Our 12 days Road Trip Itinerary to Southland New Zealand would have never been complete without fitting in a day trip to experience Milford Sound.
A fiord in the west of Southland New Zealand is home to the iconic Mitre Peak rising from the dark waters along with fur seals, penguins and fascinating wild dolphins. The dense rainforests and the waterfalls add to the beautiful eeriness of the place during any time of the day. The images of the unlit mountains and rocky cliffs has been donning brochures of New Zealand like forever now and only after having visited the fiord have we come to realisation that nothing has ever exceeded our expectations of breath-taking natural beauty and has instilled a feeling of being very tiny amongst the vastness of the nature. New Zealand’s natural beauty has many perspectives to offer and Milford Sound is one of those unique memories of New Zealand that you will not create elsewhere. It was one hell of a surreal experience and today we lived to finally tell the tale.
Are you also wondering why is it called “Sound”, like we did? Well, thanks to the nice people on the internet, I know now that it has nothing to do with the common noun that has its own scientific definition, but, this “sound” is basically a river formed valley subsequently flooded by sea water. Milford sound was formed by the erosive effects of the glaciers, thus, also known as a fiord and opens into Milford Wharf where it joins the sea. No doubt it is so popular with the tourists, as it is the most spectacular of the New Zealand’s thirteen fiords.
GUIDE TO EXPERIENCE MILFORD SOUND
HOW TO GET TO MILFORD SOUND?
Blessed is the infrastructure in Southland New Zealand and accessing their best kept secrets in this land is way easier today. Milford sound has over time realised commercial recognition and is easily accessible by road from either Te Anau or Queenstown or by hiking from Te Anau on the famous Milford Track.
Buses: Many day tour companies offer buses from Te Anau and Queenstown to Milford sound and back. You can book your rides at the helpful tourist information centres in the towns or pre-book your tours with the companies online.
These busses run on schedules and expect you to assemble on time at the pre-decided pick up points. For a more snug experience with nature opt for the buses with see through roofs which are a lot more fun when driving through scenic routes of towering cliffs, waterfalls, greenery and glaciers.
Cars: Rent your own car in the town at the car rentals or pick one up at Queenstown Airport to head to experience Milford sound through the road by yourself. Also, a great way to design your own photo stops for the scenic roads and points along the way. Just make sure to be there on time to not miss your cruise for the day.
Hiking: To take in the history of New Zealand while exploring the country, the hike of 4 days and 5 nights to Milford sound from Queenstown and back with lodging on the way will be your best call and an adventure of a lifetime. The famous Milford Track starts from the Northern end of Lake Te Anau, from where you can plan to pick up the trek for a shorter route to reach the inky waters of Milford Sound and explore winding your way through some of the most striking and dramatic wilderness in the world.
- The route from Te Anau or Queenstown has a lot of steep roads up and down the hills that can cause motion sickness for some, especially in a bus. So, if you got that discomfort like myself, make sure to take your medication before you hit the road and not let your day be ruined.
- During the peak season between November to May the roads leading to Milford sound get rather slow due to traffic and can end up adding an hour or two to your journey. So make sure to check the route on your GPS or have a word with the cruise company you are booked with before planning your time to get on the road.
- GPS network: On our way to Milford Sound from Te Anau we noticed the network coverage was extremely slow or even non-existent. Luckily, we had the map downloaded on our phones. So do that before you leave your accommodation.
HOW TO BOOK A CRUISE TO EXPERIENCE MILFORD SOUND?
Milford Sound is best explored on a boat and what’s better than cruising around the Sound exploring the crevasses of the rocky mountains giving away little surprises of wildlife and the ever changing scenery. In this case there are a couple of cruise types and a number of companies offering these cruises, to choose from. There are the overnight cruises where lodging is taken care of and the day cruise which we opted for where the cruise that commenced from the Sandfly point to the Milford wharf.
To pick the right company providing the cruise for an amazing experiences keep these things in mind:
- Time: The day cruises during season work three timings and make sure to pick from the ones comfortable to your schedule.
- Early morning till mid Morning.
- Noon till afternoon.
- Afternoon till early evening.
P.S: The timings may differ seasonally. Winter timings and frequency of the cruises maybe different from these spring and summer timings.
