Widely regarded as the 8th wonder of the world, New Zealand’s Milford Sound is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Seeing the Milford Sound is sitting at the top of at least a million bucket lists around the world. But while we fantasize about the pictures, we must not only think about seeing, we must prepare to experience the Milford Sound.
I lived in New Zealand for 5 months back in 2009 and while there, of course I made time to soak in the magic of this place. Actually, my brother had flown in from the states to visit and our first order of business was renting a car and heading west for a Fiordland adventure.
If you’re planning your own journey to New Zealand, whether now or sometime in the future (which you should be), consider pursuing one, two, or all of the following three epic Milford Sound experiences.
1) Hike the Milford Track
There are nine “great walks” in New Zealand. The Milford Track is the greatest. 100 years ago, London poet Blanche Baughan, declared it to be ‘the finest walk in the world.’ And though it is just that, an easy to intermediate walk, at 53.5 km (33 miles), the Milford Track takes the average thru-hiker 4 days one-way. If you’ve got the days to spare, make this a part of your voyage.
Along the Milford Track you will experience glacier-fed pristine rivers and lakes, endless valley vistas, the jagged mountain peaks of the Southern Alps, suspension bridge crossings, and the tallest waterfall in all of New Zealand, Sutherland Falls. You can go tramping here at any time of the year with a guided group or on your own, but if you’re on your own, be sure to buy a Great Walks Pass and book your spot in the huts.
2) Sea Kayak Milford Sound
Carved out by glacial erosion over a very long period of time, the Milford Sound is a phenomenon to behold. And personally, I’d rather see it at sea-level, feeling the sway of the water and moving alongside the wildlife, than powering away from 20 feet up on one of the many cruise boats that tour the fjords.
By kayak is how my brother and I explored the area and I highly recommend it. We opted for Rosco’s Sunriser Classic and paddling along, got up close and personal with the Milford Sound seals. Sea-kayaking, you’ll really connect with the power in nature’s silence while floating in the middle of the sound, and then you can paddle right up next to the many breath-takingly beautiful waterfalls along the shoreline.
3) Dive Milford Sound
Abundant rainfall in the Milford Sound lends itself to forming a near permanent layer of fresh water atop the spectacular marine habitat. In the diving world, this means clear views. More specifically, numerous species typically found in extremely deep water, can be seen from relatively shallow depths.
Diving in the Milford Sound is a unique experience very few visitors take advantage of, because most opt for the boat tours. But Descend Scuba Diving offers experiences for all levels, first-timer to pro, and it’s something you should absolutely consider.
Under the waters of Milford Sound, open your eyes to the huge black coral trees, dolphins, seals, sharks, eels, octopus, stingray, crayfish, nudibrach, and over 150 different fish species.
*Bucket List Bonus Experience: Climb Mitre Peak
Mitre Peak is one of the most photographed peaks in the country, if not the whole world. It is also the tallest mountain to rise (near vertically) straight out the ocean in the entire world, going from sea-level right up to 5,560ft. Whenever I get back to New Zealand next, this is happening!
Backpacking Matt wrote a fantastic post about climbing Mitre Peak, which I’ve bookmarked for when I can make the journey myself. There are six established routes to the top, and all are rarely climbed as terrain, accessibility, and weather make this a very difficult mountain to ascend.
Where should you stay when you visit Milford Sound? My brother and I had a great experience with a couple backpacker bunks at the Milford Lodge. I highly recommend it, and not just for backpackers. Milford Lodge certainly has affordable options for the traveler accustomed to hostel living or pitching tents, but there are also premium riverside or mountain-view chalets for the explorer with a bigger budget.
Whether climbing, tramping, kayaking, diving, or even boating, you can’t pick a bad activity when visiting the Milford Sound. Just don’t forget your camera! Of course, take time to capture the moment because the views are beyond stunning, but remember also to put the technology away and just breathe in the beauty that is the Milford Sound.