Altitude Tour’s Milford Sound Experience departs from Queenstown and Te Anau daily and provides the best small group experience imaginable to this stunning part of New Zealand.
Looking out of the window in the early morning light, the mighty Cecil Peak stands tall opposite Lake Wakatipu’s cool, deep blue waters.
Leaving Queenstown behind for the day, I’m trading the ‘Adventure Capital of the World’ for one of New Zealand’s other must-see locations; the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, Milford Sound.
Sitting in the comfort of Altitude’s deluxe 19-seater Mercedes van I know I’m in for an adventure, but with Cecil Peak and Lake Wakatipu to our right and the aptly named Remarkables Mountain Range to our left, it’s hard to imagine anywhere more beautiful than this… As we drive along the lake’s edge and into the rolling hills and green pastures of Southland, I try to envisage a landscape more breathtaking than that which we’ve just left behind.
Having let our imaginations run wild at the thought of what’s to come, and with the addition of our guide, Chris, and his entertaining and informative commentary, before we know it we are making our first stop in the sleepy lakeside town of Te Anau.
Situated on the shores of New Zealand’s second largest lake, Lake Te Anau, this picturesque township is the last outpost of real civilization before entering the remote and isolated National Park. With 30 minutes to spare there is time to take the short walk to the lakefront, get something to eat or drink in a local cafe, or even get your picture with a local legend; the Takahe (you aren’t likely to see a real one, but there is a statue of one of these endangered birds standing tall right by the lakefront).
Following Chris’s advice, we used our time to visit the local pie shop for a world famous in New Zealand pie! (Venison & Mushroom, YUM!).
Having stretched our legs and experienced a little of what this charming little town had to offer, our small group promptly boarded the bus to continue our journey; everyone is delighted to be back on the road as we watch other tours continue to herd passengers onto their large coaches!
Now I know I’d said that it’s hard to imagine a sight more breathtaking than Queenstown and it’s panoramic mountain views, but after a short drive alongside Lake Te Anau our journey enters the Fiordland National Park. Sitting in the south-west corner of New Zealand’s South Island, Fiordland National Park covers an incredible 12,607 square kilometres! Known for it’s craggy mountain ranges, dense and ancient forests, and glacier-carved fjords, the scenery it has to offer must be seen to be believed. From the moment we cross the park boundary the view around every corner has everyone in a silent awe.
On several occassions the van pulls aside to give us the opportunity to get out and immerse ourselves in the scenery and atmosphere that Fiordland has to offer. Just some highlights along the Milford Road would be the sweeping plains and snow-capped mountains of the Eglington Valley, the pristine reflections of the Mirror Lakes, and an intriguing encounter with some local Kea during a stop at Monkey Creek.
Chris mentioned that the Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot, are well known for their cheekiness; often stealing windscreen wipers and chewing the rubber off of unsuspecting vehicles! After endless breathtaking views, intriguing wildlife encounters, and waterfalls beyond count, we find ourselves emerging from the Homer Tunnel and descending down the scenic road to Milford Sound itself.
Arriving at the small township we head straight for the cruise terminal to board our scenic nature cruise. Boarding passes in hand, cameras around our necks, we board our vessel, the Sinbad. Equipped with outdoor viewing decks and huge glass windows (for those who enjoy the views from inside the boat) it’s one of the smallest boats on Milford Sound, and today we find ourselves the only ones on board!
Before we’ve even set off from the terminal, everyone’s eyes are glued to the scenery before us. The iconic Mitre Peak marks the start of our journey along the sound (actually a fjord as the skipper will correct you!), it’s sheer rocky peak descends steeply from a height of 1,692m down to the water. As the cruise follows the steep valley walls out along the fjord to the Tasman Sea, our eyes are drawn ever upwards. The sheer size of it all dwarfs even the largest of ships in the distance, and waterfalls plunge from hidden lakes and valleys far above us.
It’s hard to pull away from the beautiful mountains, but when you do you might be rewarded by the glimpse of dolphins gliding alongside the boat or perhaps you’ll sight one of the world’s rarest penguins, the Fiordland Crested Penguin, hopping it’s way up the rocks to nest.
After enjoying the views and filling my camera with incredible pictures, lunch is served! On board the cruise, we are served a great buffet style meal with a selection of meats and salads, bread, and sauces; everything you could need for a good top up of energy on a long and exciting day.
As the Sinbad comes to end of the fjord, the Tasman Sea spans across the horizon. Marking the entrance of the fjord, large rocky outcrops are speckled with fur seals lounging in the sun.
With the terminal once again coming into view, it dawns on us just how exhausting all of the excitement is; we say our goodbyes to The Sinbad and once again board our van for the journey home. With just one road in and out of Milford Sound, the drive back sees us traveling back along the breathtaking Milford Road to Te Anau for another chance to stretch our legs before the final stretch of the journey back to Queenstown.
The drive back is time for reflection and a great opportunity to rest. For those still awake, a quirky New Zealand film passes the time beautifully as we coast through the last rays of sun after a unforgettable day.
What’s Included in the Milford Sound Experience?
- Complimentary hotel pick up/drop off in Queenstown (select hotels)
- Transport in a premium and comfortable Mercedes van equipped with glass roof, charging ports, WiFi*, and reclining leather seats.
- Complimentary bottle water on board the van.
- Scenic nature cruise and delicious buffet style lunch on board the Sinbad.
- Complimentary tea and coffee on board the cruise, as well as a cash bar.
- Small group experience with one of our amazing local guides.
*WiFi only usable when within range of telephone signal.
What do I need to bring on my day trip to Milford Sound?
- Prepare for a full day! Approximately 12-13 hours in duration, this really is a full day tour. Fuel up with a good breakfast beforehand, and remember you can buy drinks and snacks in Te Anau.
- Let them know your dietaries. Altitude tours will try their best to cater to your dietary requirements.
- Pack a rain coat and a warm layer. Fiordland is notorious for it’s fast changing weather and heavy rainfall, so always come prepared with a raincoat and warm layer just in case.
- Charge your camera! You aren’t going to want to run out of battery on this trip.
Altitude also offer the Milford Sound experience departing from Te Anau daily, as well as helicopter and fixed-wing scenic flight options for the return journey!
For more information on Altitude’s Milford Sound Experience visit altitudetours.co.nz