"Milford Sound & Te Anau" Milford Sound by Martialsk

Milford Sound Travel Guide: 210 reviews and 714 photos

Welcome to Fiordland...

The Southlands. Jagged razor-back mountains rear their ice-caps to the sky. More than 200 days of rain every year ensure that nothing here is left bare or dry. Lichen and moss drape every tree, rock, stone and the temperate rain forests remain intensely green. This is big country…one day peaceful and serene, sunshine dappling the leaves and changing hues of green and blue, the next, grey and melancholy, shrouded in mists and low clouds. An awesome place, bed-rock granite precipices tower overhead, steep-sided hanging valleys at every turn and thundering cascades all over. The sound of water surrounds as though propelled through enormous surround-sound speakers, fighting against the constant thrum of cicadas - reputed to be the loudest in the world. It really felt as though we were on the edge of civilisation out here!

Fiords (Sounds) are defined as long narrow inlets, with exceptionally steep sides/ cliffs formed by glacial activity - but usually deeper than the adjacent sea-bed. Milford may not be in the top in the world by length (at only 15km long) nor depth, but it is considered a ‘classic’ example. If you want humungous, scary, dark, freezing cold fiords then pop over to Norway which has loads of the really huge ones!
Doubtful Sound is a whole lot bigger than Milford, with more and longer branches, but it is notoriously difficult to access. The only options are either by sea or by catching a boat from Lake Manapouri to the Power Station on the other side of the Lake (in the middle of nowhere) before transferring via bus through the Wilmot Pass to the Sound. Tours can be done to Doubtful Sound but they were way out of our price bracket!
NZ’s 3 deepest inland lakes are also found here: Manapouri, Te Anau and Hauroko.

Interestingly…and on a complete side note, the Marlborough Sounds at the top of the South Island are not Sounds at all (re the definition of a ’Sound’ above)…they are ‘Rias’ - sunken river beds…

Milford Sound...

Our plan was to get to Milford Sound by road - a 2.5hr 120km drive one-way through some very famous scenery - hoping to hell we’d get the good weather when we got there! The locals say that Milford is best seen in the rain when water gushes out of every crevice on the mountain sides. I’m sure it is but this time I voted for the sunshine…
The drive was spectacular, considered one of the most scenic roads in the country and with a peak elevation of 945m at the Homer Tunnel, the scenery certainly didn’t disappoint…as usual. It is also the most dangerous road in the country with fatality and injury crash rates well above average. Clouds came and went as they did battle with the wind, the sun poked out as and when she could. It would be touch and go for us weather-wise, but as far as the road went, visibility was perfect. We drove over the Main Divide of the Southern Alps, through Fiordland via the Homer Tunnel - a 1,270m long single-lane road with unlined granite walls. A feat of engineering in its time, the men that built this road and the tunnel should be named national heroes…how difficult must it have been for those construction people and their families who lived out here for months on end building something that we take for granted these days…?!

Milford Sound was just as stunning as the postcards say it is. We got lucky on scenery for 2 hours before the weather closed in but, the tide was out quite far and the water line was low. Mitre Peak rises 1,692m from the surface and other peaks around the Sound rise between 1,200 to 1,500m. The backdrop is provided by the surrounding snow-caps which average in excess of 2,300m high. The annual rainfall averages something stupid like 6,800mm and has been known to reach 250mm in 24 hours! It is the wettest inhabited place in NZ and is probably the reason why only about 130 people live there full-time dedicating their lives to conservation and tourism…and communing with the numerous sand-fly population that thrive off tourist blood…
Landslides and avalanches are common and in winter, conditions are treacherous and bitterly cold!
A long day but an exceptionally beautiful drive there and back with the highlight of the drive being through the Eglington Valley and its stunning snow tussock grasslands.

Lake Te Anau

Lake Te Anau. At 65km long but with a surface area of 344sq km, it is the 2nd largest lake by surface area in NZ after Lake Taupo and it is also the largest lake in Australasia by fresh-water volume. A pretty serious body of water, the lake is divided into 3 arms that are all inland fiords - the only type of their kind in NZ as the other 14 are out on the coast. At an altitude of 210m but a depth of 417m, the lake bed lies below sea-level.
Lake Manapouri is much smaller at only 28km long with a surface area of 142sq km. Both lakes are surrounded by stunning scenery such as the Kepler and Murchison mountains which rise over 1,400m from the lake shores. Considered the gateway to the wilderness area famed for tramping, the Milford and Kepler tracks start from here.

Since we had an afternoon to spare and the weather was holding up well, we decided to do a horse-trek!
It was a lot of fun actually and a fabulous way to see some scenery on private land. My horse had a penchant for wanting to be at the front and was quite skittish on occasion. He also liked biting tails, sniffing horse-bums and attacking the other horses!
But, my camera lens, which had started to work sporadically, failed again and since we weren’t allowed to carry backpacks on the ride, I had left my camera bag at the stables…with all my spare lenses, compact camera and phone. Disaster! Therefore, we have no proper photos as records of a momentous day out - only some mobile phone images taken by our guide.
However, in spite of the disappointment, we still enjoyed the ride, the scenery of the Te Anau Downs merino country and the company of the guides and the other riders.
Our guide was a ‘local’ of only 14 years so therefore, not a true Te Anau born-and-bred local! He is from the Southlands though and he said that in all the time he’d lived in this area, he knew very few locals because they keep to themselves as much as possible and welcoming invites to bbq‘s or other social events just don’t happen! Anyone working in the tourism sector would not be a ‘true’ local because of their industry and social ability. Local types - the rare sabre-toothed farmer type - don’t care for foreigners nor socialising it seems…
For 14 years, this man and his family have been doing these horse treks across their land, giving visitors like us an opportunity to experience something entirely different and completely off the beaten track. He is a horse-man through and through and breeds Arabs as his main activity. Obviously, we wouldn’t be allowed to ride those but there’s no harm in looking!
It was a perfect few hours spent in rugged farmlands and not having a camera meant that I would just have to ingrain the memories in my minds eye. I remember the silence save for swishing tails and hoof footfalls. Birds twittering somewhere in the distance and a light breeze shifting through the golden ochre grasslands of the Downs. Not even the cicadas made their usual racket. Everything was in hushed tones - the breeze rustling the grass, the horses plodding along and us. A moment in time, perfection personified.
The only downfall was that we both battled with hay fever for a few hours after the ride - running noses and itchy eyeballs like never before!! Horses can be dusty it seems…
They had been brushed, but there was a bit of a dust-storm earlier in the day…so they got all dusty again!

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Unbelievable scenery
  • Cons:weather can make conditions treacherous
  • In a nutshell:...speechless! I am but a midget in this mighty country
  • Last visit to Milford Sound: Feb 2012
  • Intro Updated Apr 8, 2012
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