Milford Sound is a fiord, which is an inlet surrounded by cliffs of a mountain. It is located in the Fiordland National Park and can be reached from the major towns of either Queenstown or Te Anau. We went from Te Anau to Milford Sound then to Queenstown. You can also camp there overnight in the cabins.
Milford Sound is one of the wettest inhabited places in the world, with around 7 metres of rain per year in this area alone. We visited in January, which is actually one of 2 of the rainiest months in Milford Sound, the other being December, and both summer time for New Zealand. Being high up in the mountains and surrounded by mountain sides with melting glaciers, this area was wet and misty if not rainy. According to the official website, it is rainy for on average 182 days of the year. Even in the summer it was quite cold, in the low to mid teens.
When I visited: January 22nd 2016.
What I did: I joined the 1 hour 40 minute Milford Scenic Cruise with Real Journeys.
Milford Sound is reached by driving very slowly up the mountain. You can rent a car and drive there yourself (free parking is available) or you can join a tour group. It can be reached from the major towns of either Queenstown or Te Anau. We went from Te Anau to Milford Sound then to Queenstown. Cruise Milford’s website has some excellent information about getting here and essential info about Milford Sound in general.
Along the way you can see water running down the mountain from melting snow or glaciers.
This is the bus bay for the coaches that bring in tour groups. This is right outside the cruise departure hall. Everyone else has to park in the public car park where the cabins are (close to the entry after you at the top of the mountain). This area is a 15 minute walk away from the departure hall.
Some more scenery at Milford Sound, seen from the carpark
!!Important to know:
There is no mobile reception at Milford Sound. Telephone service are at:
-Knobs Flat and Milford Sound Visitor terminal (both are landline phones I believe*) and -a satellite phone at Homer Tunnel for emergencies only.
There are no places to refuel during the drive once you leave Te Anau. Make sure you leave with a full tank. You don’t want to be stuck with no fuel and no phone reception! Fuel (petrol for cars and diesel for coaches) is available at Milford Sound but only certain cards and pin number access are accepted. Fuel is also available at Gunn’s Camp in the Hollyford Valley, but this location is a detour from Milford Sound.
*This information is taken from the “Milford Sound Drive Guide” pamphlet provided by the Cruise Milford NZ company’s obtained in January 2016. The pamphlet says “card phone” however I believe they mean landline phones accessed with calling cards as I saw one such phone (blue one) at the visitor’s terminal but did not see one at Knobs Flats, and there was no cell reception at the visitor’s terminal. Visit their website here: www.cruisemilfordnz.com.
There are a number of activities one can do here. The most obvious ones are to join a tour and/or cruise group. The cruise takes you onto the water and around to see the waterfalls and cliffs and scenery. If you are lucky like we were, you may be able to spot sea lions. You can also do kayaking here, hiking, and if one day is not enough for you, you can stay overnight in their weatherproof cabins at the permanent campsite.
My Experience and *Tips for photographers*
I joined Real Journeys and it was a largish boat with probably 100 or so people.As a keen photographer myself, although I did not use them, from the sound of their services, I’d probably recommend and am inclined to join Cruise Milford because their boats and groups are smaller so can get closer to waterfalls and things and you would have a better time taking photos.
All cruises depart from their departure hall and each company has their own reception desk.
There was paid wifi available in the departure hall, but it was quite expensive, I feel. Although I suppose it is reasonable that they charge higher prices because there is no mobile reception there. This service might be aimed at campers seeing the data lasts 1 month. It should be enough for you to check your emails but no media browsing.
On the boat, there were free coffee, tea and biscuits provided on the cruise however they also have a paid food and souvenirs bar where you can buy postcards and photos, sandwiches, drinks, chips, chocolate, fruit and instant noodles (hot water is free). I suggest you bring your own food and have them with the hot tea. However I must say the boat swayed a lot and spilt tea was not an uncommon sight especially if you sat far from the coffee area.
The cruise boats have both indoor and outdoor areas.
There are not a lot of people in this photo because most people were outside taking photos. It was about half full on my trip.
*Tips for photographers*
You will almost certainly get wet (even if it is just a spray), if you go outside when the boat gets close to the waterfalls. Therefore make sure you have waterproof gear if you have expensive gear. I just used my phone which was easy to shelter from the water so it was fine for me. When we went, it didn’t rain but due to the area, the air was misty and the waterfall made some people wet. You should definitely bring raincoats instead of umbrellas. A change of clothes wasn’t necessary for us as we stayed on the boat (although our entire luggage was in our car so if we did need a change of clothes, we could change when we got back). Layered clothes might be advisable. There is no real reason why you would become soaking wet. Most people also used point and shoot cameras and it was fine, but just a heads up.
Also, Milford Sound’s official website does not name a best time to visit, nor does it give a very good guideline on what the weather is like for each season but it does say that the best time to visit will depend on what you want to see. (Sea lions and penguins can be seen in the cooler months of spring according to their website but we saw them in January.) Which brings me to this piece of advice especially for photographers/people who want to go to photograph the area:
*Tips for photographers* those pretty photos you see on the internet of Milford Sound, they are taken on sunny days, and you will definitely not be getting any of those types of photos if you go with a large cruise/tour group (unless you are VERY lucky) as everyone will be around the edge of the boat trying to get a picture, and the boat won’t be staying long in any one place. So you will have to join a smaller group or hire your own boat.
Best time to go:
If you want waterfalls, then the best time to go is during the rainier months, but if you want sunny photos, you can go when it is less rainy. The rain isn’t exactly heavy, just continuous. Like I previously mentioned, Cruise Milford’s website has some excellent information.
At the time (January 2016), Cruise Milford’s cruises started at $80 NZD per adult on a smaller group boat, while Real Journeys, the company we went with, charged $67.20 NZD per adult on a much larger boat and children were free. Both included complimentary tea/coffee and biscuits. As of July 2017, Cruise Milford’s prices have risen to $90 per adult, and Real Journey’s current price is $76.
Visit their official websites here:
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