Fiordland a winter wonderland
From sea to sky, Milford Sound takes your breath away, writes Adam Brinkley
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.