Road Trip South Island: Milford Sound

Milford Sound is majestic. It is breathtaking, jaw-dropping, peaceful, beautiful.

It is the end of the world.

I had hoped I would make it to Milford Sound somehow, so when Josi said she was thinking about renting a car to go from Queenstown around the time that our car had to be dropped off in Queenstown it was just too perfect. Milford Sound would be the final excursion in our road trip adventure. So we drove 4 hours on Sunday to stay the night in Milford Sound Lodge before we boarded the earliest (and cheapest) boat ride on Monday morning at 9:15 am.

The drive there was already epic. The road wound first through forest and then through marshes with cloud cover all around; we weren’t able to see most of the mountains that were surrounding us but the “Warning: Avalanche Zone” signs told us they were there. At one point we had to wait for a light to tell us it was our turn to enter a tunnel cut into a mountain. This tunnel was dimly lit by a single row of lights on the ceiling and had no end in sight; we just knew we were going down. Thank you to the tape gods for choosing to play Bruce’s “I’m Going Down” during this part of the drive. “I’m going down, down, down, down, down.” So appropriate.

We arrived at Milford Sound Lodge and I immediately loved the serenity. Located in a valley between soaring mountains, it was an escape from the rest of the world. The evening was all about relaxing; we hung out in our coziest clothes, reading, writing blog posts, and sharing stories. We cooked a fantastic veggie curry with rice and played cards until bedtime. No internet, nowhere to go, and nothing to do but chill. It was great.

The next morning it was time to see the main attraction. We made it safely out of the parking lot, avoiding the pesky kea and sand flies that surrounded the cars, and arrived at the harbor in shockingly perfect weather. Milford is one of the wettest regions in the world and somehow we had blue skies. People say that it’s better in rain, but after seeing it in sun I think they just say this because most people don’t get to see it in nice weather.

The early boat was definitely the way to go (and I would recommend the one we chose, Jucy). These boats could easily fit a couple hundred people, but we had about 20. It was almost a private tour. It had free tea and coffee the entire time to warm you up, and the captain periodically told us facts and stories over the loudspeaker. It was an enjoyable, well done tour.

Then there was the scenery. There’s no way to do it justice. We were in awe the entire time. Mountains covered in green trees rose up out of the dark water. Waterfalls were everywhere; they seemed moderate in comparison to the mountains but were actually the height of skyscrapers. Sun rays flooded over the mountain peaks and created rainbows in the waterfalls. The entire scene was magical.

The water was fairly calm so the boat took us all the way out into the Tasman Sea and then back through the fjord, with two quick detours: one to see a building where they study the fjord with a snow-covered mountain background, and one to take a quick dip in one of the largest waterfalls in the fjord. We had plenty of warning and most people went inside to dry safety, but I braved the cold downpour to get it all on GoPro video. I think it was worth it.

We were sad when the cruise ended but you would never know it by the huge smiles on all of our faces. There’s a reason Milford Sound is talked about as being one of the best experiences in New Zealand: because it is. Any positive thing you’ve ever heard about Milford is right. It is an amazing landscape, nature that renders you speechless. All I wanted to do was stare, contemplate, and smile. Absolutely incredible.

The drive back out of Milford was just as epic as the drive in. With blue skies we were able to see the mountains and waterfalls that we had missed on our way in. I’m so happy we saw it both ways: mysterious in cloud cover, impressive in clear weather. And again the tape gods gave us something to laugh about: on our way back up through the mountain tunnel we were treated with M People’s “Moving On Up.” “I’m moving on up. You’re moving on out. Movin’ on up. Nothing can stop me.”

A few hours later we were back in Queenstown. Something about this trip to Milford Sound felt very final. After a fantastic road trip, Frank, Josi and I had gone to the end of the world and back together. We had come from the sandy beaches of Abel Tasman through the dreary downpour of Hokitika and the skydive-induced excitement of the glaciers to the peaceful fiord of Milford. This was the best part of my time in New Zealand and I couldn’t have imagined better travel companions to experience it with and a better way to end it than the magnificent Milford Sound.


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