Late last year, I had the opportunity to road trip around the south island of New Zealand. It was a phenomenal experience that I suggest everyone do in their lifetime. The natural beauty of the South Island, particularly Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park absolutely took my breath away! In this post, I’ll be taking you through my journeys to Milford Sound and through Fiordland National Park!
First thing’s first though – let me give you a brief historical run down on Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park. Milford Sound is one of the best known fiords and the only one that can be accessed by road. For the record, a ‘Fiord’ is a narrow, yet deep inlet of sea between high cliffs. The Maori actually attribute the creation of these fiords to a ‘titanic mason’, who carved the valleys and made the water below.
Fiordland National Park (where Milford Sound is situated) was established in 1952 and is over 1.2 million hectares in size. The National Park is comprised by a mixture of high mountains, long fiords and lush rainforests. Full of amazing sights to see and hikes to walk, Fiordland National Park is a must-see in the South Island of New Zealand. So, let’s dive into my journeys in Milford Sound and through Fiordland National Park!
Getting there –
As I mentioned before, I was road-tripping through the South Island of New Zealand, so getting to Fiordland National Park was really a no-brainer – we drove! If you’re driving down from the east (we came from Queenstown), then I suggest driving through Te Anu. I recommend making a quick pitt stop in Te Anu, as it is the last decent sized town before entering Fiordland National Park. There are no petrol stations or grocery stores in Fiordland National Park, so it is wise to stock up on groceries and fuel before pushing forward. There is a massive grocery store called Fresh Choice, which stocks a wide variety of produce at decent prices – best of all, it is owned and run by locals (so you know that you are supporting local business).
From Te Anu, the drive into Fiordland National Park is roughly 2 hours via Blackmount-Redcliff Road. The drive is fairly flat but can get curvy, so make sure that you’re alert. I actually suggest doing this drive during the day because the scenery is beautiful – there are amazing trees that hug the sides of the road and lean inwards. Yep, you guessed it – it’s a very ‘When Harry met Sally’ type of vibe (which is totally awesome!)
Where to stay –
There are a few different options for accommodation in Fiordland National Park (particularly close to Milford Sound), these include:
- ASURE Amber Court Motel
- Fiordland National Park Lodge
- Fiordland Motel and Apartments
- Milford Sound Lodge
Whilst these places have relatively good reviews, they can get a little pricey depending on the time of year – yes, there are high seasons for visiting Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park (this is usually summer time, so between December – February). I actually stayed just on the border of Fiordland National Park, in an area called ‘Knobs Flat’. Knobs Flat is a super quiet camp site, which offers both camping and studio suite accommodation.
As I was travelling with my boyfriend and was not keen for camping, we opted to stay in a studio unit. There are 6 studio units in total on the camp site and all of these are fully contained. The unit had full kitchen facilities, including a two ring stove top, pots, pans, cutlery and a small fridge. All linen and toiletries were provided for us, which was really lovely and meant that we could save whatever we had bought at the store for the later portion of our trip. If you decide to stay in these units, I’d just suggest bringing extra shower gel and toilet paper (you can never have enough really!
Cleanliness and Service –
The room was clean, warm and comfortable. Take note that there is no TV, radio or wireless internet at this accommodation, which was really refreshing, as you get a feel of the real mountain life and leave feeling very rejuvenated.
Another awesome reason to stay at Knobs Flat was for the expertise and knowledge of the accommodation owner. We received excellent service and often picked the owner’s brain for tips on hiking trails around the campsite and in Fiordland National Park. In fact, he actually took the time to explain the pros and cons of each hike, as well as the ‘real’ time required to complete these.
There are a number of different studio options for you to choose from, including the following:
- Unit with one queen size bed: $130.00
- Large unit with one queen size bed: $140.00
- Large unit with one queen size bed and one king single bed: $150.00
- Large unit with one queen size bed and one fold-out ‘futon’ double bed: $150.00
For two people, I recommend renting the unit with one queen size bed – you will have heaps of room without paying the premium price. For more information, visit the Knobs Flat website.
What to do in Milford Sound –
There is a whole heap of outdoorsy activities that you can do in Milford Sound, such as:
- Hiking the Milford Track
- Helicopter tours of Milford Sound
- Milford Sound fiord cruises
To get the best view and most interactive experience with Milford Sound, I highly recommend going on a fiord cruise. I also recommend booking a cruise with Southern Discoveries – they offer many cruising options, all on luxurious boats, with complimentary tea and coffee – all for reasonable prices! I went on the Encounter Cruise, which went for a total of 2 hours and 15 minutes. The cruise cost approximately $92.00, but was worth every penny for the wealth of knowledge and friendly nature of the nature guide who navigates you through the Fiord.
During the cruise, you’ll get the chance to see some amazing wildlife, like seals, dolphins and/or penguins, as well as marvel at the surrounding cliffs. The captain and guide will actually take the boat underneath waterfalls for you to take in the sights, sounds and even taste fresh glacial water! In this case, I suggest bringing a waterproof jackets for the cruise, as you will definitely get wet!
Milford Sound actually rains for 90% of the year, so don’t worry if it happens to rain on the day that you are there. In fact, I think that the rain will enhance your experience, as there will be a whole bunch of new waterfalls that will have formed for you to see. Don’t fret if you forget to bring a waterproof jacket, there are plenty of raincoats on the board the cruise ship. What I actually suggest bringing is a change of warm clothes for your departure off the ship, as well as insect repellant – this is a MUST as the whole of Fiordland National Park is riddled with sandflies!
What to do in Fiordland National Park –
Okay, so you’ve seen the world-famous Milford Sound and now you’re ready for more adventure in Fiordland National Park – but what should you do? Good question. My answer for you is – hiking. Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park are full of wonderful flora and fauna, and are a hikers dream! There are heaps of different hikes that you can do in Fiordland National Park, which all depend on the time you’d like to spend, as well as your fitness levels.
Whilst visiting Fiordland National Park, I did heaps of hiking. However, I thought I’d narrow it down and give you the 411 on my stand-out favourite trail – The Key Summit. This hike takes about 3-4 hours return and offers amazing views of Fiordland National Park. If you only get the time to do one hike in Fiordland National Park – this is totally the one to do!
The Key Summit Hike begins at ‘The Divide’, which is about 85 km along Milford Road from Te Anu. There are multiple signs along this road that indicate where to turn off for the Key Summit Track. The first part of the hike is along the Routeburn Track, which is fairly flat. The Routeburn track takes roughy 1 hour an hour to complete and will take you to the base of the Key Summit. From the base to the top of the mountain summit, the walk is 20 minutes and is completely uphill. The summit walk is winding and ends at the top of the mountain, where you will have panoramic views of the Ellington and Greenstone Valleys, as well as the glacier flowing into the Hollyford Valley.
I know that was a super long post and heaps for you to take in! I hope all of this info has helped you in planning your trip through Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park.
If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear them – so drop me a note below!
Until next time,