Fly, Cruise, Fly
If you ask someone what the top things to do in New Zealand are, Milford Sound will invariably be one of those do-not-miss sort of things. When we looked at the forecast and realized that, although we were supposed to be staying at a hotel near the sound and driving into it in a few days, it was raining for the next three weeks, we were sorely disappointed. The only sunny day was the day we were staying in Arrowtown. A few phone calls later and my mom had booked us on one of the last spots for a Milford Sound Scenic Flights "Fly, Cruise, Fly" tour out of Queenstown, where we would take a small plane tour to the sound, take a cruise boat for a few hours around the sound, then fly back to Queenstown. It. Was. Incredible.
First of all, I love to fly. I think small planes are one of the most exciting methods of transport you can possibly get and I really love heights. However, if you aren't much of a plane person, you might have felt differently about this excursion. When we were called over to our pilot at the Queenstown airport, I already knew the drill from my past experiences with these tour flights (like I said, I really love flying and we do these types of tours a lot), so I hurried up to the pilot and asked to sit in the front seat. Usually the pilots honestly don't care and if you happen to be the first person to ask, they'll happily let you sit in the front with them. So the flight there I was in the front bouncing around taking an almost continuous stream of photos. The landing, so I'm told from my mom and the passengers in the back, was pretty bumpy, but I was way too busy photographing it all to actually notice. Once we landed, we were ushered onto a bus and brought to the cruise boats, where we then went on a (very windy) boat cruise through the sound, past waterfalls and wild seals and incredible towering mountains. Milford Sound is actually not a sound, at all, rather it is a fiord, hence its location in Fiordland National Park. It is one of the wettest places in the world, getting an average of over 250 inches of rain each year. Yet another reason why we were so lucky to be there on a rare sunny day -- they only get a few sunny days each year. Plus, it had been so rainy in the days prior that there were a ton of waterfalls still running down the cliff faces that we passed. Most of the waterfalls in the fiord are technically impermanent and only appear depending on levels of rainfall. So, I'll admit, we had a particularly amazing experience of Milford Sound to make it one of the highlights of the trip, but even if it had been raining it was still a stunning vista. As we flew back after the flight, I decided this time to sit in the very back of the plane for a different experience and view... and that it was. Whereas the front barely feels the turbulence, the back gets all of it, and I was literally floating out of my seat at times as I manically leaned back and forth across the aisle to take photos. I had to brace myself hard against the ceiling as we came in to land, but even then I was snapping away with my camera out the windows. I wound up with over 1,500 photos from that tour alone.