Located in the stunning World Heritage site Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound deserves a spot on any South Island New Zealand itinerary. Upon arrival, you’ll notice the iconic Mitre Peak towering at 1692m, one of the most photographed peaks in New Zealand. Dark glassy waters of the fjords rest below and sheer cliffs rise up on either side with lush forests clinging to the steep slopes and gorgeous waterfalls cascading down then. Though it rains most days, visiting Milford Sound in the rain is worth it simply for the hundreds of additional waterfalls that appear on the cliff faces.
There are a few different ways to get to Milford Sound: by air (helicopter or plane, usually from Te Anau or Queenstown), by car via Route 6 through Te Anau, or (for the more active) by foot via the 53.5km Milford Track. While I would love to return to New Zealand and complete the Milford Track, said to be one of the world’s most beautiful multi-day hikes, time hasn’t permitted on either of my NZ trips so far. I’ve only been to Milford by car/bus, which is a windy drive with many hairpin turns and one-lane bridges, but is a beautiful journey in itself as you cruise past rolling green farmlands of grazing sheep and cows with a magnificent backdrop of snow-capped mountains and icy blue rivers. Actually on my last drive to Milford Sound at around 7am, we came across a herd of escaped cows trekking towards us. Slowing down but continuing along the road, we ended up inadvertently herding them back into their pasture, while my brother captured the whole thing in a comical video:
There are also many scenic viewpoints along the drive to stop and stretch your legs while enjoying remarkable landscapes. My favorite is the beautiful field of purple lupins beneath rugged mountains. This stop is about halfway between Te Anau and Milford Sound.
To actually see Milford, you have a few options apart from walking around yourself, some of which include helicopter tours, cruises, or kayak tours. I personally haven’t been on a helicopter tour of Milford, but I have seen photos and can vouch that it will give you the best views if you’re willing to spend the money. This is also a good option if you’re pressed for time, as it could save you about 4-5 hours of driving each way from Queenstown.
I have done a 2-hour cruise (2011) and a 6-hour kayak tour (2014) though, which were both spectacular. The scenic cruises are nice if you really want to kick-back, relax, and enjoy the views. We saw seals lounging on nearby rocks, and dolphins swam alongside the boat for much of the cruise. You can also opt to add lunch (or you can bring your own meals), and you can choose different length cruises (even overnight) to suit your preference. The kayak tour was great as well, as Milford Sound is easily one of the most beautiful places to kayak in New Zealand. This tour brought us even closer to nature, as I paddled up within a couple meters of a seal! The one con to the kayak tour was the sandflies. They’re not a huge issue out on the water, but I just about got eaten alive when we stopped for lunch on a beach. However, you really can’t go wrong. Any tour you choose will allow you to experience the untouched beauty and dramatic scenery of Milford Sound.
As always, keep on livin’ pura vida ✌