West Coast Ramble: Westport to Milford Sound


Advertisement
New Zealand's flag
Oceania » New Zealand » South Island » West Coast
April 25th 2018
Published: June 7th 2018
Edit Blog Post

For continuity's sake the title of the blog should read Abel Tasman to Milford Sound, however the rip from AT to Westport was simply a nice but uneventful day of driving and not a lot to report on...this was one of a couple of what I referred to as "hump" days where all we did was drive, again necessary due to the times/distances and the things we wanted to see...even Westport itself was really just a stopping point; not much there other than a pretty cool beach where we camped (Carters Beach) and a colony of fur seals which we managed to see...it was kind of the trail head to the West Coast track, and as it was about 6 hours of driving from Abel Tasman that was more than plenty for the day...

I was really looking forward to this portion of the trip: the scenery was supposed to be amazing along the coast and we were making our way to glaciers, Queenstown and Milford Sound, all of which I had heard great things about...so another early start to get a jump on the day; the driving times for the next couple of days were going to be substantial and we wanted to maximize our stops, so four to five hours later we arrived in the small town of Franz Josef...

Neat little town, basically a main drag with the usual tour operators and restaurants, the big thing here being the helicopter tours up to the glaciers (Franz Josef and Fox)...hadn't really planned on doing a helicopter tour due to the exorbitant cost, but it was such a nice day (and man were we lucking out with the weather on our trip so far) and we felt we really hadn't done anything major/exciting yet so we decided that we would treat ourselves and go for it...and man I'm glad we did!

Campground recommended a company so we went in to town to sort it...they needed a minimum of four people I think so we decided on a tour (30 minute flight over both glaciers, including landing on one and spending some time on it...cool!), booked a time and then hoped for the best that at least another couple would join...success! Three more people signed up, so at the allotted time we went through the safety briefing and made our way down to the helicopter pads...

I love aircraft in general and I had never been in a helicopter so I was pretty excited about the tour...after some general instructions from the pilot we were loaded in and then it was up up and away into the mountains, absolutely amazing...zipping in and out of the mountaintops was awesome, the bird's eye views of the glaciers and surrounding peaks (including Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman) were spectacular, and then we slowly started our descent onto the snow and ice, could not believe it...really cool seeing all the other helicopters in the area as well, and one was leaving the glacier as we were landing...then we were all out and snapping photos like crazy; the contrast between the clear blue sky and white peaks was brilliant, and even managed to squeeze in a quick snowball fight...haha...kind of lucked out as well as there was no tour right after ours so the pilot was relaxed and we ended up staying up there a bit longer than scheduled...this turned out to be the highlight of the trip for me, it is expensive but if you are going to treat yourself here this is the thing to do in my opinion...
Campsite at Milford SoundCampsite at Milford SoundCampsite at Milford Sound

...really beautiful setting...

It was now about 3 pm when we got back to town, there was a hike to the base of the glacier we had wanted to do so it was into the van and off we went...because of the time we really high-stepped this hike, it seemed really rushed to get to the vantage point, snap some pics and admire it, then make our way back...in hindsight it would have been nice to have an extra day here, but trade-offs had to be made unfortunately...finished up the afternoon with a pint on the main drag, picked up some steaks and headed back to the campsite...excellent...

Up early again and on the road (I'm guessing you can see a pattern here now...gah...) and on to our next destination: Queenstown...billed as the "Global Adventure Capital", this is the place to do all those crazy things you always wanted to do: jump off bridges or out of planes, white water rafting, jetboating etc. Unfortunately the sunshine streak had come to an end; we arrived to grey skies and rain when we finally made it after another 5-6 hours on the road, so not really conducive to outdoor activities...sorted ourselves at the campsite
WaterfallWaterfallWaterfall

...one of the many at Milford Sound...this one has a name but it escapes me, we put the bow of the ship directly under though and got soaked, too fun...
(Creeksyde, right in town, great spot and a 15 minute walk to the centre of town), and then wandered in for lunch and bearings...

Ended up raining both days so didn't get up to much, it was just nice having a day off from the drive...managed to do a cool steamship tour on Lake Wakatipu which was enjoyable, and then took the gondola up to Skyline Queenstown to try and catch some views of the surrounding area, unfortunately not much to see with the clouds (there's also a luge track there that looked like fun but not so much in the rain)...finished up our last night at a really cool restaurant called Blue Kanu; a stylish Tiki-themed joint with a blend of Maori-Asian fare...excellent food and nice folks, had a great chat and laugh with our waiter, highly recommend the place...

Queenstown is very reminiscent of resort towns we have back home (Tremblant, Banff etc.), and I have to admit this wasn't one of my favourite stops...the weather may have played a part in my opinion, but unless you're here for the extreme activities or high-end shopping there didn't seem like much else...glad we visited but the day and a half was more than enough time for us...

