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Milford Sound, New Zealand

One of New Zealand’s most stunning attractions, Milford Sound sits along the South Island’s mid-western coast. Your journey begins with one of New Zealand’s most beautiful drives along The Milford Road. While it may be your ticket to reaching Milford Sound, the drive in itself is worth the journey through Fiordland National Park. From Te Anau, tourists can marvel at the beautiful peaks and a few rolling grasslands during the 119 kilometer or 2.5 hour drive to the sound. Leave time for plenty of stops for photographs, but make sure you pull safely off the road as it is extremely narrow and winding in some parts. Also, allow time for delays at Homer Tunnel, a 1.2 kilometer tunnel opened to traffic in 1953.  If you do find yourself stuck in traffic, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife including New Zealand’s famed Kea bird – you may just find one intrigued by the car lined up at the tunnel.

Kea Parrot, Fiordland Natl. Park

Kea Parrot, Fiordland Natl. Park

On either side of the Homer Tunnel, you’ll find dozens of trails leading your deep into the Fiordland’s beautiful forests.  It’s one reason the Milford/Fiordland area is not only known for the sound but also the exquisite trekking that leads to the splendor of Fiordland National Park.

More notable tramping trails include the famous five-day, 53.5 kilometer trek known as the Milford track, the 32 kilometer long Routeburn track (a guide is required for both these treks), the 60 kilometer Kepler Track, the 56 kilometer Hollyford track and the 55 kilometer Tuatapere Hump Ridege Track, which can be traversed independently. If you’re not up for the trek of your life just yet, small portions of these can be walked along with several other small, independent trails.

If you are looking to trek across the breathtaking scenery or tackle one of the multi-day hikes, a number of companies are there to help.  Remember, some hikes actually require a guide, while others it’s optional but often highly encouraged.  Guide companies include Adventure Walks, Fiordland Coast WalksFiordland Nature Observations and Ultimate Hikes just to name a few, or you can contact the Department of Conservation.  In addition, Bev’s Tramping Gear Hire can help you get outfitted for the trek if you didn’t lug your gear on their airplane and the Kepler Water Taxi, Lake Te Anau Transferes through Real Journey and Trackhopper can help with transport logistics.

While many people do take the time to tramp through the stunning mountain, most make a bee-line straight to Milford Sound.  The best way to explore the beautiful, green-growth flanked mountains is on one of many boats that sail through the fiords.  Unless you’re the extreme planning type, a reservation is not needed in advance.  Simply showing up at the cruise boat terminal is sufficient.  At the terminal you’ll find a handful of companies including Juicy, Real Journeys, Southern Discoveries and Mitre Peak.  While some companies offer overnight cruises, in my opinion, it’s more about experience than the sights as you can truly see everything you need on a two-hour or day cruise.  Juicy tout’s its lowest two-hour cruise price at $65.00 AU per person, but that rate is only secured in the early morning.  In fact, most cruise operators raise their prices as the day wears on and more and more people reach Milford Sound.  The 8am cruises are the cheapest and the price climbs quickly from there.  Aside from price, make sure you ask where the boat goes.  There is a difference between how far each boat ventures into the fiord.  Some of the larger boats turn back before reaching the opening into the Tasman Sea, while the smaller boats will sail to the sea and back.  Each cruise touts the wildlife you’ll see, most likely fur seals sunning on rocks alongside the stunning, towering mountains, but in the end, if the wildlife is there – you’ll see the same creatures as all boat companies.

If you’re looking for advice on which company to choose, we have only been on one boat and that’s with Mitre Cruises.  We ventured out on a mid-day cruise for $82.00 AU per person.  The boat went all the way to the Tasman Sea, past rocks filled with sunning fur seals and actually into one of the stunning waterfalls cascading down the cliffs to the water below.  Unlimited tea and coffee was served onboard, and the crew was pleasant and informative.  If your looking for a good middle of the road tour – Mitre Cruises is a solid choice.

While most people simply plan a day on the water in Milford, there are a number of others things to do should you wish to extend your time.  You can catch a boat and glide over nearby Lake Te Anau and into the Te Anau Glowworm caves, kayak both Milford and Doubtful Sound, take a scenic helicopter flight, tour nearby farms and even dive Milford to get a glimpse under the water’s surface.

The bottom line is..no matter what your plans include, they must incorporate at least some time in Fiordland National Park and on the water in Milford Sound.