Our Milford Sound overnight cruise was one from Francine’s bucket list. She’d booked it back in February. At 16:00, our check-in time, the nice folks opened up the bus parking area (the buses now had departed) for overnighters car parking. Francine checked in and got our boarding passes while I abandoned poor old Busby for his night alone.
We were on the Milford Mariner, the bigger of two boats sleeping 60, and we did have our double en suite cabin. It seems that sometimes people end up on the smaller Milford Wanderer, sleeping about 36, and may end up sharing facilities. This was reported by a friend of ours thus we are not quite clear on the precise arrangements, so beware. It worked as advertised for us. The cabin was bijou but very comfortable.
Witty safety briefing by the captain given and the crew introduced, engines fired up and we were on our way in perfectly blissful weather. If there was a downside to the perfectly blissful weather it was that there had been 8 or 9 days of it and the usually gushing waterfalls cascading down the vertiginous sides of the Sound were mere trickles compared to their usual volume. Nonetheless, we were both very happy to have the sun.
I haven’t seen a Norwegian Fjord but this was how I imagined they might look, near vertical mountainous sides ultimately rising to a mile above sea level. Mitre Peak, the famous one, climbs to 1692m. A modest looking waterfall that we passed was actually tumbling over 150m but it was dwarfed by the cliffs above it.
The Sound is not actually as long as I perhaps had expected, given that we were on a 17-hour overnight cruise; it is only really about 15kms before the mouth opens out into the Tasman Sea. The form was that we’d cruise for nearly an hour, then moor in a sheltered bay where some water activities were offered. The Mariner carries two tenders with outboard motors, together with a squadron of sea kayaks. Francine and I were happy to remain on board enjoying a beer and views from the top deck as most of our fellow passengers took to the water. I was actually hoping that a whale that the crew had glimpsed on our way out would catch us up but no such luck.
Kayaks and tenders recovered, the captain weighed anchor and took us out into the swell of the Tasman Sea. Turning across the swell caused some fun as a table full of drinks was upset by the sudden bounce of vessel. Dinner was at 19:00. I hung on to our ice bucket suitably tightly. Food was buffet style, very good (French chef), varied and plentiful. It was billed as three courses but we could’ve done with four since the mains were a mixture of salads, seafood and roast meats, a mixture of which made strange plate-fellows. They did invite us up for a second plate of the mains. Francine kept hopping up, with due apologies to our fellow diners, to take pictures as we cruised through meal time, which was not ideally suited to her chosen leisure activity.
Another sheltered haven was found in which to moor the vessel overnight, together with the companion vessel, the Wanderer. The sun sank lower, darkness grew, more stars appeared and the Southern Cross became visible just above the mountain tops. We’d made some Aussie friends at dinner who pointed it out to us. It was upside down compared the the two national flags. Odd. After counting satellites for a while, we hit the sack.
The evening had been good but the next morning made it, I think, for both of us. The early morning was peaceful and Francine enjoyed the light.
As the morning progressed and breakfast finished, much to my apprehension not being the world’s greatest mariner, we headed back out through the mouth of the Sound into the Tasman Sea again. Apprehension soon disappeared as the crew spotted three Humpback Whales nearby. I rode the waves wedged up against the handrail as we made for them. [Yeah, right!] Normally, whale-watching photos of dolphins and whales show a dorsal fin breaking the surface together with a short length of back breaking the surface – good to prove you’ve seen them but otherwise rather dull. These whales moved around our boat for about 15 minutes with rare, fleeting appearances of their tail flukes. Finally, I managed to catch a tail fluke on pixels. It’s not the classic shot, that would have water dripping of it, but it is a tail fluke. I was happy.
On the way back in to disembark, the Mariner took us to within touching distance of one of the permanent waterfalls, now reduced by the dry weather but impressive nonetheless. Francine was in her element playing with it.
One of those obscenely large cruise liners had been dropping off supplies to the Milford Sound settlement – not enough room to moor up – and was on its way back out to sea. Apart from the atmospheric light, it does tend to add a sense of scale to the Sound, I think.
It was another stunning morning but all good things come to and end. We disembarked at 09:15 and retrieved Busby. Francine declared herself to be delighted with the experience.