“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.

Milford Sound on a map of New ZealandWe 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.

Looking down the valley towards Milford SoundWe 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.

tunnel in avalanche area near milford soundOur 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.

milford soundWhen 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)!

Josh Wilson from Peanuts or Pretzels uses the mountainsmith Tour FX on a ferry in Milford Sound, New Zealand
The built-in storm cover of the TourFX comes in handy in these wet conditions.

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.

Milford Sound

Josh & Liz are Mountainsmith ambassadors and regular contributors to the Mountainsmith blog. Follow their world travels on their blog Peanuts or Pretzels.

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4 comments

  1. Glad to hear you love Milford Sound as much as we do! We operate a tour boat on Milford Sound and we can honestly say that it’s one of the few tourist attractions where it’s even better if it’s raining! We put together a guide on safety (because it’s a mountainous area) and what to see if you’re driving to Milford Sound from Queenstown or Te Anau. If you’re visiting, please download the PDF for your own use: http://www.cruisemilfordnz.com/milford-sound-information/driving-from-queenstown-to-milford-sound-what-to-see/

  2. Milford Sound is like no other place we have seen before. The journey to even get to the sound is an adventure within itself, but once you get out on the water and you are surrounded by beautiful waterfalls and mountains; it makes the journey all worth it. Thanks for allowing us to share our experience with you guys. Look forward tomalley more adventures on this Around the World Journey.

    As always #ForgedForLife

  3. Hi there,
    Thanks for sharing your adventure! My husband, sister and I will be taking a road trip to the South Island of NZ in a few weeks and are looking into the Milford Sound options. We definitely want to drive in, as well as take a ferry. If you wouldn’t mind sharing the company you used for your intimate ferry ride, I would appreciate it! Your experience sounds like one I’d love to have for myself. Thank you!

  4. Hi Paula,
    Liz and I are jealous of your upcoming trip. We would highly recommend getting there early and getting on your tour in the morning or late afternoon. We did the morning tour and beat all the tourists there. There are so many different options of the type of tours to take around Milford. It really all depends on how you want to see and explore Milford. We went with Southern Discoveries (http://www.southerndiscoveries.co.nz) They have many sizes of boats. If you want the small boat you can ask them what time they leave. We took the small one.

    We highly recommend a RV tour of the South Island. Here is our trek through the South Island. (http://www.peanutsorpretzels.com/new-zealand-rv-rental/)

    Have fun and make sure to share your pictures by using #ForgedForLife. Let us know if you have any questions.

    Cheers!!!

    Josh & Liz
    Peanuts or Pretzels

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