There are experiences, and then there are unforgettable experiences. My overnight Milford Sound experience on the Fiordland Jewel was definitely the latter. Here’s how I fell in love with Milford Sound and will never be able to travel on anything less than a 5-star scenic cruise again.
Everyone knows that Milford Sound is majestic. But what everyone may not know is that it becomes even more majestic in the silence that occurs after the planes, ferries and busloads of tourists depart for the day. After spending the night in the fiord onboard a catamaran, I’m convinced that this is the only way to soak in the awe-inspiring show (and silence) of Milford Sound.
Operated by Fiordland Discovery, the Fiordland Jewel experience is a 5-star scenic cruise on a 24-metre (78 ft) catamaran. Luxurious cabins feature ensuites, the main cabin features a cinema, and out on deck, you can enjoy the hot tub or private helicopter-landing pad. The boat caters to a maximum of 20 guests.
After reading up on the Fiordland Jewel, I couldn’t wait to step aboard. And when I finally did, I wasn’t disappointed. The crew greeted us warmly on arrival and set the scene for the fabulous 24 hours ahead.
The wildlife of Milford Sound
At 4.30pm, we pulled out of Milford Sound marina. It was a typical Milford kind of day; overcast and drizzle. The misty, low light set the moody atmosphere over the fiord. Milford Sound is famous for its waterfalls and on a rainy day they are at their most spectacular.
Milford Sound's wildlife is one of the main drawcards for getting out on the water. The crew are not only knowledgeable about the wildlife, but also hugely enthusiastic about it. If you’re lucky, you may spot New Zealand falcons, white-faced herons, white herons, egrets and shags. But the star of the show is the Fiordland-crested Penguin. These rare penguins are one of only three species that breed on New Zealand’s mainland. While we didn’t spot any on this trip, we were told it’s most common to see them during the breeding season, which runs July to November.
Milford Sound is also home to New Zealand fur seals and bottlenose dolphins. It was delightful to see the crew on wildlife watch as we cruised through the water.
Beneath the surface, the unique underwater environment is abundant with marine life. The water’s dark brown colour is due to the tannins that stain the rainwater as it drains through the dense rainforest. Rare species of black coral that would normally live at depths of 500m are found just below the surface because the water is so dark.
But I didn’t have to go diving to see the coral. Thank goodness. The Fiordland Jewel is equipped with an R.O.V; a remotely operated vehicle that allows us to take a peek into this underwater world. Footage from the R.O.V’s high-definition camera is played in real-time in the cinema.
Dining on the flavours of New Zealand
One of the stars of the underwater show was the lobsters. Known as crayfish to the Kiwis, these large shellfish are abundant on the rocky floor and feed on smaller shellfish, crabs, small fish and sea urchins. It wasn’t long before we navigated our way to some lobster pots and hauled up a catch. Not long after, we were enjoying a sensational entrée of lobster cooked to perfection with garlic butter.
This outstanding entrée set the scene for the dining experience onboard the Fiordland Jewel. Now, it would be amiss of me to suggest that the food overshadowed the breathtaking scenery of Milford Sound, but to be honest, it was pretty close. After the entrée, we were treated to venison followed by the main meal of blue cod and a glass of Mount Difficulty Pinot. Dessert was a faultless chocolate brownie. The impeccable food was matched by the lovely company of the crew and the sublime views out the window. As things quieted down for the night, we were able to soak in the stunning scenery that surrounded us and take a moment to appreciate just how small we were in comparison to the towering sheer walls of the fiord.
Exploring Milford Sound by night
The bonus of an overnight experience in Milford Sound is the opportunity to explore the fiord when there’s no one else around. The Fiordland Jewel experience includes kayaking for those who are keen. I chose to enjoy another glass of Mt Difficulty while watching the kayakers out on the water.
After a day of spectacular scenery and spectacular food, we headed off to bed. I was grateful for the 5-star luxury of a private cabin with ensuite and large windows for the view. I enjoyed a perfect night’s rest rocked gently to sleep by the sound of the water lapping against the boat.
Milford Sound in the sunshine
The next day started with a 7 am cooked or continental breakfast. The weather had cleared up, so I was keen to get out on deck and see Milford in the sunshine, a completely different atmosphere to the previous day. At about 9.30 am we pulled into Milford Sound marina, just as the hustle and bustle of the day cruises was kicking off.
What a memorable experience. If you have the chance to see Milford Sound, do it overnight and do it on the Fiordland Jewel. Thank you to the crew for such an unforgettable experience.
What you need to know
The boat: Fiordland Jewel is a 24-metre catamaran accommodating a maximum of 20 passengers in 9 cabins over 3 decks. Includes hot tubs, kayaks, tender boat and remotely operated vehicle.
The cruise: The overnight cruise departs Queenstown at 10 am and returns you at 3.30pm the next day. Or, a 4.30pm departure from Milford Sound and back at 9.30am.
What’s included: Pre-dinner glass of wine or beer, 3-course dinner and continental breakfast. Guided ROV, kayaking and small boat expedition (weather permitting).
You can find out more information here.