Jeremy and I had a hard time deciding whether or not we should visit Milford Sound, an area on the southwest side of the south island that is contained within the Fiordland district (the name alone should give you an idea of what the area looks like). On the one hand, a couple of people told us not to miss it (Patty, Bob, some kid we picked up hitchhiking); on the other hand, there is basically one highway that goes out there, the road doesn’t connect to anything else (it’s pretty much a road built just so people can go out to Milford Sound), and it’s a full day’s journey (the drive from Te Anau, which is the closest junction to any other town, is about 2.5 hours, so 5 hours drive there and back). We were also a bit worried that it would be really touristy. Ultimately, we decided to do it, and we don’t regret it one bit.
The drive into Milford Sound is quite long, but it is also very beautiful (even though it was storming). During our drive in, we saw a field of…something, we couldn’t quite figure out what it was. As we got closer, we realized it was a large expanse filled with incredible purple, pink, and yellow wildflowers. We had to stop for a longer look:
As you near Milford Sound, you pass through a tunnel, which is built on downward slope; apparently, if they built it straight through the mountain, you would drop out the other side high above the ground.
And finally, we arrived at Milford Sound. There are basically two things you can do in Milford: take a cruise around the Sound, or go on a hike. As I mentioned, it was raining pretty hard so the hike didn’t sound that appealing, but we also weren’t sure we should even bother with the cruise that day since the visibility might be poor. The nice gal at the info desk talked us into it though…she said, “There are two ways to see Milford Sound: in the bright sunshine and in the rain; and you haven’t seen Milford until you’ve seen it both ways.” Pretty good sales pitch because we totally ate it up and purchased our cruise tickets.
We bought our tickets through Cruize Milford (www.cruizemilford.co.nz/) because our Jucy van has a sticker advertising “buy one cruise ticket and get the second one free,” and we’re suckers for a good deal. It turned out to be a really excellent decision because not only is Cruize Milford the cheapest tour—NZ$55 per person (approx. US$35), so only NZ$55 for the both of us with our discount—but all the boats basically travel the same route so it would have been the same trip no matter what we paid. (Note: some boats that advertise longer cruises just take you into an extra cove). Plus, the Cruize Milford boat was quite intimate: there were were only about 20 people on the boat with us. Some of the other tour boats were absolutely enormous and we were glad we didn’t go with them.
Milford Sound is quite stunning in and of itself…I don’t think the pictures will do it justice, but these mountains were really tall. As Jeremy put it, “it’s like they flooded Yosemite.”
Nerd alert!: we learned that Milford is technically not a sound but a fjord since it was created by glacial activity.
One advantage of seeing Milford while it’s raining is that the waterfalls are in full effect.
The other major advantage of touring during a storm (according to the info center lady, who was already very persuasive) is that the animal life is more active during this time. Maybe that was just a line that the i-Site lady fed us, but whatever, she was right. We saw seals:
Dolphins surfed the bow wake of the boat (btw, this was really magical):
And we even saw penguins (apparently somewhat rare)!
The cruise lasted about 1.5 hour and it was exactly the right amount of time and we saw exactly what we wanted to see. Definitely worth the trip out there!
On the way out we decided to camp for the night in a spot along a creek with those gorgeous wildflowers.