Part 1: Travel Diary
No visit to New Zealand without a visit to Milford Sound, all guides tell us about the country. Hence our 3h drive from Les Catlins to Te Anau, the last town before the Milford Sound
Arrived at 4pm and totally exhausted after so many turns under an overwhelming heat, and being afraid of sand flies (which I will talk about at the end of the article), we decide to offer ourselves the ultimate luxury: to sleep in a youth hostel and not in a campite
The next day, we leave early (8am) for Milford Sound with the idea of taking the cruise at 10:30am (one of the cheapest of the day). Indeed, the cruises at 11h30 or 13h will be more expensive because they are reserved for tourists coming from Queenstown
Contrary to yesterday, it is raining like hell, making driving difficult. With so many tight turns and climbs, we consume a lot of fuel, but the view is breathtaking: hundreds of waterfalls decorate the mountains on our way, most of them don’t even exist when the weather is nice. In this region which records 9 meters of rain per year (against 3 meters “only” for the Amazon) and 2 days of rain out of 3, we can’t consider ourselves unhappy to come on a rainy day. Fog, waterfalls, glaciers seen from afar, snowy summits half visible… all this creates an impressive show, like in a dream
Notice the small bus at the bottom… and imagine the size of the mountains!
The trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound takes 2 hours, with many view points on the road (with stops all on the left). We decide not to stop now but on the way back
Arriving at 10am, we book our cruise at the tourist office (i-center) which only sells tickets for Southern Discoveries
The rain makes the fjord much less beautiful than on the postcards, but the presenter has a lot of humour
When the weather is nice, Milford Sound looks more like this
Tea, coffee and raincoats are included. We can see, during our 2h cruise, 2 penguins (they are very small, as small as a cat and too cute), lots of seals (on the rocks or in the water). The boat passes very close to the waterfalls, but not under the waterfalls either because the force of the water could have made the boat move. It is necessary to say that we are talking about waterfalls which are 150 meters for the highest! The splashes received in the face are enough to make the brave people standing in front of the boat flee, despite the raincoats. Obviously, if we play the card of security, we can stay inside the boat or at the back of the boat where it is half covered. In summer, it must be too good, especially if there is sun
We stop 1 hour at the floating underwater observatory. This observatory, originally created for research, is obliged to open to the public for financial matters. It offers a capsule surrounded by showcases at a depth of 10m. We will therefore see marine creatures venturing near the observatory. The visit is interesting but because of the rainwater pouring into the fjord, we have less visibility than usual. We can observe a few small fish, but no sharks to report nor a thrilling experience. I think that it depends on everyone’s luck. If you have already scuba diving, this observatory is of little interest
1 hour later, another boat brings us back to the port. Hey, is it rush hour at the port or what? The tourists of Queenstown embark for the 1:30 pm cruise, it’s chaos
We take the opposite way, to go to Queenstown. We stop at the view points that we missed this morning: Mirror Lakes (less beautiful when it’s ugly), and different view points reserved for photos
We also stop at a DOC campsite (which we had spotted but dropped for fear of sandflies). We were too right not to sleep there, in spite of the rain, a dozen sandflies turned around us
It’s a 3 hour drive to Queenstown
Part 2: Practical Tips
How to get there?
You must absolutely go through Te Anau, whether you come from Queenstown, The Cathlins, Dunedin, Christchurch or elsewhere. Therefore, it is advisable to spend a night in Te Anau to arrive in time to Milford Sound (the last cruise leaves at 3pm). From Te Anau, it takes between 2h and 2h30 to get to Milford Sound. The tunnel is 10km from Milford Sound and is a one-way tunnel with alternating traffic, which can add to your travel time, especially in the summer
Why not sleep right in Milford Sound?
Apart from the DOC campsites located at least 1 hour from Milford Sound (and filled with sandflies), there is only one lodge in Milford Sound: Milford Sound Lodge offers hotel rooms or camping places, but you have to book in advance
Where to go after Milford Sound?
One would be tempted to go to see the Glaciers but unfortunately, there are no roads linking Milford Sound to the Glaciers yet. Most people are content to return to Queenstown to go up to the Glaciers, via Wanaka
Otherwise, return to Queenstown and go to Mount Cook
If you want to go further south, explore the Catlins
How much does the cruise cost?
It depends on what time you take the boat. The cheapest ticket is 45$NZ for a departure at 8:55 am. The most expensive ones leave at 13:00-13:30. Boats that leave at 3pm are also cheaper but last less time as well. There are different companies, the cheapest is Jucy Cruise (from 45$NZ and 50% discount for Jucy drivers). Real Journeys and Southern Discoveries offer about the same rates (from NZ$65)
Going through Southern Discoveries, the 10:30 am ticket costs NZ$88 but we prefer the NZ$104 ticket per person which includes a sandwich basket (with lots of food inside) and a stop at the underwater observatory. If we don’t take Jucy, it’s because we absolutely wanted to stop at the floating observatory
Is it necessary to book the cruise in advance?
We went there in November, we were able to book at 10:00 am on the spot, a cruise at 10:30 am. But in summer, it is indeed advisable to book in advance and to be on the spot 30mn before the departure of the cruise (time to find a parking place, walk 10mn to the pier…)
Is it true that Milford Sound is the most beautiful fjord in the world?
When it rains, no. If we have to compare Milford Sound with the Norwegian fjords, I would say that both are worth a visit. Milford Sound has many more waterfalls than the Norwegian fjords because of the rain and glaciers. Then, we see more animals in Milford Sound than in Norway, and the luckiest ones can even see dolphins. However, the mountains in Norway are more impressive than here
Why should we be afraid of sand flies? (sandflies)
Te Anau and Milford Sound are known for the massive presence of sandflies, those sand flies that suck blood in organized bands (about twenty sandflies surrounding a victim, the cowards!) whose bites make them itch for a week (worse than mosquitoes I tell you). It is so much a plague for the tourists that everywhere in Te Anau or Milford Sound, one can find “after-bite” creams to relieve the bites. We have been warned by several people so we are going to Te Anau, very well equipped: a 40% deet spray from Bushman (DEET it’s a chemical trick but it apparently works to keep away sand flies) bought at the pharmacy here; and aloe vera gel to relieve the bites
During the cruise, the sandflies will not bother you because they are too slow and cannot follow the cruise
Have you dealt with the sandflies?
As we were sleeping at the youth hostel in Te Anau, we were not attacked by them. Sandflies rarely come inside, if they do, they die quickly. The next day it rained ropes, the sandflies hated the rain, we didn’t see them either. But we will see them later in Queenstown and Wanaka which, a few years ago, were still without sandflies.