“You have to see Milford Sound.” We heard this over and over as we were traveling around the South Island of New Zealand. “Why? What makes it so special.” we kept asking. “You will see when you get there” we were told.
We were traveling around New Zealand by RV (the best way to go, in our opinion), so that gave us a lot of flexibility with our itinerary. Eventually our route brought us through Queenstown, in the southern part of the south island. Queenstown is a very popular travel spot for all of New Zealand, but especially for those with an interest in adventure. Not only is the town full of adventure activities, it is great starting point for traveling to mystical Milford Sound.
From Queenstown we decided to make the journey further south, toward Milford Sound. It is a good 4 hour drive to get to Milford Sound, but it’s a beautiful drive! We made our way near the Sound and camped for the night by a river just outside the area, so we could get up early and see the sound first thing in the morning.
We had learned in Queenstown that Milford Sound is a popular tourist destination, especially for tour groups and day tripers. When we travel to major tourists destinations, we keep the tour schedules in mind and try to plan our time around them, if possible. By camping close to the Sound, we were able to arrive early and beat most of the tour groups heading to Milford Sound on day trips from Queenstown. This allowed us to enjoy the Sound while it was fairly quiet in the morning hours.
Our morning drive into Milford Sound is one that we will never forget. The elevation combined with the moisture and clouds made for a mystical drive. The ever-shifting clouds created a mystical setting, which would reveal hidden mountain peaks and waterfalls, and just as quickly hide them. It was as though we were being teased about the beautiful scenery all around us!
Eventually, we entered an area that warned of avalanches…over, and over. This started to make us wonder about the danger of this remote part of New Zealand. Then we arrived at the Homer Tunnel. This 1.2 km tunnel goes right through one of the mountains in this highly dangerous area.
When we emerged from the tunnel, an amazing valley appeared…and we were surrounded by waterfalls! Since we were just getting into the Spring season in New Zealand, these falls were were glacier and rain run-offs, and there were too many of them to count! It was one of the most magical scenes of my life, and literally took my breath away. This short drive was one of the most scenic drives Liz and I have ever been on in our time of traveling.
Soon, the mountains opened up and we could see the water of Milford Sound. We parked the RV and immediately purchased tickets for a ferry trip to explore the Sound. If you are traveling here, this is a must do. There are a number of operators and tours available. Some are longer than others, and some have additional options, such as kayaking or visiting an underwater observatory.
Since we were there early in the morning, they gave us a discounted ticket that included the underwater observatory. We were also able to get on a smaller boat tour, which was far more intimate (and fun)!
We immediately boarded our boat, climbed to the upper level, and grabbed a spot right in the front. The boat took off toward the ocean, and we were quickly surrounded by beautiful cliffs. This special landscape is tough to put into words, but we felt like we had front row seats to one of the best shows in New Zealand.
The Sound is wet most of the year and this day was no different. Still the rain did not damper our day of exploring the sound. We just put on our rain coats and rain covers on our bags, and prepared to explore…and get wet.
Our boat tour was narrated, and they did a great job at explaining all the history and landscapes surrounding us. Being on a smaller boat, we were able to get up close to the steep cliffs to see the unique plants and animals, such as the seal colony. We also had an up close encounter with a giant waterfall, which soaked us thoroughly…but was a blast (and supposedly, good luck). The boat briefly took us out into the open ocean, where we were launched over waves and crashed down into the water — soaking everyone up front. We actually had a lot of fun playing on these waves for a good 15 minutes, and were happy that our captain included that bit in the tour!
If you are planning a trip to New Zealand, definitely put Milford Sound on your “must do” list. It’s an adventure destination all by itself, but the clouds and waterfalls give off a mystical vibe that is tough to describe. It really is nature at its most beautiful. We finally understand why everyone was raving to us about Milford Sound. Even the locals are in awe of the sheer beauty of the area, and you will be too.
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