23 September 2018
By Fiona Ralph.
If you can brave the chill, an escape to Milford Sound is rejuvenating for body and mind.
A digital detox takes on a whole new meaning in Milford Sound/Piopiotahi. For one, it’s enforced – there’s no reception and wifi is pretty temperamental.
Secondly, you’re so immersed in the magnificent mountain ranges it’s quite easy to forget all about checking your phone. And if you spend a night in the sounds – which I thoroughly recommend you do – you’ll experience the region without the crowds.
At Milford Sound Lodge, the vibe is so blissfully relaxing you’ll feel guilty even looking at a screen (and if you do, there’s still no escaping the slow life as their internet trundles along on satellite due to the isolated location.)
We’re visiting Milford Sound with Southern Discoveries, who operate cruises and tours from Queenstown to Fiordland daily.
The coach trip is half the fun. As we settle into our seats and make our way out of Queenstown, the sun is peeking over the mountains. Tour guide Russell Grubb turns a long trip into a thoroughly entertaining one with his smart and witty commentary about the region.
The glass roof enables us to take in every inch of the mountains, and at times we’re surrounded by the snow-capped beauties.
We stop at Te Anau, Eglinton Valley and the rather literally named Mirror Lakes. Curious keas and a layer of snow add to the excitement – winter is a glorious time to visit the area.
Southern Discoveries offer a number of cruises in Milford Sound, all of which provide magical views of the fiord. There are also seals to spot, plus dolphins and whales if you’re lucky, and the opportunity to sail directly under the 151-metre-high Stirling Falls.
We take the Scenic Cruise and gulp down the tasty international buffet lunch so we can maximise our time on deck. It’s one of the region’s rare dry days, so the photo opportunities are numerous.
A day on the water in freezing temperatures is rather tiring, so after being transported to Milford Sound Lodge for the night, we collapse into our cosy eco chalets. The view from each chalet is sublime, with mountains towering above and ice outside the door.
Dinner at the lodge’s Pio Pio Cafe is delicious – my travel companion and I both have the wild Fiordland venison and far too much dessert. After an early night, I feel zen enough to undertake some early morning yoga, channelling the strength of the mountains, before heading off on the Southern Discoveries Encounter Nature Cruise.
Getting up close and personal with Milford Sounds Stirling Falls.
We’re on a smaller boat this time, so we get even closer to the waterfalls and wildlife. We don ridiculous raincoats (that’s three jackets I’m wearing now) and get completely soaked under Stirling Falls, and fill up our glasses under another waterfall so we can guzzle glacial water. If that’s not immersive enough, you can also opt for a kayaking adventure or visit the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory.
After our cruise, we check out the recently reopened Lady Bowen Falls walk, where Denis Lilley, another character of a guide, leads us via a quick boat trip and five-minute bush walk to an impressive view of the thundering Bowen Falls.
Afterwards, we switch out our five-hour bus trip for a short but sweet journey in the sky with Air Milford. The tiny plane seats 13 and my oversized suitcase almost has to take a separate flight.
The views of Milford Sound, the Southern Alps and glistening alpine lakes are amazing, even if the windows are a bit foggy. It’s a really personal experience and feels rather luxurious to pull right into the hangar in Queenstown, bypassing the main airport terminal.
To continue our digital detox, we check in at the Sherwood, a boutique hotel with an eco philosophy and Be Here Now ethos, inspired by the 1971 text by Ram Dass.
There’s a copy of the spiritual guide in each room, along with crystals and locally sourced mini bar and bathroom products. What there isn’t is a TV or phone – you’re encouraged to disconnect completely.
There are yoga classes to help you balance your chakras or laugh your way to wellness, meditation classes, workshops, massage therapies, gigs, a sauna and a community feeling you don’t get in many hotels.
The interior includes recycled cork wall linings and ex-Italian Army blankets as curtains, and there’s a vege garden where menu items such as “Bruce’s baby carrots” are sourced.
Bruce’s carrots are also served with the spicy ginger cake we devour for dessert. The restaurant is buzzing, especially perched next to the kitchen. We spend two nights working our way through the menu (it’s not a full detox we’re doing, after all!) before we pull on three pairs of woollen socks for our last active day.
Spirit of Queenstown on Lake Wakatipu.
Southern Discoveries’ Queenstown offerings include a cruise across Lake Wakatipu to enjoy a cycle trip or farm tour.
We check out the Mt Nicholas Farm Experience on a sunny Sunday. Exploring one of the country’s biggest stations, where 29,000 merino sheep are farmed, proves to be the ultimate whānau adventure.
The farm is one of a handful of family-owned high-country stations on Lake Wakatipu, and supplies wool exclusively to Icebreaker.
We get to see local farm life and watch an excited sheepdog do his job.
The tour takes us into the shearing quarters and up and over the property to admire the view back to Queenstown. This is where the company’s Station 2 Station Cycle Trail starts, finishing at Walter Peak.
On the boat back to Queenstown, we snooze happily on beanbags, eking out the last minutes of relaxation before heading home to the fast pace of digi life.