Day 25: THAT’S A WICKED PHOTO…
I awoke at around 6am. Once again we were supposed to have an early breakfast at around 7am. I took this opportunity to shoot photos from the window of the honeymoon suite, which looked directly at the Milford Sound.
Speaking of views, the weather still looked menacing. I was a little discouraged by this because it might impact our viewing experience on the Milford Sound cruise today.
And so the trampers and guides bonded one last time over food as we had a hearty breakfast in the main dining area. Much of the conversations varied from our experiences on the tramp to reality shows and soaps like the Apprentice and the OC (which Suze finally learned it stood for Orange County and not the Original Crew) to even political discussions about Kiwis meeting Americans apologizing for what our government was doing in the Middle East.
Towards the end of breakfast, I started to notice the weather started to clear. As the morning light started to pierce the clouds and paint Mitre Peak in the distance, I grabbed my camera and bolted out of the dining area…
…I quickly ran past the empty car park then cautiously tried to make my way over the slippery boulders towards the calm shores of the Milford Sound.
It was Milford Sound with Mitre Peak and the Lion and Elephant reflected in the calm waters painted by morning light. I enthusiastically took several photographs in all sorts of exposures not at all concerned that sandflies took free shots at me.
When I returned to the Mitre Peak Lodge, I eagerly showed off my photo on the LCD screen on the back of the camera. Even Suze said, “That’s a wicked photo!”
By 8am, we checked out with our packed belongings. We stowed them away to be transported back to the Te Anau Hotel and Villas and we took with us only our camera gear. Then, we all headed out to the Milford Sound Wharf where our cruise vessel awaited us for our boat ride.
The vessel left at 8:45am and the weather continued to improve, which in turn improved our viewing experience. At last, the rain was finally letting up!
Now we could see Bowen Falls backed by snowy mountains behind it. This cruise was the only way to get a frontal view of the falls since the track to its base was closed.
As we got deeper into the sound, the iconic Mitre Peak loomed larger over us. Right across from the peak, we could see Stirling Falls fed by its watercourse spilling out of its hanging valley between the Lion Mountain and the Elephant.
When we went past Stirling Falls, we could see heaps of waterfalls coming down the slopes of Mitre Peak. Across the fiord, we could see Palisade Falls and its S-shaped flow. On the near side of the fiord, we could see Fairy Falls as well as Bridal Veil Falls.
The vessel would continue towards the Tasman Sea before turning around and heading back to the Milford Sound Wharf while skirting the northern side of fiord this time.
During this part of the trip, we saw some more penguins by the water as well as New Zealand fur seals resting on some rock outcrops. Those who had SLRs with telephoto lenses had a field day photographing them.
When we went past Palisade Falls, there was a school of dolphins quickly making their way around and past our vessel.
Next, the boat headed towards the base of Stirling Falls. We were forewarned that if you stood outside the boat, you’d get wet. Some brave souls, including the guide Cory, stood in the front of the boat where they got the full brunt of the falling water.
The boat then started to go away from Stirling Falls as it made its final leg back towards the wharf. It passed by the Harrison Cove, which provided an interesting photo subject of yet another valley, but it was also where the underwater observatory was located. We could’ve visited it if we had booked a trip that included it.
Soon after we got our last looks at Bowen Falls, the boat ride ended and we climbed into the waiting coach soon after. This cruise was like the icing on the cake, and after all the trouble and discomfort we went through along the Milford Track in bad weather, the Milford Sound revealed the haunting beauty that drew us here in the first place. Anyways, when we the bus took off, it was 11am.
So after five days and four nights in the Milford Track and our soggy sojourn, we left the Ultimate Hikes adventure with plenty of memories and photographs.
Finest walk in the world?
I’m not so sure about that. But it was certainly one of the most memorable!
And with that we loaded up our rental car, which wasn’t broken into thankfully, and headed south towards the Tower Lodge Motel in Invercargill…
The drive was a continuation of the long traverse south beyond the southernmost expanses of the Southern Alps and towards the Southern Ocean. We made a brief stop to see the turbulent ocean at a place called McCracken’s Rest, where we briefly stretched our legs and took photos at around 3pm.
Another hour later, we’d finally make it to Invercargill where we checked into the Tower Motor Lodge. The skies remained threatening but didn’t really deliver on any more significant rain. However, it was quite windy and that wind resulted in some biting wind chill.
Julie and I had a very delicious dinner (I recalled we had NZ mussels and scallops) somewhere in the main part of town not far from our motel. And after that fulfilling dinner, we quickly retreated to our motel where we cleaned up and snuggled close to each other as we were fighting off the very cold temperatures even inside our room!