Milford Sound, NZ Travel Guide
Visitors to and from New Zealand are spoilt for choice when it comes to tourist activities, but there is no better option than Milford Sound for those who wish to experience the vast wildlife, eye-catching landscapes and variety of activities that the country has to offer. Called the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ by Rudyard Kipling and noted as the winner of the 2008 Travelers’ Choice Destinations Awards from TripAdvisor, Milford Sound is one of the top tourist destinations in the country.
For some, it is surprising that Milford Sound is such a well-known tourist area as it is quite remote. By car, it is approximately 279 km from Invercargill and 307 km from Queenstown. Tour buses are frequently sent from Queenstown for day trips, and there are scenic flights that leave to and from Milford Sound Airport.
It is also possible to reach Milford Sound from Te Anau, which is a smaller tourist area about 121 km away. Most people come to Milford Sound from Queenstown, but the four-hour drive means an early start. Fortunately, the trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound is gorgeous, and you will pass through stunning mountain landscapes and canyons surrounded by rain forests.
If you are planning on visiting Milford Sound, there are several attractions to take in. Here are some of the ‘must-see’ attractions and activities to take in before you leave:
The biggest reason most tourists travel to Milford Sound is for the boat cruises. There are several tour operators in the area, and each operator offers a slightly different tour of the area. Some focus on the landscape; some focus on wildlife and others just give travellers the overall Milford Sound experience.
Most would agree that the best way to see Milford Sound is by taking a sightseeing cruise, and depending on the season, there are many options. Most tour operators offer cruises year-round, but this, of course, depends on the weather.
Southern Discoveries is one such operator and offers cruising options such as the Encounter Cruise and Scenic Cruise. The Encounter Cruise lasts for 2 hours and 15 minutes, will get you up close and personal with penguins and dolphins, and you will get the chance to taste some of the fresh, cold water straight from the glacial waterfalls that flow into the sound. The Scenic Cruise is a bit shorter in length, an hour and 45 minutes, and allows you to move freely around the deck of a large catamaran as you view waterfalls, wildlife and the majesty of the sound.
There is also a Discover More Cruise, which is the longest cruise from this operator, and it lasts for three hours. When on this cruise you will stop at various places including Stirling Falls and the Milford Discovery Centre & Underwater Observatory.
Milford Discovery Centre
No visit to Milford Sound is complete without a visit to the Milford Sound Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory. This offers a unique view of this area of the country, and it will fully enhance the Milford Sound experience. When visiting the centre, you can see the environment that lies under the surface of the water, and you can get up close to the sea life that makes this body of water home.
The colours are spectacular, and some of the species you will see are relatively rare, such as the black coral, which is typically only found at deep depths. You will also have the opportunity to learn more about the history of the area and how structures such as the Homer Tunnel were built. You will also learn about the early European settlers, the Maori explorers and view footage of avalanches, which sometimes occur in the winter.
Kayaking Milford Sound
If you like kayaking, there is nothing better than sliding across the water in Milford Sound. This will give you a taste of adventure, and make your time on the water feel more intimate. These guided tours will take you out and show you different areas of the Pembroke Glacier, you will see local wildlife in their natural habitat, and even have time to kayak in Harrison’s Cove, which is a calm, sheltered area.
Fiordland National Park
Milford Sound is a small area of Fiordland National Park, and this is a great jumping off point for anyone who wants to fully explore the park. This park is a national treasure, and as you explore the park, you will find lakes, ice-carved fiords, granite mountains, valleys and views of the sea.
The park, which was founded in 1952, covers more than 1.2 million hectares, and you will find environments including lakes, mountains, rainforests and fiords. This is the largest national park in New Zealand and is managed by the Department of Conservation.
Walking And Hiking
The best way to experience the beauty of the Fiordland is to walk or hike through the area. The Fiordlands have an outstanding network of walking trails including several that are part of the ‘Great Walks’ of New Zealand. This area, known as the ‘Walking Capital of the World,’ has built a reputation solely on the trails. Many people start and end at Te Anau, and there are plenty of opportunities to get provisions in town for your walk or hike.
There are many short walks that can be done in a couple of hours; there are day hikes or multi-day trails that cater to all abilities. These tracks give people access to lakes, gorgeous alpine vistas and the rainforests. Travellers should remember that the weather is unpredictable here, however, so it is imperative to be ready for changes and to always have the proper equipment, even if taking short walks.
Nature And Wildlife
There is almost no area of the Fiordlands nor Milford Sound that you will not find an abundance of wildlife. The flora and fauna of this national park are a nature lovers dream, and there are some very rare creates that inhabit this area of the world. There are many endangered species here, as well as common animals that you can see almost anywhere in New Zealand.
Some of the animals you may come across include the Kea, Blue Duck, Dusky and Bottlenose Dolphins, New Zealand Fur Seals, the Little Blue Penguin and the extremely rare Fiordland Crested Penguin.
Scenic Highlights Of Milford Sound
If there is anything that the Milford Sound is known for, it is the scenery. Before leaving this area, make sure that you take some time to take in some of the scenic highlights:
The Eglinton Valley is one such highlight, and this valley was once entirely encompassed with glacial ice. As you view the valley, you will see steep sides and a flat floor. The Milford Road goes through the Eglinton Valley, and if driving on your own, there are ample opportunities to get out and take photos.
Another scenic highlight is the Mirror Lakes area. The water is gorgeous at any time of the day or year, but when the winds are calm, and the sun is shining, you will quickly see how the lakes got their name; there is a perfect reflection of the local mountains. There are walkways around the lakes, and it is a favourite stop for tourists when conditions are right.
The Chasm is an area of the Fiordlands National Park that is well known for its scenery, waterfalls and walkways. If you like walking, exploring the outdoors and seeking out some of the most gorgeous natural waterfalls in the country, The Chasm is perfect for you.
A visit to Milford Sound will bring you face to face with peaks and cliffs, stunning waterfalls and exceptional rock faces. You can choose to hire a car from Queenstown and make the drive yourself or join a tour on a coach, but either way, you will want to stop for pictures along the way. Catch a cruise through the water or get intimate with nature by hiring a kayak.
However you explore Milford Sound, whether the rain is softly falling or it is glistening in the glowing New Zealand sun, you will always find inspiration and beauty around every turn.