We got up really early to make it to Milford Sound in time for the cruise we had booked at 8:55. We left camp when the sun was just up and started driving further. Soon after The Divide we understood what the fascination with the Milford Sound and Fjordland was, when we finally drove through a valley cut deep into the mountains, with sheer rock walls dropping down steeply to the valley bottom. We stopped at several viewpoints to take in the Mirror Lakes, the view into the Hollyford Valley and the many waterfalls that fall down from the mountain tops.
Absolutely stunning was the stop at "the Chasm". We had no idea what it was when we stopped at the Parking Lot. When we got there, there were no cars there at all, that was due to the time in the day. On the drive back later, the parking lot was packed. But once we walked up the boardwalk to the Chasm we were surprised to find a true gem of a natural wonder - a stream deeply cut into the mountain, forming spectacular rock formations and a deep abyss.
Due to our early drive we didn't have a queue at the Homer Tunnel and had a smooth drive all the way to the Sound, despite the picture stops. Once arrived at Milford we walked over to the Cruise Terminal and got our Boarding Passes for the Jucy Cruise we had booked. Then we waited for boarding time.
We had decided on the early cruise, hoping the sun would not be too far up and allow for some good light for taking pictures. But for that, 8:55 was already too late on a bright sunny day like we had. In the end we almost wished we had gotten to the Sound on a rainy day to see the many temporary waterfalls that are said to appear during heavy rain.
The cruise, which we had booked with "Jucy", was still really nice - we were taken out to the entrance to the Sound, where it meets the Tasman Sea. On the way there we kept mostly to the left side of the sound and our way the commentary pointed out the names of mountains, glaciers and waterfalls that could be seen.
On a rocky outcrop on our way we saw some seals and the boat stopped for a moment, so everyone got a chance to see them. Then we continued out to the Tasman Sea. Once we got to the point where the sound opens up into the sea the water was noticeably more choppy and the cruise turned around.
The way back led us along the right side of the sound and the hilight was when the boat cruised up close to one of the waterfalls. He asked the "brave ones" out to the front of the boat, and of course we went too - and then the fine mist and spray got us all wet. It was very impressive to see just how powerful the glacial water from above crashed into the sea.
Soon the cruise ended and we were left in Milford trying to decide what to do. We walked up to the Lookout and the Foreshore, where we had picnic, and then decided to drive back.
On the way back we once again stopped at several photo opportunities. Right after the Milford Tunnel we even finally saw Keas - they seemed to be on the lookout for food, but when two tourbuses arrived and suddenly masses of people stormed out to take their picture, they soon got enough and instead hid under some parked cars. Since everyone was after them with their cameras already, we refrained from taking a picture ourselves. We once again realized why we prefer individual travel to tour busses and guided groups.
When coming back across The Divide we parked our car to take a short walk. The routeburn track ends there, so we decided to walk a part of the trail to see what all the fuss is about. We made our way up to Howden Hut, signed the hut book a took a short look at the nice facilities of the hut - now those Great Walk Huts are definitely a lot more luxurious than some of the ones we visited. We continued on the Routeburn up to the Earland Falls. And we were glad we had done the trip because those waterfall was pretty impressive, and we once again had the chance to get up real close. On the way back down we decided to also go up to Key Summit to get a nice view across the valley. That way our short walk ended up being a few hours long.
Once we started driving again it was already pretty late, so we stopped at Cascade Creep Campground to prepare dinner, and continued driving afterwards until we were almost back to Te Anau, staying at the Henry Creek DOC Campsite.