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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Yeah, we’re gonna remember this one for a while.
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