Summary: Milford Sound, located in the South Island of New Zealand, is a popular, somewhat remote fiord. Access to this fiord is primarily by a single road that travels through the mountain-side, though you can also arrive by seaplane. For our visit, we arrived by car and enjoyed a full day with Cruise Milford, starting with Kayaking on the Sound, followed by a relaxing afternoon cruise.
Getting there. From Te Anau, the drive is approximately 2 hours, taking into consideration the one-way Homer Tunnel on State Highway 94, traffic, and the winding roads. We left extra early for this reason, which proved helpful once we arrived at this remote destination.
Kayaking. When given an option, we recommend kayaking first. For us, the Sound was very quiet with very little boat traffic and almost no wind. By afternoon, it was quite different. Upon arrival, we were outfitted with ocean kayaking equipment, including thermal underwear which was nice since we had traveled in their early summer. Next, the group was given a safety training before being launched out onto the water with our guide.
Milford Sound was formed by ancient glaciers and tectonic activity. The resulting fjord consists of towering granite cliffs and dozens of waterfalls. The tour takes the group along the shoreline with a total kayaking time of about two hours, all at a gentle pace. The fiord itself was calm during our visit - even glass like at times. We just loved our time kayaking through the gorgeous Sound, flanked by granite peaks and waterfalls.
Bowen Waterfall. Milford Sound's most popular attraction is Bowen Falls. In 1871, the falls were named after the wife of the former Governor of New Zealand, George Bowen. These falls are a towering 162 meters high and visiting the base by kayak, is a "must do."
The entire kayak experience was approximately 3 hours from arrival until our lunch break. Food is available for purchase at the marina. For us, we decided to picnic on the nearby creek with our homemade lunch, and then walk the short distance from the kayak parking lot to the Marina.
Milford Sound by Boat. The second part of our pre-paid experience with Cruise Milford was a boat trip down Milford Sound and back. This was a very "chill" experience and while pleasant and nice, if you're short on cash, we'd recommend only kayaking and skipping the boat trip. After a morning of kayaking, don't be surprised if the hum of the boat and the warm sun causes you to nod of a bit!
One cool added benefit to the boat trip was an encounter with New Zealand fur seals. These sleepy cuties were basking in the afternoon sun when our boat came by.
Quintessential South Island. Not every travel experience has to be something like, "it's was so amazing and nothing like I expected!" Milford Sound was exactly how I had imagined it. In choosing our New Zealand itinerary, the first item on my list was this place. I wanted to see towering fiords, wildlife, water falls, and crystal clean water. After all, it's that what the South Island is known for? Milford Sound delivered exactly what I had hoped. We definitely recommend adding this beautiful spot to your New Zealand itinerary.