- Milford Sound, Piopiotahi, is one of those unique places on earth where mother nature always puts on a grand show. No matter what we as humans do, it always has been and always will be a slice of heaven. Tucked into the south-west corner of New Zealand, it's one of the most remote locations that an average tourist can ever drive to, so there's a few things that you really need to know to improve your experience. I hope these tips help you, but should you need more information please feel free to contact me any time.
Tim's 10 Things You Need To Know About Milford Sound...
- The drive into Milford Sound is absolutely stunning but it can be hazardous for a number of reasons. Situated 119km from Te Anau, the biggest concern is always fuel. There are a couple of places that may have it (Gun's Camp and the Blue Duck) but these shouldn't be relied upon because they often run dry or don't work. The locals always suggest filling up before you leave Te Anau as this will ensure a safe return and allows you to enjoy the view rather than watching the fuel gauge.
Photo: a view down the Hollyford Valley on the drive into Milford Sound.
- Once you're in Milford there are very few options for food. The Blue Duck Cafe and the Milford Sound Lodge do have meals available but if you arrive late and expect to find a restaurant or supermarket, then you may be out of luck. It pays to always take in a good amount of supplies, especially in winter when the road can be closed unexpectedly due to snowfall. The same also applies for alcohol as there is no longer a pub.
- The weather conditions in Milford (and along the road in), can change dramatically at any time of the year. This area receives an annual rainfall of 7-9 metres, which is comparable to the Amazon, and in winter this rain often falls as snow. The locals are all used to these conditions so any tours that you book on will probably still run even if it's raining...it's only water after all! Just remember to dress appropriately - a rain jacket and sturdy shoes are handy at any time of the year.
Photo: snow can be encountered at any time of the year.
- Go on a kayaking trip with Rosco's Kayaks. As a kayaking guide I may be a bit bias, but I truly believe that this is the ultimate way to experience the fjord. You will get up close to all of the wildlife (seals, dolphins, penguins) and the view is stunning. You also get a great workout...which many travellers need after a week or two of indulging!
Photo: bottlenose dolphins are a common encounter while kayaking.
- If you're after something a bit more relaxed, or if the weather is extremely bad, then a boat cruise is the way to go. I loved going out on a boat during a stormy day as the waterfalls are amazing. They thunder down for hundreds, if not thousands of metres, and on a really stormy day they have even been known to go sideways as the wind blows them down the fjord. There are a number of boat companies and they all do a similar trip; the major difference in price is the added extras like food.
Photo: waterfalls cascading down the mountains during a big storm.
- If you're a family group, a trip out to the discovery centre is the way to go. This is a floating underwater observatory run by Southern Discoveries and it's great fun for young and old. It also combines a boat ride and a small kayaking trip so it represents great value for money.
- Many people expect to come to Milford and be able to go on a great many walks into the forrest. Yes, this area does host New Zealand's most famous trail (the Milford Track) but this is a multi-day walk and you need to come prepared for it (see note below). As far as shorter walks go, there aren't many and this is simply due to the area's rugged nature. Key Summit is probably the only easy walk in this area (aprox 3 hours), and this is done either on the way in or out as it's situated near the main divide.
- The Milford Track is simply an amazing walk and rates as a must-do for any serious hiker. The walk itself is comparatively easy, being well graded and maintained, but it still passes through the rainforest so extreme weather can be encountered at any time of the year...make sure you take a raincoat. It's also a Great Walk so you will need to book into huts before you start, as this is the way numbers are controlled (don't expect to freedom camp).For the average person allow 3 days, and if you're a fit bugger you could easily run it in under a day (the record is just over 6 hours).
Photo: Giants Gate falls is on of the many highlights of the Milford Track.
- Accommodation in Milford is quite limited, with the only real place to stay being the Milford Sound Lodge. They are a great team that work there, and I know they will look after you no matter what your budget. Please don't expect to freedom camp in your van anywhere in Milford Sound. There are no places for this and the locals get extremely annoyed with people that do because they are the ones who are left to clean up the mess. If you plan to camp, then you will have to drive out of Milford and stay in one of the many free DOC camping spots along the road.
- Stargazing - take the time to go for a stroll at night. With almost no outdoor lighting in this area, light pollution is non existent and the stars are amazing. I suggest a walk along the foreshore as this is the best spot for blowing your mind.