Getting to Milford Sound
Although Milford Sound is the most accessible sound in the South Island’s Fiordlands, it’s still a long way from anywhere. The drive from the closest town, Te Anau, takes almost two hours – not counting photo stops. But to drive to Milford Sound without stopping at least twice means you’re either in a very bad hurry (e.g. your cruise ship is about to leave without you), or you’re a robot and completely unimpressed by the stunning beauty of the scenery.
The road leads through the beautiful valley, passes dark, calm lakes that reflect the surrounding mountains, goes up a pass where hundreds of waterfalls rush down the mountain sides and then into a long, dark tunnel through the mountains before it reaches Milford Sound.
Some kilometers before the tunnel, after a short turnoff, is the trailhead of one of the most beautiful hikes in New Zealand (according to several sources). The relatively steep and very rocky trail (it’s a bit muddy and probably impassable after heavy rain) leads to Lake Marian, a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains.
The day was clear and calm and the still water beautifully reflected the mountains rising on three sides of the lake. Since we went up there in the morning, we were the only ones at the lake. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic – if you bring food, that is.
Choosing a cruise
Several companies offer cruises on Milford Sound. Some have big boats, others small ones, some offer food, others not, and depending on your car rental company, you get a discount or not. All cruises last 1.45 to 2 hours. Noon, when all the bus tours arrive, is the busiest time and is best avoided. Early morning (“early” meaning around 9 am) must be the least busy time – cruises are cheapest then.
Our car rental company, Go Rentals, gave us a 10% discount on Go Orange cruises which, in our opinion, has very good offers for reasonable prices. So we said “Go for it!” and booked an afternoon cruise which included a piece of carrot cake (that alone was reason enough for me to book with them).
The boat was quite big but not full and we caught a seat right at the front with great views (oh, and the cake was delicious). The sea was rough that day and it was very windy (I’m so glad we had a big boat). The crew told us that it wasn’t always like that and it must be true because you can also do kayak tours on Milford Sound, but definitely not in that weather.
As for the landscape, Milford Sound must be impressive in any kind of weather. Steep walls rise from the water, some of the mountains are covered in thick forest, others are only rock, and powerful waterfalls and cascades rush down the mountainsides into the sound. The waters of one of the waterfalls are said to have rejuvenating powers. In order for us to enjoy these powers, the boat sailed very close to the waterfall so everyone who wanted could get a spray of the water. Hossam and I got more than just a spray on our seats right in the front. I leave it to others to tell if the water really had the positive effect promoted but I must say I woke up feeling pretty good the next morning.
The boat sailed all the way to the Tasman sea and then back again. On the way, we (well, the crew) spotted a single penguin and a few fur seals. Back on land, Hossam and I walked along the shore on a short trail that starts at the parking lot. The scenery here is just as breathtakingly beautiful as on the water.
A cruise on Milford Sound may be one of the most touristy things you can do while in New Zealand but it’s also one of the most memorable and amazing experiences. Just choose well the time of your cruise (avoid noon) and, either before or after the cruise, go for a walk along the shore. And allow as much time as possible for the drive to Milford Sound (and the hike to Lake Marian)!