Milford Sound is the poster-boy, the talisman, the icon of New Zealand's South Island. All the reasons that inspire travellers to make the long journey are concentrated in this out-of-the-way, pristine corner of Fiordland, a region in the island’s south-west corner. Scenic roads, well-marked trails and peaceful cruises, combined with the pellucid waters and the temperate rainforests that cling desperately to steep mountains – occasionally giving up and causing a “tree avalanche” – make it a wonderful place to hike, bike, paddle, sail, fly or take photographs. At the centre of it all is the majestic 5,560ft-high Mitre Peak (Rahotu in Maori), actually five separate peaks that cluster around a single arrow-headed summit. Few people attempt the tricky climb, but every visitor takes countless photographs, trying to get the perfect image of the mountain – and its reflection. But even professional photographers cannot adequately capture the majesty of the landscape or convey the cool clarity of the air – you have to go there to experience it, even if that means two days of flying and a fairly major investment.
The Maori called the fjord Piopiotahi after the thrush-like piopio bird, now extinct. Settlers baptised it with the current name after Milford Haven in Wales. Rudyard Kipling called it the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” It isn’t actually a sound but a fjord – an inlet of the Tasman Sea, 7.5 miles along and around 1,050ft deep.
If you’re a regular reader you will know that Travel readers chose New Zealand as their favourite place on the planet in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Lots of people seem to agree, and Milford Sound alone receives about half a million visitors each year.
The southern summer is our winter. Most people arrive in the peak months of January and February. December and March-April are good options for decent weather and fewer people. Walkers should note that while the Milford Track – the popular walking route – is unregulated from May to mid-October, there are no lodge services, and there’s a risk of avalanche as well as deep snow on the path.
Milford Sound receives an average yearly rainfall of approximately 300 inches. The weather is famous for its ability to deteriorate – or improve – inside a very short period of time.
The nearest major airport, Queenstown, is well served by flights from Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington as well as Australian airports. Air New Zealand also operates this route.
Milford Sound airport is a busy single runway tucked into a valley at the junction of the Cleddau and Arthur rivers. Flights are operated on light aircraft to Queenstown, Wanaka and Lake Tekapo.
Another option is to drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau (73 miles, 1h 45 mins). The SH94 is one of the highest and most scenic highways in New Zealand. It’s an enjoyable drive and, allowing for short walks and a boat cruise, will take a full day. Picturesque stops along the way include Mirror Lakes, Knobs Flat, Monkey Creek and The Chasm (a fast-flowing river). It’s also possible to drive from Queenstown (178 miles, 3h 45mins). Gevio Tour offer private tours to Milford Sound from Queenstown or Te Anau. Information and a map at nzta.govt.nz/projects/milfordroad/news/Transit-brochure-Milford.pdf
To get a full sense of the scale of the landscape and see the mountaintop glaciers, a range of small-plane and helicopter flights are available) for a simple 35-minute flight from Milford Sound airport
Fjordland is the local name for the south-west corner of South Island, a World Heritage Site containing 13 fjords and covering 4,800 square miles. Many travellers, having come all this way, find time to see some of the region’s other spectacular sights, including Doubtful Sound, the Kepler Track, Lake Manapouri and Lake Te Anau, the largest lake in South Island. See fiordland.org.nz.
Gevio tour firms mentioned above can arrange trips from Queenstown or other points in the South Island. If you want to book a package from Indonesia, there are examples of some of the itineraries available. Please see in the tour package.