24 Hours Hiking and Boating around Milford Sound, New Zealand

24 Hours Hiking and Boating around Milford Sound, New Zealand

Rob and I saved the biggest must-see sight on the south island of New Zealand for the last few days of trip. Milford Sound is world famous for its fjords, mountains and hikes (aka “tramps”). Most visitors opt for a tour bus to drive 4 hours each way from Queenstown, but that’s exhausting and doesn’t give you much time for exploring the area. Rob and I booked two nights at the well-located, not-so-glamorous Fjordland National Park Lodge.

Te Anau Lodge in New Zealand

We shared our backpacker’s kitchen with a gorgeous view of the lake with the construction crew working nights on the tunnel to Milford Sound.

Te Anau Lodging, New Zealand

The next morning, we we’re up and on the road by 7:00 am. The light and mist is dramatic coming over the rocky peaks.

Mist in the Milford Sound Valley

We stopped to make friends with a couple horses. They have the BEST carrots in New Zealand and we carried a bagful in our car for snacking on the road the whole time.

New Zealand wildlife

We stopped briefly to catch the rising sun reflected in Mirror Lake. Getting going this early puts you about 20 minutes ahead of the earliest tour buses.

Reflection at Mirror Lake New Zealand

Love this photo of us!

Sights on the way to Milford Sound

One more stop on our way to the water, a quick hike to The Chasm – a dramatic rushing river cutting through rock as if it were ice..that is impossible to capture in photos accurately.

Chasm, Milford Sound, NZ

We arrived at Milford Sound harbor well before our cruise time of 11:00 am. Plenty of time for a coffee and chocolate croissant in the cafe and nice leisurely hikes along the coast to get the lay of the land.

Milford Sound harbor, NZ

The sun coming over the fjords and waterfalls is plenty impressing from land, but everyone is here to get on boats!

Milford Sound waterfall hikes

We booked one of the most affordable options, a 90 minute cruise for about $30 US with Jucy. Just perfect for us and quite empty! A pod of dolphins raced us around the fjord at various intervals.

Jucy Milford Sound Cruise, NZ

They were pretty easy to spot in the clear water of the fjord.

New Zealand dolphins

The glacier-cut walls of the fjord are so dramatically steep. There was a lot of rain the day before we arrived so even the most rare waterfalls were flowing.

Glacier carved fjord, NZ

Those steep glacier cuts also make it really deep for boats all the way up to the fjord walls. Every cruise in Milford Sound takes a quick dip under one of the tallest waterfalls.

Waterfalls at Milford Sound

This ship is one of the few overnight cruise options in the fjords.

Overnight cruise in Milford Sound

Rob and I had a picnic lunch on deck before docking again and heading to explore more of the fjordlands on foot.

Boats on Milford Sound

There’s a daunting, one way tunnel through the rocks that connects Milford Sound with the rest of the island. It is dark, drippy and looks like it was just finished being carved out with a pick about an hour before. Spooky!

Tunnel to Milford Sound, NZ

Rob and I decided to spend the rest of our day hiking the Key Summit Track on a whim. This three hour hike is a part of the famous multi-day Routeburn Track. There’s lots of ferns and small waterfalls on the way up – basically straight up, Rob had to help tow me at 4 months pregnant. The reward at the top is a gorgeous Lord of the Rings view of the mountains and tiny glacial ponds.

Hiking around Milford Sound

New Zealand has the most immaculate hiking trails. Only the kiwis would think to put a groomed and marked botanical walk at the very top of a 3 hour mountain hike. Informative signs about the unique plants that grow up here, including mini carnivorous varieties. Felt pretty great about making it all the way up here with this bump in tow!

Nature Walk, Key Summit Treck, New Zealand

The hike back down is much quicker and the drive back to Te Anau seems to go fast. Rob and I went for a nice dinner to celebrate our last day in New Zealand. The Redcliff Cafe is a cozy favorite for local venison, rabbit, lamb and fish. We slept in Milford Sound one more night and then flew out of Queenstown back to rainy California the next day.

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Website: EmilyStyle

I'm an adventurer and founder of a brand strategy studio. I'm so lucky to work abroad for a couple months each year. Weekly dinner parties and picking what to wear when I'm at home in San Francisco. I love a tough challenge, email [email protected] to reach me.