The Most Beautiful Place in the World: Milford Sound, New Zealand

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I’m the type of person who is hesitant to call a trip my “favorite” or categorize a place I’ve been as the “best.” I tend to look on the bright side everywhere I go and find the wonder in every city and the top of every mountain, no matter where in the world it is located. Then I visited Milford Sound on New Zealand’s South Island.

Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are the two most famous fjords in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park.  Neither is particularly convenient to visit, but Milford Sound is about a 4 hour drive away from Queenstown along a truly spectacular route, so AJ and I were determined to make time in our trip to visit, even if only for one day. There are several different ways to visit: you can fly over in a plane, take a cruise (day or overnight) through the sound, or go kayaking. Being both outdoorsy and cheap, AJ and I decided to take the full-day kayaking tour and get a little workout in while we explored. Note: it’s still not cheap. But nothing in New Zealand is cheap, so by comparison, this was pretty good.

Since the kayaking tour started at 8:30 am and was located 4 hours from Queenstown, that meant we left our hostel at 4 am! AJ did almost all the driving during our trip to New Zealand because I was terrified of crashing while driving on the left side of the road, but I decided to conquer my fears on this drive because there were not likely to be very many people out on the road at 4 am! Although we drove from Queenstown, most people stay in Te Anau, which is about 2 hours from Milford Sound and the closest town. Either way, you’ve probably got a bit of a drive in the morning if you’re not camping in Fiordland National Park! Regardless of where you come from, though, it is bound to be absolutely breathtaking.

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The Mirror Lakes are right off the highway on your way to Fiordland National Park! We were told to make sure to stop in the morning to get the best reflection, because the water gets choppy in the afternoon. Mission accomplished!

We arrived about 20 minutes early and at that point, I was so tired that I tried to power nap in the car. I couldn’t imagine kayaking all day and then driving back home! That all changed when we got out of the car and started getting all our kayaking gear on. As soon as I saw where we would be kayaking, I was wide awake!

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The harbor at Milford Sound

Even during the summer, it can be pretty cold on the South Island of New Zealand. Highs were generally in the low 60s when we visited, and with the wind that was sure to be out on the Sound, we were worried about being cold! Of course, I should have known that our tour group was totally prepared for that. We were given multiple layers of moisture-wicking, heat-trapping fabric to wear, including a wetsuit! While it didn’t exactly make for a particularly attractive look, we were nice and warm and most importantly, dry for the entire trip!

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Not my best look, but I don’t even care. #hobbitvibes

As we set out in our two-person kayak, the sheer magnitude of the surrounding mountains was completely overwhelming. We had a group of about 7 people, and we were all stunned by the perfectly calm water, bright blue skies, and vibrant greenery surrounding us. Our guide immediately told us how lucky we were to be experiencing such perfect weather and calm conditions. There was barely a cloud in the sky and absolutely zero rain in the forecast, which is a rarity for Milford Sound, which is one of the wettest inhabited places on earth – it gets more than 20 FEET of rain per year and sometimes upwards of 10 inches per day! It also rains about 200 days per year. Those weren’t exactly the conditions we experienced.

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Taken from my kayak. This is real life.

Given that we had such perfect conditions, our guide made sure to remind us how lucky we were literally every 15 minutes. Even if you end up visiting Milford Sound in the rain, though (which you probably will, statistically), it is still spectacular. Interestingly, no matter how calm it is in the morning, the wind always picks up between 12 and 12:30, according to our guide. He was exactly right – at around 12:15, the wind picked up and we had some actual waves! By the time our break for lunch was over, we were really cruising.

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The view from our lunch spot. Look at that water! LOOK AT IT.

In addition to the tremendous beauty of Milford Sound, the scale of the area is also mind-blowing. At one point, we were looking at a waterfall off in the distance, and our guide asked us how long we thought it would take to kayak to that spot. We estimated that it was about a mile away and would take half an hour. In reality, it was 7 miles away! This is one of those places where you’re reminded of how truly small we are and what a tiny place we occupy in the universe.

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This tiny-looking waterfall was actually MASSIVE up close!

We really did get lucky on this trip, not only in terms of the weather, but also, we were lucky enough to encounter some Southern Fur Seals, which playfully swam up right near our kayaks. I didn’t get a great picture, so you’ll just have to trust me. Our guide said it was rare to see them so far into the Sound, so that was an unexpected surprise! It was also on this kayaking tour that I met the woman who told me all about her trip to Africa and led me to book my safari with the same company she used! (That’s right, in case you haven’t read – I’m going to Africa!)

Although we were out on the water for nearly six hours, it honestly felt like about five minutes. I could have stayed out there forever! Our drive back was equally as spectacular, as we stopped to admire beautiful sights all along the highway that we hadn’t had time to explore on our way there. That four hour drive could easily take eight hours if you let it, just because of how beautiful it is! Like everywhere else in New Zealand, we left Milford Sound feeling like we didn’t have nearly enough time to spend there.

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This is literally right off the road. WHAT?

So, while I don’t like to play favorites with my travels, I might just have to this time. Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park were highlights of a trip that was full of highlights. Do yourself a favor and add it to your bucket list. Go. Write it down right now. Thank me later.

Note to self: add Milford Sound, NZ to bucket list. Thank @thetrexrunner later. Click To Tweet
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Yeah, we’re gonna remember this one for a while.

LEAVE A COMMENT: What’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?

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12 thoughts on “The Most Beautiful Place in the World: Milford Sound, New Zealand

  1. There literally aren’t words for that type of beauty. Like, actually not words. I’ve been to beautiful cities (Paris instantly comes to mind), but I’m trying to think of the last most beautiful place. I more so see those momentary views that are stunning, but nothing as perfect and wholly beautiful as this!

    1. Pretty much my exact thoughts! Everywhere I turned, it was just more perfect. Cities can definitely be beautiful, but it’s obviously a completely different type of beauty. The natural wonder of Milford Sound just left me in awe!

  2. Loved seeing these photos. I visited Milford Sound in their winter season last year, and it was full-on raining the whole time. I also recall the incredible winds. Since it was raining, most people retreated to the bottom half of our tour boat, which was obviously covered. My husband and I donned some ponchos and enjoyed the pounding rain and wind ourselves.

    We still really enjoyed it, but your photos show a totally different Milford Sound. Now I want to go back! (NZ will always be on my list of places to return).

    1. I’d say it is hard to imagine what it would be like in that kind of weather, but we did experience those storms on other days. It’s amazing how different the mountains and water look on a sunny day vs a stormy day! Now you definitely have a great reason to go back! We are dying to return someday also – we want to do the Great Walks!

  3. New Zealand is one of those places that has been on my list for a long time but if I go, I want to do it right. That means I need to up my budget and I can’t do that at the moment (for exciting reasons but still… boo-urns). Your pictures really are not helping me be a responsible adult right now. I hope you’re happy with yourself!

    1. Honestly, I think that is really smart! New Zealand is not an inexpensive place to visit no matter what, but it especially depends what your interests are. We aren’t super into the adrenaline kind of stuff (bungy jumping, sky diving, etc) but you could spend a FORTUNE there if you like that sort of thing. We did our share of tours and stuff, but we also did a lot of hiking because it’s free. I definitely think budget is something to consider, especially for a trip like this. Be responsible! Don’t be like me 🙂

    1. It is incredible! You definitely should go. I am so, so glad we went and we can’t wait to go back! I have a feeling we will be visiting many more times!

    1. Honestly, I totally get why your dad feels that way! I love seeing new places obviously, but we will definitely be going back to New Zealand multiple times over the course of our lives! There is SO much to see and do there, it’s truly crazy.

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