Our Experience of Milford Sound – The Fjord of New Zealand
Milford Sound in Fjordland National Park is allegedly the most visited place in Oceania. We drove several hours to this place to get onto a tour which would take us around this Fjord. Apart from the famous boat tours, a short walk and a cafe there is not much else here, but people still flock to this place because of it’s uniqueness and beauty. One of the first people who discovered and fell in love with Milford Sound was Donald Sunderland. He was the first person who decided to live here in 1880. When he moved in he built ‘The City’ which was made of 3 houses only. His life must have been very lonely as for a very long time this place remained isolated. At the time only the most keen explorers would sail to Milford Sound.
For more than 100 years access by land was nearly impossible and Milford Sound was not accessible to tourists as easily as it is now. The first works related to construction of the 1.3km tunnel which opened Milford Sound up to the masses started some 60 years before it was finally completed in 1991. Picks and shovels where used at the beginning of the works as no modern tunnelling machinery was available at that time.
Those interested in how this place came about to be one of the most visited places in New Zealand can walk the Milford Foreshore track which is only a short 20 min stroll – informational boards there have a lot more than I can remember!
Visiting, Accomodation and Tours:
Visiting Milford Sound these days is relatively simple as you can simply drive to this fjord by car. It is still pretty remote though – one way trip from Queenstown took us close to 4 hours. Towns between Milford Sound and Queenstown are small and far apart which is the reason why we decided to go and return in one day.
I don’t think Donald Sunderlands house is still around but for those coming to New Zealand with a decent budget there is an option to spend a night here too. It might be a good idea to book in advance as there is only one hotel available here caled Milford Sound Lodge (at the time of writing prices are close to $1000 for two people for one night so it is not cheap!).
Freedom camping is strictly prohibited as Milford Sound is located in a National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When it comes to tours, the interesting thing is that morning tours are almost twice cheaper (starting at $49). Mid day tours will cost around $80 and various lunch options / inclusions are possible for an additional cost. Obviously because we like to sleep a lot by the time we arrived our cheap boat had sailed!
Generally, boat tours take between 1.5 to 2.5 hours but the main difference is how close the boat gets to things. Jucy (tour company that we chose) went pretty much in the middle of the Fjord while other boats went super close to waterfalls and things. Some companies have smaller boats, more detailed commentary about the geology, history or nature which will ultimately dictate the price.
Because we opted for an afternoon tour it left us with a couple of hours to rest after the drive and have lunch. I do recommend you grab a bite at the cafe at Milford Sound if you have time instead of bringing packed lunch – we bought some really nice soup for $7.5 and there were other reasonably priced options too.
During the tour we learned a couple of new interesting facts as well:
- In Milford Sound it rains 200 days a year and and every year Milford Sound gets around 7m of rain.
- Most rain recorded in 24h was 530mm which is almost as much as London in a year (601mm).
- The Fjord water is made up of two layers of water, the brown-ish fresh water layer up to 10m deep and a layer of sea water underneath. The top layer filters out a lot of sunlight which at shallow depths creates/replicates the conditions of very deep waters. For example Sea Perch normally found at depths of 600m is found at 35m in this Fjord. A lot of deep water corals can be found here too.
And I am sure there are more cool things to learn about this place but this was about all we could pick up during our short stay. Milford Sound Fjord was very different from the other things we’ve seen in New Zealand so far so we are happy we made the effort to get here.