What pops up in your mind when thinking about New Zealand? Except sheep. Mount Cook maybe? Hobbiton? Or Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world? I bet tons of people think of Milford Sound. It’s one of New Zealand’s best known features, and therefore an incredibly popular tourist destination.
Milford Sound is a fiord. A long, narrow inlet of the sea between steep cliffs, created by glacial erosion. Most visitors admire the natural beauty on display here by joining a Milford Sound Cruise. And that’s exactly what we did.
Here’s our review of the Go Orange Milford Sound Cruise.
Milford Sound, practical information
Milford Sound, or Piopiotahi, is situated in the heart of Fiordland National Park. It’s only accessible by one road: Milford Road, an alpine highway. You’ll pass a bunch of great views and awesome hikes, but more on that in the blog post about Fiordland National Park. Do note that there’s no cell phone reception on your way to Milford Sound.
You can decide to pay a lot of money to spend the night near Milford Sound, or pay less and spend the night in Te Anau, the gateway to Milford Sound. As we were traveling for a year, we decided to go with the more budget friendly option. Unfortunately that meant an early morning in order to arrive in time for our Go Orange Milford Sound Cruise. After that brutal wake up call, it was a beautiful 1 hour and 50 minute drive over Milford Road, from Te Anau to Milford Sound. That includes 2 stops for some awesome sunrise/early morning photos.
During our visit, in the fall, the Milford Sound car park was a 10 minute walk from the Milford Sound Visitor Terminal. In summer however, it’s said to be a 45 minute walk because of the crowds. A not unimportant piece of information while planning your visit. Instead of taking the Milford Walkway, you can choose to take the shuttle bus that leaves from the visitor centre near the car park.
Warning: whether you decide to visit in summer or winter, there’s a 50-50 percent chance it will be raining. Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in the world, with an annual rainfall of 6,813 mm on 182 days a year. (Got those numbers from the Milford Sound website, I trust that’s a lot of rain.) On the plus side, all that rain creates a bunch of temporary waterfalls cascading down into Milford Sound.
The Go Orange Milford Sound Cruise, practical information
To explore Milford Sound, we booked a cruise with Go Orange, one of the cheapest options, through Bookme. Prices differ depending on the hour of departure. The cheapest one, the one we did, is the Milford Sound 2 Hour Cruise at 9:00. Bookme usually has great deals, but apparently not for that particular hour of departure. We paid $90 (NZ$) for the both of us, which is the same as when we would have booked through the Go Orange website. Included in the $45 per person is a BLT (there’s a vegetarian option as well) and OJ (orange juice). It’s good, but small, so better not skip breakfast.
Go Orange asks its guests to be in the Milford Sound Visitor Terminal at least 20 minutes prior to departure. Check in at the Go Orange counter to get your tickets and read up about Milford Sound on the big information signs. Boarding starts 15 minutes before departure and we left the harbour at 9:00 sharp. There’s a toilet and drinking water fountain on board for your convenience.
Hot tip: if you can’t stand the cold (there’s an icy wind on the boat in the fall) or have cold toes like I had, take a seat at the tables right behind the toilets in the upper saloon, that’s where the heat is.
The Go Orange Milford Sound Cruise, sights
And now the part you’re actually doing the Milford Sound cruise for: the stunning nature.
At 9:00 sharp our skipper Dennis expertly manoeuvred the Go Orange ship out of the harbour, we were on our way! He informed us over the speakers that he would be telling us a little more about what we would be seeing in the next couple of hours. He had a couple of fun jokes up his sleeve, and some interesting information about Milford Sound in general and its breathtaking features in particular. He pointed out the major sights and best photo opportunities.
We read beforehand Mitre Peak is the most impressive sight you’ll see during the cruise. It sure is easily recognisable, named after a mitre. (You know, what the Pope wears on his head.) We were more impressed by the waterfalls though. They’re huge, cascading down from the steep cliffs surrounding Milford Sound. I can’t remember all the names, but I remember the Stirling Waterfall. Dennis brought us real close so we could feel the water that plunges 150 m down into Milford Sound. Legend has it that women who touch the waterfall wake up 10 years younger the next morning. I preferred looking 25 instead of 15 though and kept a safe distance.
Apart from the Stirling Waterfall we saw the Fairy Falls, an S-shaped waterfall, and the Disappearing Waterfall. It didn’t disappear though, there wasn’t enough wind. Dennis also pointed Lion Mountain and Seal Rock out. With A LOT of imagination Lion Mountain is a crouching lion, and if you’re lucky Seal Rock is covered in New Zealand fur seals. Apparently they were out hunting while we visited, the crew hadn’t seen them for a couple of days.
During the 2 hour Go Orange Milford Sound Cruise our shipper took us all the way out to the Tasman Sea before turning back to the harbour. That’s where we – OK, it was Dennis – spotted a dolphin! It doesn’t happen very often that they only see one. Normally there are three. Dennis offered a couple of explanations: dolphins tend to swim alone when they’re sick or have to give birth. He (or she?) swam along the boat for a while before disappearing again into the deep waters of Milford Sound.
We were lucky enough to be visiting Milford Sound on a very nice day. There was no rain and even a bit of sunshine. It’s one of those natural wonders you should definitely see when visiting New Zealand. Just the general view of Milford sound is breathtaking, it’s massive. This unfortunately means that it tends to get very busy, especially during summer. Still, worth it!
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