Milford Sound Cruise from Queenstown

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Milford Sound is one of the most visited attractions in New Zealand’s South Island. It’s the most well-known fiord under the country’s Fiordland National Park and can be accessed by road coming from Queenstown. I didn’t know anything about Milford Sound or fiords until I reached the port where our ship departs.

boat on wharf

At 7:00 AM, a shuttle service from the tour company picked us up at our hotel in Queenstown. At the tour company office, we transferred to a coach going to Milford Sound. It was a scenic drive going to our destination, although I must admit I was surprised to find out it was a four-hour drive (nope, I didn’t research nor plan this trip). The driver-tour guide was skilled to provide commentaries along the way and at the same time maneuver the bus on winding roads.

signboard on road

Our first stop was Mirror Lakes, which is also under Fiordland National Park. On a clear day, the Earl Mountains reflect on this still lake. There’s also a walking path for people to relax and unwind and for drivers to stretch and rest.
mountains, plants, lake
lake, plants, mountain

By 10:00 AM we stopped by Te Anau city center where we bought breakfast and used the toilet. Entrance to the toilet facility costs NZ$ 1. There were a number of pie and coffee shops in Te Anau, but we bought our sandwiches, drinks, and other snacks at Four Square supermarket (cheaper and more selections).

road, river, plants

Sheep farms, river, chasm, towering mountain ranges, and waterfalls can be seen following the road to Milford Sound. There’s another scenic location along the road and that’s the Homer Tunnel. With the length of 1.2km, it was built by piercing a hole through the Darran Mountain range so that it connects Queenstown and Te Anau to Milford Sound. The said tunnel supports only one lane so a stoplight is set on each end of the tunnel.

While our bus was waiting for our turn to pass through the tunnel, we were encouraged to get out of the bus to soak up in the towering, snow-capped mountains. Unfortunately I didn't bother to descend, for it was raining so hard that the clouds covered the peaks and only a small amount of snow were visible at the edge of the mountain. On a clear day, the snow reaches the side of the road and you can actually play with snow. What a bummer.

road, rocky mountains, rainfall

Finally, we reached Milford Sound wharf! We boarded the Milford Mariner and picked a table near the entrance doors. We were starving as it was already past 1:00 PM, but we only ordered a bowl of asparagus soup that came with two pieces of bread (NZ $8). We didn’t want to eat much in case we’d feel seasick during the entire cruise.

four ladies, boat cabin, soup and bread

Sailing was smooth for the first 45 minutes and good thing we quickly finished our lunch by the time the weather became worse and the cruise became bumpy. Sailing into Milford Sound fiord and into the open ocean was magnificent and it was amazing how these fiords were formed. For us living in the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia, fiords are uncommon because we don’t have snow or glacier in our country. A fiord or fjord is formed by a glacier cutting a U-shaped valley and eroding into the sea. In simple terms, we were cruising above a valley which used to be a dry land.

rocky mountain, waterfalls

Believe it or not, the crew/tour guide aboard Milford Mariner said the stormy rainy weather was a perfect day to experience Milford Sound. That’s because many temporary yet mystical waterfalls only flow down the rocks during rainy and stormy days. If we were there on a sunny day, these would only look like a normal mountain.

As we move farther from the pier, the weather also became more unpleasant and the ride on the boat rougher. I had to brave the cold wind and stayed outside the cabin to prevent seasickness. The skies became darker and massive clouds hovered over the peaks. While it was warm and cozy inside the cabin, the outside looked like a scene from The Pirates of the Caribbean as we were approaching World’s End. It was difficult to walk towards the deck because the wind was very strong and there’s a high chance I might fall off the boat. Majority of the time during the onward trip, I needed to hold on tight the ladder and railings to maintain my balance.

fiord, rocky mountains, rain and clouds
rain, cascading falls, open water, boat

Thank goodness before reaching the end of the fiord, there was only drizzle and we could see from a safe distance the divide between the water of Milford Sound and the water of the Tasman Sea. Crossing it would be dangerous, but should we travel through to the other side, we’ll find ourselves at Sydney port.

lifesaver, rope
seals on rocks

The return trip was more favorable, though I must admit my handy White Flower prevented me from throwing up (Lol! Ang pambansang pabango ng Tita of Manila). The weather was still as confused as ever, for I could see rays of sunshine for 5 minutes and then clouds would gather up again in certain locations of the fiord. We didn’t see dolphins at that time, but we did see plenty of New Zealand fur seals perched on rocks and on the side of the mountain.

Before heading back to the wharf terminal, our boat took us to Stirling Falls – a permanent waterfall with 151m in height and the second highest one in Milford Sound next to Bowen Falls. It’s the waterfall where Hugh Jackman “jumped off” and one of the two Wolverine filming locations we visited while in South Island, New Zealand.


Now the play of wind is popular in Milford Sound as it affects the direction of water coming from the falls. As our brave boat neared Stirling Falls, we were so giddy to take photos and videos on the deck and perimeters of the cabin, not putting into perspective that the “spray” of water will actually turn into splashes. My entire winter ensemble got wet, but fortunately my wellington boots protected my feet from getting soaked in wet thermal socks.

As we descended the boat, we were instructed to hurry out the terminal and proceed to our tour bus immediately, as the Milford road will be closed starting at 5:00 PM because of the impending storm. On the way back from Te Anau to Queenstown, the famous New Zealand weather welcomed us with clear skies, sunshine, rain, and rainbow all at the same time.

double rainbow, fields

Important Reminders

1.  Don’t eat too much on the way to Milford Sound and during the cruise, unless you don’t experience motion sickness.

2. Bring meclizine, mefenamic acid, ointment, or any pain reliever as you may experience dizziness on the road and on water.

3.  Prepare for rain gear. Otherwise, bring extra clothes or a plastic bag for your wet belongings.

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