So, you’re in the South Island of new Zealand and want to check out Milford Sound? Sweet, I don’t blame you! If you’re looking at getting the most out of your visit and coming home with some great photos, here’s a few things to keep in mind for your trip to the ‘8th wonder of the world’.
Fortunately, you don’t have to worry too much about getting lost when driving to Milford, as there’s only one road in and out. Traveling the Milford Road (SH94) is my favourite drive in the world and basically commences from Te Anau, where I now live. There’s an abundance of vistas and scenery to check out along the way and for that reason you should really allow more time than the estimated 2 hours. Do yourself a favour and leave after breakfast so you can take your time all day.
A map and some of the common highlights are below. Keep in mind that this road has many narrow sections with a an elevation gain reaching almost 1km. The weather can change incredibly fast from one valley to the next and there’s plenty of other tourists on the road who are also driving in unfamiliar conditions. Take it slow and be safe! The car park for Milford is signed at the end of the road on your left had side. Te information centre, small cafe and public restrooms are across the road from the car park.
What To Shoot
Out of the 14 Fiords in Fiordland, Milford Sound is the only accessible by road. For this reason, it’s the most popular location in the entire National Park, however this doesn’t mean that there’s not an abundance of equally and if not more impressive places to explore down in this rugged part of the world, even just off the side of the road on the way to Milford itself.
Allowing yourself extra travel time to stop and explore will truly heighten your experience and appreciation for this beautiful and rugged part of the world. From a photographic perspective, adapting and reacting to the conditions at hand can and will yield some beautiful results, particularly in the rain when thousands of waterfalls begin to flow from high peaks.
If you have some time for a walk, Key Summit, Lake Marian, Lake Gunn and the Gertrude Saddle are worth checking out. If you’re spending most of your time at Milford Sound, here’s a few pointers;
- The classic and most open view of Milford Sound is from the foreshore. Simply follow the boardwalk from the main carpark until you reach a viewing platform underneath a large tree (after 10 minutes of walking)
- Driftwood, reflective pools and mossy boulders make great foreground interest. Please tread carefully out here as it’s a fragile environment. The tide also moves in noticeably fast.
- A wide angle lens is the obvious choice but don’t hesistate to use a telephoto lens on Mitre Peak and the surrounding mountains. Stirling Falls (down the middle of the Sound) is seen in the distance and looks great framed through the telephoto
- Hang around – Milford works best as a sunset location. Thankfully most tourists have left by then as they head back to Queenstown on the bus.
- Winter is the quietest time of year and with the sun being further north, the light extends down the sound at sunset which can often create an incredible beam of light
- Expect it and don’t be put off by the rain – through dozens of visits and running my workshops, without a doubt Milford Sound and Fiordland is the most spectacular during heave rainfall. The atmosphere and innumerable waterfalls are unlike anywhere else in the world. Less photos are taken on the blue sky days.
- Most importantly, the best coffee is found at the Milford Lodge which is another 400m back down the Milford Road. You would have passed the entry driveway on your way in. This is also the only option for accomodation.
If you can, I strongly suggest doing one of the ‘Nature Cruises’ which a number of operators offer. Most of these are the same but I’ve found Go Orange to be one of the best priced and they also have food included. This is a great way to get a completely different perspective on Milford and will really help you appreciate the grand scale of the mountains here and the power of the glaciers that once carved them. It’s also fun going beneath some of the waterfalls and spotting some of the wildlife, including seals and occasionally dolphins.
Of course, if you’d like a personal tour and have everything taken care of for you so you’re at the right place at the best time, I’m based in Te Anau and offer workshops in Fiordland year round. Just contact me for details. Some of my work at Milford and greater Fiordland can be viewed below.