Milford Sound


If you believe the hype, Milford Sound is a must-see in all weathers. But David Whitley discovers the truth.

Weather, even though we’d sometimes like to pretend otherwise, can make a big difference. No-one wants to lie on the world’s most beautiful beach when gloves and a hat are more appropriate than swimming trunks and an ice cream. Similarly, skiing is a bit rubbish when there’s no snow and going for a scenic walk in the lashing rain is bloody horrible.

There is one place in New Zealand, however, where the weather supposedly doesn’t matter. If it’s chucking down with rain at Milford Sound, then the waterfalls look amazing. If it’s shrouded in mist, it has that moody, other-worldly atmosphere. If it’s snowing, the white stuff makes the mountains look spectacular. And if it’s sunny with clear blue skies, then your photographs will come out beautifully.

This line of thought is either unhinged optimism or cunning marketing. Because the truth is that Milford Sound doesn’t look all that impressive when it’s hurling down with rain and a thick mist reduces visibility to a few rough outlines of rocks and a million shades of grey.

And more importantly, it is like this rather often. You can expect rain for about seven days in ten, and clear skies are a novelty rather than a rule. So, of course, if people are going to go there in their legions (and there can be over 100 tour buses a day), it’s easier to employ a bit of psychology. It’s far better to make the punters think they should be enjoying the spectacle of seeing Milford Sound in the crappy weather than admit there’s a high chance of having a disappointing experience.

Well, here’s the truth – Milford Sound is overhyped and unless you get lucky with the weather, it can be something of a damp squib. Travelling for four hours from Queenstown, and then four hours back again for a two hour cruise in which you can only really make out a few waterfalls and a couple of hardy fur seals is arguably not worth it.

Of course, if the sun IS out (rare, by all accounts), then you’re probably in for a treat. But it’s a case of how the dice fall. And as such, I wouldn’t want to actively discourage anyone from going to Milford Sound.

But it highlights a good rule of thumb for travel in general – it’s often better to follow your head than follow the crowd. If you’ve only got a limited time around Queenstown, if you’ve already seen the Norwegian fiords, if you don’t think a ten hour round trip to potentially look at some mist is a productive use of your time, then perhaps do something else.

After all, there’s no shortage of sensational scenery around Queenstown – Skipper’s Canyon and the Shotover River, in particular, are fantastic. And while I admittedly got unlucky at Milford, there’s a decent chance that you will too.




By David Whitley