Fiord­land a win­ter won­der­land

From sea to sky, Mil­ford Sound takes your breath away, writes Adam Brink­ley

Go Travel New Zealand - - Fiordland -

As I stand at the Mil­ford sound pier, pre­par­ing to board our lux­ury overnight cruise, I am taken aback by the sheer beauty of the place. It truly is like noth­ing you have ever seen be­fore. Vast gran­ite rock faces pro­trud­ing out of the sea on all sides, tow­er­ing thou­sands of me­tres into the clouds above. Their slopes lit­tered with water­falls that trickle their way down through the ver­ti­cal rain­for­est into the blue wa­ters be­low. It’s just a few ptero­dactyls short of be­ing a scene from Juras­sic park!

The ves­sel we are board­ing is the Fiord­land Jewel, a brand new, cus­tom built, lux­ury cata­ma­ran. among its fea­tures it boasts five-star din­ing and sleep­ing fa­cil­i­ties, a rooftop spa pool, on-board cin­ema, div­ing equip­ment, a re­mote op­er­ated ve­hi­cle (ROV) and even a he­li­pad. If Ritz carl­ton made boats, then this would be it. Fur­ther­more, whereas most tour com­pa­nies just of­fer a two hour cruise up and down the sound, Fiord­land Dis­cov­ery pro­vides a unique overnight din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that gives you the rare op­por­tu­nity to ap­pre­ci­ate Mil­ford's beauty with­out the crowds and the boats blem­ish­ing the hori­zon. It's hard to think of a more pleas­ant and romantic way to spend an evening.

We are wel­comed aboard the Jewel by the cap­tain—shaun—a charm­ing Kiwi sea­man who has been nav­i­gat­ing the Fiords since he was a kid. ac­com­pa­ny­ing him on the voy­age are Tall paul (res­i­dent knowl­edge bank and phys­i­cal gi­ant), Jack (deck-hand and el­dest son of the owner), Kaz (host­ess ex­traor­di­naire) and pa­trick (the on-board Fi­jian chef). We are told to sit back and re­lax as they will be tend­ing to our ev­ery need over the next 17 hours. as we set out into the fiord, I can't help but feel a tad smug about my cur­rent predica­ment.

Mil­ford is famed for its wildlife, and over the course of the evening we are spoilt time and time again with in­cred­i­ble an­i­mal en­coun­ters. First by a herd of seal, ca­su­ally bathing them­selves upon 'seal rock' whilst the pups frolic about in the wa­ter be­low only me­tres from the boat. shortly af­ter, we spot a group of Fiord­land crested pen­guins wad­dling away in the dis­tance, the sec­ond rarest species of pen­guin in the world and only na­tive to Fiord­land. But by far the most spec­tac­u­lar sight of the evening was when a pod of dol­phins ap­peared right un­der the bow of the boat and play­fully swam along­side us for over 15 min­utes, al­most as if they were es­cort­ing us along our way.

af­ter a few hours of cruis­ing we set anchor in a nice se­cluded part of the sound, with no other boats or build­ings in sight. Tall paul and pa­trick reel in some cray­fish traps which they have left out overnight, and to ev­ery­one’s de­light they haul in more than enough to feed all 20 mouths on board an ap­pe­tizer's worth for din­ner. What a treat! as they go off to pre­pare the food, Jack asks if any­one would like to go out for a spin in the on-deck kayaks. I sign up in a flash, how­ever, my bet­ter half de­cides to stay be­hind and en­joy the sun­set on the view­ing deck with a glass of wine in hand.

as we pad­dle out along­side the sheer gran­ite cliffs, Jack be­gins to fill me in on the his­tory of the fam­ily busi­ness. It turns out his fa­ther Rob was orig­i­nally a com­mer­cial fish­er­man by trade, but en­joyed noth­ing more than go­ing on multi-day hunt­ing/fish­ing/div­ing trips around the sounds in his spare time. as a lit­tle side project, he started tak­ing guests out with him and quickly re­alised that there was huge de­mand for a boat that was both highly ver­sa­tile (in or­der to ad­e­quately equip the thrill-seek­ers) but also lav­ishly com­fort­able (so fam­i­lies and hol­i­day mak­ers could en­joy them­selves as well).

Rob de­signed the Jewel him­self and had it built en­tirely to spec in Nel­son over the course of two years. It only took its maiden voy­age in De­cem­ber, so its still not even lost that new boat smell. cur­rently it is the only com­mer­cially op­er­at­ing lux­ury ves­sel in Fiord­land that can be taken out in the open sea for multi-day fish­ing/hunt­ing/div­ing

char­ters. Typ­i­cally these trips work their way from Doubt­ful to Dusky sound (or vice versa) over the course of 5-7 nights and pas­sen­gers have the op­tion of be­ing he­lied in or out from Manapouri.

These char­ters will be op­er­at­ing through­out the spring and au­tumn months, with the lux­ury overnight cruises tak­ing prece­dent in the sum­mer and Win­ter. In fact, this Win­ter will be the first time that any com­pany has of­fered an overnight ser­vice in Mil­ford. sur­pris­ingly this is ac­tu­ally one of the best times to visit as the weather is much calmer and bet­ter suited for he­li­copter land­ings, mak­ing it per­fect for cus­tomers who are look­ing for a quick lux­ury get­away from their ski hol­i­days.

Upon our re­turn to the boat we are wel­comed by a symphony of smells from the kitchen. We are seated for din­ner and treated to a glass of cen­tral Otago wine, which awak­ens the taste buds nicely. The three course meal that fol­lows is ab­so­lutely ex­quis­ite, with the freshly caught cray­fish starter steal­ing the show for me. a few more glasses of wine later and ev­ery­one is in great spir­its, chat­ting freely and rev­el­ling away the evening. Jack shows us all some amaz­ing un­der­wa­ter footage he’s cap­tured with the ROV on the cin­ema screen, re­veal­ing black coral, oc­to­puses and sharks in a new subterranean side of Mil­ford we've not seen yet. Then it’s all up to the rooftop hot tub for a quick soak and a stargaze be­fore bed.

We awake to the most spec­tac­u­lar views out­side of our cabin win­dow. I have to pinch my­self to make sure I'm not dream­ing. a break­fast spread awaits us down­stairs and we are blessed with an­other visit from the dol­phins whilst we sip our morn­ing cof­fee. What a way to start your day! as we pull back into Mil­ford Ma­rina, me and my girl­friend let out a unan­i­mous sigh. We've had such a won­der­ful time and met so many amaz­ing peo­ple that we sim­ply don't want to leave. This will un­de­ni­ably be a week­end that nei­ther of us will ever for­get. stun­ning views, in­cred­i­ble wildlife, de­li­cious food, amaz­ing staff and a boat fit for Roy­alty. This is surely the only way to ex­pe­ri­ence the time­less won­der of Mil­ford sound.

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