4 days 3 nights in Te Anau, Fiordland, New Zealand Pictures and top travel tips
We arrive in Te Anau as the sun begins to fall in the sky and casts a shimmering glitter over Lake Te Anau. Checking into our motel we are less than impressed (Parkland Motel), but having left it late to book this is virtually all that is left as it is high season with virtually everywhere fully booked. On that count I guess we are lucky to have found accommodation, but this place, although clean and well located, is seriously dated and overpriced and on reflection would count as the worst value of the entire trip.
Top Tip For accommodation, Te Anau for Fiordland, book as far in advance as you can.
Ok, so putting that aside, Te Anau itself is a nice small town with a good range of amenities, including some good cafes, bars, restaurants and a good supermarket. For my recommendations see links to bottom of this post.
After checking in we head into the small town in search of information and tickets for Doubtful and Milford Sounds. Arriving at the i-Site (You will find these centers in most tourist destinations in New Zealand, a great place to get both information and book tickets for trips and attractions.
With the aid of the very friendly and helpful advisor Laura Needs we settle on a dual package deal covering Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound and receive a discount for the double booking. If you are using this i-Site to book and purchase tickets see if Laura Needs is around as she is a fantastic advisor, with great patience and care in the way she deals with all visitors. Following Laura’s advice, we booked the Real Journeys tour for Doubtful Sound and Southern Discoveries for the Milford Sound trip and I can highly recommend both, although the Doubtful sound trip was definitely the better of the two, but hardly surprising as it cost a lot more money. The main difference between the packages and tours, Doubtful Sound is virtually an all-day experience on the water, whilst Milford Sound is about one and three quarter hours on the water. If I had to book again personally I would probably just book Doubtful Sound and give Milford boat trip a miss, but still do a road trip from Te Anau to the Milford Sound terminal as it involves some of the most breath-taking scenery in New Zealand.
Trip 1 Doubtful Sound
We are up at the crack of dawn and on the road by 7am. The itinerary starts at the pickup point at Lake Manapouri. Even though the boat does not leave until 830am and the distance from Te Anau to Manapouri is a mere 22 kilometres we are keen not to take any chances, given that we are unfamiliar with the route, or road. We needn’t have worried as the road is easy and straight, although heavy with early morning misty fog. There is also a good café on site serving decent coffee and sandwiches. We also managed to snatch an hour of the Paul Henry show as we readied ourselves for the day.
The Doubtful Sound tour consists of two parts, with the first boat taking us out onto Lake Manapouri as the sun began to rise and clouds gently broke and cleared. This is followed by a trip across New Zealand’s most expensive road leading up and over Wilmot Pass, it also stopped along the way providing the perfect opportunity to view and gasp at the first sight of Doubtful Sound glistening far below. It has to be said that all staff on this trip were first rate, extremely helpful, knowledgeable and in parts funny, in particular our bus driver who took us on the Wilmot Pass stretch of the journey and kept everyone amused and laughing with his repartee. Equally, the compere/local expert, on the Doubtful Sound cruise gave a knowledgeable and enthusiastic commentary throughout the trip.
I would have to say the highlight of this trip for me, and one of the most memorable of my many travels, was when the captain announced a request for 5 minutes of silence, when the boats engines were cut and all passengers and crew just sat, or stood, still and quiet. Rarely have I ever experienced such, sheer calm, uninterrupted and beautiful silence.
On board the boat is the constant whir and click of cameras capturing the sheer beauty of this special place. We also saw a pod of dolphins, but moving too fast for pictures, they none the less entertained all with jumps and dives close to the boats hull. Alas as quickly as they were seen, they are gone.
The boat stops and all goes quiet, the still beauty of the moment captured in the calm waters refection.
Journeys end for today.
and the view on the road back to our motel
Top Tips for this trip
Although you can order lunch packs as part of this trip a good self-packed lunch is best as there is a steady and free supply of hot drinks on board throughout the trip. You can also buy sandwiches on board the boat.
What to bring for the trip
Non-slip shoes/boots, waterproof jacket, warm sweater/fleece jacket, sunscreen/sunglasses, insect repellent and camera.
Day 2 Trip 2 Milford Sound
We are up and out much earlier for this trip as its involves a drive of at least two and a half hours from Te Anau to the terminal for our Milford Sound excursion. With our trip scheduled to depart at shortly after 9 and again given that we are unfamiliar with the road and that we had been advised that it can get very busy we leave at 5 30 am, on what is a cold, damp, foggy and dark morning, so no Paul Henry show today unfortunately. Leaving this early turns out to have been a wise choice, as the driving is slow and stressful on narrow, dark, foggy roads, where at times visibility is little more than a meter, or so, ahead. There is also a section of the road as you get closer to Milford where the road is 1 lane wide, operated on a traffic signalling system which can lead to serious delays at peak times.
Arriving at about 8 30 am it is already getting quite busy. Basically the road terminates at designated carparks, where we are greeted by an obnoxious, bad tempered and abusive man, not the best start to our visit. It later transpire he is well known for his bad attitude and behaviour, but as a volunteer is tolerated.
From there it really does not get any better, as this place is little more than a cattle mart set up to squeeze as many tourists into as little space as possible whilst attempting to empty as much cash from pockets as possible.
The cruise itself is about 1 hours 45 minutes and on our one which leaves at 9 15am they p[provide a free breakfast wrap (nothing to write home about) along with free hot and cold drinks. Commentary is pretty minimal and although Milford is pretty spectacular I am not convinced it was worth the time and effort getting there for such a short trip. It is most definitely an anti-climax after yesterday’s trip to Doubtful Sound so the Top Tip here if you want to do both I would suggest Milford Sound day one and Doubtful on day two.
Information and Trips
Fiordland i-SITE Visitor Information Centre click this link for info
Although you can book trips direct with the cruise companies it is best to also check with i-Site for multi trip discounts click this link for more info
Also if you were savvy enough to pick up a copy of the tourist magazine at the International Airport you will have discount vouchers included inside the may which give a decent reduction in he overall price.
Doubtful Sound Cruise; Real Journeys Doubtful Sound click this link for info
Milford Sound Cruise Southern Discoveries Scenic Cruise click this link for info
We ate at the Olive Tree Café a couple of times and although service can be a bit patchy, the food is good, staff very friendly and WiFi free and good, click this link for info
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