80° BY THE SEA
Looking for a beach vacation? Let us help you find the right spot.More
The gorgeous views from the water account for the popularity of cruising here. It's essential to book ahead between mid-December and March. All boats leave from the Milford wharf area. Avoid the midday sailings, as they link with tour buses and are the most crowded. Southern Discoveries and Real Journeys run more than a dozen cruises a day between them, with extra options in summer.
Southern Discoveries. You can't miss Southern Discoveries' big red catamarans in Milford Sound. If you're only here for the day the Cruise/Kayak option is great for getting close to the shore and seeing the edges of the fjord in all its lush detail—right down to its damp, green, earthy smell. It's an easy paddle on calm water so no experience is necessary. It starts at the Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory, which is also included in the price and is well worth a visit. Milford Sound Wharf, Milford, 9679. 03/441–1137. www.southerndiscoveries.co.nz. From NZ$70.
Real Journeys. By far the most satisfying way to experience Milford (or Doubtful) Sound is to do an overnight cruise; it gives you more time in the fjord when it's at its best—first thing in the morning and early evening. Kayaking off the boat gets you right up to that mossy bush and rock face. There are two overnight boats: the Milford Mariner's the more luxurious cruise with roomier bunks (with en suites), but the Milford Wanderer's not too far behind. Fewer passengers and shared facilities make it a very friendly boat. An overnight cruise includes a superb dinner and breakfast. But if you only want to do a day cruise, go for the Nature Cruise over the Scenic Cruise. It's more personal, a bit longer (2½ hours), and it's on a boat with more character and a nature guide you can ask questions. Both trips cruise the full length of Milford Sound to the Tasman Sea and have the same extraordinary views of waterfalls, rain forest, mountains, and wildlife. Lakefront Dr., Te Anau, 9600. 03/249–7416 or 0800/656–501. www.realjourneys.co.nz. From NZ$278 per person overnight; NZ$85 for day. Overnight cruises don't operate through winter (mid-May–Sept.).
Hollyford Track. If you're itching to see some coastline during your hike, and have good fitness, consider the Hollyford Track. At 56 km (35 mi), it's usually a four-day endeavor, taking you from the Hollyford Road down to Martins Bay by roughly following the Hollyford River. You'll pass a couple of lakes and waterfalls on your way; at the coastline you'll likely spy seals and penguins. Be particularly careful of flooded creek crossings. Make sure you buy your hut tickets but you can't book in before you go. It's a good idea to drop in to the Fiordland National Park Visitor Office to check on conditions before you head off. Lakefront Dr., Te Anau, 9600. 03/249–8514. www.doc.govt.nz.
Milford Track. If you plan to walk the Milford Track—a rewarding four-day bushwalk through Fiordland National Park—understand that it is one of New Zealand's most popular hikes. The 53½-km (33-mile) track is strictly one-way, and because park authorities control access, you can feel as though you have the wilderness more or less to yourself. The trail ends for the track are remote. Independent and guided groups stay in different overnight huts. Guided and unguided walks begin with a 1 and 1/2 hour ferry ride to Glade Wharf on Lake Te Anau and end with a 20-minute ferry taking you from Sandfly Point over to the Milford Sound wharf. The track's well maintained during the restricted hiking season, which runs from late October to April (because of the risk of avalanche). Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound, 9679. Great Walks Booking Office. For seasonal reservations on the Milford Track, Kepler Track, and the Routeburn contact the Great Walks Booking Office or book online. Make sure you book well in advance. 03/249–8514. www.doc.govt.nz.
Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre. To hike independently of a tour group for either the Milford, Kepler, or Routeburn Track, call the Great Walks Booking Office at the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre or book online through the Web site. Reservations for the coming season can be made starting on the first of July every year. Book well in advance—especially if you plan to go in December or January. Independent walking, without a guide, requires that you bring your own food, utensils, bedding, and other equipment. You stay in clean, basic Department of Conservation huts. Lakefront Dr., Te Anau, 9600. 03/249–8514. www.doc.govt.nz.
Real Journeys. If you don't have enough time for the whole Milford Track, you can still experience a good slice of what makes it New Zealand's most famous walk on a guided day-walk with Real Journeys. It includes a cruise across Lake Te Anau. You'll hike about 11 km (7 miles), lunch is included, and the good thing is there are no big hills. No children under 10. 03/219–7416 or 0800/656–501. www.realjourneys.co.nz. NZ$199.
Routeburn Track. The 33-km (20.5-mi) Routeburn Track, like the Milford Track, is designated one of the country's Great Walks, so you need to book in season. The Routeburn goes between Lake Wakatipu, near Glenorchy, and the road between Milford and Te Anau; it takes about three days to hike. The alpine landscape is stunning, and once you're above the treeline, the sand flies back off. It's a linear track so make sure you organize your transport home. The track's well maintained but be prepared for rain and mud. Tramping out of season is not advised for most people as there's avalanche risk. Milford. www.doc.govt.nz.
Ultimate Hikes. If you want to do the Milford Track but don't like the idea of hauling a heavy backpack for 34 miles with all your food and gear, then Ultimate Hikes is the rather wonderful alternative. All your meals are provided, you'll have a comfortable bed and hot showers, and you can wash and dry your gear if it rains. They'll organize your transport and provide backpacks. Their Milford Track journey includes a cruise on Milford Sound and transport to and from Queenstown; the Routeburn Track is a bit less expensive. If you're not up for a multiday trek, you can take a single-day "encounter" hike on either the Milford or Routeburn Track. The Station Building, Duke St. entrance, Queenstown, 9300. 03/450–1940 or 0800/659–255. www.ultimatehikes.co.nz. From NZ $1,930 (in multishare accommodation).
Rosco's Milford Kayaks. If you like immersing yourself in nature then sea kayaking's a lovely way to see this extraordinary part of New Zealand and the creatures (seals, penguins, or dolphins if you're lucky) that live here. Rosco's Milford Kayaks leads a number of different guided kayaking options on Milford Sound that can even include a hike along part of the famous Milford Track. You can get picked up and dropped off from Te Anau. No children under 14. Milford Sound, Milford, 9679. 03/249–8500; 0800/476–726 in New Zealand. www.roscosmilfordkayaks.com. From $NZ115 per person.
Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters. You'll feel like you're in good hands flying with this company, which has highly sought-after helicopter pilots with a wealth of knowledge about the area. It's easily the best way to see this part of the country and even a short flight up the Remarkables or over the Skippers Canyon is an incredible experience, let along flying to Milford Sound, the West Coast, and Mt. Aspiring National Park, landing on a glacier on the way. There's a Middle Earth flight to some of the The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit locations—about as authentic as you can get as one of this company's pilots, Alfie Speight, was the principal aerial pilot for the movies. 03/442–3016. www.glaciersouthernlakes.co.nz. From NZ$220 per person.
Milford Sound Scenic Flights. Flightseeing combines a round-trip flight from Queenstown to Milford with a scenic cruise. You can also just fly over the Fiord. Flights are weather-dependent. 03/442–3065. www.milfordflights.co.nz. From NZ$365.