Rudyard Kipling very famously (and unsourcedly) called Milford Sound the Eighth Wonder of the World.  I’ve often called Rudyard Kipling the Eighth Most Uninteresting Writer Based on Half of a Book I Read in High School, so the connection was immediate.

Put simply, Milford Sound is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.

My journey to Milford Sound started very similar to many others.  There are quite a few tour operators that will trot you out to the Sound for a scenic boat tour, and the one with the best reviews on Tripadvisor was a lovely organization called Real Journeys.  If you’re in Queenstown they’re hard to miss.  Or even if you’re on the internet, they’re hard to miss.  The second you type in New Zealand to Google, for about the next six months all you’ll see are Real Journeys ads.  I found them a good value with great service.

They sent a taxi to pick me up at 7am from the Hilton (included in the tour ticket) to take me to the bus station.  It was a bit chilly that morning, so the taxi driver very graciously offered to let me stay in the cab where it was warm.  Soon enough the bus pulled around and we were on our way.  Real Journeys has coaches that are perfectly suited for sightseeing in a place as dramatic as the Milford Road, with clear glass windows and seats that are angled towards the windows.

Milford Sound is near pretty much nothing, and is about a 3.5 hour drive from Queenstown.  What a drive.  I took so many pictures just out of the window of the bus, and sure enough they pretty much all turned out blurry.  But the bus would stop every once in a while so we could all pile out, take every picture possible, then pile back in and head onward.

Our first stop was to let off some folks who were meeting up with another Real Journeys bus on its way to Doubtful Sound, then we moved on to Te Anau, which is a lovely little village sitting on the edge of, you guessed it, Lake Te Anau.  As is usual, it was foggy that morning around the lake, which made for some really great shooting on the absolutely still lake.

a group of wooden posts in a body of water

Lake Te Anau

At Te Anau we met up with the famous Milford Road, one of the great drives in the world.  We set out right as the fog was burned off the lake.  It’s quite a long lake, whose coast we followed for a while.

a body of water with mountains in the background

Lake Te Anau

We went through some dense forestry as the guides from Real Journeys gave us some historical information about the area, including a bit about the botanyaaaaaaawn…of the area.  You could tell they were hitting play in their heads, but they kept it interesting and informative.

Odds are you’ve seen pictures like these before, because everyone stops at the same places.  These are my takes on those places, luckily the weather was great, to the point that I wished that a better photographer would’ve been there in place of me to capture it better for everyone.

Our first stop was a valley between two mountain ranges, a velvety patch of grass invading the space between the mountains.

a road leading to a mountain

notice the other bus down the way on the left

a grassy field with snow covered mountains in the background

Grassy valley

As we made our way past the valley, our guide told us we’d be stopping by an area called Mirror Lakes.  I wonder why?

a body of water with a mountain in the background

Mirror Lakes

a lake surrounded by trees and mountains

Mirror Lakes

I was already blown away.  I felt like I was in a desktop background.  The scenery just kept getting better as we made our way towards Milford Sound.

a waterfall in a forest

A waterfall

a snowy mountain range and trees

Another valley

a river running through a valley

A stream

a river running through a valley with snow covered mountains

The aforementioned stream

We finally arrived at the Milford Sound Visitor Center, where I caught the first view of the Sound.  Pip had nothing on my expectations for this place (six of you will get that joke).  It was almost too much to take in.

Expectations.  Blown.  Away.

a body of water with mountains in the background with Milford Sound in the background

First view of Milford Sound

We made our way to our boat for our nature cruise, the Sinbad.

a boat on the water

Milford Sound: Making Boats Look Pretty Since I Dunno I Kind Of Lost Motivation For This Joke

Lunch came with the tour, so I had a sammich and coffee as we departed.  The driver was incredibly nice and loved his job.  During the cruise I asked him if it ever got old for him, and I loved his response: “No”.  Succinct, that driver.  He went on to say that every day was different, even though they took basically the same route every day, and he could always spot something new he had never seen before.  “Me too,” I said for some reason, ignoring the obvious reality that I had never seen any of it before, as it was my first time there.  I dunno.

We made our way west, hugging the southern side of the Sound, which is actually a fjord, which the kiwis spell fiord.

a body of water with snow covered mountains and trees

The Sound

You know what?  I’m not going to try to narrate these.  Here they are, enjoy!

a rainbow over a cliff

Rainbow at the bottom of a waterfall

a body of water with mountains and blue sky

The Sound

a body of water with mountains in the background

The Sound

a plane flying over mountains

Scenic flight taking off

a body of water with mountains in the background

Nearing the Tasman Sea

a body of water with mountains in the background

The Tasman Sea (if you swim west for about 100 miles from here, you’ll be…really tired)

a body of water with mountains and blue sky

Looking back into the Sound

I will narrate this one.  Just about every tour will feature the boat going by Stirling Falls.  And, of course, by “by” I mean “directly underneath”.  It’s a tall waterfall that was engorged by recent rainfalls in the area.  Everyone at the bow of the boat made a hasty retreat as the water started to fall on us, but seeing the power of the water hitting the Sound made me grab my camera and start snapping as many pictures as I could, hoping that a few would turn out well.  I nearly lost my camera to water damage in the effort, but the result is one of my favorite pictures.

a waterfall in the water

Stirling Falls, Andy Luten, 31 August 2013

Our tour wound down, we got on the bus, and ventured home.  I don’t think I’ve ever been impacted by a place like I was that day.

I was sad to lay my head down that night at the Hilton, my last night in Queenstown.  I left a changed person though.  If you have the means, go to Milford Sound in your lifetime.  If you don’t, find them, or at the very least I hope that these pictures have given you a glimpse of this incredible place.  I don’t know when I will be back, but mark my words, I will return.

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