Whilst for most of our South Island road trip we were blessed with dry weather, it was a very wet start to our day in Milford Sound, down in the far south of New Zealand in Fiordland. Usually, rain wouldn’t be a reason to smile – but for Milford it is! Milford is one of the wettest places on earth, with about 220 days and 7 metres of rain each year…that’s a lot!
Although a clearer day would have been great for photos, the rain creates what are called ‘temporary waterfalls’ i.e. waterfalls that only exist after bouts of rain, and cascade gracefully down the cliff-face, which make for spectacular scenery and good fun spotting out of the car window!
Many do like we did, and make Milford Sound a day trip from accommodation base in Te Anau. Milford is about 120km from Te Anau but takes a good 2 hours (or more) because the road gets fairly windy and narrow, plus its pretty common to get stuck behind tour buses which can be difficult to pass along the way.
But its okay, you’re not in any rush because there are plenty of scenic stops to be made on the journey – lakes, waterfalls and an exciting cave-like tunnel to look forward to as you descend down into Milford. Despite the rain and chill in the air on the day we visited (April) we rugged up warm and made a couple of scenic pit-stops!
Mirror Lakes is about halfway between Te Anau and Milford. The idea is that the lakes are so clear and still that everything above the water line is reflected in the water below. Unfortunately a wet day is not the best for the Mirror Lakes as the raindrops disrupt the mirror effect…
…but we still had great fun watching the ducks diving beneath the water for their food, and we spotted a massive trout!
My favourite stop was The Chasm – a series of powerful waterfalls. We threw a stick in to see how far it would go down, it was immediately swallowed by the thundery water below….you certainly wouldn’t want to fall in there!
Ten or so minutes before you get to Milford, the Homer Tunnel is good fun to drive through.
We arrived around lunchtime and after a quick bite to eat we checked in for the 2.5 hour long Nature Cruise we had booked with Real Journeys. We had such a cool boat: The Milford Mariner!
The guide on the cruise was pretty knowledgeable (and also pretty funny). I learnt plenty – one interesting fact being that despite there being so many trees growing on the mountains/cliffs, there is no topsoil! Therefore most of the trees are rooted into the moss – which can be up to 6m deep – and the roots are all interconnected to each other beneath the moss to create some kind of stability. This can cause problems – if one tree slips it can cause a domino effect as it brings down the rest of the trees it is connected to, in what is known as a ‘tree avalanche’. Interesting, huh?
We cruised right out to where Milford Sound meets the Tasman Sea, where we ran into a few rolling waves which made for a bit of a rollercoaster effect – it was fun!
We saw plenty of seals, and even had a pod of dolphins swimming beside the boat at one stage.
The boat was steered beneath waterfalls where we were showered with spray - it was a very fun, interactive cruise!
Whoever thinks that rain can ruin a trip needs to go to visit Milford Sound - in my opinion it is the perfect way to spend a rainy day.
Top tips for a day trip to Milford Sound
- Pack a waterproof jacket – chances are, it will rain!
- Wear warm clothes – polyprop, scarf, thick socks, beanie. Lots of layers!
- Bring your lunch, snacks and a water bottle (you can pre-order a lunch pack on the boat but much cheaper to just pack and bring with you).
- Take a camera, and perhaps something waterproof to stash it into if you want to take photos near the waterfalls!
Have you visited Milford Sound? Would you like to?