For those who have not been able to do the walk to Milford Sound, then the road is the next best thing. Visitors without private transport can take the bus from Te Anau but if you are driving yourself, try and pick up a copy of the free pamphlet describing the route which is available in Te Anau from either Fiordland Travel or the petrol station. As there are no petrol stations on the 73 miles (119km) stretch of road between Te Anau and Milford Sound (a 2 1/2 hour drive) it is wise to make sure the tank is filled before departing.
Leaving Te Anau the road first follows the lake shore before swinging inland to enter the national park. In fine weather, which is by no means guaranteed, this drive is one of the loveliest in New Zealand. Worthwhile stops on the way to the Homer Tunnel include the Mirror Lakes, Cascade Creek (refreshments) and Lake Gunn.
If time allows, the detour along the Hollyford Road to Hollyford Camp is also rewarding. Near the start of the road is a track leading up to Lake Marian (4 hours return) and some fine alpine views. At Hollyford Camp there are simple cabins with coal-range stoves, bunks and electric light (only a few hours in the evenings). The camp’s small museum is worth a look and there is also a shop with basic supplies. Most people who stay here are going to do the Hollyford Track but it would also be an alternative to accommodation in Milford for those
From the Hollyford turn-off the Milford Road climbs towards the Homer Tunnel. Rough hewn and almost forbiddingly dark, the tunnel descends steeply for 3,998 ft before it emerges dramatically into the magnificent upper reaches of the Cleddau Valley.
Continuing its steep descent the road winds past a signpost pointing the way to the Chasm. A short walk (15 minutes return) leads through beautiful native forest to where the Cleddau River has carved its way through the rock, sculpting it into bizarre shapes and forming a chasm, some 72ft (22m) deep. From here it is just over 6 miles (10km) to Milford Sound.
Enclosed by walls of bare rock that rise vertically from the sea, the 9 mile long fiord known as Milford Sound was formed by glacial action during the last Ice Age, some 1.5 million years ago. One of
the fiord’s most picturesque features is the sheer rock pinnacle of Mitre Peak which, rising as it does to a height of 5,556 ft , manages to stand out even in this landscape of superlatives.
Milford Sound Cruises
The only way to really appreciate the majesty of Milford Sound is, of course, on one of the boat cruises that depart regularly from the large wharf complex. Apart from the spectacular scenery, such a cruise also promises close-up views of seals and occasionally dolphins. Remember it can pay to book ahead in the summer season as these trips are very popular and furthermore, do not be put off by wet weather! When it rains, Milford’s many waterfalls
are at their most spectacular, especially the 505 ft -high Stirling Falls which can only be seen from the boat.
An interesting variation on the day trips is the overnight cruise on the sailing boat Milford Wanderer. This trip, along with several others, can be booked through Fiordland Travel in Te Anau or Queenstown.
Milford Track Walks
After the boat trip, which usually takes about 1 hour 45 minutes, it is worth making the short walk from the wharf to Lady Bowen Falls. The waterfall drops a spectacular 526 ft from a hanging valley in the Darren Range. A large area at the foot of the falls is covered by a fine spray of water, including three old graves that must belong to the wettest in the world. The graves actually date back to the time of the early nineteenth century sealers and whalers who were sometimes marooned for many months on Fiordland’s inhospitable shores. More information about other walks and the history of the area is available at the Milford Sound Hotel.