Monday, April 25, 2016

Milford Sound, New Zealand

A bus at the Milford Sound Airport takes us to the dock for the cruise portion of the tour.
Welcome to Milford Sound

Milford dock - Mitre Peak is on the right

We quickly find our boat and climb on board. Since we are some of the first to board, we grab seats just inside the bow.
Ah - there's our boat for the cruise


It's such an amazingly beautiful day. Even the local crews are telling us weather this nice is rare and we are extremely lucky to be here on such a day. Looks like the word got out as all the boats are full of other lucky tourists such as ourselves.

From the dock, we head down the sound towards the Tasman Sea.
The colors on this day are stunning

Another plane flys in

Me & Jill enjoying a spot of tea

It's so nice out that soon we are all out on deck busily snapping photos and pointing out the sights.
A fellow passenger snaps a photo of the "The Lion" - the large rock formation in the middle

As we move down the sound, we see many waterfalls cascading over the steep granite sides, which were carved out by glaciers.
There's one straight ahead

Up close and personal to a

bridal veil type falls

Further along, the captain points out a colony of endangered New Zealand fur seals.
NZ fur seal colony

Most are snoozing in the sun

but a few are socializing after a swim

These little guys are Fiordland crested penguins or Tawaki, one of the rarest species in New Zealand

The water is so calm today, the captain takes us all the way out into the Tasman Sea before turning back. He tells us they rarely venture out so far as usually the seas are running so high they have to stay deeper in the protected sound.
Heading out towards the Tasman Sea

where we see a large flock of sea birds

before turning back into the sound

YES! We are having fun now.

It's hard not to keep snapping photos to preserve this day

On the way back to the dock, our captain takes us close to a high waterfall.  As the sun is now lower in the sky, we are in the shade with sun beams pouring over the top... but the captain doesn't stop and  guides the bow right under the falls. All of us snapping photos in the bow scramble into the cabin to escape the freezing torrent.
Top of tall waterfall

Closer still

Yikes! Glad to be inside behind glass

The whole crew is probably laughing hard at our reactions to their "Glacier Facial" surprise; however, we tend to think of it more as a "soak the tourists."  Looking back at the waterfall as we pull away, we see two more boats lined up for the same soaking.  The water was cold, but it was all in good fun. I'm just happy my camera's fine. On our way back to the dock, we pass a beautiful horsetail type falls.
Boats line up for their "Glacial Facial"

Horsetail type falls

On our way back to the dock

The afternoon is still so nice, I dawdle on the dock before entering the Visitors Center and then finding our bus back to the airport.

Boats returning to dock

large jade stone in Visitor Center

Outside the Visitors Center lots of buses are lined up, as several backpacker groups are returning from hiking the Milford Track. The hikers we meet speak glowingly of their experiences on the trail.
Looks like several camper vans have driven the long distance in

Waiting to board our flight back to Wanaka

To tell you the truth, I was a bit skeptical before coming on this tour as we heard so much about how wonderful Milford Sound is that I was concerned it was over-hyped.  No longer.  Yes - I realize we are extremely lucky to have seen it on such a idyllic day. Still, this day ranks as one of the best in my lifetime.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Flightseeing Southern Alps, New Zealand

Fortunately, the next morning we learn our tour for the Milford Sound Glacier Flight and Scenic Boat Cruise is a GO!  We are thrilled to hear the weather is predicted to be gorgeous. Anne Cooper, one of the owners of Southern Alps Air personally greets us and gives us map of our flight today. She also apologizes for the delays; however, both my Dad and Peter/Jill's Dad were pilots, we tell her about our fathers and  agree it's better to be safe than sorry. She is relieved as some customers are not so understanding about the need for safety.
Arriving for our flight at the Wanaka Airport

Ah yes - departures

Jill and Mark are excited to be going

and it's a thumb's up from us.

After a short safety drill by our pilot Johann, we are soon up in the air.
Wanaka below us

Flying over rivers

and streams.

That looks like the road you guys took to Queenstown yesterday

over farmlands and

over long glacial lakes into the mountains

On this leg of the tour, we are mostly flying over Mount Aspiring National Park.
Up into the mountain tops

by Mount Aspiring

and glaciers

Glacial ice fall

There's the Tasman Sea beyond the mountains.

We see deep uninhabited valleys

with lakes deep in valleys

and at high altitudes.

Not many people down there

Tasman Sea

Following the coastline south

There's some great beaches down there, but no visible roads for access

When we reach the opening of Milford Sound, we turn inland up the sound flying by the steep sides of this famous fjord.
High waterfall

Water streaming through a glacial valley and cascading down a big waterfall

Kayakers are out in bright yellow boats

Johhann expertly lands us at Milford Airport

Wow - what a great day

Thank you Southern Alps Air for bringing us here

This has got to be one of the world's most scenic airports

For the next few hours we are board a boat that cruises down the sound to the ocean and then back again (For this cruise check the next posting).
All set for take off

Last view of Milford Sound

Instead of flying back the way we entered the sound, Johann heads directly into the face of the mountains gaining altitude by flying in a tight corkscrew up and up until we are again over the mountain tops. Now we can see why the winds here are so critical in flying out of Milford Sound.  It's a tricky maneuver even without any wind to contend with.
Around and up we go in a corkscrew

and around and up

until we reach the top.

Now the sound and sea are behind us as we head inland

over sharp edged ridges

and more deep uninhabited valleys.

On the return route, we are flying on a more southerly course where we notice more lakes.
Half melted lake

This one's still mostly still frozen over.

while this one is ice free.

As we've been flying, Johann has been pointing out various locations used in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series.  To tell you the truth, I've lost track of the exact locations; however, Gandalf is mentioned in many of these scenes shot in the Southern Alps. It's easy to see why wizards would roam here.

As we near civilization, the mountains are lower with less snow

And so we return back to Middle Earth,
back to farmlands

and Wanaka

Taxing at the Wanaka Airport


After landing in Wanaka, we ask the Johann about his corkscrew maneuver.  He grins and says, it's not flying into Milford that's a problem, it's getting out. Since Milford Airport operates without a air traffic controller, all pilots approach landings up the sound and after taking off corkscrew up the face of the mountains to gain altitude. We can certainly see how these flight patterns help increase air traffic safety.

Our ride back to our Holiday Park is running a little late, so we have some time to watch a group of skydivers falling from their plane and floating back down to earth.  A nice ending to a truly memorable day.

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Retired and enjoying life.