Air Milford & Southern Discoveries | The Perfect Pair
There’s a saying in New Zealand, ‘Don’t Leave Town ‘til You’ve Seen the Country’. If Milford Sound is on your bucket list, Air Milford & Southern Discoveries offer an unforgettable fly/cruise package that will simply blow your mind!
Air Milford has amassed several accolades for their flight service into Milford Sound. Fabulous reviews from thousands of passengers are both deserved and accurate. Owned and operated by the Sproull family, Air Milford have been flying guests into the eighth wonder of the world since 2000. They’re a really professional team backed by friendly, knowledgeable and welcoming staff. We arrived at their hangar at Queenstown Airport and were greeted with warm smiles in a relaxed atmosphere.
Just inside the reception door a large map of the South Island adorns the wall. Pilot Matt Cameron explains our flight route in detail. Maps may give you a topographical idea of what’s to come, but honestly, if it wasn’t for the excellent commentary from our pilot Jimmy, you’d have absolutely no idea of where you actually are. The amazing views are a total distraction!
We followed Jimmy out to our nifty ride, a Cessna Caravan. It’s little and hard to believe these wee aircraft can fly at a zippy 300 kph! It’s a busy day for the Air Milford team. The previous few days haven’t been suitable for flying so there’s now three planes full of excited guests. We taxi to the runway in an aviation style convoy.
Up, up and away!
Expansive views of Queenstown and the Shotover River are soon exchanged for jagged, snow capped peaks and meandering rivers. Alpine lakes and dense, bush clad wilderness offer the most sublime photo op’s. The absolute vastness of this great southern land strikes at my heartstrings. This is Zealandia, pushed up from the depths of the South Pacific in all her splendour!
I have the GoPro in one hand and my still camera in the other. There’s no knowing which way to turn, no time to contemplate a well composed shot. Beauty is everywhere, it’s breath-taking. Waterfalls of ethereal proportions cascade from sapphire blue lakes down sharp lofty cliffs in a splendid display. There’s no way you could witness this wild natural artistry on foot or by car. The sheer remoteness of our wild interior is mind boggling. With flight companions from several different nations, ‘oooh’ and ‘wow’ became the lingo of the day. Our flight was smooth which surprised me. Every other little plane I have been in was pretty bouncy. We had no turbulence, no bumps and a very comfortable flight. Excellent for photos!
Jimmy masterfully angles our aircraft down through the mountains into Milford Sound. Cruise boats appear, crawling like ants over the water. Mitre Peak towers above us as we descend into an amazing fiord carved out by ancient glaciers. The water is inky black and a light mist rises from the rainforest. We have arrived in one of the wettest places on earth. With more than six metres of rainfall per annum, the forest is lush and thick. Waterfalls are everywhere! Now, for the next leg of our excursion, a cruise with Southern Discoveries.
A bus is ready to taxi us to Milford Sound Visitor Centre however, given the choice, we choose to walk the track instead. It’s a short walk offering beautiful birdsong, native flora and sublime views of the very commanding Mitre Peak.
Southern Discoveries welcomes excited guests aboard the Spirit of Milford. She’s a large modern catamaran with awesome viewing decks and comfortable seating. We grab a cup of coffee prior to launch, (it’s free!) while gawking in awe at the surreal landscape!
Setting off on our cruise, Jeremy, our Nature Guide, begins his commentary. The geological history of Milford Sound is relayed in a rich and interesting story. We learn about Captain Cook’s journey into Milford Sound and the arduous existence of early settlers. Jeremy’s narration is cut short when we come upon a pod of dolphins. Distracted guests scurry to the open deck to witness a delightful show of brandish exhibitionism!
Dolphins are such alluring creatures. They actually look at you while showing off their flash aquatic manoeuvres! Jeremy tells us about the matriarchal pod, led by a very impressive mature female named Scar. Her skin is mottled with dolphin grey and striking silver. She leads her pod with grace and agility as smaller calves’ frolic alongside her. They ride the bow waves in a spectacular show for what seems like an eternity. It was an enchanting and privileged encounter that left many, including myself, spellbound. Dolphins frequent Milford Sound but are not always viewed. How lucky we were to observe these cheeky and intelligent mammals going about their business. A truly unique experience.
Settling back into the astounding scenery, we soon approached the Tasman Sea. The boat rocked gently with the tide as our Captain expertly turned us back into the fiord. This was what we had been waiting for. A close encounter with a waterfall!
On the approach to Stirling Falls we spotted a ‘bob’ of seals sunning themselves on the rocks. Their oily coats, once coveted for clothing and shelter, were shimmering in the sunlight. They lay quietly oblivious to their adoring crowd.
I’d packed a raincoat for good reason. Southern Discoveries give willing cruisers the opportunity to feel the cool spray of Stirling Falls from the bow. This was an experience I didn’t want to miss. I didn’t want to travel back to Queenstown soaked to the skin either, so if standing under an impressive 150 metre waterfall is something you’d like to try, come prepared. If you forget, there are raincoats on board available for the game. The boat gently edged under the fall as fine droplets of spray drifted onto my face. The force of the waterfall has carved out a concave amphitheatre in the rocks. The acoustics are thunderous! Our vessel moved closer and total saturation ensued. People on the upper deck possibly captured better images than me and my drenched GoPro. I didn’t care. The water coming from the top of that cliff was as close to purity as one can get. It came from the heavens to touch the earth for a fleeting moment in time, only to be returned to the sea to complete the life cycle of water. It may return one day in a raincloud and fall again in some distant land, but for now, it fed my soul and brought me as close to Mother Nature as I have ever been. Jeremy joined us on the bow, barefoot and as happy as we were to be there. It’s not often your host will engage in frivolities, but he was a very willing participant. Jeremy’s warm hospitality and depth of knowledge was a highlight of our trip. We stood there, my daughter Jayden, Jeremy & myself, grinning like Cheshire cats. We were totally saturated but our smiles said it all. The best fun was had and I think we left as friends.
We made a short stop at Harrisons Cove so those wanting to experience the underwater observatory could alight before heading back to dock. You can include the observatory in your package when you book. It’s a magical place to observe black coral and other marine life.
We headed back to port chuckling about our soggy state but in high spirits. Our Milford Sound experience had been completely delightful. From the lofty heights of mountains with Air Milford, we had stooped into one of the world’s wonders and been wowed by all within aboard Southern Discoveries ‘Spirit of Milford’.
At no time did we feel like we were commercial passengers. Air Milford and Southern Discoveries were like extended whanau who took us into their fold, accommodating an incredible journey. Our relaxed, happy and welcoming hosts completely enhanced what will remain to be, one of the best excursions we’ve done. Thanks team, you rocked it!
Our Milford Sound trip took four hours return from Queenstown, including the Nature Cruise. There are several package options that you can tailor for your own memorable excursion, just check out Southern Discoveries & Air Milford online. Air Milford also fly to other scenic destinations. Southern Discoveries also offer a coach service from Queenstown via Te Anau & a cruise to Mt Nicholas Station over beautiful Lake Wakatipu.
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