- Stay overnight in Milford Sound. Whether its in a camper van, backpacker, or in the super-lush cabins, Milford Sound Lodge is a great place to spend the night. They have a kitchen, so you can bring your own food, or you can eat at their restaurant. Its pretty good. Spending a night on one of the small handful of boats that do overnight cruises is also great in the summer (I’ve done that before), but they only cruise October to April.
- Go in winter. Like, seriously. How had I never done this before? Milford Sound in winter is such a different place to in summer. Even in its busiest time, there was almost no one there. I had the entire Cascade Creek Campsite to myself when I stopped there for lunch (well, me and the sandflies). It has space for 120 campervans, and I bet its full most summer nights.
- Do a boat trip. While the scale of the place is clear and obvious even standing in the township, its only when you get under the waterfall of Stirling Falls that you truly grasp the size of the mountains around you. In winter, the light can be incredible (and difficult for photographers), and the cold can be penetrating. I went first thing in the morning and was cold all day. I have friends who went a week earlier and did an afternoon tour and got amazingly better light / warmth.
- Meet the locals. This trip I finally got to see Kea, after several failed attempts in the last 18 months. There are a range of key places to see them, such as Monkey Creek, the Chasm carpark, the Homer Tunnel entrance and (if you’re lucky) the main carpark at Milford Sound. Please don’t feed them. Please do expect to feed the other key local you’ll get to know – the Sandfly.
There aren’t a lot of food options IN Milford Sound. Pio Pio Café at the lodge does a nice breakfast (included if you stay in one of the Villas) and Scenic Discoveries has a small café that has a surprisingly large range of Gluten Free items. It also catches the sun so is nice and warm. If you’re staying at the lodge, you can definitely take your own food and cook in the kitchen, but remember that you need to pack *everything* you need – its 2+ hours each way back to the supermarket in Te Anau, providing the road is open.
On my way to Milford Sound, I stayed at the Top 10 in Te Anau. It’s a great wee spot within a short distance of both the waterfront and the centre of town, and the ladies in reception are always welcoming.
In Milford Sound, I tried both the backpacker dorms and a private chalet at the Milford Sound Lodge. While much of the grounds have been recently upgraded, and the private chalets are VERY nice, the backpacker rooms *must* be due for an upgrade to match soon, as they are very tired, dark, and a bit sad in comparison.
While the lodge doesn’t have a view to the sound itself, it is right by the river and has lovely views up to the mountains.
I also had a night in Queenstown on my way home, where I stayed at the Copthorne Hotel & Resort Lakefront. I highly recommend splashing out the extra for a lake view room – the views are amazing.
I flew Air NZ to get to and from Queenstown and then picked up a cheap rental car from GO Rentals so I could self drive. The Milford Road is probably one of the most dramatic drives in the world, but beware, it takes longer than you think, so always allow for that. It is also often full of distracted international drivers, and in winter can be frosty in shady areas (and some areas see no sun all winter), or even closed due to snow / Avalanche risk, so take all this into consideration. You will HAVE to carry chains in winter, although chances of needing to use them are slim as the road is more likely to be closed.
Other options to get there overnight include booking one-way bus fares with one of the tour companies that also offer cruises. If you want to fly in (and why wouldn’t you, the photos I’ve seen of that are amazing), you probably won’t be able to stay overnight, as all those who offer flights only offer them as a package with a cruise.