We knew that despite Milford Sound being the highlight of our adventure in South Island, there were many tracks and activities that could be experienced along the way. After dealing with Ray, owner of Fiordland Tours, we had no doubt that this was the best option for us.
Kudos to Ray for working with us every step of the way, since March, to craft the best possible itineraries and doing so in a masterful way during the holidays. Having researched and contacted other tour companies, we greatly appreciate his willingness, and that of his tour guides, to guide us through these amazing adventures during a time when others wanted to gouge us or simply wanted the days off. Thank you very much, Ray!!
Since we adored this company so much, we decided to book four private tours with them: (1) Luxmore Heli-Hike and Boat (Kepler Track) with Jono; (2) Milford Sound tour and optional floatplane with Jaime; (3) Hike to Key Summit (Routeburn Track) with Jaime; and (4) The Catlins tour en route to Dunedin with Don.
I need to digress briefly since something happened with the Milford Sound tour, as it became a mini-bus tour with other passengers. We had booked a private tour but because of a mix-up, we were asked to meet Ray in Te Anau town center, where he apologized for the mix-up and he reassured us that the subsequent ones would all be private. He is definitely a sincere, down-to-earth guy who values the visitor experience and will ensure that we make the most of our time in the area.
For the Kepler Heli-Hike, Jono met us at the bus station in Te Anau and whisked us off to the heli-pad. After one brief stop, we reached the Luxmore Hut, the place where our break will take place. Our journey up the summit was great, full of expert commentary, including a few kea sightings, and a ultra-patient guide with our slower pace. Jono was clearly a wealth of knowledge about the hike, the flora and fauna of New Zealand, and life in general. We could see why he is regarded as one of the best in the industry. In fact, we dined on some delicious date scones with butter during our break. The hike to the base through the ever-changing forest was quite lengthy but Jono informed us every step of the way. There was never a rushed feeling. Thank you, Jono.
For the Milford Sound tour and Key Summit hike, Jaime was full of life and a reservoir for useful information. Despite the mini-bus issue, Jaime did a great job tending to everyone's needs and didn't skimp on the sights or the commentary. He did pack in quite a few stops and corresponding lookouts, including one stop where we were surrounded by lupin galore, and guided us expertly with the boat ride down the Sound and our floatplane ride. He always had a smile on his face, and commanded the route, since he mentioned that at the time, he had already escorted fellow travelers along that route over 20 times that month!! For the Key Summit, his positive demeanor reigned supreme again, and despite falling down in his attempts to let other tourists pass, his level of energy and attention to detail did not wane one bit. At the summit, we again enjoyed those date scones and for the first time during that trip, were treated to sandflies at our pit stop. We also appreciated his willingness to make photo stops or to seek out noteworthy photo ops for our family. Thank you, Jaime x 2!!
For Don, he was the best tour guide in our opinion. Ray mentioned that he knew The Catlins like the back of his hand, and that was not an understatement. He picked us up from the Te Anau Lodge and planned an exquisite itinerary through that region en route to Dunedin, our final destination in our 15-day adventure in South Island. From Inverness to Waipapa Point and from Curio Bay to McLean Falls, we were enamored by all of the stunning sceneries and landscapes that abound in The Catlins. Our most favorite sight was Nugget Point, which reminded us of The Twelve Apostles in the Green Ocean Road in Melbourne, Australia. He walked at our pace and this veteran bus driver and former politician exuded with confidence and a wisdom unlike others during our travels. He made us feel like we were family. He stayed with us from 7:00am until almost 9:00pm, and never complained that he was tired. He knew the area extremely well and could easily zero in on where we needed to be and be seen. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, Don!! You rocked and shone brightly!!
A huge gratitude and deep appreciation to Ray, his team of guides, and Fiordland Tours for bringing the best of South Island to life, and showcasing what adventure and awe-inspiring landscapes were all about. When we decide to return in the near future, we will not hesitate but to book several more tours with the company. It is comprised of professionals skilled in the arts of tourism and hospitality!!