Rudyard Kipling very famously (and unsourcedly) called Milford Sound the Eighth Wonder of the World. I’ve often called Rudyard Kipling the Eighth Most Uninteresting Writer Based on Half of a Book I Read in High School, so the connection was immediate.
Put simply, Milford Sound is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.
My journey to Milford Sound started very similar to many others. There are quite a few tour operators that will trot you out to the Sound for a scenic boat tour, and the one with the best reviews on Tripadvisor was a lovely organization called Real Journeys. If you’re in Queenstown they’re hard to miss. Or even if you’re on the internet, they’re hard to miss. The second you type in New Zealand to Google, for about the next six months all you’ll see are Real Journeys ads. I found them a good value with great service.
They sent a taxi to pick me up at 7am from the Hilton (included in the tour ticket) to take me to the bus station. It was a bit chilly that morning, so the taxi driver very graciously offered to let me stay in the cab where it was warm. Soon enough the bus pulled around and we were on our way. Real Journeys has coaches that are perfectly suited for sightseeing in a place as dramatic as the Milford Road, with clear glass windows and seats that are angled towards the windows.
Milford Sound is near pretty much nothing, and is about a 3.5 hour drive from Queenstown. What a drive. I took so many pictures just out of the window of the bus, and sure enough they pretty much all turned out blurry. But the bus would stop every once in a while so we could all pile out, take every picture possible, then pile back in and head onward.
Our first stop was to let off some folks who were meeting up with another Real Journeys bus on its way to Doubtful Sound, then we moved on to Te Anau, which is a lovely little village sitting on the edge of, you guessed it, Lake Te Anau. As is usual, it was foggy that morning around the lake, which made for some really great shooting on the absolutely still lake.
At Te Anau we met up with the famous Milford Road, one of the great drives in the world. We set out right as the fog was burned off the lake. It’s quite a long lake, whose coast we followed for a while.
We went through some dense forestry as the guides from Real Journeys gave us some historical information about the area, including a bit about the botanyaaaaaaawn…of the area. You could tell they were hitting play in their heads, but they kept it interesting and informative.
Odds are you’ve seen pictures like these before, because everyone stops at the same places. These are my takes on those places, luckily the weather was great, to the point that I wished that a better photographer would’ve been there in place of me to capture it better for everyone.
Our first stop was a valley between two mountain ranges, a velvety patch of grass invading the space between the mountains.
As we made our way past the valley, our guide told us we’d be stopping by an area called Mirror Lakes. I wonder why?
I was already blown away. I felt like I was in a desktop background. The scenery just kept getting better as we made our way towards Milford Sound.
We finally arrived at the Milford Sound Visitor Center, where I caught the first view of the Sound. Pip had nothing on my expectations for this place (six of you will get that joke). It was almost too much to take in.
Expectations. Blown. Away.
We made our way to our boat for our nature cruise, the Sinbad.
Lunch came with the tour, so I had a sammich and coffee as we departed. The driver was incredibly nice and loved his job. During the cruise I asked him if it ever got old for him, and I loved his response: “No”. Succinct, that driver. He went on to say that every day was different, even though they took basically the same route every day, and he could always spot something new he had never seen before. “Me too,” I said for some reason, ignoring the obvious reality that I had never seen any of it before, as it was my first time there. I dunno.
We made our way west, hugging the southern side of the Sound, which is actually a fjord, which the kiwis spell fiord.
You know what? I’m not going to try to narrate these. Here they are, enjoy!
I will narrate this one. Just about every tour will feature the boat going by Stirling Falls. And, of course, by “by” I mean “directly underneath”. It’s a tall waterfall that was engorged by recent rainfalls in the area. Everyone at the bow of the boat made a hasty retreat as the water started to fall on us, but seeing the power of the water hitting the Sound made me grab my camera and start snapping as many pictures as I could, hoping that a few would turn out well. I nearly lost my camera to water damage in the effort, but the result is one of my favorite pictures.
Our tour wound down, we got on the bus, and ventured home. I don’t think I’ve ever been impacted by a place like I was that day.
I was sad to lay my head down that night at the Hilton, my last night in Queenstown. I left a changed person though. If you have the means, go to Milford Sound in your lifetime. If you don’t, find them, or at the very least I hope that these pictures have given you a glimpse of this incredible place. I don’t know when I will be back, but mark my words, I will return.