The journey to Milford Sound is just as spectacular as the destination itself, Unforgettable journey the most beautiful place on earth! the cliffs rise vertically from the dark waters, the mirror lake. It was very cold during our visit to Milford.
We overnight in Te Anau, drove to Milford early in the morning, there's a lot to see on the way approximately 2 to 3 hours drive
The Chasm is a natural rock feature caused by the waters of the Cleddau river rushing over the rocks. The force is such as to cut holes in the rock to create a waterfall into a huge chasm.
The Chasm is reached by a 20 minute easy walk from the car park through temperate rainforest. Footbridges over the river let you see the force of the water close up. Photos fail to capture the power and the noise or even the scale of The Chasm - you need to go and look for yourself.
There ae a variety of companies offering cruises on Milford Sound - some offer a buffet lunch for an extra cost.
Regardless which boat you use you will enjoy your trip. The fjord is spectacular in all weather.
The Homer Tunnel, opened in 1954, allows New Zealand State Highway 94 to pass under the Homer Saddle, linking Milford Sound to Te Anau and Queenstown. It the Eglinton and Cleddau valleys.
The tunnel is straight and the road now sealed although the walls remain unlined granite. It is about 1300metres long and has a 1 in 10 gradient down to the west.
Mirror Lakes is a set of small lakes on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound. They are in the Eglinton Valley in Fiordland National Park.
The lakes are set back from the road but there is a well maintained track. If you are not aware of them it is easy to overlook the stop.
There are few cruises to choose, whether you take it during summer or winter and how long is the cruise. I took the scenic Milford Sound Cruise which is NZ$76 (adult) and NZ$16 (child) for 1 hour 45 minutes which include of buffet lunch and the cruise start at 11am. Milford Sound has natural beauty and the waterway running 15km from the Tasman Sea and it is part of the Fiordland National Park. It is worth every penny for this scenic cruise and at one point the captain will go so near the waterfall. I was so lucky to have seen the dolphins during the cruise. The fiordland is spectacular.
There are a few of helicopters services round the area of Milford Sound. The prices are variable as it depands whether you want to take a short or long ride up the mountain. I took the 35 minutes Alpine snow landing and i paid for NZ$295. The pilot is very skillful and experienced, some more he explained in details from the start. If you can afford it, please do take the helicopter ride, it is fun and once in a lifetime experience. I love it so much.
On my first Milford Sound visit I cruised with Red Boats and was happy with it, last time I opted for Mitre Peak Cruises and was even happier.
The two reasons for my choice:
1. Mitre Peak Cruises is one of the operators who only have relatively small boats on the water, so they are perfect for independent travellers. No risk of being flooded with bus tour passengers.
2. Mitre Peak Cruises is the only operator who ventures out past the lighthouse into the Tasman Sea, so you get more out of the trip – including rough sea, perhaps LOL And the cruise takes 2 hours instead of 1:45h, as with most other operators.
The atmosphere on the uncrowded boat was indeed very relaxed. It nearly felt like a charter trip, just for us and some other people we might have invited ;-) The onboard comment was good and informative, there was free coffee and tea onboard, and on the base first-come-first-serve we good a very nice picture calendar.
We were lucky enough to spot a lot of wildlife, from seals to dolphins to seabirds.
If you want, they drop you off at the Milford Deep Underwater Observatory shortly before the end of the cruise and pick you up at the end of the next cruise. (At an extra cost for the entry fee, of course.)
We went on the second cruise of the day at 10am (exactly: 9.55am…). This cost NZ$ 74.
The first (8.55am) and last cruise of the day (4.30pm) are discounted and cost only NZ$ 64. Children always pay NZ$ 26.
They also offer package deals from Queenstown and Te Anau.
All prices as May 2009.
Please note: A minimum of six passengers is required. (So if Mitre Peak Cruises do not operate, just book on site with another operator, or lure other arrivals to Mitre Peak Cruises LOL This is the advantage of competition.)
Free Phone (0800) 744-633
Phone (03) 249-8110
Pricing and discounts are similar with other operators. Just the cruises are shorter.
Red Boats (from NZ$ 60 - 70) http://www.redboats.co.nz/home/
Update March 2011:
Red Boats have obviously become Southern Discoveries now:
Cruize Milford (from NZ$ 55 – 65) http://www.cruizemilford.co.nz/
Real Journeys (from NZ$ 68 – 88) http://www.realjourneys.co.nz/Main/MilfordSound/
Also overnight cruises available, and packages (coach or flight from Queenstown).
A final word: Even at peak times you do not have to be afraid that suddenly one boat after the other starts to criss-cross the fiord and cause a traffic jam. The distances between boats are still large, as the companies do not have huge fleets. Mitre Peak Cruises, for example, has only two boats. When we cruised from 10am to 12noon, we barely saw a second boat, just at the very distance sometimes. I think it is the size of the boat that makes the difference to the passenger.
