Mitre Peak Lodge – Milford Sound Cruise – Queenstown
Ok – here’s the bad news straight up. There’s no hiking on the 5th day. Well, I say ‘bad’ news, but by this stage a lot of the group think it’s actually a wonderful thing! On the up side, here’s the view you could wake up to:
Mitre Peak from our room at Mitre Peak Lodge
The reason Ultimate Hikes make this a 5 day experience is because once you’ve walked all the way to Milford Sound, who’s NOT going to want to go for a cruise out on Milford Sound before going home? The bone of contention is when people realise the advertised 5 day / 4 night guided walk includes only 3 full days of actual hiking in the wilderness. But damn it’s worth it!
The clouds that float around the mountains are fantastic. The many moods of Mitre Peak – we were lucky to see it in such spectacular form.
Everyone had packed an extra change of clothes in an overnight bag that Ultimate Hikes had sent on ahead from Queenstown on Day 1. Not having to wear the same hiking gear for the 5th day in a row – on the last day when we weren’t even hiking – was very nice.
Of course, you do have to do a wee bit of walking today – from your room to the bus, from the bus to the ferry, around the ferry while taking photos… you get the picture.
Local Maori tribes used to visit Milford Sound, that they called Piopiotahi (after a now-extinct bird) to collect pounamou (greenstone) to make into tools and jewellery. They walked the same route through the mountains as we did, over what is now known as Mackinnon’s Pass. Read more here.
The Lady Bowen Falls, a modest 162m
No matter who you travel with, there are a few things every boat operator on the Milford Sound will do. One of them is going right up to a waterfall cascading down the side of a cliff… one might even say under it!
Approaching the waterfall
Having a shower, Milford Sound style
Leaving the waterfall we were just under
The point of this ‘stunt’ is to prove that the cliffs continue down below sea level just as steeply as they appear above it. Milford Sound, and I believe all the other ‘sounds’ in the region, is actually a fiord (thus why the region is called ‘Fiordland’), which means it was (Ages ago) a valley carved by a glacier, not a true sound which is a ‘drowned river valley’. Because the fiord is extremely deep, even very large cruise ships can approach the cliffs without fear of running aground.
Steep green thickly-forested mountain sides. One of the few stony beaches near the mouth of the fiord.
Another way to see the sights – if you have time!
Looking back down Milford Sound from the mouth
There used to be a sealing colony along the coast that was set up in the 1790’s. A sailor on good ole Capt’n Cook’s ship came back because he remembered there were so many seals here when they called by. It ran for 30 years until they ran out of seals to slaughter. So they turned it into a whaling station and repeated the story.
These guys just have to watch out for the occasional orca pod (aka killer whales)!
Not only did we see seals (that’s almost guaranteed), but we were lucky enough to see a small pod of bottlenose dolphins and two rare New Zealand Crested Penguins!
New Zealand Crested Penguins
The dolphins were interested in feeding, not playing, so weren’t interested in interacting with us.
I was keeping my eyes peeled for whales – orca or otherwise – which are not common, but not unheard of visitors, but no luck this time.
Another waterfall shower
The wind created by the falling water and the impact of the water itself create a shattered glass effect on the fiord.
Underwater observatory (bottom left) in Harrison Cove, with a view behind of Pembroke Glacier
We didn’t have time to stop at the underwater observatory today, but I have been before and it’s definitely a worthwhile stop.
Although I enjoyed the cruise, one thing I noted was an absence of commentary from the captain/crew/someone about what we were seeing. A few years prior I had booked the cruise through Real Journeys (we were also on a Real Journeys boat on this trip), and the commentary along the way was very informative.
After the cruise we were back on the bus for the long ride back to Queenstown.
The road from Milford Sound up to the Homer Tunnel
I was pleased that Stephen would get to see the Homer Tunnel – I’d been mentioning it quite a lot in the lead up to the trip. It’s about 1km long, straight through a mountain – a great engineering feat in my opinion. Done mostly by hand and dynamite, it took a while to complete as work was interrupted by WWII. They dug it from both sides at the same time and met in the middle – and were out by less than a foot! Can you imagine trying to work that out? It’s a phenomenal achievement!
The cirque at the head of the valley on the Milford side of the Darran Mountain range
Entering the Homer Tunnel, Milford Sound side.
Looking back the Homer Tunnel exit, so small in the mountain side.
You can appreciate why avalanches and landslips close this road so often. The mountains here are just so steep and massive.
Driving down the valley; it looks harsher than the Clinton Valley.
A waterfall we passed right on the side of the road – you can pull over here if you’re in a car and heading towards Milford Sound.
I just can’t get over the water. It calls to me.
