Milford Sound: Eighth Wonder of the World
If you go to New Zealand, you have to go to Milford Sound.
The question is, how you are you going to get there?
Fiordland National Park is not exactly the most accessible place in the world. As with a lot of areas of New Zealand, there’s only one road to get there. It’s four hours from the closest large city and two hours from a smaller town where you can stay. Either way, it’s either a short stay in a remote place and a long drive or a REALLY long drive from Queenstown, the closest big city. There are a million different tour options to get there, but I really loved what we opted to do.
FLY + HIKE + CRUISE + FLY
Since we had a limited amount of time in New Zealand, we didn’t want to spend a day staying some place and have different AirBNB just to see Milford Sound. We also didn’t want to spend 8 hours in the car in one day. Thankfully, my research led me to Milford Scenic Flights, which offered a full day experience. You take a scenic flight from Queenstown low through the mountains to the most picturesque airport the world’s ever seen. Then you get taken on a water taxi to hike a portion of the famous hiking trail, the Milford Track. After that you get to cruise through the Milford Sound all the way to the ocean before taking a plane back to Queenstown. It was a full day, but every step of the way gave you incredible sights and the entire experience from start to finish was simple and comfortable.
When you’re used to 747s and normal sized passenger jets, boarding a tiny little plane that you walk across the tarmac to get on is an adventure. The plane felt like a 16 passenger van that was able to generate enough lift to fly through the air. I never felt unsafe, but until you’ve flown on a really tiny plane it is hard to describe the feeling.
What’s even harder to describe is how incredible New Zealand’s mountains are. We took off a little after sunrise and getting to see the mountains stretching out in every direction was a trip highlight. So many of the mountains have big lakes high among the peaks and waterfalls stretching down the mountains. Rivers meander through the valleys and clouds barely cover the tops of the mountain ridges. We got a really clear day, which was rare for the area. One of the best parts about the trip was getting to fly low through Milford Sound as you touch down at the airport. It almost felt like you could reach out and touch the trees that were hanging off the mountains.
Milford Sound Scenic Flights was offering a deal where the best picture of the month got your money for your flight refunded. Fingers crossed that one of these was the winner.
I still can’t quite get used to the fact that other countries refer to “hiking” as “walking”. Hikes are walks and trails are tracks. It makes the experience of talking about your day sound way more cultured. We hiked the trail sounds boring and American. We walked the track makes you sound cultured.
So, after flying in we got to walk the Milford Track. People apparently do the whole thing 53km trek in 3 or 4 days, but we only did a portion of it. Apparently they only open up the trail in one direction and allocate a certain number of hikers on the path at a time. For this hike we got to go from the beginning to a waterfall about 3 miles down the way.
We started at Sandfly Point, which is aptly named because we experienced the scourge of a fly that is the Sandfly. As we were on the water taxi to the start of the hike, I said to my friend, “These flies are annoying, but thankfully they don’t bite". Sorry friend, I was totally wrong. They bite and they itch for a long, long time. Sandfly point left us with souvenirs that were still scratching a week after we returned to the states. Thankfully, that was just the beginning of a really pretty hike along the Arthur River to the Giant Gate Waterfall.
One of my favorite parts about a lot of the hikes in New Zealand is that the walking is through really lush rainforest. Milford Sound gets rain like 200 days a year, and you can tell with how green everything is. Apparently Milford Sound doesn’t have any top soil, so all of the trees and foliage are grown out of moss that sits on top of the top soil. That foliage absolutely thrives, and the track was a well tread path through really dense forest.
The waterfall was a cool destination, and we got to cross another of New Zealand’s famous swinging bridges that are on almost all of their hikes. This really was just a precursor to what I was really excited for, getting to cruise through Milford Sound.
A disappointment from the cruise is the backside of one of the best parts of Milford Sound: it’s almost impossible to really capture the feeling of Milford Sound in one photograph. The combination of the water leading to the ocean, the mountains coming straight out of the water, the trees covering the mountains growing from the moss, the hundreds of waterfalls coming down the mountains. Words and pictures don’t describe what it’s like to just be in that space for an hour.
One of the coolest moments of the cruise was getting to see a chain of natural occurrences that only occurs in two places: Milford Sound and Patagonia. In one line there was a glacier, a waterfall, a river, a rainforest, and the ocean. That really sums up the New Zealand experience. It’s just a combination of natural beauties that feel like they only occur in this one place. We even got to see some seals, which is a pretty rare sight in Milford Sound and in New Zealand in general. Interesting Fact: before settlers came and introduced some non-native animals, there was any wildlife except for birds on the island. Sometimes I think to myself, “what would it have been like to experience this place without any touch of human influence, just as God made it?” Thankfully, other than the millions of tourists that flow through the area on a regular basis, nobody can really live in Milford Sound. The area is almost completely inhospitable to humans, which has kept it largely untouched and undeveloped. I wish more places could be like that.
We got the perfect day to be in Milford Sound. Totally clear, hardly any wind, no rain, and warm. A friend of mine was actually in Milford the day before we were and they had pouring rain, driving wind, and cold temperatures. Any time the circumstances line up that way you just are thankful to get to experience such a beautiful place in such ideal conditions.
I volunteered faster than the French guy next to me to sit in the cockpit of our tiny plane on the way back which made for a cool experience. I sat in the co-pilot seat and had a steering wheel between my legs the whole time. I went back and forth between complete and utter fear that I would touch the wheel and crash the plane and a child-like urge to touch what I shouldn’t touch and pretend to drive the plane.
The best part about these flights was that we would never get these views of the lakes and mountains any other way but from the air. You can really appreciate just how massive these lakes, mountains, and rivers are from a birds-eye view. The scenery just spreads out beneath you, and it’s hard not to just sit in awe. Our flight was only 40 or so minutes, but I wished that it would’ve lasted way longer. Too bad our 12 hour flight home couldn’t look like that (although I’m glad we got to do it in a 747 and not that tiny little plane).
Milford Sound absolutely lived up to the hype, and I’m so thankful we got the chance to experience it like we did. I would totally recommend the company we used and the specific experience we did. It was a little pricey, but it made Milford Sound accessible for us within the bounds of our itinerary.