening and all you can hear is my very nervous laughter. Now that I am home I can laugh about all of this thankfully. I guess the pilot sensed my fear as he turned to me and said “please just trust me, I’ve been doing this for a long time, BUT if you do see me open my door and jump then you’re in trouble”. Ah yep, totally trust you mate, I actually did though, he was a lovely man.
Attempt number two to land on the glacier was a complete success huzzah!! But, being totally inexperienced and unequipped for the moment when I stepped from the helicopter and onto the glacier, I managed to sink into the ice, shoes and socks wet. Yay me! Once I got myself sorted and the rest of the passengers got out of the helicopter it was time to have a walk on the glacier. Um, I think I managed about 4 steps before realising that it was much safer for me to stand still and hold onto the helicopter, the ice was incredibly slippery and my shoes were useless for moving about as I had no spikes to grip into the ice.
We stayed on the glacier for about ten glorious minutes, snapping photos and taking it all in. All the while the blistering cold wind freezing our fingers and toes to the point that I don’t think I had ever been that cold before in my life! But when you’ve just stepped off a helicopter and are standing on top of a glacier in New Zealand and the scenery is beyond this world spectacular, who cares about the cold right? After squeezing back onto the helicopter it was a peacefully glorious ride onto our final destination of Glenorchy (about 30 minute drive from Queenstown).
I’d like to give a big shout out to Heli Glenorchy. At no point in the helicopter ride did I feel unsafe, there may have been a bit of my own fear, but I felt nothing but utmost trust in the pilot. Giving us lots of interesting information of the area throughout the flight the pilot also made sure to check in with all of us to ensure that we were ok. Back on ground we were driven the 30 minutes from Glenorchy to Queenstown by another of their pilots. He was highly entertaining and endearing with his stories and interaction with us. Rather than dropping us off back at our hotel, he happily obliged us by dropping us off at the Fergbakery, such is the accommodating nature of Heli Glenorchy and Kiwi’s in general.
Standing on top of that glacier was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life, and certainly one that I will never forget. Once I’d overcome my fear the helicopter ride was absolutely exhilarating, one of those moments where you pinch yourself because none of it seems real. From the air, the views are nothing like what you see on land, it is such a different perspective. I remember getting off the helicopter in Glenorchy with a grin on my face so wide that I couldn’t help but laugh and laugh at what I’d just done. I was so happy to have had that experience that I wanted to get up in a helicopter again, and again. Yay, a new expensive love for me.
I would highly recommend that if you do the Milford Sound bus – cruise then consider either a small plane, or even better helicopter ride back. While it is expensive, it simply is money well spent. I’d definitely do it again.