Photos 2 and 3 show the Mitre Peak Cruise boat with Mitre Peak.
On photo 4 you see the inside of the boat.
We visited "the chasm" after following the signs on Milford Road.
The signs will lead you to a parking area, then you'll have to walk for 5 minutes into the wood (the path is well maintained and accessible even in rainy days!) to reach one of the most impressive nature wonders I've ever seen! The river passing through this area shaped the rocks of a cascade and created wonderful piece of sculpture.
Pictures are not enough to describe how impressive the Chasm is, you have to see it through your eyes!
Milford Road is the 2-hour road leading from Te Anau to Milford Sound, there is no other way to get to the fiord, so you cannot make mistakes!
Being in the middle of Fiordland, a National Park, landscapes bordering the road are pretty impressive, mountains peaks are high, and the closer you get to the destination, the more you get the impression that they are swallowing you. If you drive there after rainy days, you are likely to see lots of waterfalls showering down from the mountains.
You'll be captured by the wonderful scenaries, but remember to keep an eye on the road!
The Mirror Lakes are located on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound, the Milford Road. These lakes are popular because they are perfectly still, and thus perfectly reflect the landscape around them.
We were lucky we stopped a minute before is started raining and we had the chance to see the perfect reflection!
You cannot leave Milford Sound without taking a cruise on the fiord. From the ground, you only see a minimal part of the beauty of this place.
There are different types of cruise, and price changes depending on which kind of cruise you select. We chose the "Nature Encounters" to see the fiord wildlife. In the end we actually saw fur seals and a couple of sleeping dolphins; depending on the season, you can also meet penguins.
From the boat, there are stunning views on the fiord and its waterfalls, the boat drivers drove us under one of the biggest waterfalls so that we could have a shower!
Despite the beauty of the landscape, after a while you get used to it, and the cruise can become a bit boring.
My suggestion is to check the cruise timetables before you get to Milford Sound (in TeAnau I-Site), and maybe book in advance to avoid missing it. Also check prices, there are several boat companies operating on the area.
we went for the Red Boat Company (www.redboats.co.nz)
Milford Sound is located on the southern west coast of the South Island within Fiorldland National Park and is a World Heritage site.
Milford Sound runs 15 kilometres inland from the Tasman Sea and is surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise 1,200 metres on either side.
Mitre Peak rises 1,692 metres and is one of the most photographed peaks in NZ. About half a million visitors come here each year mostly in the summer months of January and February.
The area averages about 7m of rain annually so there's a fairly good chance of getting wet!
From Queenstown you could take a bus tour which takes around 12 hours there and back. I chose to fly in and fly out with Air Milford. This option gives you a great opportunity to view the magnificent Southern Alps close up from the air.
The fly/cruise/fly takes about four hours ex-Queenstown.
Price:NZ$429 per adult
Duration:Allow four hours
Tour Includes:Pick up and drop off from accommodation
Milford Sound Flights, there and back
Cruise aboard a small boutique cruise ship
Reserved seating on the boat
Morning or afternoon tea
Pilot escort from plane to boat through native forest
It was really strange that we did not see keas (Nestor notabilis) on our last trip along the Milford Road. We heard them laugh in the forests but did not see any. This was just bad luck, as nearly everyone comes across some of those cheeky mountain parrots. I did not care too much, as we often get in touch with them at Arthurs Pass, not far away from home, and was much more interested in penguin and dolphin encounters which are much rarer for me.
From the signage alone you can see that keas are all over the place. And as hard as it is you should keep to the request not to feed the birds, as otherwise they might forget how to feed themselves if they are on their own.
On our first trip along the Milford Road we saw lots of them at carparks, and on one carpark even played with some of them for half an hour. We had shiny coins, and made the birds jump from the rooftop of our car onto the bonnet to make them open their wings, as the underparts are bright orange and quite spectacular, compared to the olive-green navy-look on the upper parts.
At some of the carparks you find no-feeding signs, at others very good info panels about the keas.
In front of Homer Tunnel we saw a 4WD vehicle completely wrapped into tarpaulin. Rather sure it was used as a kea protection cover… Still the parrots would have had fun biting into the tyres, as they are attracted to rubber, and perhaps they would have reached some rubber seals and the brake hose from the ground…As pleasant as it is to play with them while you can protect your belongings and your car, they can really be a nuisance if you have to leave your stuff behind…
I have posted kea photos and encounters in two travelogues at the bottom of this Milford Sound page.
More photos and information about keas in the travelogues on my South Island page.
