Second (and final - I'm flying out tomorrow) attempt at getting to Milford Sound. Again, I'll know at 11:00 if it's on, so I have a leisurely breakfast before sauntering into the tour office.

It's another bright and sunny day in Queenstown, even clearer than yesterday. There's a remarkably good view of the mountains over the town and up the lake.

The same is apparently true of Milford because it's on.

After a taxi ride to the secret back bits of the airport you never normally see, we're introduced to our pilot and led through a side gate onto the apron. We're loaded onto the 10-seater which will take us out to the Sound. Solo traveller's privilege means I'm offered my choice of the front row seats. (It's hinted that I should pick the one without a steering column).

We're swiftly cleared to taxi across the field and the pilot goes through his checks as we bump over the glass towards the taxiway. Take-off is smooth, if noisy as he floors the twin props over the bright green waters of the lake to gain the height we need to take us over the mountains.

The ride over the mountain ridges is understandably lumpy in places, but not alarmingly so. It's a much more personal way of seeing the mountains, and we're able to see features like frozen lakes from just a few hundred metres away. I'm not afraid to admit that I'm taking an interest how the plane works as well. It's a fair bit more complex than the two-seater Cessnas I've flown before.

The entry to the Sound is dramatic as the pilot descends to fly low over a series of passes, with the last one opening out as the Sound appears under us. The flight travels the length of the Sound to lose altitude and bring us into what Milford laughingly calls an airport.

Milford itself consists largely of an airstrip, a cruise terminal and a few dozen campervan spaces.

We're helpfully bussed from the tarmac to the cruise terminal, which is a confusion of people and coaches. By remarkable coincedence, we've arrived at the same time as the coach parties from Queenstown, who've had four-five hours driving to my 40 minute flight. I'm asked by some if the flight was scary, perhaps looking for justification of their coach decision.

The higher slopes of the mountains surrounding the Sound are obscured by cloud. While our flight managed to avoid flying into it, it's blocking our view of the Sound's best known feature, Mitre Peak.

The cruise is pretty informal, with an occasional narrative and pointing out of features. We bag a dolphin playing in our wake and a small colony of fur seals. By the end of the cruise, the cloud clears enough to see Mitre Peak in all its glory.

The trip back takes a different route over its own share of falls, and quality examples of glacial landscape.

And 40 minutes later, we're back in Queenstown after a slightly rougher ride home. A smooth landing and taxi ride later, I'm back in town, wondering what the scaffolding and skip full of snow is doing dangling from a crane in the main square.

After dinner, it becomes clear what it's for; the Winter Festival's Rail Jam, which is apparently skaterboy for a succession of skiers and snowboarders freestyling down the the scaffolding and flinging themselves off the metal obstacles embedded in the snow. There are enough nasty wipeouts to keep me entertained in the bitter evening cold for the full hour, as the invited freestylers attempt to emasculate themselves on the exposed metalwork.

By the end, there's not much blood and precious little snow left on the top, not to mention a few bits of scaffolding missing after they've been taken out by poorly-aimed snowboarders.

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