Milford Sound (actually a fjord) is near the top of any published list of “must-dos” in NZ. Somewhere from 900,000-1 million tourists visited in recent years. I heard from someone almost 5,000 people cruise the sound each day in peak season. Needless to say it is a busy place. This is true even though it’s really not easy to access, sitting 2 hours from the nearest town (where we were staying). Despite its reputation as a busy spot, our experience was very different.
The drive on the Milford Road is nearly as much of an attraction as the sound, with many scenic spots to stop along the way. Wedged between mountains and quite narrow, it was under repair in places from major mudslides in February. You are normally advised to avoid driving mid-morning due to buses clogging the road. We saw almost no one.
Arriving at the sound, where we had pre-booked a cruise, we were able to find a parking spot at the very close lot, which was even free for now (instead of $10/hr). We were told to not bother going into the terminal as we’d just check in at the boat.
There were boats lining the length of the dock and it was clear most were not running at all. However 3 were going out within a short period so there were some people around, probably about 50-75 spread amongst 3 ships. I believe for each of them it was their 1 cruise a day vs 6-7 normally.
We had chosen a smaller operator for the standard 2 hour trip and we are glad we did. We had lovely staff on board who socialized and got to know us all, sharing interesting facts and natural history all along the way. For example Mitre Peak grows at the same rate as our fingernails! Crazy. We also saw a crack in the mountain side marking the boundary of 2 tectonic plates.
The scenery was spectacular and we got a picture perfect day. It is a super rainy place; it’s far more common to be there in the rain, than the sun. (Rain does bring even more waterfalls, so not all bad).
It is a spectacular spot and well worth visiting.