Article Beautiful Fiordland: Milford Sound
Our next stop of our South Island Itinerary after Queenstown was the famous Milford Sound. Also called Piopiotahi, it is a fiord in the south west of New Zealand’s South Island, situated in the Fiordland National Park. With an annual rainfall of 6,412 mm each year it is known as the wettest place in New Zealand and, indeed, one of the wettest in the world. The rainfall can reach 250 mm within 24 hours and it creates dozens of temporary waterfalls flowing down the cliffs. Some of them reach a thousand metres in length which makes this place magical and mysterious on rainy days. But maybe you are lucky and are able to explore this place when the sun is shining because there are many activities which are a bit more fun without rain.
You can do kayaking in the fiord and if you are lucky you can spot bottlenose dolphins, penguins or seals. Explore the fiord from the air with a scenic flight in helicopters or small planes and enjoy unforgettable views of spectacular mountains, alpine lakes and breathtaking waterfalls.
The most common activity and the easiest way to explore the area is a boat cruise. There are different companies with different sized boats. You can already book your cruise from Queenstown or, of course, directly at the boat terminal. With these cruises you can generally choose if you want to drive to Milford Sound by yourself or if you want to travel there by bus, do the cruise and return via the same road. If you are adventurous and want to spend a bit more money you can also return via flight to Queenstown which will ensure an unforgettable, exciting day. We chose the Cruise Milford NZ which is family-owned and operated. They have smaller boats with less passengers, which means you are not jostling with other guests for space and will always be able to take the best pictures. With the smaller boats they can also get closer to the waterfalls and seals for example. Feel free to ask questions of the crew members. They were able to answer every possible question about the Sound, which was great. If you want to stay on a boat for the night, there are also different companies offering Overnight Cruises. You will find them when browsing the web or just go to the i-site in Queenstown or Te Anau.
Other than kayaking, a helicopter flight or cruise, you can also explore the underwater world in the Underwater Observatory, which is a unique, interactive learning experience. You can learn about Maori influence, early European settlers, the Milford Track, the Homer Tunnel construction and the history of the Milford road before you descend 10m underwater to explore the unique hidden depths of Milford Sound.
Note: if you drive to Milford Sound yourself be sure to check the Road Conditions. Sometimes the road is closed due to the weather conditions. There are different parking spots in Milford and you need to walk at least 5 minutes to the boat terminal from there. Parking in front of the terminal is only allowed for the tourist busses. All parking spots charge 10 NZD per hour. They have established this new fee on the 1st of October 2019 and it helps pay for the upkeep of the area’s facilities and roading.
If you want to stay at Milford Sound with your motorhome, the only option you have is the Milford Sound Lodge. They have beautiful lodges on the river and also many powered sites for motorhomes in the middle of the rainforest. We stayed there for two nights and really enjoyed it. It is only a 30 min walk to the terminal so you can just leave your home on wheels at the campground and save the money for parking. Another option is to stay at one of the different Dept of Conservation campgrounds in the area before you drive through the Homer Tunnel or stay in Te Anau and just do a daytrip to Milfrod from there.
You can come to Milford by boat, plane and car. The last and most exhausting option is to travel on foot. Around 14,000 people choose this option each year and walk the Milford Track which has thrilled hikers and adventurers for than 150 years. It is a 4 day, 53.5 km hike with different huts to stay overnight. The best time for this walk is late October to late April. The walk starts at the head of Lake Te Anau, and leads the hikers across boardwalks, suspension bridges and a mountain pass and will show them great lakes, sky-scraping mountain peaks, enormous valley views and the tallest waterfall in New Zealand, the Sutherland Falls.
If you want to do some walks around Milford Sound and enjoy the view at Mitre Peak, which is probably the most photographed spot in Milford Sound, there is the easy 20 minutes Milford Sound Lookout Track where you can enjoy impressive views of the stunning Sound. You can also take the Milford Foreshore Walk to be a bit closer to the water. Maybe you will find the swing that somebody hung in the trees and take some (insta)”grammable” pictures. There are also some walks before entering Milford Sound through the Homer Tunnel. Some easy walks are the Lake Gunn Nature Walk (45 min), the Lake Marian Falls Track (20 min), Mirror Lakes Walk (10 min) and The Chasm Walk (20 min). Intermediate or advanced hikers should probably do a part of the Routeburn Track, the Key Summit Track which is 3 hours. You can enjoy panoramic views over mountains and alpine lakes. When you get to the carpark, check the weather. If you can see the Mountain peaks and the clouds are high above you should be fine, but if the clouds cover the peak and it stays that way, better return on another day because on this track it’s all about the view. On cloudy days, it’s better to drive a but further towards the tunnel and do the Lake Marian Track a 3 hour return track to the beautiful Lake Marian, an alpine lake in a beautiful hanging valleys. Find out more hikes that suit your fitness level over here.
All in all, there is lots to do and explore so we would definitely recommend driving there yourself and exploring the area at your own speed. Enjoy Fiordland!
Note: There is no cellphone connection and only very limited WiFi in Fiordland so prepare yourself for only using the phone for making pictures or videos ;).