Despite the scenery, we were too tired to stay awake for the whole trip back. If you’re ever in the area and you have a chance to drive the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound – do it!! It’s a beautiful drive, and there are a few very worthwhile stops along the way that you just don’t get to do with a group. Definitely a case of enjoying the journey, not just the destination.
Oh, but remember – if you have to stop at the Homer Tunnel entrance, don’t leave your car unguarded to possible Kea attack!
We arrived back in Queenstown just before 4pm. We had a list of contacts (names & email addresses) for people in our group if we wanted to keep in touch… but we haven’t. Quite unlike our last infamous multi day hike, there wasn’t the same sense of group bonding on this trip. Not with the guides, not with the other guests. It’s hard when it’s a large group, when you’re not necessarily sharing a table with the same people each night, when you’re all wearing name tags and making more of an effort to find solitude and serenity on the walk than the opposite…
Don’t let me give you the impression that I have any regrets though! I don’t think we would do this as independent hikers, so Ultimate Hikes has allowed us – and so many others – to see a real jewel in New Zealand’s crown. I would recommend it to anyone who’s up for it!
We didn’t have a dinner reservation that night, but ended up at Wai on the waterfront. Top notch.
Dinner on the pier at Wai, Queenstown. The TS Ernslaw is setting off for it’s evening cruise.
April 22, 2013 at 4:28 am
April 22, 2013 at 7:27 am
Thank you for your comment Philip.
We were extremely lucky to have such good weather over those 5 days.
April 22, 2013 at 7:29 am
glad to hear your trip was great , I know what it’s like depending on weather.Navigating peaks through fog and cloud is never fun.Can’t wait to see more from your blog.Do you get a lot of traffic to your blog?
April 22, 2013 at 7:31 am
More than I had anticipated, probably very little compared to most. Google hasn’t ‘found me’ yet. ; )
April 22, 2013 at 7:33 am
well if you would like help getting traffic I can give you a few tips , i’ve learned a lot in my online business on how to get traffic you’d be surprised how many people wanna buy photography or how many people follow you with out knowing it.If you want some tips to get some google views or views in general let me know would love to get your blog out there it’s great.
April 22, 2013 at 7:38 am
Thank you for the compliments. I will think on it and let you know.
I’m still having a few teething problems getting my pages set up exactly how I’d like them to be – spare time for blogging is the limiting factor more than anything, I think.
Thanks again : )
April 22, 2013 at 7:46 am
if you need any help with setting up your page in a attractive manner I can help with that too
April 22, 2013 at 7:47 am
watch your views over the next hour
April 22, 2013 at 7:48 am
I noticed you don’t have reddit or stumble upon on your website for social media sharing I get over 100 views a day from both.
April 30, 2013 at 5:15 am
Awesome! I hope to do this track once my kids are old enough!
April 30, 2013 at 7:31 am
Hello Amy, thanks for checking out my blog.
It’s a fantastic multi-day walk to do. There are a number of multiday walks in Fiordland – and New Zealand for that matter – all beautiful. The Milford Track is arguably one of the most well-known walks, though.
April 30, 2013 at 5:17 am
It seems like you had great weather…I’ve never been to NZ, but on 2 trips to Patagonia, one with great weather and one with lots of rain, I realized how critical that can be, especially when it’s a trip a long way from home that’s been planned/dreamed about for years.
April 30, 2013 at 7:36 am
Yes, good weather certainly helps.
If you walk with Ultimate Hikes and get rained out and end up taking no photos of your own – fear not! Besides lasting memories you’ll also have a CD of images that you get given with your certificate of completion that you can wow your friends and family with.
No, it’s not the same. I guess it’s better than nothing though. I’m so glad we didn’t have to resort to that!!
Still worth doing. And even in the rain (or downpour) you can walk in the knowledge that there are no leeches – a wonderful thought.
September 15, 2013 at 7:50 pm
Thank you for the detailed and beautiful blog about your Milford Track experience with Ultimate Hikes! My husband and I will be hiking the track in November 2013; can’t wait! Thank you once more!
September 16, 2013 at 7:21 am
Thank you for reading my blog. I apologise that my Japanese is so poor I cannot address you by name.
I hope the weather is kind to you.
Best wishes for your trip!
April 13, 2014 at 10:10 pm
Hey Dayna, thanks for your great blog. My husband and I are hoping to do the Track in February 2015, and have just completed the Overland Track, which was brilliant.
I’m glad you pointed out that the actual walk days are only three full ones, though they do seem longer than the days we had on our six days on the Cradle Mountain walk. A full day on the track can seem very long if it rains all day. Your point about bonding more in a smaller group is valid too. Our group was only eight plus three guides which was cozy and fun.
