Day 13: Milford Sound

Words by Andy | Photos by Chris

Day 13: Milford Sound

A very early start today with a big one ahead of us. I had tried to buy us a bit of a sleep in when I was confirming our 645 pick up, thinking we had to drive to a park in town, but it literally a two-minute walk next door, so a 545 alarm it was. Maybe that’s why Chris forgot to pack the SD card for his camera and had to shoot on his iPhone today. Luckily it shoots raw, so the quality is good!

Milford Sound is several hours from Queenstown, and we were glad for the bus ride, not just because it relieved us of wheel duty, but we got to meet some nice people along the way and see some places in between we would have probably passed by, unaware of their beauty or existence.

Winding past The Remarkables on one side and Lake Wakatipu on the other, we found ourselves, eventually in frosty farmland. Cows tiptoed on whitened paddocks and sheep gnawed on snap-frozen grass as the sun rose slowly in the east. The mountains go on forever here, and the fields vary, not only with stock – they also run a lot of deer here- but where farmland pauses, tussock takes over, particularly in the Red Tussock Conservation Area, where natural grasses stretch as far as the eye can see. Beyond the heads of our fellow pasengers.

Past Te Anau we entered Fiordland National Park, where dense scrub re-emerges, the sheer cliff faces are right next you and stops include Mirror Lakes and Gunn Lake where, on a day like today, you can photograph a perfect mirror reflection of the landscape behind them.

The final leg of the trip starts as you enter Homer’s Tunnel, with its steep 1 in 10 descent for 1.5km. On the other side as you keep winding down to sea level, monstrously  large granite cliffs flank the roadway and the trees start to grow tall again, ushering the way to Milford Sound.

Milford sound isn’t actually a sound.. they’re carved by rivers, where fiords, like the misnamed Milford Sound are carved by glaciers, and Milford Sound is one of fourteen in this region.

Call it whatever you like, it’s astounding! Exiting the harbour Lady Bowen Falls make an instant splash from 162 metres above. The height of the cliffs surrounding the fiord make it difficult to judge distance: your surrounded by peaks that rise about one and a half kilometres from the water, so even Bridal Veil Falls, which are the same height as Niagra Falls look kind of small hanging way up on the granite rock face.


The skipper spotted some dolphins playing in the water up ahead, which is a rare occurrence. It was our lucky day! We ooed and ahhed for a bit, watching them flip about before turning the corner to spot another rare sight: a seal pup sun bathing on a rock. It was all alone because all the adults had gone fishing, but looking quite content, and completely unperturbed by our presence.


Milford Sound has two permanent waterfalls and several semi permanent one. When it rains, thousands appear, then stop within hours of the rain ending. Cruising further, we came where the fiord opens onto the Tasman Sea. The water was calm today, so we were able to go out to the mouth and turn back.

As we headed back towards the harbour we stopped at another waterfall and nudged the bow of the boat right into the cascading water, very cold but how often do we get to be up close to a waterfall?

We came back to where the dolphins were playing and one of them gently rolled out of the water in front of our bow. I noticed it swim to the starboard side and then it jumped out of the water next to us and slapped back into the water. It kept doing this for a good few minutes, much to everyone’s delight. I’d normally embed a video to the right, but the Youtube shorts aren’t compatible with this WordPress theme, so there’s a link instead.

Before long, Lady Bowen Falls came back into view and our journey ended. All told, it was a twelve hour day, and worth every minute. We capped the day off with a nice Japanese meal, and I’ve still got some glacier water left in my bottle from today’s adventure, direct from the source and unfiltered. Magic.

Tomorrow we drift in the funyaks!

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