February 8, 2023: Queenstown. The engine revved, the prop roared, and our plane leapt from the runway. We were finally up and away to the Southern Alps and Milford Sound!
“Getting there is half the fun!”
Waiting on the Weather
After our wonderful experience at Doubtful Sound, Jean and I were eager to explore the more famous Milford Sound. Milford is the only NZ fjord accessible by road – a long eight-hour round-trip drive from Queenstown over the Southern Alps. We opted instead to fly with Glenorchy Air, for eye-level views of the glaciers. Easy decision!
The weather in Milford Sound is fickle, so flight go/no-go decisions are often last-minute. Accordingly, we booked our flight for Friday, the first day of our week-long Queenstown stay. If the weather didn’t cooperate, we could rebook a day later. Friday morning dawned, and the weather in Queenstown was perfect. But sure enough, Milford was socked-in with rain and fog, so our flight moved to Saturday.
Then to Sunday. Then Monday, then Tuesday. On Wednesday, Mother Nature finally smiled, and the Milford skies opened. After a final “go” at 11 am, we boarded our 14-seat Cessna 208 Grand Caravan EX.
Among the Peaks
Before we knew it, we were up among the peaks. For this excursion, getting there was certainly half the fun. Our pilot, Sharon, gave animated commentary as we flew.
The landing approach was certainly not what I learned in flight school. Rapid descending just past the peaks, banking steeply in the narrow canyon of the fjord, and dropping quickly to a short runway. This pattern is for the pros!
It was a short walk from the landing strip to the dock, where we joined hundreds of people who had come in by bus or car. The day-cruise ship was much larger than our overnight vessel at Doubtful Sound. There were also far more crafts on the water.
The guide commentary was not nearly as good as at Doubtful, and we saw far less wildlife. However, the scenery was fantastic. Milford has a narrower channel, higher cliffs, and countless diamond-lace waterfalls glistening in the sun. It was a near-perfect blue-sky day.
I read that seal hunter John Grono named Milford Sound after Milford Haven, near his home in Wales. We visited Milford Haven last year on The British Trip, and I have to say John was looking back with rose-colored glasses. Milford Haven is very nice, but Milford Sound is magnificent. Rudyard Kipling was closer to the mark – he called Milford “The 8th Wonder of the World” when he visited in 1877.
Milford vs. Doubtful Sound
Choosing only one fjord to visit would be a tough call. The flight to Milford is thrilling, and Milford has more dramatic landscapes. But it is a busier and noisier place. Doubtful has still waters, misty views, more wildlife, and an eerie silence. I’d have to go with Doubtful.
But why choose? We would do both again!