Woke up to more rain on the day of departure, our next stop was Milford Sound so was really hoping it would clear by the time we got there...another four hours on the road (they actually run day tours from Queenstown which I can't imagine is a lot of fun), and as luck would have it after we crossed a mountain pass to make our way down to Milford the sun came out, phew!

Not a whole lot to Milford Sound itself, basically a small marina for tour boats, gas pumps (thankfully!) and that's about it...made our way to the only campsite there and man it was really nice...great facilities, beautiful spots in the forest and surrounded by mountains, probably one of the nicest places we camped the entire time...a fellow Canadian was working the reception desk so had a nice chat, she sorted us out with a boat tour and like that we were all settled in...

Had a bit of time to kill before the tour so we went for a wander along a small trail near the water...really pretty setting; the marina was off
Fur Seals at Tauranga BayFur Seals at Tauranga BayFur Seals at Tauranga Bay

...near Westport/Carters Beach...
to the right, in front of us was this beautiful and powerful waterfall, and then the Sound leading out to the left...again lucked out with the weather, sun and blue skies, couldn't have asked for better...

Time came and we hopped on our boat for a two to two and half hour tour if memory serves me correctly...Milford Sound is stunning; lots of waterfalls both big and small, beautiful scenery, and home to one of the most iconic sites in New Zealand (and most photographed apparently): Mitre Peak. It was a great tour; we had a fun guide explaining the sights as we poked along, and the captain even steered the bow of the ship into a couple of waterfalls, we got soaked! Fortunately I had my raincoat with me for warmth (it was a bit chilly out on the water) and they had jackets for everyone to wear so a bunch of folks went out and dove under the falls, really cool experience...

Late afternoon at this point so just headed back to our site for some dinner and vino and to reflect on the previous days' experiences...all in all this was my favourite part of the trip, the West Coast more than lived up to the hype and even though it made for some long drives the scenery proved to be some of the best in the country...

(Some photos copyright of Karen C., denoted by (KC)...used with kind permission)


Additional photos below
Photos: 61, Displayed: 27


Advertisement

Lazing in the Sun...Lazing in the Sun...
Lazing in the Sun...

...Tauranga Bay seal colony...
On the Road Again...On the Road Again...
On the Road Again...

Budgy taking a breather...
ShadowsShadows
Shadows

...on the pancake rocks near Punakaiki...
Pancake RocksPancake Rocks
Pancake Rocks

...at Punakaiki...
Our Chariot Arrives...Our Chariot Arrives...
Our Chariot Arrives...

...Franz Josef...
Away We Go!Away We Go!
Away We Go!

Helicopter tour up to the glaciers in Franz Josef, really cool...
View from the Choppa IIView from the Choppa II
View from the Choppa II

...this might be Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman?


7th June 2018
Falls at Milford Sound

Milford Sound
Surely one of the most sublime places on the planet...waterfalls springing out after rain...where my kids swam at the mouth of a glacier...where the mist rises exposing a mountain top climbing out of the water. Lucky you to be there...lucky you could survive the cold. Gets quite nippy there sometimes...sometimes the best time to be there from the smiles on your faces.
8th June 2018
Falls at Milford Sound

Milford Sound
Thanks Dave, and yes sublime is the perfect word for it, thanks for adding that to my blog! Haha...truly a magnificent place, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the lack of infrastructure there, a good balance between access and not messing with the beauty/grandeur of the place, a highlight of the trip for sure...
8th June 2018
View from the Choppa II

Pristine beauty
Glorious
8th June 2018
View from the Choppa II

Absolutely...
...sucker for mountains, the area did not disappoint...great experience...
10th June 2018

Oh my what a blast!
Great trip in a caravan! I am envious. Love helicopter rides too, so that is a definite must, eh? I don't know how many people have told me NZ is a like a weird Canada. It sure looks like Canada in your pictures. So cool!
11th June 2018

Oh yeah...
...if you like helicopter rides then I would absolutely recommend it...the ride itself was great but landing on the glacier and having the opportunity to get out and wander was amazing...and lots of similarities between NZ and Canada, a lot of if certainly seemed familiar, beautiful in its own right just the same...thanks for reading along Andrea...
10th June 2018
Helicopter

Visiting the glacier
Amazing shot. Beautiful part of the world.
11th June 2018
Helicopter

Visiting the glacier
Thanks, although I'll give the glacier and weather the kudos, hard to take a bad pic that day...haha...

Tot: 1.085s; Tpl: 0.022s; cc: 18; qc: 29; dbt: 0.0111s; 1; m:saturn w:www (104.131.125.221); sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb