A sight that Rudyard Kipling liked to call “the eighth wonder of the world” and that has been awarded the top spot in the 2008 Travelers’ Choice Destinations Awards by TripAdvisor hardly needs any coaxing for a traveller out to explore New Zealand.
About Milford Sound
Milford Sound, or Piopiotahi in Maori, located in the southwest of New Zealand‘s South Island within Fiordland National Park is one of the most sought-after sites on the list of tourists and not without a reason.
This fiord is a marvel of nature and has been created by the glacial activities in the region over thousands of years. The arching steep cliffs, the devilish waterfalls, and the cloud-kissing peaks come together to birth a scene so magnificent and wondrous that you will rarely find another destination in the world to match its charisma.
In keeping with the norms in NZ, this place has an English as well as a Maori name. The place was earlier named Milford Haven, after the Welsh homeland of Captain John Grono who discovered the site in 1812. It was later renamed Milford Sound. The Maori name comes from a local bird ‘piopio’ and has a legend running through it.
Geography & Climate
Milford sound is not only the wettest place in NZ but one of the highest rainfall receivers in the world. It rains for about 182 days of the year. Do not let that deter you from visiting it because the rains bring out the sheer magic of the place in the form of multiple cascading waterfalls that stay a few months after the monsoons as well. Otherwise, you will always be welcomed by the thunderous roar of the Sound’s two most prominent waterfalls, Lady Bowen Falls & Stirling Falls.
The water in Milford Sound is quite unique. The combination of high rainfall and dense saltwater creates a layer of fresh water on top of the seawater and this layer is replete with tannin that is washed out of the trees surrounding the place. This obstructs much of the light from reaching the depths of the water, giving the Sound its inky black color and thus enabling a lot of deep-sea life to inhabit this much shallower water.
How to reach Milford Sound?
A locale that’s nestled in the lap of nature is surely not going to be right in the centre of a sprawling city. By road, Milford Sound is 291 km away from Queenstown and 278 km far from Invercargill. It takes around 5 hours to reach Milford Sound by Coach. Private car can help you reach faster. Pack a hearty lunch for the trip and stop by the scenic spots on the way before you reach the Sound.
You could alternatively take a chartered flight from Queenstown International Airport to cut down on the drive time. Glenorchy Air, True South Flights, Air Milford, and Milford Sound Scenic Flights are some of the companies that provide this facility. You can get a bird’s eye view of the entire landscape with its sunbathed peaks! However, best way is to take the full fly-cruise-fly package with the leading cruise providers.
Being far from the city, the area has no cellphone coverage. Good riddance if you ask me because you can enjoy the blissful experience without any unwanted interruptions. However, make those important calls if you have to before you reach the place so that you aren’t left frustrated.
Activities at Milford Sound
There are many hiking trails around Milford Sound. These can be day long or can run over multiple days.
A much popular way of exploring the region is hiking through the Milford track. About 40,000 people take this trek every year. The 53-kilometre track begins at the north side of Lake Te Anau. You will end with a boat trip to Milford Sound from Sandfly Point. Many who have taken part believe this to be the best walk in the world with the mesmerising wilderness all around. With mountain summits, valleys and waterfalls to keep you company throughout your journey, you won’t feel fatigued one bit.
Of course, you are not expected to complete this walk in a day. The travelers stop at Clinton Hut at the end of Day 1 and acclimatize themselves to the weather and walk. Day 2 takes you through Clinton River, Lake Mintaro, Hirere Falls, MacKinnon Pass, Pompolona Ice Field and finally to the Mintaro Hut. From here you reach the town of Te Anau which is the gateway to Fiordland National Park.
Taking a cruise is a quick way of exploring the best of Milford Sound. The cruise will take you close to a couple of waterfalls and you’d be splashed by the water. While some weak waterfalls wouldn’t be able to make it to the ocean surface and would simply disappear with the wind. During the entire cruise trip, lend your ear to the captain announcing various spots around.
The cruise offers a very indulgent experience of Milford Sound. The cruise captain’s commentary about the attractions around and various sights will keep you engaged. Keep an eye out to see the Sea lions hanging out on the rocks.
Once you have entered the cruise experience, immerse yourself in the surreal wonders of the place. What are some of the marine animals you can spot here? Seals, bottlenose dolphins, whales (especially the Humpback and Southern Right Whales), and the Fiordland penguin. Tell me if that doesn’t sound exciting!
We took the cruise with Real Journeys and it was a great experience!
Attractions at Milford Sound
Before you hit the Sound, stop by at the Mirror Lakes. They are tranquility at its best and reflect the summits all around in their crystal clear azure waters. A sight to behold! Of course, this is possible only if you are traveling by road. If not, ask your pilot before flying as how to spot it.
While cruising, you will bale to spot these attractions and make sure you are listening to the captain when he directs.
At 151 metre, it’s thrice the height of Niagara Falls. Not good enough? A scene from the movie ‘Wolverine’ was shot here, in which Wolverine is seen jumping off this cliff. The cruise takes you very close to the falls and water splashes on you!
A yet another splendid waterfall falling from an impressive height in the calm waters of Milford Sound. You will see this waterfall as soon as the cruise start. It is the primary water source for the Milford town. The flight will also offer you a gorgeous view of this fall.
Stunning. Splendid. Sensational. A view that you need to see to believe. However, this attractions is visible from the flight and not really on the cruise route.
Also, if you have more time, you can consider a 20 minute round walk to the Milford Foreshore. You will get beautiful views of the area from here- Mitre Peak, Bowen Falls, Stirling Falls, and Lion Rock and Sinbad Gully all from one place.
Where to Stay?
Milford Sound Lodge is the only accommodation available in this Fiordland National Park and camping is strictly prohibited in the area. Most travellers stay in Queenstown which has an array of accommodations available for all budgets. Some also stay in Te Anau.
If you are doing treks, check out DOC huts for accommodation details. You can also confider overnight cruises.
Different tour providers at Milford Sound
The boat tours available in the Sound offer a wide range of options to choose from. Depending on your budget and time, you can choose from small intimate boats to larger catamarans and ones with or without lunch options. The time alters between 1 hour 45 mins and 3 hours and most cruises leave during the afternoon after travelers have arrived from Queenstown or Te Anau.
Southern Discoveries, Milford Sound’s oldest and most established tour company with 50 years of experience, offers scenic and nature cruise options. JUCY Cruise, True South Flights, Cruise Milford, Mitre Peak Cruises and Fiordland Discovery are some of the other options.
We had the cruise experience with Real Journeys.
Cost of Visiting Milford Sound
The cost of visiting Milford sound would depend on how you consider going. You can either take combinations or plan on your own. I’d recommend taking the combo as it may save some money and you don’t have to really worry about logistics.
Consider the tour providers who offer combos. The two type of combos are Coach-Cruise-Coach or Fly-Cruise-Fly. Of course, you can book only cruise from a tour provider and flight form another. You can also consider driving to Milford Sound from Queenstown and then book an individual cruise with a provider.
Coach – Cruise – Coach package would cost around NZD 275 for an Adult where as Fly – Cruise – Fly can cost around NZD 575. However, there are regular offers and promotions being run, so keep an eye on it. The best way to have a look at all the experiences and their best price available is browsing through Bookme.co.nz
Right now, due to the ongoing pandemic, if you are able to visit New Zealand at all, the prices are really slashed! Mostly to promote domestic tourism within their country.
- You already know how much it rains at Milford. So, don’t forget to carry raincoats and well-lined clothes.
- Carry enough food and water with you for the journey. You won’t be able to stop at cafes and restaurants once you have entered the Sound.
- Remember there’s no cellphone network. Prepare accordingly.
- If you are not a stickler about budget, I’d highly recommend taking the Fly-Cruise-Fly combo instead of Coach-Cruise-Coach one. You will not only save a lot of time but be able to enjoy the cruise more
We were on the verge of not going to Milford Sound. The cost of Coach-Cruise-Coach package was what we had budgeted. But when the roads to Milford Sound were washed away due to heavy rains, we had no other option but to opt for Fly-Cruise-Fly option which costed NZD 575, more than double!
But eventually, we took a decision of experiencing Milford Sound and I have Zero regret about it. Who knows when I’d go New Zealand again. But after reminiscing the trip, every time my decision of wanting to visit New Zealand again becomes stronger.
Milford Sound breathtakingly beautiful and totally worth the splurge. On a scale of 1 to 10, I rate Milford Sound 10, probably the most scenic experience for me in New Zealand.