Thanks again for your information and stunning photos….hope that we are as lucky with the weather :-), Cat
April 14, 2014 at 7:24 am
Thanks for stopping by and for posting a comment!
Good luck with the weather! It’s certainly spectacular scenery.
Dayna : )
May 4, 2014 at 7:25 pm
Thank you for the great description of your time doing the Milford Track. We are hoping to do the track next February , although we are still deciding on whether we do it independently or escorted. We did the guided Overland Track and really enjoyed it. I notice that you mention that you also have done the Overland Track. As a comparison which do you think was harder? I only found the first day of the Overland track hard, the rest was easy, but am a bit nervous about the descent on day 3. Thanks again Debbie
May 4, 2014 at 9:47 pm
Thanks for checking out my blog and for your comments.
If you didn’t have any problems doing the Overland Track, I don’t think you’ll find the Milford Track harder, even if you decide to walk as an independent.
I would rate the Overland as the more challenging walk due to the varied surface of the track and the longer length (6 days vs effectively 3 days).
Our descent on day three was abbreviated by a fairly steep section due to some unstable snow/ice on the mountain making part of the usual track dangerous. In February – with any luck – the full track should be open, meaning the path down will be pretty long but of a moderate grade.
All the best for your trip! I hope you enjoy good weather.
: ) Dayna
March 28, 2015 at 12:00 pm
Thank you for sharing your experiences. I enjoy your down-to-earth style of commentary and you’ve provided a great insight to the realities of hiking the Milford Track. Your photos are great! I’m aiming to do this in spring with a bunch of friends and friends-of-friends. Please may I ask: what brand of boots did you use, and in view of the wet final day’s hike, would you take rain pants next time? Regards, Marie
March 28, 2015 at 3:29 pm
Thanks for your kind words. 😊
I spent about 4 consecutive Friday nights trying on hiking boots in Melbourne’s (CBD) outdoor shops, and finally chose a pair of La Sportiva because they felt like the best fit for my long, wide foot. They’ve served me very well over the last 6 or so years. My partner wears a different brand (the label’s worn off) – he’s had his for about 10 years, and has only just needed to get some minor repairs around the cuff. You should definitely try as many boots as you can, talk to the staff at the outdoors shops because they’ll know what they’ve got and advise you on how to make a good choice. There are also blog posts and websites about choosing a good fitting hiking boot. Last tip: make sure to break-in your shoes before going! Don’t let sore feet distract you from the views. (I’m assuming from your question that you’re looking to buy a new pair of boots…)
As for pants… We were very, very lucky with the weather. If you’re not so lucky and don’t take fully water-proof pants you may be pulling on damp pants each morning because there’s not much space to hang things properly in the drying room when everyone tries to crowd as much stuff as they can in there (or so it seemed). I chose my Berghouse water-resistant pants because I thought I could dry them over-night if need be, and because they have mesh panels along the outside of the thigh for ventilation when you get hot (that zip up when your not). Pity they aren’t sold in Australia any more. Getting hot is something I don’t enjoy, so being trapped in a pair of full water-proof pants all day was not an appealing idea. I’d prefer to get wet. Which I did! Well, everyone did I think, but I’ve seen worse conditions than what we had on YouTube of the Milford Track!
All the best for your walk. I’m sure it’ll be most memorable!
March 30, 2015 at 4:28 pm
Thanks for your advice. I agree that it’s (almost) all about the boot. After trying numerous brands and styles I was 98% convinced that the Keen Targhee II was going to be the answer for my short wide feet. Swinging into the Brissie K2 store for one last look, I slipped my feet into their last pair of Asolo Mesita (which just happened to be my size!), and it felt like home. It’s early days of course, but I think these are going to serve me well.
As for determining the optimum clothing combo (not a fan of getting too hot, either), that’s a work in progress…
March 30, 2015 at 6:36 pm
I was tossing up between the La Sportiva and a pair of Asolo… both are good brands.
If it’s any help, the head guide wore only thermals (wool, of course), shorts and gaiters on the hike. My partner did the same and was none the worse for it. But in the end it’s whatever you think you’ll be most comfortable walking in.
Best wishes 😊 dayna
March 30, 2015 at 6:42 pm
That’s good to hear. I like wearing shorts. I have been scrutinising photos looking for clues like that and notice that short sleeve t shirts are popular too. Also, I am not excited about the idea of using walking poles and was glad to hear that you managed it just fine, without!
March 30, 2015 at 6:50 pm
Being from Qld, I’m totally a shorts person! But don’t go without something warm – I wouldn’t think of leaving my 260gm (full length) Icebreaker (leggings) behind. Gaiters will keep out wind and snow, but woolen thermals keep you warm – even after getting wet. Almost guaranteed at some point on the Milford Track. 😊