One of the most popular road-trips in New Zealand and it’s not hard to see why. Often called the 8th wonder of the world, Milford Sound is beyond beautiful and interestingly enough, it’s NZ’s only mainland World Heritage Site. We spent two nights in the beautiful Milford Sound, and here are our favourite five things to do, our tips and tricks, and suggested itinerary.
1. Sunrise at the foreshore
We watched the sun both rise and set at the foreshore – it was such a stunning place we couldn’t keep away.
At sunset there were only two other people at the foreshore taking photos, which to be frank, we simply couldn’t believe. We had heard all about the huge crowds at Milford, so it made the two of us wonder how busy sunrise would be (as we knew it was meant to be better for photos). The next morning we got up early and were ready to fight our way through the thousands and thousands for sunrise. And trust me we bloody did. Thousands of sand-flies. But not a single soul. We could not believe our socks. Which we wished we were wearing as we got so many bites on our feet. So many.
The sunrises we witnessed were beautiful, and one morning the two of us ended up rolling up our pants and walking out into the water (only up to our ankles mind you!). It was an unexpected delight - finding small warm patches in the bloody freezing water.
If you can pull yourself out of bed, actually even if you can’t, MAKE YOURSELF – go and watch the sunrise along the foreshore. Even on a gloomy day, it’s an incredible feeling staring Mitre Peak in the eye as the sun comes up.
Sunrise was better than sunset when we visited (summer) as the sun rises behind you and lights up Mitre Peak. Although in the winter months, the sun would set right behind Mitre Peak which would be perfect!
Low tide is the best (especially for reflection shots). If you time the low tide with sunrise you can see the awesome green mossy rocks.
Pack all the mosquito repellent you have. All of it.
Note - as we walked back to Vinnie (approximately 7:10am) we noticed a couple of cars pulling into the car park. By 7:45am it was almost full. Tourists, travellers, kiwis, democrats, republicans - EVERYONE was there. Our tranquil sunrise seemed like a distant, distant memory.
2. The hidden Blue Pool at the Chasm
A hidden gem in Milford Sound away from all the tourists? What?! Before I get started on how to find the blue pool, I will say this – do go and look at the chasm, it’s pretty incredible watching the water come gushing through the narrow gap. But do it first, as the blue pool will steal the rest of your day, and rightly so.
Ok, so how to find the blue pool. Towards the start the walk to the chasm, you will notice a DOC donation box along the path (on the right). Right beside this is a small hidden path (a wee bit muddy and through the bush). It goes for roughly 200m (only 5 or so mins) and leads you to the most beautiful hidden oasis you have ever seen (just follow the unofficial track).
Pack your togs and towel, sunblock and lunch and spend the day there. The water colour is unbelievably clear (guess that’s alpine for you!) and there’s a rope swing if you’re game enough. Like game James. As the pool is still a wee bit of a hidden gem, you should more or less have the place to yourself. (We were there for a couple of hours and only saw three other guys).
3. The Drive into Milford Sound
Don’t pay any attention to how long Google Maps says this drive should take. I’m telling you now you’ll be pulling over every five minutes to admire a reflective lake, fast flowing rapids, tumbling waterfalls, glorious mountains, cheeky wildlife, ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING. And it’s all worth the stop. Our advice would be to allow plenty of time for the drive so you can hop in and out to your hearts content. The drive can also be quite windy and steep in parts so it’s nice to be able to take your time and do it slowly and safely.
I probably sound like my Mum here (shout-out to Mum if you’re reading), but I’m going to go for it anyway. If you really want to take shots along the road – please be SAFE. I don’t want to say how many times we saw tourists suddenly pull over (in a non pull off) and then casually begin strolling along the windy road right into incoming traffic. It was both frightening and horrible to watch. Frightenible.
Our tips if you REALLY want road shots:
Do them early in the morning or late in the evening when traffic has slowed down (noting early in the morning means lots of people are driving in, and similarly late in the evening means lots of people are driving out – so be actively watching the traffic these ways). When we say early morning and evening we mean roughly 30 minutes after sunrise and 30 minutes before sunset. The light is also much nicer at this time of the day as it’s not as harsh.
Do them on a gravel road off the main roads. Our favourite was near the Eglinton Valley Viewpoint (about 50 minutes from Te Anau).
Pull over in a proper pull off. And remember, all the one way bridges on the road give way to the incoming traffic (the traffic driving into Milford – not out).
How did we safely take our road shots? I ended up hopping out of Vinnie and waiting at a pull off while James drove up and down. We weren’t willing to risk walking along the road for “the shot” so we took similar pictures in a clearing (Eglinton Valley). We also have super cool walkie talkies so I could tell James if the road was clear.
4. Lake Marian
A pretty low effort/high rewards walk in our opinion – leading you to an absolutely picturesque alpine lake. The walks begins along a lovely little swing bridge (great photo opportunities!), and over some pretty boardwalks where you can admire the falls/rapids. After that, it gets a bit more ‘uphill’, rocky and muddy - it took us about an hour and a half to reach the top (the lake). As we left late in the day (around 6pm-ish) we took a pack of tomato soup with us and LOVED just sitting up there, reading our books with a hot soup in hand and admiring the incredible reflection in front of us.
So what would we recommend? We would suggest doing this walk late in the evening, and if the sky is cloudy, staying until sunset. (This was our initial plan but we ended up walking back down earlier as all the clouds we had eagerly been watching slowly disappeared). We thought the water became much more vibrant and stiller as the evening went on. Second mum warning now - if you are going to do this walk in the evening, you will certainly need a head torch. We had read online that the track can be a little tricky to find in sections, but we only found two spots where this was the case. Both times where this happened we stopped, took our time, did a full 360 spin around and within seconds had found the orange markers pointing us in the right direction. Just take your time and you will be fine.
Lastly, as Lake Marian is an alpine lake, the earlier in the year you go, the less water there will be. We had previously seen photos of Lake Marian and noticed a few awesome rocks to jump/dive off, but when we visited (late Jan), they were completely submerged. Nothing major – but handy to know.
5. Morning boat cruise
James and I popped into the Visitor Centre at 8am on the dot (when it opened) to enquire about the daily cruises and make a booking. In doing so, we discovered the 9am cruise was $46 each (1.5 hours) whereas the same cruise at 11am was $71 and $96 at 1:30pm. They clearly expect lots of people to come to Milford for a day trip, and hike up the prices accordingly.
We chose to do the 9am cruise (saving our money for Ferg Burger) and would say it was only about 1/3 full. It was the opposite of a bull inside a china shop. At some stages, James and I were the only ones on the whole floor!! The cruise itself was beautiful, but to us, felt more like one of those things you ‘just had to do’. Definitely no regrets, but I have realised the two of us place more value and enjoyment on the quiet sunrises we have together. And those are completely free (aside from the $12.95 you will spend on insect repellent).
Aside from saving your pennies, the 9am cruise will also give you the best light for taking photos (a double win really… just like when your bir