Fiordland: Sounds like heaven

By Elizabeth Binning

Elizabeth Binning and her family encounter the great outdoors in the south.

A curious Kea on the road to Milford Sound. Photo / Dean Pucell
A curious Kea on the road to Milford Sound. Photo / Dean Pucell

I'd seen the ad where the kea attacks a tourist's parked car but, never having seen one of the birds before, had assumed the ad involved a bit of creative licence for the sake of television.

So when we came across a couple of the curious birds in a carpark near Milford Sound I wasn't too concerned and watched with interest as my two-year-old followed one about.

The native parrot was fairly patient, but when it realised Caleb didn't have food to offer, made its way to our rental car and - much to my surprise - flew on to the bonnet and attacked the windscreen wipers.

It was just like the ad. All I could do was stare in amazement, until my sister had the good sense to shoo the pesky fella off the car.

The car vandal was one of several kea we met, and a bit of a highlight. It's rare to see such a creature up close and in its natural environment, especially when you're an Aucklander.

We were due on a cruise of the Sound at midday but decided to leave early from Te Anau so we could take our time, stopping to see the sights along the 119km road.

From the abundance of colourful wildflowers that grow along the rivers and paddocks through to the beauty of the National Park, getting to Milford Sound is part of the adventure.

Our first stop, the stunning Lookout Pt, is a must for photographs and stretching legs.

Standing in knee-high grass with snow-capped mountains in the background, it was hard not to feel like we were in a movie.

Further along, the landscape changes and we stop to play in the snow and ice that covers steep cliffs and giant boulders beside the road.

By the time we reach Milford Sound the environment has changed yet again and we stroll through wetlands before boarding a cruise that takes us past waterfalls, 1700m-high mountains, crested penguins and seals.

We see majestic albatrosses and although it's too rough for us, others have seen dolphins playing in the waves.

It's a spectacular trip and the staff aboard the Milford Mariner are easygoing and great with curious toddlers such as Caleb.

Their commentary is light and amusing, pointing out unique sea creatures called "paddlefish", which prompts everyone on board to run to the side of the boat for a view. It turns out "paddlefish" are humans enjoying a kayak through the sound.

By the time we disembark it already feels like a long day, and it would have been easy to drive straight back to Te Anau, but we made a couple more stops.

One is at The Chasm, created over thousands of years by circulating boulders that have carved holes in gigantic rocks. Water pours through the holes like massive waterfalls and plenty more photographs are taken. As we pull out of the carpark, the kea is making friends with another group of unsuspecting tourists.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Fly to Queenstown with Air New Zealand. Visit webcarhire.com to find the best deals and drive to Te Anau. It's an easy day trip to Milford Sound.

Where to stay: The Distinction group has two great places in Te Anau, both family friendly and with superb restaurants. See teanauhotel.co.nz or distinctionluxmore.co.nz.

What to do: Real Journey's Milford Sound Nature Cruise.

Elizabeth Binning, Dean Purcell and Caleb visited Te Anau and Milford Sound as guests of Distinction Te Anau Hotel and Villas and with the help of Air New Zealand and webcarhire.com.

- NZ Herald

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