I’ve met several Kiwis while traveling, and whenever I ask them about places I should visit in New Zealand, a common answer would be Milford Sound. Every Kiwi I’ve met said I should not miss it. If everyone is recommending this place, then it must really be spectacular.
Milford Sound is about 4-5 hours away from Queenstown. It’s not exactly near, but it’s close enough to make a day trip possible. In fact it’s one of the most popular day trips from Queenstown. In New Zealand, long term travelers usually buy an old car and just sell it before they leave, especially if they plan on seeing a lot of places in the country. If you’ll be staying for more than a month and if you have travel companions, it is more economical compared to taking public transport. Two of my room mates already went to Milford Sound and they drove all the way there. An added bonus of having your own car? You can spend the night at certain spots for camping on the outskirts of the national park and you can take your time absorbing the breathtaking scenery. My other two room mates were also planning to go, but they availed of the Kiwi Experience. This is a very popular option among backpackers. This is kind of a hop on hop off bus package and there are different options offered depending on routes. If you want the full experience where you can go practically anywhere there are bus routes, it costs NZD 1599 for a month. That’s quite expensive but if you think about it, that’s a pretty sweet deal if you wanna explore the whole country. I did hear about this before arriving in New Zealand, but I wasn’t really planning on exploring the whole country. There are cheaper packages on other predetermined routes, however the places i wanted to visit were on different routes. I’d end up spending way less if I just bought individual bus tickets to the places i wanted to go. So anyway, 2 of my room mates already went there, two were going with the Kiwi Experience. That leaves only one of my room mates, but he wasn’t interested in going to Milford Sound for some reason. He was kinda drunk when I asked him about it, but it was something like it’s already beautiful in Queenstown and he didn’t wanna go elsewhere yet. So that meant I’ll be going there on my own.
Renting a car is quite expensive for a solo traveler. Buying an old one is expensive as well. I looked around town for several tour options. The tours offered weren’t bad, but i wondered if there’s a way i can get there via public transport. I opened the website for the Intercity bus lines, and I was surprised to see that they offered their own day tour. They charge NZD 125 for a round trip ticket. That’t not bad considering it already includes a ticket to the Milford Sound Cruise! It’s also cheaper than all the tours offered by travel agencies in Queenstown. It’s probably a bare bones tour but it was the cheapest one I could find. So I went ahead and booked a tour for the next day. Lucky for me there was still a seat left on such short notice.
I had to be at the bus stop by 7AM. Since I was out drinking until 3 AM, it was such a huge burden to get up. When I went outside at around 6:45 AM it was still dark. People were already boarding the bus when I got there. The bus wasn’t full at all, most of us weren’t seated beside anyone. This was a good thing since i planned to get some shuteye. The driver told us that we were going to have several stops along the way, specifically on those “picturesque places“. I figured it would be okay if I get some sleep. Ill surely wake up whenever the bus stops and everyone else gets off the bus. I think I was able to sleep for about 2 hours before we reached the first stop. We were already in the Fiordland National Park, where Milford Sound is a part of. The scenery is hard to describe, i’ll just say it left me in awe. No kidding. None of my pictures do it justice. Even if i had a much better camera, i doubt if it could capture the beauty of this national park. One simply needs to set foot in it. The entire place was surreal. If you’ve seen the movie Alien: Covenant you’d have a pretty good idea about what it looks like since that movie was shot here. We had several stops, but I wished we did more. Honestly, I would have loved to just continue walking until we reached Milford Sound.
We reached Milford Sound at around 1 PM. We got off the bus and we were told which cruise ship to board. The Intercity tour didn’t include meals on the cruise but food was sold and it’s fairly cheap. Got a sandwich for about 10 bucks and it was filling. It would be cheaper to buy some food in Queenstown though and pack your own meal. On the same ship some people, mostly Chinese tourists, got a lunch buffet. I had no idea how much that costs, I was more interested in seeing the sights than eating. So after gobbling my sandwich I proceeded to the deck to find a good spot for sightseeing. The entire cruise takes about 2 hours. It takes about an hour to get to the Tasman Sea, and another hour to get back to the dock by Milford Village. Along the way you’ll see varying landscapes, I was left in awe the entire time. You also get to see some animals. I mostly saw seals, but there were also a couple of dolphins. Although it was a bit cold during the cruise, it was sunny the entire time. If the forecast isn’t good, there’s no need to worry. When it’s raining, Milford Sound looks different but it’s still incredible. Everyone in the crew swore by this. The gloomy atmosphere actually creates a surreal effect, and the waterfalls you see would be more powerful. They actually recommend visiting twice: Once during sunny weather, and once when it’s raining. It’s like visiting two different places, at least that’s what they say. I do believe them though. I saw Alien: Covenant a couple of weeks ago. Though Milford Sound was all dark and gloomy in that movie, it still looked incredible!
After the cruise we all boarded the bus. One of the people I met though opted to take a scenic flight back to Queenstown instead of riding the bus back with us. At NZD 399, it wasn’t exactly cheap! But I did see his pictures from the flight back and I did get a bit jealous. The view of Milford Sound from the cruise was amazing. The view up above is even more phenomenal. I didn’t get envious though when he was barely eating for the next couple of days since he spent most of his money on that flight lol. If you can afford it, then a flight back would reward you with amazing views. If you can’t, then it’s perfectly alright. Going on a cruise is enough to show you the beauty of Milford Sound. If you plan on doing the scenic flight, take note that you’ll be riding a very small plane. If you easily get airsick you might not enjoy the experience. My friend said he was nauseous half the time LOL.
Since it was already getting dark, I just slept the whole way back. I would need the energy for what appeared to be another night of partying. I wish I could have spent more time in the Fiordland National Park, but that would be incredibly hard to do if you’ll only rely on public transport. For anyone who’s on the South Island, Milford Sound is definitely a must visit. A day trip is doable from Queenstown, so the lack of time isn’t really an excuse. You owe it to yourself to see one of New Zealand‘s natural treasures.