Each time I have been fortunate enough to visit the magnificent Milford Sound in the South Island of New Zealand, the experience is always unique. Whatever the weather is doing, Milford Sound, the jewel in Fiordland National Park’s crown, is well worth the trip.
If the rain is falling, expect moody wisps of cloud to cling to the majestic Mitre Peak and the cliffs of the fjord to roar with the waterfalls brought on by the weather. If it is a sunny day, take time to marvel in the sky and mountains reflected back at you in the cyan coloured water.
Here I look at three amazing ways to experience Milford Sound and appreciate the fiord from all different angles.
An Introduction To Milford Sound
Milford Sound was discovered in 1812 by Captain James Grono. He named it Milford after Milford Haven in his own homeland of Wales. Of course, the history of Milford Sound dates back to way before Captain Cook’s time. The indigenous Maori people call this area Piopiotahi after the now extinct piopio bird. They had been hunting and fishing in this area for many hundreds of years before white, western explorers discovered it.
With multiple companies offering return transport and cruise trips from Queenstown and Te Anau, you are spoiled for choice and it is stress-free to visit. If an organised coach tour isn’t your cup of tea, taking the drive out to Milford Sound yourself provides you with ample photo opportunities along the way.
Experience Milford #1: The Day Trip
Day trips to Milford Sound follow the same format: you can depart either from Queenstown or Te Anau and the company you book through will often offer transportation to and from these places to Milford Sound.
Cruise Milford operate The Milford Adventurer, a modern and comfortable boat on which to cruise the fjord. A far smaller vessel than many of its counterparts, I benefited from unobstructed views and a less crowded space in which to enjoy it.
With the skipper at the helm providing us with a commentary on the history of the area and its geology and wildlife, I found myself nose-to-nose with fur seals slumbering on the rocks as the bow of the Milford Adventurer tucked in alongside them. Cruising on out to the mouth of the Tasman Sea and back in past the impressive Stirling and Bowen Falls I made sure my memory card was chocker-block with wonderful pictures.
Day cruises take on average one and a half to two hours.
Experience Milford #2: The Overnight Cruise
Real Journeys operate an overnight cruise through the fiord on one of their beautiful vessels; the Milford Mariner or the Milford Wanderer.
I boarded the beautiful Milford Mariner in the late afternoon at the wharf in Milford Sound and we sailed out into the fiord for our overnight adventure. We sailed the full 16kms of the fiord, spotting fur seals and checking out the various waterfalls. We anchored in Anita Bay and here we had the opportunity to kayak, swim or take a tender boat tour of the area with one of the crew. I chose to take the boat tour and listened to the crew member who pointed out interesting flora and fauna.
After watching the sunset over the Tasman Sea, dinner was served on board in the ship’s main galley. We were treated to a wonderful array of freshly prepared food. There was plenty to satisfy even the most specific diets and we enjoyed our meal in the comfortable surroundings, getting to know our fellow passengers on the table around us. In the evening you could linger in the dining room over a coffee or take a glass of wine into the lounge where you could listen to the onboard wildlife expert’s presentation on the history and wildlife of Milford Sound.
There is a variety of cabins available ranging from shared dorm-style rooms, twin beds and doubles all with ensuites. The Milford Mariner moored up overnight in one of the fiord’s sheltered inlets and I stood out on the deck watching several fur seals swimming around the hull of the boat, chasing the small fish that were attracted by the ship’s underwater lights.
In the morning after a hearty breakfast we cruised back to the marina and bid the crew farewell.
Experience Milford #3: The Kayaking Adventure
For a truly immersive way to experience this place I have to say that without a doubt kayaking through Milford Sound topped the list as the most incredible method to explore.
Rosco’s Milford Kayaks offer a variety of guided kayaking trips on the water for those looking for a rewarding challenge. Some trips last only a couple of hours and stay closer to home, whilst others see you up at the crack of dawn and paddling the length of the sound at sunrise. Whichever group you pick, you’re bound to love the adventure.
I joined my group at the base in the heart of Milford Sound for the ‘Afternoon Delight Tour”. After meeting our guide, Harlan, and kitting ourselves up we jumped in their water taxi, “MV Milford SeaKa,” and powered up the fiord to Anita Bay. We settled into our sea kayaks and began to make our way back towards Deepwater Bay, some 16kms away.
We doused ourselves under the icy spray of the waterfalls cascading down the sheer rock faces and inched our way past the fur seals catching some shut eye on the rocks just metres from our kayaks.
With my muscles burning from the paddling, this was definitely the most strenuous way to see the sound, but I loved being so close to the water and appreciating the sheer size of the cliffs around us.
What To Expect
The weather in Milford Sound can be extremely changeable. And when I say changeable, I mean wet. Fiordland National Park can get up to 252 inches of rain a year. Whilst this staggering amount may be somewhat off-putting, just remember that without that amount of water, Milford would only be half as alluring.
When the sides of the fiord thunder with cascades of water, and you catch a glimpse of Mitre Peak sneaking out from behind its cloudy shroud, you are experiencing something breathtakingly special.
Hints And Tips
- With the above in mind it is always worth bringing clothing options with you on a trip to Milford. You could be in luck and the sun may be blazing, but it is more likely to be cool and windy out on the water. Layers are the key, plus a waterproof jacket if you want to go out on deck.
- Sandflies are a nuisance in Milford and these tiny little pests do not discriminate on who they fancy nibbling for lunch. Seriously, sandflies go for everyone. You’ll need to bring and use insect repellent and ensure that all exposed areas of flesh are covered in it.
- Accommodation in Milford Sound is limited. There are a couple of options available: the Milford Sound Lodge being your best bet as it has backpacker style rooms and a caravan park as well as hotel rooms. I would recommend calling in advance to organise a place to sleep otherwise it’s a four and a half hour drive back to Queenstown.
- There is no mobile phone reception in Milford Sound. Whilst this may be upsetting for those people who want to obsessively update their social media, it’s perfect for everyone else who can just kick back and immerse themselves in their surroundings.
Have you ever visited Milford Sound or would you like to? Which of the three adventures sounds like your favourite? I’d love to hear about your experiences so please share them with me in the comments.
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