The Tour Bus VS. The Campervan: Milford Sound

Every town in New Zealand has at least one tourism booking agency. Up until we arrived in Queenstown, we happily charged by in our neon orange camper van, Jor-el, and settled on doing New Zealand ourself. It was just us and our Lonely Planet guide.

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However, once we found out that Milford Sound was a full 5 hours away from Queenstown, we had to rethink our will for autonomy. With only one of us licensed to drive, and a limited time schedule, we booked a tour to take us to the glowworms in Te-Anau and a tour boat to take us around the Milford Sound fjord.


Day one, we drove to Te Anau and hopped on an evening boat that would take us to see the glowworm caves! I am proud to say that I was one of the “good” tourists who respected the rules of no camera in the caves (it would make the worms turn off their lights). So, I only have generic photos to show you, but I consider them to be quite accurate.

Arriving in the pitch black, we felt our way through the cave, a good size for no one larger than a munchkin to walk through. My adrenalin was surging as I heard rushing water in the distance. It was quite the suspense following the leader into the darkness in silence. When we arrived over 500m into the cave, we got in a small floating row boat, and began to float with the currents into the darkness. Around the bend, all of a sudden, the cave lit up; like the night sky, glow worms lit the way.


I swear my face was no more than 10 inches away from the little glowing threads that the glowworms extended to catch the evening meal. My mouth fell open, and I looked up dizzy with awe. We floated into little corners of the cave, and discovered bunches of little twinkling worms. It was absolutely fabulous, if you ever are in a place to see them, I cannot recommend it more!!



Day Two, we woke up early to join our tour to Milford Sound. On the drive down, we stopped to take a few short scenic lookouts. Let me just say again, if you haven’t already noticed for yourself in my photos, New Zealand is spectacular. Looking out over the uninhabited valleys and mountainsides dabbed with green moss and grey rock, there was no sign of human interference. We had the chance to feel especially immersed in the nature, as the bus has a glass ceiling, a luxury we had never seen before.

As we drove along, our bus driver kept making reference to “the men who built these roads.” At first, I rubbed it off as something she was scripted to say, but after thinking about it, these men and their families laterally knocked through mountains, living in small cabins with no access to any human connection, all so that we could access to New Zeeland’s beauty. I can only begin to imagine the daunting task, looking out at the landscape, with nothing but wild, rugged landscape.

Finally arriving at Milford Sound, we stood at the base of the entry to the Fjord in awe. The mountains climbed directly out of the sea, spiking up into the sky. It was exciting to imagine the adventurers on the Routeburn and Milford Tracks were having on their three-day journeys, staying in cabins as they explored the Fjords. Less adventurous, but no less scenic, we hopped on the three-level sailboat that would take us out to the Tasman Sea. We felt like the first explorer, Captain Cook, himself in the elegant wooden boat.


Sailing along, it was amusing to hear the history of Milford. Upon first exploring, the angle of the fjord did not project the fact that there was anything but a coastline. Further, Cook did not feel compelled to sail any closer to shore due to the tidal winds, and completely missed the fjord altogether. Early maps of the area do not show a fjord at all, just a small inlet. Boy was he wrong; the fjord was measured at being a nearly 15km inlet!


We could not have been more blessed to have beautiful weather (despite the forecasts)! The nature of our boat and the profoundness of the underwater mountains allowed us to move the boat just inches away from waterfalls and mountainsides to get an up close view at the size of the fjord, some peaks raising to 4500 feet. Quite literally, we were where the mountains and the snow meet the sea! We noticed that one company was leading kayak tours through the fjord, and we can only imagine how small they must have felt! If we were to do it again, it would be in a kayak! P1050157P1050178






We even got a little sprinkling from the waterfalls and a nod of a head from a seal as we made our way back to shore.

While we were concerned that Milford would be a tourist trap, it has managed to stay a relatively reserved small spot. Yes, we saw a record number of tourists that day, but we still must recognize that there are more sheep than people in New Zealand, and that there is due reason for a crowd to swoon for such beauty!

Next post will be coming up in the next few days about our favorite place in New Zealand, Mt. Cook! We have been dying to share our stories and photos with you all!


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