Photo 2 shows an information panel about keas from one of the lookouts along the Milford Road.
If you have a day only for Milford Sound from Te Anau, and good weather, you have to plan beforehand which side walks you want to do along the Milford Road.
We chose the walk to the Key Summit from The Divide carpark. As we walked on a brilliant day we had brilliant views, well, really breathtaking. At the top you sit like on top of the world, on benches that are positioned in a semi-circle, like in an amphi-theatre – but you have a fantastic 360° view.
The walk to the Key Summit is the start/end of the Routeburn Track and should not take you longer than 3 hours return. The walk starts at an altitude of 532 metres, and the Key Summit is at 918 metres.
The first hour is through beech forest on the Routeburn Track. But there is more than just those trees to see. You have interesting undergrowth, with lots of different ferns and tiny alpine flowers. We heard a lot of birdsong, and some tomtits enchanted us by staying with us for a while and posing for photos, as they always do, those lovely smallies :-)
Soon after leaving the forest behind, you turn off to the right to the Key Summit. You are now in sub-alpine shrublands. There is an abundance of mosses and native grasses, and depending on the season, you will see mountain (Mt. Cook) daisies and lilies. Further up the zig-zag track you get to see bogs and some kettle lakes which are remainders of the time when glaciers covered this region. The views are now spectacular, with the Humboldt and Darran Mountain ranges in front of your nose, the bare rock faces in front of the blue skies, some dotted with patches of snow, the lower slopes looking like covered in olive-green velvet.
There should be self-guiding cards for a nature walk in the summit area – but the box was empty. So do not hold your breath for that and just enjoy the plants without learning their names…
Finally at the end of the walk (however, you can carry on, there is a track), sitting on those theatre-benches, you get a view over the valley and the Milford Road to Lake Marian. If you want to have a clear view to this lake, you have to be up there in the morning. In the afternoon you look straight into the sun. This, however, makes the mountain ranges in the east look the more spectacular. Whatever time you walk in good weather conditions: You will always have great views, as you are surrounded by mountains.
This walk is also good if you do not have your own transportation, as shuttle services from Te Anau and Milford Sound stop at The Divide carpark (primarily to pick up multi-day hikers of the Routeburn Track).
If you follow the Routeburn Track and do not take the turn-off to the Key Summit, you get to Lake Howden and the Howden Hut. It is not a big detour, so if you have about one extra hour on your hands, just do it ;-) There you have a shelter and toilets. From the Divide carpark to Howden Hut/Lake it takes you 3 hours return.
If you carry on after the shelter towards Mackenzie Hut, you get to the Earland Falls. They are 174 metres high. Can be dangerous in winter and spring, so get information first. In total, the walk takes you 6 hours return.
Other longish walks along the Milford Road:
Lake Marian (3 hours return): leads over a swingbridge and past several waterfalls, steep sections; one hour descent to Lake Marian. They recommend not to walk around the lake edge during the snow/avalanche season in winter and spring. Toilet at Lake Marian.
Hidden Falls (4 – 6 hours return): This walk follows the Hollyford Track. There is a hut with 12 bunks another 20 minutes along the track.
Gertrude Saddle Route (4 – 6 hours return): The walks starts shortly before the eastern portal of Homer Tunnel. From the top you can see parts of Milford Sound. After rain you have to cross some creeks, be prepared to get wet feet. DoC points out that you need alpine navigational skills and a navigational map for this walk, as there are no markers above the bushline, and some hikers misplace rock cairns. Some parts of the track are very steep. So this can absolutely not be recommended to the occasional hiker. Even experienced hikers should get information before they venture out.
Tutuko Valley (5 hours return): starts on the Milford side of the road. Great views from above the bushline. You can carry on after 2.5 hours and extend your tour, but from then on you have to be experienced in river crossings and in the mood of getting wet feet… ;-) In general not recommended to the occasional hiker.
Some short walks
Lake Mistletoe (45 min return): The walk starts at the hotel complex at Te Anau Downs.
Mirror Lakes: no distance at all from the carpark, just about 50 metres. Enjoy the reflections in the water. No need to stay longer than 10 minutes.
Lake Gunn (45 min return): This walk in the Eglinton Valley – between Mirror Lakes and The Divide - is even wheelchair-accessible.
Lake Marian Falls (20 min return): just some steps into the 3 hour return Lake Marian walk.
Humboldt Falls (30 min return): starts at the end of the unsealed Hollyford Road.
East Homer Nature Walk(20 min return): DoC advises that this nature walk cannot be accessed if avalanche danger closes the carpark.
The Chasm (20 min return): This walk is on the Milford side of the road. Leads over two footbridges over the Cleddau River. You see several powerful waterfalls.
See my travelogues with more photos of the walk to the Key Summit.