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The dramatic landscapes of Milford Sound and surrounds are one of New Zealand’s top attractions. With a little local advice, you can find out how to immerse yourself in the tranquillity of this special place – without the crowds.
Grand, dramatic and magnetising, it is difficult to overstate the beauty of Milford Sound. Here, inky blue waters lap at the bottom of soaring granite cliffs, waterfalls tumble down rocky faces and the imposing Mitre Peak rises over 1.6 kilometres (1 mile) from the ocean below. It’s a place that can only be described by superlatives. Even famous British author Rudyard Kipling was impressed – to such an extent he deemed it ‘the Eighth wonder of the world’ when he visited in the early 1900’s.
Those that love exploring on foot will be happy to hear that meandering through this drama-filled landscape is the Milford Track, one of New Zealand’s most famous hikes. Winding past a number of of impressive waterfalls, glacier-carved valleys and lush rainforest, it’s a walking adventure that also demands superlative descriptions. Unsurprisingly, in an article that appeared in the London Spectator over 100 years ago, poet Blanche Baughan named the Milford Track as the ‘finest walk in the world’. Today, the track is just as spectacular as ever.
Word of this special place has indeed got out - Milford Sound is one of the most visited areas in New Zealand. Surrounded by the rugged peaks and lush rainforests of Fiordland and only a 3-hour drive from the award-winning wineries of Queenstown, Milford Sound is an appealing addition to any New Zealand holiday. During the summer months, flocks of people drive the Milford Road to take a boat cruise on the Sound itself and then rush back to Queenstown the same day.
However, it is somewhat of a local secret that it is possible to enjoy Milford Sound without the crowds and minus the rush, making your time here all the more personal. New Zealand Trails is in on this secret; and we would love to offer our advice on how this very different Milford Sound visit works. Wine tasting, a scenic drive, an overnight stay and an early morning hike on ‘the finest walk in the world’ – this is true bucket list stuff.
Wine tasting and the Milford Road
Starting out from Queenstown, begin your experience with a spot of wine tasting in the world-famous vineyards of the Gibbston Valley. The highest wine growing region in the world, vineyards here are perched between the turquoise ribbon of the Kawerau River and soaring, rugged schist mountains. Here you’ll find some of the world’s best Pinot Noir as well as citrus-influenced Chardonnay and crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoy a morning of sipping award-winning wines while soaking up one of the world’s most scenic wine growing regions.
Following a picnic lunch on the banks of the Kawerau, set off in a coach towards Milford Sound itself. Here, the journey is just as dazzling as the destination. Driving through the heart of Fiordland National Park, a World Heritage Site, you’ll first encounter the Eglinton Valley – with steep rock sides and a golden-tussock floor; it’s a surreal place that was once filled by glacial ice. Further on are the Mirror Lakes, which showcase perfect reflections of the Darran Mountains on a still day. The rainforest-covered mountains and granite peaks dotted along this road look much the same as they did thousands of years ago.
An overnight stay in luxurious chalets
After driving the Milford Road, head to Milford Lodge in the heart of Milford Sound itself. Surrounded by enchanting rainforest and towering mountains on the shores of a pristine river, a night here allows you to slow down and soak up the drama of the Sound. Staying in one of the luxury chalets, you won’t have to sacrifice comfort. From your king-size bed, be lulled to sleep by the call of birdsong and the gentle trickle of the river outside your window.
A morning exploring the finest walk in the world
In the morning, wake to the sun rising over the peaks of the Darran Mountains and journey to the Milford Track by boat. On the way, admire the early morning beauty of Milford Sound and relish the tranquillity without the crowds. Arriving at Sandfly Point, enjoy a 4-hour, 10-kilometre (6 mile) walk along one of the prettiest parts of the track. Lush rainforest, bubbling streams and native birds lead the way to Giant’s Gate Falls – a powerful waterfall tumbling down to a pretty pool below. Returning by boat across the sound, soak up the drama of the scenery for one last time; content in the knowledge that you have had a very different Milford Sound experience to most.
On returning to Milford Lodge, choose to journey back to Queenstown by flight or by coach, or – if you are a part of a New Zealand Trails tour – prepare to board a helicopter for a spectacular flight to luxurious Martin’s Bay Lodge, deep in the wilderness of the Hollyford Valley.
New Zealand Trails offers easy going small group walking tours through some of the South Island’s most beautiful wilderness areas. Our 11 or 13-day itineraries incorporate bucket list activities like scenic flights and jet boating with day hikes on some of the country’s most famous walking tracks. The Milford experience detailed above are Days 8 and 9 of our tour - find out more on our website, or contact us now.
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The World Heritage Walking Tour, perfect for your trip of a lifetime. The best walks in New Zealand, iconic outdoor activities, 4-star accommodation and delicious food and wine - in a friendly small group led by expert 'Kiwi' guides.