- Food: Some of the cruise companies provide on board lunch, tea, snacks or breakfast depending on the time of the day. The price for these cruises serving full meals are usually higher than the others. We got on a afternoon cruise that served some delicious carrot cakes!
- Boat size: The cruise boats are either really big and fit in 80 people or are small and fit no more than 30. It goes without saying that a slightly better experience will be with a boat that accommodates lesser crowd and provides you with multiple photo opportunities.
- Reviews: Milford Sound being so popular with tourists that these tour companies have multiple reviews all over the internet about the service they provided and experiences from real time travellers from across the globe, read up a little before finalising that tour.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN YOUR MILFORD SOUND CRUISE?
Flora and Fauna: Other than thousands of years old pristine rainforest and rocky cliffs rising from the inky waters of the sound, the place is home to many rare species of flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the world.
From experiencing wild dolphins in their natural habitat to beautiful sun bathing fur seals and penguins it is always a delight to witness wildlife in the wilderness where they are meant to be opposed to kept captive in a zoo, water park or temple.
Weather: The Sound seems to have it’s own eco-system where year around it is gloomy, extremely windy and most of the time raining. This weather feature adds to experiencing the dramatic scenery of the place. Remember to take a wind sheeter or a raincoat and keep your expensive equipments close to you.
Waterfall: Another good reason as to why the rains are vital to your Milford sound cruise experience because increased rainfall means and impressive water volume on the many mystical waterfalls there. The cruises are also known to be sneaky to get the boat close enough to these falls to drench you for fun.
There are four main waterfalls in Milford Sound that can be seen from the cruise;
- Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls – The highest waterfall in the sound.
- Stirling Falls – Milford’s second highest waterfall.
- Four Sisters – Can be seen only on heavy rainfall days.
There are many other hidden waterfalls in Milford that are accessible only via hikes along the Milford track or by getting a little off road to see them from there.
WHAT OTHER ACTIVITIES AVAILABLE IN MILFORD SOUND?
Milford Sound is not just for taking that boat tour, there are many other activities and ways to explore the beautiful sound if a cruise isn’t your thing.
Kayaking – Another amazing way to experience the sound is to paddle in its waters. And, imagine getting this up close and personal with a bottle neck dolphin and paddle your way up to the nooks of the sound to witness the Sutherland Falls, known as the highest waterfall in New Zealand. An experience that even a cruise can’t fulfil.
Scenic Flights – If view from up close is this inspiring that led me to write this article, you can only image how gorgeous must be a bird’s eye view of this land, thus, a scenic flight over Milford sound is unforgettable. The helicopter ride lands on the snow covered glaciers of Mt. Tukoto and Lake Quill that opens into the spectacular Sutherland falls.
Milford Track – Another pronouncing way of experiencing the wilderness of the Fiordland is by hiking. The best kept secrets of this land can be found in its ancient rainforests that houses some rare plants and fungus, pretty lakes and stunning waterfalls along the way.
WHERE TO STAY TO GET TO MILFORD SOUND?
To easily get on with your plans to truly Experience Milford Sound is to be well rested the night before and stay at a place that is a convenient distance from Milford.
Queenstown: The most spectacular and touristy town in New Zealand almost a 4 hours trip to Milford and another 4 hours back. Most people begin the 4 night and 5 days hike from here to Milford.
Te Anau: We stayed in this small town with access to basic amenities and restaurants. Almost a 2 hour drive to Milford thus, a lot enjoyable for someone like myself who has to deal with motion sickness. The most convenient option so find an accommodation here. There are also the Te Anau caves to explore here that is home to the famous glow worms of the region. A day hike from lake Te Anau to Milford from here.
Milford: There are not many stay options in and around Milford so the best call is to put up in Te Anau, unless you are opting for the over night cruises, these provide accommodations around.
Te Anau and Queenstown both have a number of Airbnb’s, apartments and hotels for convenient stay in order to explore both these towns and to experience Milford Sound.
If you are still figuring out your Southland, New Zealand Travel Itinerary or planning on knowing more about visiting the middle earth check out our other posts from the New Zealand Series:
- Where and How to spot Lupines in Southland, New Zealand.
- 12 days Road Trip Itinerary for Southland, New Zealand
- A Guide to Wine Tasting and Wineries of New Zealand
- Best time to Travel to New Zealand
- 10 Reasons for you to visit New Zealand
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